My goal is to help a new generation of modular synthesizer users master this exciting, potentially intimidating instrument. My approach is based on the idea that once you truly understand how something works, it’s far easier to be creative with it, as you will no longer waste time and become frustrated stumbling over technical issues and misunderstandings. To that end, I am creating a set of materials – from online courses, to co-authoring the new modular synthesis Patch & Tweak, to writing informational articles on a number of platforms – aimed at the musician who is new to modular synthesis, but also of use to current synthesists who want to better understand and master their instruments.
I originally started playing with modular synthesizers in the late 70s, learning on a Steiner Parker Synthasystem. A PAiA modular was my dorm room companion in college, eventually supplemented after college with a custom Gentle Electric cabinet was well as the semi-modular EML-101 and an Oberheim 2-Voice that I modified to bring all of the internal patch points out to the panel. This love of synthesis led to an engineering position at Sequential Circuits in the mid-80s, where I created Vector Synthesis and worked on a variety of instruments including the Studio 440. After Sequential I had stints at Digidesign, Music Maker Publications, and Tom Oberheim’s Marion Systems before becoming the Chief Engineer at the now-defunct Roland R&D US. During this time I also served as Technical Chairman of the MIDI Manufacturer’s Association, creating or shepherding through many additions to the MIDI specification; I also taught synthesis through UCLA Extension to musicians and producers in the Los Angeles area.
In the mid-90s I transitioned working in the video and film industries. My wife Trish and I ran a small award-winning motion graphics studio. I occasionally composed soundtracks for our clients; I also produced and performed on album Alias Zone: Lucid Dreams which was named best independent electronic music album in 2002. I played ambient and rhythmic loops in a live improv situation processed through a stack of gear including at various phases a Korg MS-20, Sherman Filterbank, and MAM Warp 9 as well as various echoes, reverbs, vocoders, and more.
Our motion graphic business was based around the software program After Effects; our studio was one of its original development sites. Our insistence in understanding how After Effects worked underneath the hood led to us writing 13 books and creating nearly 50 online video courses translating these technical underpinnings into advice for the practicing motion graphics artist. I am now taking that experience of explaining technical concepts to artists and applying it to teaching synthesis to a new generation of modular synthesizer enthusiasts.
If you want to learn more about me and my approach to learning, teaching, and playing modular synthesizers on a more personal level, I have been interviewed at length as part of Darwin Grosse’s Art + Music + Technology podcast, as well as by Ken “Flux” Pierce and “DivKid” Ben Wilson for their YouTube channels. Ken covered a lot of my history in the industry, while Ben covered what I’m doing now with my personal modular. Those two video interviews are embedded below.