Friday, September 4, 2020

ARP 2500 modular "The ARP electronic music synthesizer" brochure and mail-in insert, 1970/71





ARP 2500 "The ARP electronic music synthesizer" 8 page colour brochure and mail-in insert from approximately 1970/71.

Oooooh boy! Here's a doozy. Such a doozy that this post got rather long-winded. My apologies in advance. 

"What? What's so 'doozy' about this?!?!", I hear you say... "I've seen this brochure on tons of sites! BORING!!!!!" 

Well, yes. But no. 

Take a closer look at that front page. That's not ARP's treble clef logo!  And the company name and address is listed as... "Tonus Inc. 45 Kenneth Street, Newton Highlands, Massachusetts. 02162"

TONUS INC. 

Now go take a look at all those other ARP 2500 8-page brochures with a similar front page image. They all have "ARP Instruments, Inc. 320 Needham Street" as the company and street name. 

So, for example, the front page of this September 1972 "The ARP 2500 Electronic Music Synthesizer" brochure on the Internet Archive has the same image, but the title is slightly different, it includes the new more familiar treble clef ARP logo instead of the older Tonus/ARP logo, and it has the later Needham street address at the bottom (see image at right). 

Interestingly, it seems that this same set of September 1972 scans pops up on a few sites, including the ARP 2500 page on soundprograaming.net, but can be traced back to Tim Stinchcombe's awesome set of old synth brochure scans, including this 2500 brochure that was originally scanned by Ben Ward and sent to Tim for posting. Good work!

An even later version of this 2500 brochure dated September 1974 recently went up for auction last August on eBay and some photos can be found on the fabulous MATRIXSYNTH website. Although only six of the eight pages were photographed in the auction, I've managed to find a few differences between the 72 and 74 version. 

For one, in the 1972 brochure, there were five different keyboard models available for the 2500 - 3604, 3001, 3002 3212 and 3222, but in 1974, that list seems to have shrunk down to three models - 2604, 3002 and 3222. And this has lead to some small price differences on four of the six sample systems featured a few pages later. 

Another difference is on the back page where ARP does a little cross advertising of their other synths. In the 1972 brochure, the Odyssey, Pro Soloist, Soloist Mk II and 2600 are featured. But in the 1974 brochure, we see the 2600, Odyssey, Pro Soloist and Explorer. 

But I'm getting off topic... let's get back to *my* brochure.  Not only is the front page different, but so are guts. For example, there is no other instruments being promoted in this earlier brochure. And we definitely don't have as much pricing info scattered throughout. 

All in all, the biggest takeaway from this brochure has gotta be the design. Those lovely colours. That lovely fat font used for much of the titles. And of course those lovely graphics and close-ups of the modules.  I've never taken a closer look at that angel - did you ever notice the different wave forms coming out of the trumpet?!?! GAH!!!

Take my word for it - its worth going down the rabbit hole of the different iterations of this 2500 brochure  - ALL OF THEM!

I gotta say I was pretty proud of myself thinking I had *the earliest* version of this 8-page brochure. So proud I've been strutting down the street like the dude from Saturday Night Fever. But after doing the research, someone out there, of course, happens to have an EVEN EARLIER VERSION!!!!

This earlier version is dated 1969/1970 and I found it as a featured eBay auction from 2017 on MATRIXSYNTH! Unlike my 1970/71 brochure, the front page doesn't include any ARP logo on the front page. Even more cool, is that some of the modules on pages 4 and 5 don't even have photos yet! They are just white spaces with the name of the modules. 


Seriously, just how cool is that. 

And the last page is totally different as well. My version of the brochure has a lot more information about the modules available, and that cool map that we see in future iterations of the brochure as well.

As angry as I am that MAXTRIXSYNTH has outdone me AGAIN *shaking my fists at you!!!!*, I thought I'd return the favour by include two other scans in my post! I haven't seen the mail-in insert that was included in my brochure ANYWHERE else online (although I'm now afraid to look). Either way, its another two pages of cool ARP history. 

Well, that's the end of another blog pos... wait a second!!!

One last point I'd like to make has to do with that map on the back. The one of the left from my brochure (1970ish) has the Kenneth Street location. The one on the right (from the 1972 brochure) is the Needham Street location. 

 

The new location is literally just down the street - a ten minute walk! And in that 1972 map, they include the location of the "old ARP location" as a reference point. Sweet. 

Maybe more interestingly is looking these locations up on Google Maps. 

The Kenneth Street location looks to be still there, but there's a few differences from the map in the brochure. The house to the Northeast of Tonus Inc. has been replaced by Salon Fabio. And the Power'd Equp building is now the Loyal Companion pet store. But the Liquor store seems to have managed to stand the test of time!


The 1972 Needham Street location is definitely still there. There is even that notch in the south corner that is drawn into the building in the map from the brochure. Looks like its now Inflexxion - a business consulting business, among other things. 


Now, I'm not asking anyone to stalk these location, but the first people to send me a photo of themselves (preferably with an ARP synth) in front of the doors of either location - or inside getting your hair done at Salon Fabio - will get added to the blog post.  :)

This is exactly why I love historical documents such a these. Not just the location info, but having a date on the later document allows me to more accurately estimate print dates of other undated ARP brochures that came after it. 

Okay. I think I'm done now. Phew. 

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

E-mu Systems Inc. Vintage Keys "Classic Analog Keys" synthesizer brochure, 1993



E-mu Systems Inc. Vintage Keys "Classic Analog Keys" two page colour synthesizer brochure from 1993.

Hey... its been a while. Almost two months. Haven't been in the mood for much writing. But when the topic of the E-mu Vintage Keys came up with a group of friends recently, I remembered all those E-mu brochure scans that have been sitting in draft mode for an unusually long time - even for me. So, here's a short and sweet post to share with my friends. 

While the previous E-mu Morpheus sheet I posted last December is one of my favs in this marketing series from E-mu, I gotta say the Vintage Keys also brings a twinkle to my eye. And yes, the dude with the keytar on the front of the brochure is *definitely* part of that twinkle. 

As mentioned - the sheets for the Morpheus and Vintage Keys (along with the other four or five I have in the series) are from the same series, so it makes sense they all follow the same format. Large title and image up top. Propaganda below. And then on the back - more details. In the case of the Vintage Keys brochure, a good amount of that back page real estate is made up of the list of preset names. Because this machine is all about those presets. 

Let's face it, E-mu was ahead of its time with this module. Or maybe right on time, because most of my friends owned one (even those with original Moogs, Arps and Oberheims) and soon after the vintage synth craze really started to take off. Although I'm sure others will argue with me over that arguably arguable statement of the timing of the actual start of the vintage craze. 

The point being that this rack mount was in-arguably the cheapest way to cram the classic sounds of a Moog Modular, Minimoog and Taurus Pedals,  Fairlight, ARP 2600, Oberheim Matrix-12, Sequential Prophet 5 and many other amazing classic synths into 1 U of rack space.

Sure, 8 megs of sounds (expandable to 16!) doesn't sound like a lot by today's standards, but considering I was probably using less memory running Photoshop on Windows in 1993 in grad school, it packed a rompler of a wallop for it's time.  And did I mention 32 voices, 16 bit sound AND multi-timbral? Sweet.

There is a great review of the Vintage Keys in the May 1993 issue of Music Technology written by Peter Forrest - the always amazing Mu:zines has it online - and he admits that a lot of compromises had to be made to get that many great sounds into 8 MB, but states near the end that...
"Overall, one would have to say that Vintage Keys is an absolute must for any studio - possibly the most essential piece of equipment and the best value for money since... well, something like the SPX90, or the first DAT machines - and equally useful for any professional keyboard player, even if only as a high quality back-up for the real thing."

A great value for sure. 

During the write up, Peter also made a few other comments that I actually had never thought about until re-reading that review.

The first is that he notes that "perhaps the strangest omission is that of any Emulator sounds - or, come to think of it, of anything from the early E-mu modular systems, especially given the slight American bias to the selection."  

Interesting. 

Although I'm not surprised they didn't include E-mu modular samples (can you think of a famous E-mu modular sound?), its a good point about not including Emulator sounds. Of course, that may be because they knew that in a year or so they would be coming out with an expansion kit / Plus version that would, in fact, include some of those Emulator samples. But still, one or two wouldn't have hurt. 

The other more interesting comment - and one I should try to do a deep-dive on in the future, was this:

"The other rather puzzling thing is the question of copyright and trademarks, etc. For years, no manufacturer dared to call the clavinet imitation on their synth or sampler 'Clavinet' - presumably for fear of litigation. And yet here are E-mu apparently quite happy to name all the products exactly, and even have adverts with photos of the original keyboards plastered all over them. Maybe they agreed a royalty system with the trademark holders, or maybe there's no problem after all - I haven't been able to find out. The only concession to this possibly thorny question comes in the manual, which says "The names of the above-mentioned instruments may be trademarks of third parties"."

Dang. As soon as I read that, I immediately started to try to go through old synth and sampler presets in my head to see if/when companies started to include competitor brand names in their patch or sample names. Sure, I could buy patch sets from third party sound designers that would include names like "Moog Bass" to describe their carefully crafted Casio CZ patch.   But did Yamaha or Roland ever use "Moog" as a descriptor in any of their bass synth preset patch names? Or even more of a thorny question - if/when did one sampler's sounds make it into the factory presets of another sampler, or in a synth that used sampled waveforms? 

And if so, when did that start? That Kawai K1 Fairlight-sounding Aaaaah patch does come pretty close. Okay, not that close. But it could have if Kawai had the balls.  :) 

A deep dive for another time indeed.

Anways, back to the machine itself. For me, it's the Vintage Keys strings and choir samples that are especially nice - the actual samples that make up the patches. Like sample sound 57 - ARP Strings sampled from an ARP String Ensemble or sample sound 58 - AHHs from the Fairlight. Slap on some chorus or reverb and enjoy the ride.  

You can head on over to the E-mu Vintage Keys page on the Emu Mania website to hear the four factory demos.

Stay safe. And, in an unrelated note, if you have a few extra bucks, buy some electronic music from someone deserving. They will appreciate it. 

Monday, June 1, 2020

The HAL-ICM Frigit - a "Russian Fairlight" we all still want - but will never have, Keyboard Magazine, July 1984



The HAL-ICM Frigit synthesizer from page 16 in the July 1984 issue of Keyboard Magazine. 

Today's blog post is a co-op piece with mu:zines. Please head over to the mu:zines site and contribute anyway you can to help them thrive and grow. 

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I don't often collaborate, but this curious instrument's story was brought to my attention by mu:zines in a recent tweet and it was only through a good eight to ten minutes of deep, collaborative investigative work that we could dig up the deets on this gorgeous Russian machine.  That would never be. 

Read on!

News releases can be powerful things. They are always so official looking, and as a retired Corporate Communications lacky I know how enticing a well-written news release can be. So I can see how in 1984, from behind the Soviet wall, news of a Russian Fairlight-killer would end up appearing as a half-page article in what was arguably North America's biggest and most well-known synth magazine. 

The instrument itself, called the HAL-ICM Frigit, was designed by a Japanese-Soviet team, with the head of the music division of the Ukraine Society Academy of Scientists describing it as the "most advanced computer musical instrument in the world". It was similar in appearance to the Fairlight but it's "costs, signal-to-noise ratio, digital recording facility, and synthesizing techniques for both sound and light were far superior to any current system". 

Some of its features included:
  • extendable solar-power panel
  • touch-sensitive display screen
  • a three point headset sensor unit for monitoring and utilizing human brain wave patterns
  • sound and voice-recognition device for triggering responses
  • a laser beam unit
  • a computer graphics interface for syncing visual display patterns to sound
  • MIDI (remember, this is 1984, a year after MIDI actually launched)

Further specs were unavailable but at the end of the article, one of the designers suggested that the instrument incorporated "silicon chips which were originally destined for the Western war machine". 

Okay... in all the years I've been flipping through my Keyboard magazines, I've never given much thought to this article. I'm sure I've come across it from time to time, but it just didn't register. I may have even tried Googling the synth from time to time, but until mu:zines was online, I never would have come across any other information on it. 

That was... until mu:zines tweeted out something curious. 

Whaaaaaaat? April Fools? As an avid April Fools blog poster, I was naturally intrigued. I got in touch with mu:zines to get a few more bits of information and started digging through my magazine archives. 

First - who was the Union of Sound Synthesists? I remembered coming across the name in a 1983 Keyboard magazine article when they were showcased in what would be one of Keyboard's most classic issues "The Great Synthesizer Debate - are electronic instruments putting acoustic musicians out of work?". So I decided to dig out that issue to see if there was an juicy info there.

In the article, we learn about how a local London musicians union passed a resolution 2-1 to "proscribe and prohibit, for the purposes of recording or live performances, the use of all electronic devices that make audible imitation or simulation of any musical/percussive instrument as defined by the Musician's Union directory." 

The English synth community responded accordingly. Some resigned from the union. Thomas Dolby wrote a piece in the June 5, 1982 issue of Sounds regarding the "futility and impracticability of any attempt to halt the advance of electronic music by force".  

Some took a more humorous angle, with one magazine article penning the article "The Great Trumpet Dispute: Should Elephants be banned". And one musician named David Tufnell headed up a group of musicians that "elected to form their own lobbying group in order to actively resist what they saw as the union's retrogressive policies". This group was called the Union of Sound Synthesists and along with the more serious work of supplying the media with info about synths and pushing pro-synth issues to unions and government, they also did hesitate to show their humorous side to the issue with T-shirts and bumper stickers that included slogans like "I'm A Synthesizer Sympathizer", "Keep Synthesizers Live", and "If You're Not One of USS, You're Probably One of Them". 

Ahhhhh. So they have a funny bone. I like that in my musicians union. 

Next up - find the Keyboard article itself. mu:zines suggested targeting 1983 and 1984 issues of Keyboard, so I dug them out of their storage box and flipped through the Spec Sheets and News sections. Sure enough, there it was - a half page "Profile" article in the July 1984 issue. 

I don't blame Keyboard. That's some juicy info! And British humour is well... its even lost on us Canadians sometimes.  :)

mu:zines and I are guessing the letters in HAL-ICM FRIGIT rearrange to R(ussian) CMI FAIRLIGHT. 

And so it was that, a few months afterwards, British magazine Electronics and Music Maker Incorporating Computer Musician decided to do a bit of pre-Internet trolling of their American competition in October 1984:

From mu:zines: "It's curious, isn't it, how jokes get blown out of all proportion.

Which reminds me, how about the piece that's published on page 16 of the July 1984 issue of Keyboard? You know, the one that starts: 'The Soviet Union may be gaining ground on the electronic music battleground. At a recent meeting of the Ukraine Society Academy of Scientists at Minsk, a new digital computer-synthesiser system, the HAL-ICM FRIGIT, was unveiled. A member of the British Union of Sound Synthesists, invited to the gathering by the Soviet cultural attache in London, sent us a report.'

And so it goes on, a verbatim rendering of ESSP organiser David Tuffnell's HAL press release. Well, almost verbatim - Keyboard's assistant editor forgot to look at the date on the aforesaid: April 1, 1984.

So, who was it that said you can't fool some of the people all of the time...?"

Ouch!  

Now, I'm not sure what caused them to pick on Keyboard magazine so badly. Maybe it was because "Keyboard" was a much better name for a synth magazine than the really wordy "EMMICM" (I didn't event want to spell it all out again). 

mu:zines noted that it became a bit of a tradition of these magazines to resort to ridiculing their competitors when they could. "It was all inoffensive, and they usually went out of their way by not printing anything libelous, but if they could get a subtle kick in from time to time, it would often happen." 

Those Brits!

The extent of the joke and the subsequent publishing of the article would continue to be felt for months afterwards, as documented in the December 1984 issue of One-Two Testing Magazine, which would write about how the USS was receiving multiple calls, faxes and letters about this Russian Fairlight, and led to at least one company sending someone to Moscow to do some research into it: 

From mu:zines: "Those whacky funsters at the Union of Sound Synthesists are still feeling the breeze from their April Fool joke when they tried to con us into swallowing a Russian version of the Fairlight. Remember we said the American magazine 'Keyboard' had printed the press release, in full, believing the lot. Now USS say they're receiving "a continuous stream of international letters, phone calls and telexes" from the States, all from interested gullibles. "We have, since learnt that at least two major American equipment manufacturers took the story seriously enough to the extent that one company sent a research and development manager to Moscow." Wouldn't be winding us up again would you? Maybe not since they have gone to the expense of producing a booklet containing the original press release, the 'Keyboard' version and a Music Week story. If you want to know how the caper was pulled, the booklet costs a quid, including post and packing, and is available from USS, (Contact Details). Always support a sense of humour!"
Interestingly, back over on this side of the pond, Keyboard magazine received a letter to the editor from Denver, Colorado resident John R. Baude that was printed in the September 1984 issue. 
"After reading your article about the new Russian computer system, the HAL-ICM Frigit (July '84), I was immediately struck by something. It appears that designer Boris Imrikey and company not only borrowed HAL's name from 2001: A Space Odyssey. They also seem to have pilfered the name from "a well known Australian computer music instrument". Just move the letters around a bit and I think you'll see what I mean. Come on, Boris! Somethings a little fishy in Moscow, and I don't mean caviar!"
Seems some Americans got the joke. 

Keyboard responded underneath the letter with:
"There are some competition-level anagram addicts on the Keyboard staff, so we're embarrassed to admit that we didn't notice the word "Fairlight CMI" hidden within HAL-ICM FRIGIT until after the issue went to print We contacted the British Union of Sound Synthesists, which had sent us the report, and were informed by its president, David Tufnell, that the press release describing HAL's splendiferous unveiling was, as he put it, "to be taken with a grain of salt". It seems that the USS, normally a reliable information source, decided to pull a little joke on us by writing up a straight-faced press release on their usual stationery and forwarding it exclusively to Keyboard. Our attempts to glean more information from the USS went unrewarded, when we were able to call during English business hours, no one was there to take our questions. However, because of their past record of accurate reporting, we had no reason to doubt their veracity, and accepted their report at face value. Tufnell assures us that "most" of the story is true. We've asked him for a less fantastic summary of the events in Russia, which we hope to relay to you, with due caution, in the hear future."
Well, sure enough, Tufnell comes clean next month on just how much of the story is true, when his letter to Keyboard gets published in the October 1984 issue. It was obvious that Keyboard was taking some slack over the publication of the info, because prior to the letter from Tufnell, Keyboard's editor prints:
"All right, let's get this Russian synthesizer thing cleared up once and for all. as we admitted last month, we fell prey to a joke when the British Union of Sound Synthesists sent us a press release describing a demonstration alleged to have taken place in Leningrad of a Russo-Japanese digital "super synthesizer". We summarized their account in our July '84 issue. Later on we discovered that the USS was having a bit of fun with us; much of their account was fabricated. We asked David Tufnell, the head of the USS, to send us a letter relating what exactly did and did not happen. Here is his explanation."
The letter from Tufnell is actually quite long. About as long as this blog post (too dang long). So to summarize, the USS received a letter from Bob Moog, dated March 8th, in which he said that Keyboard intended on producing an April '84 issue "full of off the wall articles". For some reason, that did not happen, and only Bob's article was actually an April Fools piece. The USS was hoping to give some useful material, and so they prepared a report for Keyboard's entertainment, duly noted April 1. The report went to a number of magazines and papers in the industry and throughout the world. 

He points out that every other publication realized the joke, but Keyboard went on to print the article months later, editing out most of the "giveaways" that made it the joke it was intended to be. That should have been the end to it, except that at the time there was actual rumors that the Japanese were working with the Soviets on a synth project. As well, while preparing the report, they tuned into Radio Moscow and adapted some of the news they had heard. For example, there was actually a meeting of the Ukraine Society Academy of Scientists that discussed music around the time. 

Near the end of the letter, he assured readers that the USS actually does exist and doing some great work. And that they also have a sense of humor.  :)

It was that little bit of truth that gave this solid April Fools joke even more of a solid foundation. 

I tip my hat to you, USS! 

BTW - we would love to get a copy of that booklet if anyone has it.

And, speaking for myself - I'd still pay thousands for this Fairlight killer. Especially with the solar panel. 

Again - head over and give mu:zines some support! Keep that amazing archive alive!

Thursday, April 23, 2020

Roland A-110, 220 and 880 "MIDI peripheral equipments" six page brochure, 1991

   

Roland "MIDI peripheral equipments" six page colour brochure featuring the MIDI separator A-220, MIDI patcher/mixer A-880 and MIDI display A-110 from 1991. 

USB MIDI sucks bum. There. I've said it. 

Give me a five-pin DIN MIDI interface any day of the week. That's how my grand daddy did MIDI. That's how my pappy did MIDI. And that is the way I'm going to go to the grave doing MIDI. 

This brochure is simply gorgeous. Lovely diagrams. Gorgeous cover photograph. Lots of info. But one thing irks me - the title - "MIDI Peripheral Equipments" With an "s" on the end of "Equipment". Odd. But other than that, this brochure hits a home run!

I've placed the scans in the order they would appear if you opened up the brochure full and scanned from left to right. Not in the order that it would be read - Cover, flip open to see the A-220 page on the left, A-880 page on the right, Flip open A-880 page and see the A-110 page and the Advanced application page, then the spec page on the back. Hope that makes sense. 

Of all the MIDI devices I've ever craved, it has to be Roland's A-110 MIDI Display. There is something so simplistic yet so hypnotizing about being able to see an 88-key MIDI display of the data moving through your MIDI cable. And they threw in five MIDI thru to boot.

The reason I've been looking at MIDI utility devices these days is because I'm currently building my new house that includes a new studio space - and every time I visit the space I think about how things will get set up. And MIDI is a huge part of that thinking. So I pulled out this brochure to get some ideas. 

Of the three devices featured in this brochure, the A-110 and A-220 MIDI Separator are cool little tools to have in the shed. But, as with any large number of MIDI keyboards and drum machines, a MIDI thru like the A-880 is a necessity. This thing is not just a MIDI patch bay to send a MIDI input to up to 8 MIDI outputs. It also has merging functionality too! 

I don't have an A-880, but I have a few of its simpler cousins including three Casio TB-1s, an Akai MP30P, a Korg KMP-68 and a few others. But they all require power. And they have a max 8 MIDI in and/or outs. Sure, there are bigger ones out there like the Kenton 25 MIDI thru box - but it only has one input.  

I'm looking for something that is like a MIDI matrix system. But simple to use. 

What I figure I want is a MIDI patch bay that works like an audio patch bay.  No power required - totally passive. You just plug all your MIDI INs and OUTs into the back. Then use short MIDI cables to connect different MIDI in's and outs together. This way, using the patch bay system together with my MIDI thru boxes,  I could have my Commodore 64, Amiga, Atari, PC computer and my desktop and modular MIDI/CV sequencers all plugged into separate gear. And I could easily re-patch using the patch bays. 

Yeah, I haven't even totally figured out what I want, but it doesn't mean I haven't started searching the web for an answer. :)

Googling around, it's clear I'm not the only one that has asking for this type of thing. And some people have come up with some creative solutions - all of which unfortunately seem complicated. One creative solution was to use a TRS patch bay, and make a bunch of short female MIDI Din to TRS cables to connect their gear to the patch bay. Interesting. Others just want to solder a bunch of MIDI Din connectors together in a box and wire them internally.  That seems like a lot of work. 

I'd like a passive patch bay like I described, or even better a powered matrix of 25x25 midi ins and outs that is just button presses like the A-88 to assign different ins and outs together, mixing midi signals as required. 

Out of all the real-world solutions I have found, this one is so far the closest to what I want - the Signex CPM22M Midi Panel with rear DINs. 



Each rack gives you 22 MIDI DIN connectors on the front and back.  I would need two of them (one for ins, and one for outs, and then connect them together from the back connectors. There is even a version that doesn't include Din connectors on the backside, just wires. So I can save some cash and solder between the two myself. Then I'd have 22 in's and out's in a two rack space. Buy four and I have 44 ins and outs. Hubba! 

Like I said - I haven't figured it all out yet. But I'm getting there. 

Any suggestions welcome. 

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Roland JX-8P / PG-800 "Simple to operate..." synthesizer colour brochure, 1985



Roland JX-8P synthesizer / PG-800 programmer  "Simple to operate" synthesizer colour brochure from January 1985

The JX-8P has played an interesting part in my life. I sell very few synths, but I've bought and sold a number of  JX-8Ps and its bigger brother, the Super JX. Usually it's come and gone during the peaks and valleys of my life and even my therapist brings it up as a way of highlighting certain behaviours in my life.

One of those deep valleys that involved the JX-8P was when my creativity had hit rock bottom. Life wasn't going well, there was a ton of stresses pushing down hard on me and all that gear was just sitting there not being used.

Many synth-head friends that I talked to, online and off, made the same remark:
"Too much gear reduces your creativity."
If you don't live under a rock, chances are you've seen (or even written) a similar type of post or comment in an online forum. It isn't new - I'm sure I first saw it on listservs and newsgroups back in the '90s. But more recently this phenomenon has become an almost-daily occurrence on forums like Reddit and in Facebook groups. Just two days ago, I came across FOUR of these types of posts in different Facebook groups.

In particular, more and more people seem to love blaming a pile of gear they have purchased for...
  • their lack of creativity
  • their inability to master one particular piece of gear
  • wasting their time noodling when they could be making music
Like everyone else, I too came to the false conclusion that the solution was to remove the gear from the equation. Or most of it anyways. Little did I know at the time that I was just putting a band aid on the problem. And luckily I could never bring myself to selling much gear anyways except for that dang JX-8P - but that was another issue I had to work out with myself. And I eventually bought that JX-8P back.

In the end, it would take years of  trial and error and a wack of therapy to unravel all the issues surrounding my unhealthy relationships between people, money, gear and creativity to figure out what the real problems were. But it was worth it. And although my experience is unique, the solution is not. 

Before I could get to the solution, I needed to ask myself two questions:

The first question: Why did I feel the need to purchase all that gear?

For me - at first it was because I was genuinely interested in gear. But as decades of life wore me down, it became less about the functionality of the gear and more about the thrill of the purchase - that hit of dopamine every time I bought something new. For others, maybe its to be validated or accepted within a peer group. Or Maybe they think it will help them be more creative.  I'm sure there are other reasons too, but those other ones never were a part of my problem, and I eventually figured out what to do about the bad habits I had formed.

The second question: Now that I had all this gear and I'm not using it - is it really inhibiting my creativity, or is there something else going on here?

There can obviously be many reasons why you haven't been creative lately. But, this idea that inanimate objects are somehow responsible for a reduction in creativity doesn't fly. 

This isn't an "abundance of music technology" problem. This is a psychological problem.

The Internet didn't just affect my synth purchasing habits, it also changed how I consumed media. Many, including myself, have become conditioned to living distracted lives. Even my career in digital marketing and communications enabled me to be distracted by constantly jumping back and forth between different projects.

For me, these bad habits made it harder and harder to concentrate on any activity for any significant length of time. Making music in my little studio decreased and that had a negative effect on everything else in my life. That would make me crave my hit of dopamine so I'd purchase another synth. I wouldn't use that synth either, which then affected me even further.

A viscous circle.

As I finally figured out, the real solution was to learn to concentrate again. To gain the focus-based skills and self-awareness techniques required to be able to be fully present when in the studio. And the big benefit was that these skills have come in handy in ALL ASPECTS of my life.

There are lots of tools and techniques in books and online that can help. It's not easy, especially when there is so many things going on around us. But why not start while you are self-isolating anyways?  Professional therapy helps a lot too - because its rarely about inanimate objects. And it's rarely just about getting your studio mojo back.

Now when I see one of those "too much gear" posts, I have a standard reply that revolves around two main principles:

1. Inanimate objects aren't making you less creative. Whether than means having too many inanimate objects, or not being creative because you don't have a particular inanimate object. You can learn concentration skills to be fully present in the activity of creating music, even when you are in a room full of potential distractions, and those focus-based skills and self-awareness techniques will help in all aspects of life.
Self-check: Do you have to remove gear from your sight in order to be creative with other gear? Do you think that next particular synth is "all you need" to complete your studio?

2. Its okay to buy as little or as much gear for your personal enjoyment. As long as you can afford it and its not just a dopamine hit to fill a void in your life.
Self-check: Can you still feed your children if you buy it? Do you get an anxiety attack every time the credit card bill comes in?  Are you jealous of other peoples gear? Do you get anxious about not using the gear you do have?  How easy would it be to sell the gear you have if you absolutely had to?

I'm not saying this is the only answer. But I am telling you want the answer ultimately isn't. Unless the inanimate object is literally a brick wall between you and your music gear, then there is a good chance it's the wall in your head.

Either way, get rid of the wall.