Ask Eddie | Power Serge

Feb 1, 2013 9:00 AM, By Eddie Ciletti

THREE-AND-A-HALF GEEKS REVISIT A CLASSIC SYNTH

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photo of Serge Modular Synth

Eddie Ciletti says that the Serge Modular Synth in his shop is "filled with late ’70s-era 4000 Series C-MOS ICs, so it’s technically straightforward."

WEST COAST CULTURE
Thanasi Frentzos, a mod and repair guy in Minneapolis with a penchant for analog synths and drum machines, says:

“Over the last couple of months I’ve stumbled upon some surprising insights, either while researching the Serge Modular Synth or by way of various books that I just happened to have been reading at the same time.

“In The Serge Modular Creature: An Unauthorized User’s Manual, Ken Tkacs describes Moog-style ‘East Coast’ synths as effecting sound at the molecular level, while the ‘West Coast’ synths by Buchla and Serge allowed sonic manipulation at a more ‘atomic’ level. In doing so, I feel the West Coast synths expanded the consciousness of sound. Wendy Carlos describes Bob Moog on her site as ‘a creative engineer who spoke music: I was a musician who spoke science.’

“Don Buchla and his contemporary, Dr. Robert A. Moog, both released their first products in the ’60s. Buchla completed his first in 1963; Moog demonstrated his contribution at the 1964 AES. Moog was trying to create something that could replicate orchestral and band sounds, using a conventional keyboard. Buchla wanted to bring unique and completely original sounds to electronic music. Outside of synth circles, Moog’s name is perhaps better known, but Buchla managed to make his mark in the history books both in music and counterculture.

“Buchla is mentioned in Tom Wolfe’s Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, a book that documents the West Coast hippie culture of the 1960s through the eyes of Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters. It was a time of pushing boundaries of the mind as well as of light and sound, inadvertently laying the groundwork for our current concept of multimedia concerts. Buchla continued developing new ways to dig deeper down the rabbit hole, expanding the technology as well as the sonic possibilities. Then Serge came along in the 1970s and kept on digging.

“While late to the party, I’m very glad to finally have a chance to explore such a wonderfully crafted shovel, as both an electronic musician and a tech.”

SYNTHS IN HIS BLOOD
Logan Erickson is the owner of Low-Gain Electronics, a small Eurorack-format modular synthesizer manufacturer and custom audio electronics designer (low-gain.com). An electronic musician and DIY synth enthusiast by night, he is the production manager at Great River Electronics by day. A 100-percent synth geek and proud of it! He says:

“When it comes to pop culture, electronic dance music has become the new norm, and synth geeks are finally getting their well-deserved 15 minutes of being ‘cool.’ While always popular within the DIY community, a renewed interest in synthesis has inspired a new wave of analog (and digital) modular synthesizer manufacturing!

“After finally getting to see a vintage paper-faced Serge Modular System, I immediately started snapping pictures and posting them online. Quite a few people shared their stories, and a bit of history unfolded before my eyes. It was great to see how the old systems were made, and it might surprise many that the Serge Modular has been in continuous production since the 1970s. [Serge is now STS—Sound Transform Systems—no Website, but you can call 262/367-3030.—Ed.]

“I wasn’t always so impressed. I often wondered, ‘What is so great about Serge that justifies the huge price tag?’ Then a friend forced me to sit down and patch up his six-panel system, and this one humbling experience flipped my opinion 180 degrees!”

For more info about Serge Modular, visit serge-fans.com.

Mix Contributing Editor Eddie Ciletti can be reached at eddie@tangible-technology.com. Send him your Serge story!

Eddie Ciletti’s virtual residence is at tangible-technology.com.






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