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  Special Article 21/Jul/03  
Fixin' A Hole

The idea for writing this article came to me while looking at pictures of some of your (I guess you know who you are) studios. There is nothing wrong being the proud owner of a lot of stuff, but I wonder if we really need every piece of equipment we own. Is it only a matter of “addiction” to musical instruments; the so called “furniture factor”? So, I started thinking about all the musical instruments I have owned over a 25 year span (more or less), and the list is very long. It took me a couple of days and some research on the internet to recall the model names and the various details, and maybe I have still forgotten something.

Fender Rhodes Stage Piano Mark I
My first electro-mechanical instrument was a Davoli electric piano in the late 70’. It had hammers like a Fender Rhodes, 88 keys, but it was housed in a wooden baby grand shaped case that made it very heavy to carry around - but it was very good looking. I have not been able to find any picture of it, and I was surprised to read that Tangerine Dreams used one. I sold it to buy “the real thing”, a Rhodes Stage Piano Mark I (73 keys); the one with "curved top cover". On top of it I had an Elka Rhapsody 490, a “string machine”. I was a teenager and had a regular gig with a rock band at a bar named “Red Garter” in Florence, Italy where I live (the bar is still there, I guess). I was never satisfied with the sound of my Fender Rhodes because it wasn’t the one I heard on LP’s (I added an Electro Harmonix Small Stone foot pedal but I did not get what I was looking for).

Siel Cruise
I sold the “string machine” for the first synthesizer of my life, a Siel Cruise. It had a monophonic synth and a polyphonic organ section and you could layer or split the two. At that time you could look good with a keyboard like that but it was a very crude sounding machine. With these keyboards, and a Korg KPR77 drum machine, I worked a lot in piano bars in and around Florence in the early 80’s. At the same time I started getting into multitrack recording with a Revox A77 (a 2 track tape recorder with overdubbing capabilities). Then I moved on to a Teac 3440 (a 4 track tape recorder). I experimented also with an Electro Harmonix Memory Man, a foot pedal delay.

Elka Synthex
In 1984 I bought a great synth, an Elka Synthex, http://www.vintagesynth.org/elka/elkasyn.shtml. It has been called the best of the Italian synths. I used it mostly for jingle productions. When I bought it it wasn’t MIDIed, then few months later it was retrofitted with this, at the time, brand new “computer interface”. Trying to synchronize its internal sequencer with my pre-MIDI Korg drum machine was a nightmare; the clock resolution wasn’t the same. I sold it 14 years later and I do not miss it.

In 1986 I moved to Boston to study Music Synthesis at Berklee College of Music. There I started upgrading my setup:
    Yamaha KX76 master keyboard (that I still own),
    Yamaha MEP4 (a midi event processor programmable only in hexadecimal, perfect for a geek like me :-) )
    Roland D110 (not many good sounds but those were cool), and a
    Yamaha TX81Z (I love FM synthesis with a breath controller)
    Yamaha TX802 (one of my best workhorses. Sold after many years of service and sometimes missed)
    Yamaha DD5 drum pad midi controller (it was cheap but very cool)
    Alesis HR16 drum machine (I really liked it. It was my main source of drum samples for many years)
My first “music computer” an Atari Mega ST4 running C-LAB Notator sequencer and Dr. T’s X-OR editor. I remember seeing Notator in action for the first time in a music store. When I saw the salesperson opening the edit window dragging, copying and deleting notes on a music staff, I instantly knew that was my future.
Other software I used on the Atari includes:
    Music Mouse by Laurie Spiegel
    Intelligent Music's M (I had my "randomistic", "stochastic", "aleatory" period)
    Intelligent Music's RealTime (a sequencer with algorithmic quirks and twists. Cool!).
During the winter 1989/90 I met Mr. Joel Chadabe in Albany, NY. He was the boss of Intelligent Music. We talked about the possibility, for me, to work for their Italian distributor, but they left the midi software business in early 1990.
Dr.T’s KCS Omega, Copyist, TuneSmith, TigerCub (I worked for their Italian distributor, too bad they went out of business - their stuff was too weird and not mainstream at all).

Of course I also needed a mixer ( a Boss BX16) and a midi patch bay: first a Kawai MAV8 (not programmable) and then a KMX MIDI Central 15 in/16 out (programmable) that I still own and that I consider one of the best choices I ever made to work with midi instruments.

I came back to Italy in 1990 and, of course, I kept upgrading my setup: a newer Atari Mega STE4. Even if I am not using it now I am sentimentally attached to this computer and am not going to sell it. It’s like a pet; would you sell your dog? I had all the midi peripherals made by C-Lab/Emagic for a total of 8 independent midi ports. I never ran out of midi channels even in the heydays of midi hardware! And then came an avalanche of stuff, chronologically:
    Korg M3R (I loved it! Its sounds inspired many songs I wrote)
    Yamaha MU80 (my first General Midi synth)
    Emu Proformance 1+, my first piano module
    AKAI S1100 (I bought it used with a 50 something library of CD ROMs. I sold the sampler and kept the CDs :-) )
    Boss DR660 drum machine (it did not last long)
    Alesis Nanopiano, Nanosynth, Nanobass (I had all 3 of them mounted on a 1 unit rack)
    Korg Wavestation A/D (it did not impress me, maybe because when I bought it its sounds were already out of fashion)
    AKAI S2000 (it was connected via SCSI to my computer. (I hate SCSI, SCSI IDs, SCSI terminators. I got rid of everything SCSI. Thanks God for USB and Firewire a.k.a.IEEE 1394 protocols)
    Yamaha MU100R (I love VL synthesis with a breath controller)
    Yamaha SU10 (battery powered sampler useful for live gigs, the only hardware sampler I own)
    Kurzweil Micropiano (my main source of piano sounds)
    Alesis QSR (good sounding synth and GM module)
    Alesis DM5 (nice drum sounds module)
    Alesis DM Pro (great drum sounds module with internal effects)
    Korg Wavestation SR (same as Wavestation A/D)
    Roland JV1010 (cool but hard to program without a computer)
    Roland JV2080 (fully expanded with 8 cards, spectacular)
    Access Virus C (wow! It gathers no dust, if you know what I mean)
This is only the list of sound modules but in the mean time I changed many mixers:
    Yamaha M1602 (it served me well until I sold it)
    the ill fated Yamaha Promix01 (forget it)
    Behringer MX2642 (inexpensive and excellent)
    Motu Midi mixer 7s (1 unit rack mountable and midi programmable, 7 stereo pairs inputs, that’s all I need now)
Effects processors:
    Behringer Ultramizer (outboard processing is dead)
    Digitech Studio Quad V2 (outboard processing is dead)
    TC Electronic Fireworx (even if it sounds fantastic, outboard processing is dead, for me, at least)
    PAIA 6710 (I soldered all the parts together then I sold it)
    Digitech Talker (not exactly a vocoder but a talk box, sold when I bought the Virus C)
Miscellaneous stuff like:
    MAM MAP1 arpeggiator (sold when I bought the Virus C)
Midi controllers:
    Charlie Lab Digitar (interesting device but I did not need it)
    Yamaha CBX K2 (my main keyboard for live gigs)
    M-Audio Oxygen8 (get rid of your midi interface, go USB)
    Peavey PC1600X (great programmable midi fader controller)
And what about computers? I bought a Umax (Apple compatible) Power PC604e in 1997 that I upgraded to G3 (the infamous SCSI computer). It was followed by a G4 400MHz and then by a G4 500MHz dual processor running:
    Emagic Logic Audio Gold (a huge application, fantastic)
    Emagic SoundDiver (a great editor)
    Propellerheads Reason, Recycle, Reload (I love Propellerheads. Reason is my main virtual synth, sample playback device of the above mentioned AKAI CD ROMs plus a huge collection of audio CDs)
    Ableton Live (a new approach to audio files)
    Native Instruments Reaktor (a behemoth of a virtual synth)
Audio cards anyone?
    Digidesign Audiomedia III (2 analog inputs/outputs plus S/PDIF, good sounding)
    Digidesign Digi 001 (a great studio-in-a-box that I recently sold because I am going Firewire)
Audio monitors:
    Yamaha MSP5 (a great bang for the bucks)
MIDI Interfaces:
    Midiman Macman (1 midi in / 3 parallel midi out, serial port)
    Emagic mt4 (2midi in/4 midi out, USB)
After all these years and all this gear what can I say? A friend of mine told me once an old english proverb: “Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without”. It does not seem to apply to me. Maybe I should consider slowing down the rate at which I exchange instruments. Why should I keep spending a lot of time reading manuals when I could be playing? Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band was recorded with a 4 track tape recorder. So what? (BTW, I shook hands with Mr. George Martin the day of my graduation.)

As the lyrics of “Fixing a hole” say:
I'm fixing a hole where the rain gets in
And stops my mind from wandering
Where will it go
I'm filling the cracks that ran through the door
And kept my mind from wandering
Where will it go
And it really doesn't matter if I'm wrong
I'm right
Where I belong I'm right
Where I belong

It is certainly time for me to fix some of my holes.
Holes anyone?

Carlo Serafini
Florence, Italy
July 2003

Thanks to Howard Moscovitz for proofreading and editing this article
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