|Big cool noise machine|
EoIpso: What's your main objective when designing a synthesizer? Do you go for a certain sound or a particular user interface?
Ken: When I design a synth, it's playability that is paramount. The controls and user interface are very important. I require my designs to have good, decent sized controls and generous finger room to operate within. So, functionality and operation come first, though the actual decision making regarding which synth element will be involved plays hand in hand with what I've just described. Sound quality is something that I take for granted, I don't get anything sonic manufactured until it meets a certain standard. I've designed some things in the past which have gone through as many as 5 prototypes to "hone" down that certain sound.
EoIpso: Is it hard to find components for your small-scale production of analogue synthesizers? A lot of musicians are having real trouble in getting spare parts for their old electronic gear these days.
Ken: I guess the components that I use are well selected. I buy a lot of parts in large quantities and I have good stocks of some components no longer available. I can generally guess which parts will drop out of production in the future, so I have bought a lot of them up. Lots of analogue components are due to hit the scrap heap as the general consumer market for all things electronic gets more digital and microprocessor controlled. This is not just happening in the audio market, but in the automotive, domestic and telecommunications markets, to name a mere three. The world is changing and all manufacturers of anything adapt to survive.
EoIpso: What do you think makes analogue equipment "sexy"? Is it because it gives you the feeling you're in total control of the sound creation, at least much more so than digital equipment?
Ken: I think that for one it's the "hands on" feel to analogue as well as the giant sounds some digital gear lacks, there is also a sense of some unpredictability involved in the sound creation process that can render some surprising results. Currently, I record with a mix of both analogue and digital equipment, both have their place within contemporary music. I'm starting to get into "grooveboxes", they are fun and inspirational and great for sequencing external gear, including analogue. By the way, I think that if I considered analogue instruments to be "sexy", I would get a health checkup just to make sure that I was OK.
EoIpso: Do you feel analogue electronic instruments are used in a different way than they used to be thirty years ago? At least, they were state of the art then, while these days they evoke feelings of nostalgia.
Ken: Electronic music has eveloved in a natural progression. The good thing is that both electronic instruments and electronic recording equipment have become accessible to many, many people now and a lot of people record at home, thus allowing for greater, quality experimentation. If you own the gear yourself, there are no studio fees to pay for, so you can literally afford to be more experimental. This has inspired a lot of contemporary artists who now define how music is played both in the media and in the clubs. Thirty years ago synths and recording gear were seriously expensive and beyond the bounds of most, so music may have had a more serious flavour. I'm really curious about terms like Lo-Fi, Crunch, etcetera, there's a lot of fun to be had with "garbage" sounds - hardcore! Older instruments of the analogue variety tend to inspire some nostalgia, something mystical even, but given the choice, and with the quality of instruments these days, both analogue and digital, those would be my choice. And I've gone off Pomp Rock in a big way, big super group crap!
EoIpso: Can you talk a bit about your latest instrument, the M5?
Ken: It's a big cool noise machine! Seriously though, I wanted to own a synth with the type of control and sound set that I was once used to. This means decent sized controls, solid build, good sound and manipulation palette. I also like to work with slider controls a lot.
EoIpso: Who buys your instruments? How many have you sold to date?
Ken: Who buys M5s? Let me see, a variety from different walks of life. All of them seem to be dedicated to sound "excellence", this includes Techno artists, DJs, media composers and experimentalists. How many you ask? It's a small club, there are about 25 sold so far, but that is what I expected. They are expensive to buy, expensive to make, and they take time to build, as they are hand-built, you know.
EoIpso: Do you still repair old instruments?
Ken: I used to, but repair does not float my boat. I don't really like getting into repair, done it a few times, it takes up time, and I'm not passionate about that side. I prefer to create new stuff!
EoIpso: Well, good luck then!
(rh 10/MMV, pictures rh and macbeth)
The big cool noise machine's control panel