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.


Unknown said...

Hey I saw your moog/doepher vid(great vid btw) I am trying to run the moog system 35 through the doepher dark time. Will I need the 3.5mm to s trig cables for the gate?

LuĂ­s Neitzke said...

Man, I never thought I would see a post like this in here.

Please don't get me wrong, as I absolutely LOVE your blog. What I mean is that I never thought I would see an "ad" post that would hit me so hard as this did. Apparently, we've been through some similar (not the same, but similar) moments. Right now, I'm sort of miserable. I can't and don't see a reason to disclose my entire personal life in a public comment, but I hope that you do understand that, when I say that right now I'm sort of miserable, it means that I've been through all kinds of sh*t before. Now it may not be as bad as it was in terms of suicidal thinking, but creatively speaking, which is the point of your post, I'm miserable. It's like writer's block, but the musician version. And I'm surrounded by gear, that's one of the main points.

Some friends or other people hear or know about it and are either thinking that I'm using the "victimism card" or - here we go - mention that the fact that I have so many stuff is the sudden cause of my issues. C'mon, I've been curious all of my life. I embrace the possibility and privileges of being able to know more about synths and other gear, compare them and so on. I love it. If my mind was working as it should, I have enough work and projects to use everything available. But it doesn't work that way.

Following this context, you've "nailed" it. It is a psychological problem. I also went through the "oh, let's buy this!" step. I think it is kind of natural for some of us, who are such enthusiasts about studio gear, after all we have enough reasons around us to think that having everything, or being able to use "the real deal" is THE way to go. Then again, and I think you might agree, some of us are collectors as well - and while having to go through therapy *and* being a collector might not wield the best of results for some time - and collectors will always be interested in knowing about the history, the facts, the differences, etc. In that sense, while loving the fact that technology is so accessible to the point that we're able to discuss topics with people from all around the world online, I question if *some* people should influence us with their opinions about what others should own, and how much others should own, if you get what I mean. It is part of us, for some reason, and therapy shall help us with balancing what is healthy curiosity (when we're able to feed our kids, as you said) and what is a true issue.

Thankfully, we're seeking therapy. Some aren't, and I fear for them. Sometimes certain "convictions" - like those who judge us - are entirely based on internal conflicts, and that's really, really sad, because they should seek help as well. Nevertheless, thanks for sharing your personal experience with us, and let it be known that it is appreciated. I think I never commented before around here, but I've been following your blog for a while, and your work is great. This post, though, has a very important point, and you're very brave to talk about it instead of just "going through the motions".

RetroSynthAds said...

unkown - I believe you would. The dark time page on the deopfer site references a special cable under the additional remarks section. http://www.doepfer.de/Dark_Time_e.htm

RetroSynthAds said...

Luis - thank you for the kind words and thoughtful insights. They are appreciated lots.

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