Power Serge!

In college, I got involved in the theater group doing sound for a Noel Coward play called Blithe Spirit. Things were pretty simple then – no mics – only sound effects. Mine were on tape and my partner, Jim Zubernis, brought his Mini Moog! Now this was back in the mid seventies and Jim was smart enough to rent himself and his synth for session work. Synths were ‘complicated’ in those days and when peeps got punchy from working all night, they called them ‘sillysizers.’ True story!

My first post-collegiate gig was as a keyboard tech for Hall and Oates – the ‘silver album’ that Barry Rudolph recorded. I didn’t know him then, but his back story is that his grand experiment was to use all SM57s on the drum kit.

Fast forward seven years and I’m at a studio called Noise New York. The owner, Frank Eaton, is an Oberlin grad who built a Serge modular synth from a kit. Thirty years later, Frank is a bankruptcy lawyer who wants to enjoy his vintage toys.

I know my way around Moogs and Arps, but the Serge is a different animal. From the tech perspective, it’s pretty basic stuff. Some loose and scratchy pots and a sequencer that skips a step every now and then.

Of course to put it through its paces ya hafta know how to use it and very few synth peeps have ever seen a Serge, let alone played it. On a whim I even asked Wendy Carlos, but she wasn’t familiar with it.

The funny thing is that, while the unit hails from ‘my era,’ there is a whole new generation of people who are getting into modular synths – playing, restoring and building. Modular might even be more alive now than in its heyday.

In my January column, I’ll share some pix and links and some perspective from a younger generation of synth enthusiasts.

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