am0eba (the ZERO is silent) is Dave Read, a long-time practitioner of electronic music synthesis, now in his 60's.
Dave attended UMass Amherst in the mid-1970's and managed to finagle the Physics Department into letting him design his own undergrad course in the physics of electronic music, which meant that he got exclusive daily access to an EMS Synthi AKS "suitcase" synthesizer, and a farady cage laboratory in which to fiddle with it in the basement of the Physics building.
Although the Music Department had a huge, state-of-the art Moog modular system, it was only available to grad students in the composition department. Dave knew he needed to look elsewhere to satisfy his synthesis "jones".
At the time, Dave could be seen daily lugging his TEAC A2340 4-channel, sound-with-sound open-reel tape recorder to and from his apartment in Puffton Village, on the UMass Sunderland bus line. Once esconced in the lab, Dave managed to record tape studies of "experiments", which were no more than mere improvisatory, overdubbed, self-indulgences into what Dave thought were interesting "songs"...
Later, Dave discovered BSEM: the Boston School of Electronic Music, run out of a lovely old Back Bay apartment building on Dartmouth Street, near Copley Square. Dave vsited BSEM during the summer of 1976 and after a tour of the facilities, and being left to his own devices to play with an ARP2600 for an afternoon, decided he needed to leave UMass and attend BSEM full-time.
During his time at BSEM, Dave spent every available moment in the studio, exploring the various instruments and devices on-hand. From multiple ARP2600's and a fantastically elaborate ARP 2500 modular system to a modest, but respectable Moog 55 modular system, to multiple Minimoogs, Oberheims (which were the first polyphonic synthesizers - BSEM had a 2-voice, a couple of 4-voices, and at one point, a two-manual 8-voice, complete with sequencer! What a joy!), and others, Dave fell in love with electronic music, and ended up working as an instructor at the school in exchange for a place to sleep and just enough cash to pay for food.
Due to his lack of performance skills, one of Dave's areas of focus at BSEM was in sequencing - the use of programmable, automated devices to generate musical events. BSEM had several analog sequencers in its studios, and Dave was quick to realize their potential. He spent hours working out the finicky details of synchronizing multiple sequencers to a single timebase, and of using their own control voltage and gate outputs to trigger and change events. Among the sequencers BSEM had on hand were: a couple of ARP 2500 sequencer module(s); an EMS Synthi 256 Sequencer (a massive, temperamental, cantankerous beast that could memorize up to 256 discrete events - hence the name - on one or more "tracks". It was constantly drifting and losing sync, but it was able to capture a keyboard performance, including some very fine nuances of timing. When it worked, it was really something); multiple Oberheim 8x2 Mini-Sequencers, and an ARP 1600 Sequencer that Dave liked so much, he bought one of his own. At one point, the school obtained a prototype Model 800 digital sequencer from Sequential Circuits, and Dave was given the opportunity to develop a user's manual for it, but he was too interested in exploring synthesis to sit down and write the thing. Opportunity lost! Dave's time at BSEM was otherwise an idyllic existence, fully-immersed in the world of analog synthesis, music, and camaraderie.
Dave fondly recalls the incredibly nuturing atmosphere at BSEM, due in large part to the personal philosophy of its founder, Jim Michmerhuizen (author of the ARP 2600 Owner's Manual - a seminal work in analog electronic music synthesis). Jim understood the benefits of hands-on time with the instruments, and made studio time freely available to students when the studio wasn't booked. He even allowed students to stay overnight, in order to get more time in the studio. One of Jim's great ideas was that of "Improv Fridays", where students were encouraged to engage in free-form electronic music improvisations in the school's common room, with various sets of constraints and rules in place. One of the simplest was that four players would each have only manual control over the amplitude and frequency of a single sine wave oscillator and amp, which led to some surprisingly complex and beautiful music! Jim himself, was fond of performing electronic realizations of Bach pieces, much in the vein of Wendy (nee Walter) Carlos. He was always available for discussion of any item of interest to a student, and could spend hours discussing the merits of knobs vs. sliders, analog vs. digital, whether the lightsabers in Star Wars were based on the mono-molecule filament weapons of Larry Niven's Known Worlds series, and where to find the best cheeseburger in town. (He insisted that it was the Vendome Cafe on Boylston...)
Jim also introduced Dave to Bob Moog, who some consider to be the father of voltage-controlled synthesizers. Dave presented Dr. Moog with a hand-drawn cartoon of an ARP 2600 synthesizer covered with a rat's nest of patch cords, and a voice baloon saying "MOOG!" Dr. Moog smiled and nodded politely, in a bemused manner. Later the school obtained a Polymoog, which was massive, beautiful, and a very different implementation of polyphonic synthesis from the Oberheims... It was more like a sort of organ with intricate, voltage-controllable filtering that applied to the whole instrument, rather than individual voices. It could sound all of its keys simultaneously, which allowed for some very dense harmonic content. This combined with some clever programming, made for some very interesting and unusual timbres and effects.
During this time, the school expanded, and was moved from Copley Square to a large old hilltop mansion in Brookline Village. Dave and his cohorts Scott Travis Clark and Dave "Snuffy" Smith (who collectively took on the band identity of "Max Stable Q", a reference to the intensity of resonance just beyond which a filter could be set to self-oscillate) shared a large room in the attic, with a lovely balcony overlooking the wooded neighborhood. They set up a bunch of instruments including personal synthesizers (like Snuffy's Moog Sonic Six, a suitcase device with a very unique sonic pallette!), electric pianos, organs, guitars, bass, Chapman Stick, tablas, and sitar, and lived a Bohemian and musically-rich lifestyle while acting as part-time instructors and providing custodial, maintenance, and general services for the school.
Late at night on January 3rd, 1978, a mentally-deranged individual placed a trash bag containing gasoline under the side porch of the house and set it alight. All occupants escaped safely, but there was substantial damage to the building and equipment, and as the school was underinsured, it led to the school's eventual demise.
BSEM did not go down without a fight: the staff and students helped to salvage what they could from the various studios. Just about everything Dave owned was destroyed or damaged by the fire. He salvaged his Wurlitzer electric piano, Fender Precision Bass, ARP 1600 Sequencer, and trusty TEAC 2340 tape recorder, but his Chapman Stick had been lying open in its case, and suffered substantial water damage, resulting in a warped fretboard. A few weeks after the fire, the school reopened in a rented home in Allston, and classes resumed, but the damage had been done, and the school closed for good within a year.
Dave moved into an apartment in Brookline, and got a couple of "real" jobs: First, doing final assembly of noise-reduction devices at dbx in Waltham, and later doing electrical assembly at a factory that manufactured electronic speed controls for fork lift trucks in Burlington. Around this time, the school obtained a Sequential Circuits Prophet-5, which was a groundbreaking implementation of a polyphonic performance synthesizer. During this period, Dave continued teaching a course on sequencing and timing control one night a week at the school, and managed to do some interesting and unusual collaborations with one of the students, William P Brown, III. Billy had a unique musical sensibility which inspired Dave, and he owned a Prophet-5 and an 8-channel tape recorder, which really opened up possibilities in instrumentation and arrangement. Together, Billy and Dave (calling themselves the "Chromo Sapiens" and/or the "Mind Les Fux") created several agressive and confrontational pieces in a sort of punk-meets-electronica vein, including "Solid Waste"and "Mechanism/Organism". This was highly therapeutic for Dave, and he is grateful to Billy for helping him get through this period, which otherwise saw him selling his Precision Bass and other items for rent money. Dave is happy to say that he has reconnected with Scott Clark, Dave "Snuffy"Smith, and Billy Brown, after years of non-communication, and is much the happier for it!
After the school closed, Dave got interested in computers, and after he had started working full-time in the audio recording studio at New England Conservatory of Music, he obtained a Timex/Sinclair ZX-81, which had a membrane keyboard, used a black and white TV as a monitor, and audio cassette tapes for data and program storage. Dave modified the ZX-81 to include a swappable ROM bank for custom graphics characters and alternate fonts, and added an Atari VCS joystick for gaming. Later on, Dave obtained an Atari 800XL computer and a MIDI interface, which he used first with a Casio CZ-101, and then with a Sequential Circuits Prophet 600, which he discovered at Building 19, a local fire-sale, overstock, and bankruptcy sell-off discount store. The wood end panels on the Prophet were smoke-damaged, and there was no power cord or manual, but it was for sale for under $200, and Dave snatched it up before anyone could realize what a bargain it was. Dave got a cable and powered it up, and everything worked perfectly! (Dave still owns the Prophet-600, and doesn't ever plan to sell it, as it was the very first commercially-available synthesizer to implement MIDI, and has a great hybrid analog sound.)
Dave obtained a Fostex X-15 Multitracker cassette mini-studio, and made many tape studies and song demos. At one point, he added a Yamaha QY-10 Music Sequencer, which was a tiny device that combined a MIDI sequencer with some General MIDI tone generation, and an extremely intricate and counter-intuitive user-interface, that allowed for the development of more demo songs. The thing was exactly the size of a VHS video cassette, and even came packaged in a VHS case! Dave used his with a Boss SE-50 Multi-effects unit, and started developing demos for an album titled "I Only Paint What I See", which was never realized.
(...to be continued...)
Dave Read, December 2015
Gear used while at UMass Amherst, doing independent study via Physics Dept:
EMS Synthi AKS synthesizer
(borrowed from Physics Dept.)
TEAC A2340 recorder
(I purchased this at dealer cost, through my on-campus club, The Union Stereo Coop)
Gear used while at BSEM: The Boston School of Electronic Music:
ARP 2600 Synthesizer
(BSEM owned several of these - fantastically versatile and great intro to modular synthesis)
ARP 2500 Modular Synthesizer
(BSEM owned a BIG 2500 system - about twice the size of the one pictured - patching matrix was noisy and had crosstalk)
Moog Modular Synthesizer
(BSEM owned a modest system - but installed some awesomely HUGE ones in local colleges and universities)
(BSEM owned several of these, and my friend, bandmate, and roomate, Scott Clark also owned one)
RMI Keyboard Computer Additive Synthesizer
(BSEM owned one - worked on computer punch cards!)
EMS Synthi 256 Sequencer
(Owned by BSEM - I recall spending hours programming/troubleshooting this thing! Keyboard would go "out-of-tune" - i.e. lose it's 1V/octave range - every 20 minutes or so, and had to constantly be re-tweaked. Amazingly powerful for the time, though...)
Sequential Circuits Model 800 Digital Sequencer
(Loaned to BSEM by Sequential - I was supposed to write the owners manual, but I was too busy having fun - regrets...)
Oberheim 4-Voice Synthesizer
(BSEM owned one - survived the fire, but always had grit in the action afterward - plaster from the wall that was pulled down on top of it by the firefighters... BSEM also had one or two Expander Modules lying around for folks to use - fantastic sound quality! Among the few synth plug-ins I still use is Arturia's Virtual SEM!)
Oberheim 8-Voice Synthesizer
(BSEM had this on-hand while it was being set up for a customer - spent many sleepless nights working with it in the studio - all those sequencers!)
Polymoog Polyphonic Synthesizer
(Owned by BSEM, it was one of the originals, and led to lots of experimentation - one of the most useful things we - Scott Clark, Dave Smith, and I - did with it was come up with a vocal choir sound reminiscent of a Mellotron)
Sequential Circuits Prophet 5 Polyphonic Synthesizer
(BSEM owned one of the early ones, and my friend and collaborator, Billy Brown purchased another one from the school)
Moog Sonic Six Suitcase Synthesizer
(Owned by my friend, bandmate, and roommate, Dave "Snuffy" Smith - this synth had a very unusual architecture, with lots of modulation options - Snuff could get the weirdest sounds out of it!)
Aries 300 Modular Synthesizer
(In exchange for writing the owner's manual, BSEM got a full complement of module kits from Aries. Everybody took turns soldering and assembling. I absolutley loved the voltage-controlled phaser/flanger module! There was nothing like it!)
Owned these items while at BSEM (also still had my TEAC A2340 recorder):
ARP 1600 Sequencer
(Man I miss this thing!)
Tony Levin playing a Chapman Stick
(Mine got destroyed in the fire)
Gear I had access to while working at New England Conservatory of Music:
(Owned by friend and co-worker, Joe Auner - he brought it in to work a couple of times)
Kurzweil K250 ROM Keyboard
(Gift to NEC from Ray Kurtzweil - as manager of the Audio Department, I shared oversight/responsibility for this groundbreaking instrument with Dr. Robert Ceely - R.I.P.)
Yamaha DX-7 FM Synth
(Owned by friend and co-worker, Bruce Chianese, who also brought it in to work a couple of times)
Timex SInclair ZX-81 Personal Computer
(First computer I owned - I built an Atari joystick interface for it, and modified it to have a programmable, switchable external RAM bank to swap out for the OS ROM, so I could create and animate my own graphics)
Gear I owned after getting "real" jobs:
Atari 800XL Personal Computer
(My 2nd computer - added a MIDI interface and a couple of different software programs)
Casio CZ-101 Synthesizer
(First synth I actually owned!)
Fostex X-15 Multitracker cassette studio
(Couldn't afford a TASCAM Portastudio)
Sequential Circuits Prophet-600 MIDI Synthesizer
(Bought at a surplus/overrun/fire sale store for cheap. Had to buy a power cord, and ordered manuals through the mail.)
Atari 520ST Personal Computer (This thing had MIDI built in! Had lots of different software for audio and MIDI. I added extra RAM to bulk it up to the equivalent of a 1024ST)
Roland MT-32 MIDI Synthesizer Module
(Used "linear arithmetic" synthesis: very short sampled attacks from real instruments, combined with synth wavefroms for the sustain of the notes. Basically a D-50 without the keyboard)
Ensoniq Mirage Sampler
(Bought it used from a guy who only had a couple of sound disks - my biggest accomplishment with it was to sample Three Stooges sound FX!)
(Amazing little MIDI sequencer and composition tool - the exact size of a VHS tape!)
Boss SE-50 Multi-Effects Unit
(I loved this thing! Made my QY10 sound lilke a real instrument... Sold to get money for paintball gear...)
My gear in the 21st century:
Yamaha CS1x Digital Synthesizer
(purchased used on ebay - cool little workstation - was my master keyboard for a few years...)
PowerMac G4 Personal Computer
( I had a couple of PCs in between the Atari ST and this, but they were cheapo and nondescript)
Propellerhead Reason Version 1, 2000
(Fantastic virtual synth rack software that has evolved into a full-fledged DAW... Have tried lots of other music/audio software, but Reason is my fave!)
(Needed something for laptop-based music production... Turns out this wasn't it. Manufacturer was a little overambitious...)
Roland VM-3100 Virtual Mixer
(Was okay until: a. Roland stopped updating drivers for it, and: b. I no longer had a computer with a full-length PC-bus slot!)
My current gear:
am0eba's Reason Rack
(Now proudly running Version 8! Also have Logic X, Ableton 9, and Tracktion 5, but almost bevre use any of them except Reason)
am0eba's AKAI MPK61 MIDI controller
nano-patch and Mac MINI
am0eba's studio 2015/2016