VSM: Now who is responsible for the maintenence of all these synths in your collection.
BK: There's two guys, basically, allthough we have a [number] of different people that help out too. Kevin Lightner, and JL [of Musictek in LA] are probably the two people we use the most. Kevin's and JL are really in demand, so we sometimes put things on the back burner and wait for
it to get finished. But anybody out there of any quality, which is not only good repair people but inventive and clever and creative, and they know what people like. Like JL has developed lots of amazing [things] for keyboards over the years, because he's been doing it for so long. He knows more than anybody in the country, probably, how to do some of these things. He's just amazing at tweeking things out.
VSM: Keyboard repair techs are a bit of a dying breed aren't they?
BK: Yeah, well there's a few coming in, but not many. And a lot of the old guys that did it, I don't think they were very creative, they would just read the schematic and replace the part that's broken. But both those guys (Kevin Lightner & JL) and a few of the guys like Smith-Weir Labs and stuff are creative when they do it. And they have to be because there's parts that aren't available or there's initial flaws in the keyboards that need to be fixed.
VSM: And can be fixed now with new technology probably better than before...
BK: For sure, I mean JL's working with Dave Kean to get the Emu Audity running again, a big project like that.
Let's see, repair guys... There's a few other people we haven't counted who do certain things like when Roger has Wurlitzer work that needs to be done, or we have Hammond work for a different guy.
VSM: So basically if you rig breaks down while you're in Boston, you're screwed?
BK: Yeah, although I don't expect it to break down, in other words, thing might go weird with it and I can fix basic synth connections and a few broken parts and I can even solder stuff on the road. And I've done that before but that's about it. I mean, it's not going to go away and if it does I can rent one in a lot of towns now.
VSM: What do you think is going to make synths sound better? Is it the recent analog resurgence?
BK: That is an interesting question because I'm very picky, being a studio person. You can hear the difference between a different period of audio, like descrete audio, where things are wired point to point, or when things have chips and IC in them and all that. Or when you use transistors stuff verses tube, you can here the difference in there. And there are very few synths that live up to the quality of what we want to hear. Like the Minimoog, for example, or a modular synth, it has that fidelity that's really good, but as soon as you hear a Prophet V you go, "what happened to the sound?" And then when you get into the preset stuff, and digitally controlled oscillators and so forth too, it just loses some of that punch. And the clarity of the big CS80 sound as opposed to an OB-8 where it's just not there. And even that sounds fat compared to modern synths. You know, it's that whole perspective thing. If you hear an OB-8, you think, that sounds incredible, but when you hear a modular playing the same note, it blows it away.
So I think the tricky aspect [is] because modern things [use samples]. As shown over and over again, you can't just sample something and have it sound as good as the original, I don't know why. Somethings just can't repeat like a sample repeats, like of a modular sound, you can't just sample four minutes of cycling and make it do the same thing. So the audio question is a big thing but the Yamaha CSX1 is a great sounding copy of an analog. Even so, there's something that's just not correct about the fidelity. It's just like it's one window removed from pure sound, a real synth.
VSM: My philosophy is that it's the flaws that are not reproduced. No one reproduces the tuning drift in a filter or the voltage steeling from one module to the next.
BK: Then again, that's part of what makes a Minimoog sound fat is drifting and grinding oscillators a little bit. If it was perfectly locked in phase, it wouldn't sound fat anymore. That's part of the thing, why we like the Polymoog, for example, it's got these oscillators all over the place, shifting. It's not a fake chorus put on top of the cofiguration, it's actually, there are notes detuned and with different pulse widths and stuff, it sounds amazing. It just makes a difference in the tone.
And it's true, it's very possible for someone to build in those problems. Yamaha's SY series had some nice randomness, as far as you can have random LFO's on each note. Each one can be at a different speed or a synth where you can have variable attack times, just random, plus or minus 5 percent on the attack would be nice. Those are things that make things sound more interesting and cool. Like the Mellotron sounds great because every note has a different pitch, vibrato and timbre to it. The Mellotron sounds more like the real thing than a sampler even though the fidelity's worse. People realize it, they say, why does it sound so good, yet the fidelity is not really as good as a modern 16 or 20 bit sampler.
VSM: There is another aspect of that philosphy though. People are going back to 12-bit samplers and drum machines because they like the imperfections in that sound and they're finding out that "Oh, that stuff sounded great".
BK: Kevin Lightner is the first person I know of that talks about lower sample rate. And it's maybe not his idea, but the first person I know that said, you know, 8-bit sounds good. Like for the PPG Wave or an early Fairlight sample, people don't argue that the early sound they were make still sound good, yet by today's standards it's crappy sampling. Especially with an 8-bit oscillator, a digital oscillator with an analog filter, it's a great sound.
VSM: It doesn't sound like the sample, like the real sound, but it makes a totally different sound in itself. I think that's the whole point of synthesis is to make a totally different sound than existed before.
BK: Also the fact that it is not sampling higher frequencies makes it a warmer sound, that it doesn't really have the high end. Again, you can't find any synth these days that gives you variable sampling rates, down to the low level that we are talking about. What about 100Hz sampling rate? It's an amazing grinding sound if you've ever been able to play with stuff like that. Or like 50 Hz sampling rate. It's just incredible sounding. But no one does it.
VSM: People are now trying to go back to using vintage synths.
BK: A lot of the reason is because the interface is just great. Anyone can figure out how to use a Minimoog. They don't even have to know how it works. It looks interesting enough and not too intimidating. You can get in there and have fun with it and learn how things go and you will probably get a sound most of the time on it. It sounds good when you play the simple things. Like a guitar and an amp. If you have an amp and a great guitar you don't need alot of pedals, you're happy with the tone, so all the bells and whistles don't necessarily have to be there. If you can get them and still keep the good sound, that's even amazing too. But, again, knobs on the top is something people are going back to now.
VSM: What kind of things are you looking for in a synth?
BK: I love controllers. I'm starting to understand why people like Bob Moog and Tom Rhea and all these people where screaming about having better controllers. Everyone likes the Nord Lead. Why do they like it so much? They like the left hand stuff. I mean, it sounds good and all that, but everyone's crazy about that little wooden thing and that little stone [modulation wheel] at the end of the keyboard. It's a great idea and it feels good for the human hands to touch that instead of a piece of plastic.
Anyone who's ever played a Yamaha pitch ribbon is crazy about those and really misses it. If you took it off the keyboard you would feel something big was missing. So, there are a lot of options out there. And again, there's touch control with keyboards (keyboard action). When I play a Chroma or a Prophet T-8, that's what's missing in all of these Prophet V's and Juno-6's and stuff. You really can't express yourself near as much [without good keyboard action]... And I really wish things like the Minimoog had that. It doesn't though. It would be ten times better if it did.
And to have lever controls... Mark Mothersbaugh played on our album, did a keyboard solo on a Davolisint which is an Italian Synthesizer.
The thing that was neat about [the Davolisint] is it had two oscillators. They could both be radically detuned from each other with different vibratos. But the coolest part was this lever controller. You pull down on it. It wouldn't go up in pitch it would go down. And it had a hydrolic thing where it would slide back up slowly. You would pull it down like a tremelo bar and it would rise up slowly it wouldn't snap back. It'd go "BRRRRRR, BRRRRRRR" almost like a Bigsby Vibrato on a guitar. And that was very original, but it was the coolest feature on an instrument. It really made you want to use that part.
So if you could somehow buy a MIDI ribbon controller and a MIDI breath controller... which... You know, I think the Steiner Parker thing just kills me everytime we use it. Roger has one now too. I have two of them in case one of mine goes out... But it's such a great thing to go and plug into a filter and step on it with your foot or blow into it when you want a pitch to change or speed up a vibrato by blowing on it.
VSM: Talk about how your Minimoog was just recently stabilized.
BK: I shipped the Minimoog to JL at Musictek. It was actually a perfect Minimoog, I mean it worked great, in a lot of ways, it was cosmetically nice and the Keyboard was really good and so forth. I had no problems with it, but it would ocassionally drift. And I've always had this problem with the original Minimoogs that don't have the later oscillators. I actually have heard differences. They sound different to me. Whether that's good or bad, they do. And I've play the very first Minimoog and some of the very last ones and they all sound different. And it's not just a question of calibration, there's differences there. And there has to be, they changed the circuitry. Not better or worse, though, because the first ones sound a certain way and the later ones sound a certain way and I wouldn't prefer one or the other. They all sound good. But some are darker, some are buzzier, some are sharper, some are softer. And this one was good but it kept changing sometimes, transposing during a live show. And I couldn't have it going up and down a third like things happen to do. I took it to JL at Musictek and he did a few tweaks on it.
There was some correction to the resistors to the oscillators, if you move them, you can stabilize them so they won't drift. And it's not a big change, but it helps out a lot. And also there was a problem, which I didn't notice before. When you raise or lower the filter, that actually make the oscillators go flat, it drains a little bit of the current to the oscillators and makes it go a little bit off. So, I didn't hear it because usually when you are raising and lowering the filters, the tone changes so much you don't notice the pitch. But you can see it on a tuner, for example. And that's true of most any Minimoog. It does that. So if you can put a little buffer in there so that the filter action doesn't affect the pitch.
There's quite a few things that can be done on those things. I'd like to have a few mods done, I don't really want to change the Minimoog and drill it out and so forth. I would like to have a couple more mods done to it. I'd really like to have a range for the pitch bend, I'd like to have a range for the modulation wheel, things like that. And syncing the oscillators, all these cool things people used to do. Sending envelopes to the oscillators instead of giving it LFO. But, I really don't want to drill it out so hopefully I can find another Minimoog I can mess with someday and tweak out one like Herbie Hancock would have and so forth.
VSM: And the Chick Corea Minimoog you have doesn't work?
BK: I've got that Chick Corea Minimoog and JL found for me, yesterday, a really beat up Minimoog that works.
VSM: Oh really?
BK: Really beat up. Like the case is in horrible shape and the keyboard is screwed. Which is what's good about this other one [the one from Chick Corea]. The problem is, if I get that one, that would probably be the one I keep stock because it's the Chick Corea one although it has new guts so it doesn't really matter.
I don't mind mods so much. if people are using instruments, I think that's really a good thing. I've seen over the years where people have put Talor or Floyd Rose's in guitars and it ruins the value. A lot of modifications give you something more usable without detracting anything from the original quality. A Floyd Rose on a guitar changes the tone and changes the way it plays and all of those kinds of things, and changes the way you tune it. That is a big difference. But on a Minimoog, having a sync switch doesn't ruin the original keyboard it adds something to it.
The worst part of what we like to do is repair stuff. Because keyboards are constantly breaking. I was talking to a friend of mine who was getting into it just for the investment purposes. He's a guitar dealer... The problem with [collecting synths] is that, buying a guitar, you only have two or three pickups and two or three knobs and that's all you need to deal with, but a synth has many, many, many parts and you have to really know how to work it to find a problem before you buy it. I often buy a keyboard thinking it's great and test most of the features and then get home and find out that it's got a flaw, a major flaw, somewhere deep inside it that causes a problem. And that's always bad news. A few instruments like the CS80 and things like that, you just cannot get fixed by people. Even the repair men I know will not deal with it because it's too much trouble. Or an Optigan, which is.. you know.. you can fix it but as soon as you put the screws back in, it's broken again with something new. Certain instruments are not that reliable. Chamberlins are notoriously bad too. Some instruments are worth some trouble and worth some time but the more you use it the more you realize that you don't want to spend your time fixing things. You should be making music.
VSM: You have to enjoy synths in order to collect them..
BK: I literally learned a lot about repairing things by having to do it myself, I couldn't afford any repairmen at 50 bucks an hour, 60 an hour to fix everything.
It's funny because it speaks to us keyboard players. And I think you go through the same thing, you learn a lot about your instrument and learn to love it and appreciate it, when you get in to fix it. When I first met Roger and I was showing him how to clean J-wires on keyboards and connectors and things like that. And [there are] a lot of things anyone can do themselves that's not even scary and no worse than cleaning out your ears, it's very simple stuff to do. But the main problem with old keyboards is reliability. They're just not that good at it. Especially certain things like ARP sliders, things like that, bound to break off, impossible to replace.
VSM: What are your favorite synths?
BK: Wow... Always the Minimoog... but above that, the 2600. The 2600 is just so powerful and I grew up with them and
VSM: Is that what you learned Modular synthesis on?
BK: Yeah, I started with an ARP Odyssey when I was a kid so it's very similar. I just went nuts on the 2600. For what it is, it has a great selection of modules, three oscillators is a good amount, and the filter is great, the LFO options are neat on there, if you have the right keyboard that is.
Also I'm crazy about playing the Chroma. I love a Prophet T-8 for the same reason, it's just a really good sounding fidelity, good sounding filters and oscillators, but controllable with your hands, which is so important, I think. And I love the Synergy. I use the Jupiter-8 more than anything, I don't know why, it's got everything and it's fast. The Jupiter-8 gets used the most. And Roger's nuts about the SEM Oberheim stuff, the Two-Voices and Eight-Voices. He's got Chick Corea's Eight-Voice. And we've used that a bit on some of the tunes. But he loves SEM stuff and he loves the Oberheim sound in general.
VSM: Does he have a Two-Voice?
BK: I have a Two-Voice and he has a Two-Voice, too. And that's an amazing keyboard. Sometimes when I have a session, that's the one I'll take along, if somebody wants goofy synth sounds because it has a sequencer, a sample-and-hold, it has enough oscillators to do weird stuff, you can process things through it. It's really portable and it's going to be in tune and it's going to run when I get to the session.
Roger also likes the YC-45D, the Yamaha Organ from the 70s that has pitch ribbon and it's all on the [Chick Corea] "Return to Forever" album. An incredible sounding organ. Roger has a Gleeman Pentaphonic which is pretty amazing. They sound very bright and clear and buzzy. Nothing sounds like it. We featured it on a whole separate track, the intro to "Buddy Holly" on the first record, it was all Gleeman, except for one sound, which we're not giving away to people. It wouldn't do a slow enough glide so we used one other synth for a long glide note. But we are basically featuring all Gleeman on that track and it's really shiny and sparkly. It's an amazing synth. It's not a big enough keyboard for me though. It just really drives me crazy to only have two octaves but it's polyphonic.
VSM: You like the Polymoogs..
BK: Yeah, well you saw the back cover of our last record [their self-titled debut release, "The Moog Cookbook"]. We were surrounded by four Polymoogs, two Minimoogs and a Sonic Six. We have one extra Polymoog that we didn't have in the picture. But we love them so much, they're such great sounding keyboards. We use them all the time. And at the time we were buying them, they were cheap. Like they went for 150 dollars or so... The problem is they kept breaking. Roger and I each had the "Keyboard" version and the synth version. And eventually we just got to the point where there were just too many keyboards, always breaking. And I finally got one from Mark Vail [author of the book, Vintage Synthesizers]. He got it from Dominic [Milano, then editor] of Keyboard Magazine. I was up there one time asking about Polymoogs. He said "I've still got the original we used for the first review."
VSM: No way!! It must have been in mint condition!
BK: Yeah, it was perfect. And they never used it that much. It was amazing. So I was really happy.
I can't tell you how much we use that thing. We use it all the time.
VSM: And it's funny people I talk to are like, Oh no, it's not worth buying and so forth..
BK: You know what it is? You put it on the preset buttons, it is awful. It sounds like a bad organ. If you get into programming it, and get it chorusing naturally and you really can play, like for example if you're a keyboard player, if you're good at chords and voicings and things, it's one of those excellent keyboards. With a great keyboard player, tone is so good. Like in "More than a Feeling" [on the latest CD], for the chorusy glossy, 12-string guitar kind of sound, we used the Polymoog. It just shimmered and it filled up space and it's got a fat low end, like a Minimoog does and it really sounds a lot like that Minimoog tone.
VSM: Anything else you want to say.
BK: We like the good and bad stuff. We like stuff that's really powerful like the Oberheim 8-Voice and yet we'll happily plug in a Yamaha CS-10, because sometimes a pure sound is better. A simple sound, a sine wave with no attack and no decay, just a test tone kind of sound works great for some things. We're lucky we're in a group where we can use every keyboard for its best feature. Once even. If this keyboard does an amazing bomb noise, I'll find a place to use it. And it's a studio project, we don't have to worry about duplicating it live so much. It's really great to be able to pull things out and sit in a room with keyboards like you've always dreamed about. We've finally got to a point where we have pretty much everything we want to get. Now we're at a point where we can say, Yeah, lets do a choir sound. Do we want to use the vocoder choir, do we want to use the Mellotron choir, the Chamberlin? Do we want to do something on the 360 system? And it's always fun to roll those out. Everytime we go towards a new keyboard though, it doesn't fit in so well with what we're doing. We've actually tried using modern sounds just for a few tricks and they don't really sound the same. It doesn't really fit into the tonality of what we're doing.
Luckily I've gotten to the point where I'm not so crazy about keyboards that I don't have. The few things I do have, I'm really happy that I know how to use them. I've gotten rid of stuff I don't use. I used to collect every keyboard. I had one Vox and Farfisa and this kind of stuff. And I got them and I never used them. You know, they sound great but they're too big and I don't want a collection, I want stuff I can use. Roger's more into having one of everything. And there's a purpose to that too cause everything is different. The Minitmoog sounds a little different than the ARP Pro Soloist. So when we get to use them on our project, that's really good. And also in the case of investment he's made great pains, everything he buys is 10 cents on the dollar.
Dave Kean is restarting his studio. Though I'm not going to be involved this time. It's not Oddities anymore so we're not doing that. He's got a regular studio that's going to pop up with a friend of his.
VSM: Is he going to put the Museum back up again.
BK: Sort of.. Dave kept saying all along, and I kept agreeing with him museums are a bad idea. Museums aren't really.. they're places you look at things. You don't use them and stuff. If you use them, they're going to break. So you might as well be recording them which makes it a studio more than a museum. Nobody calls a collection of Microphones a microphone museum, it's a studio. You know, no workman collects tools, they just have all of these tools they use. So, in this case it's great to have everything up and running so you can plug it in and use it. And I have a studio I'm just starting up with my old mixing board from the last place with a twenty-four track machine and it's going to be the back half of somebody else's studio. I'm going to put a lot of my keyboards in there and have a room I can do all this stuff in to get out of my house for a while. A place to set up the big stuff. And that will be fun. It will be really amazing to have another place to work and Dave will be available to me anytime I want and vice-versa.
VSM: I hear Dave Kean has quite a collecton.
It makes you not want to collect synths, though cause it makes you realize how much you'll never get.