The VST Revolution
The Personal History of
an Audio Nut
by Kevin James Salveson
I've always been an audio nut.
When I was two my mother bought me a 'See and Say: The Farmer Says' toy. You pulled the string and it played back to you a short scratchy audio recording of something like, "The Cat goes meow! RRrrrrRoww!" I pulled that string a million times.
When I was five my mom bought our family a GE Show and Tell Record Player. We had a recording of Tommy Dorsey and Edythe Wright doing "The Music Goes Round and Round (And It Comes Out Here)". Even at my young age I had suspicions that the lyrics were fairly scatalogical or suggestive of something I couldn't put my finger on. We spun that song to death along with the single of "Heartbeat, It's A Lovebeat" by Tony Defranco and The DeFranco Family (which had been produced by my uncle Walt Meskell).
My mom also bought me the toy piano called Big Mouth Singers, which allowed me to hone my Jerry Lee Lewis imitation in terms of banging on the keys with abandon.
Sadly, we never got the the Fisher Price toy record player that played the colored plastic discs, nor did we ever go our hands on an ultra-rare Optigan.
We had an auto-harp at home, one which mostly sat in the closet but sometimes we'd get it out and marvel that you played it with this plastic pick on your thumb like a claw.
We had a piano in the house and my brothers took piano lessons for a while but since in the end everyone drops out of piano lessons my mom never signed me up. Thus, never having been put through that trauma, I enjoyed playing music and would sit down at the piano and improvise for fun.
My dad bought a Heathkit do-it-yourself Amp and Receiver set and put it in the front room next to the TV during Christmastime of 1973. I can recall the dim yellow glow the tubes inside the metal mesh cage of the amp heating up as we listened to what was the Yanni of that time, Montavani . Or later, over the next few years, Hocus Pocus by Focus and the collected works of Elton John.
Soon after I remember I was in Gemco and they had a rack with twenty different types of tubes you could buy to replace one of your own if it blew. They sold 45 singles there too, and someone came up to the counter and asked them to put on Nancy Sinatra doing "These Boots Are Made For Walking." When that coda kicks in with the stabby horns, I was transported and wanted boots with that kind of power myself.
After some time, in the late 70's, we added an 8-track player to our car! That is how you could listen to the whole 'Pink Floyd The Wall' without having to turn over your LPs three times. And I still remember my brother playing Kiss' Strutter '78 on his newly installed Camaro 8-track player to test it out.
In fact, it was my big brother Dave who modelled an electrical engineer-type audiophile vibe for me. He bought and owned about five stereo systems in five years when I was in High School. He loved adding things like a dbx noise cancellation system or a new Carver amp to his system. (Carver's story is kickass, too). He built his own cabinet speakers and would blast Van Halen I on them and, regrettably, Loverboy at full volume.
I put a football through the woofer, though, so he made new DIY speakers installed with wire mesh screens we couldn't break. At night. I would plug in the Sennenheiser headphones and listen to Gary Wright's 'Dream Weaver' and be transported to another world.
...maybe to an astral plane....
I was in love with sound by then. My brother bought a guitar and I'd get his boombox out too that had a condenser mic in it and turn on the TV and then turn on the stereo and then sit at the piano while the guitar created feedback. Then I'd hit record on the boombox tape recorder-- a very amateurish music concrete I guess.
Yet with just one amp and one Gibson L6 you could almost sound as powerful as Thor's Hammer reigning down blows on ten thousand metal-heads in a stadium! (Or something like that). Jesus and Mary Chain had nothing on me in terms of shrieking squalling walls of sound with very little attention to noise cancellation technology. (Though I did get for christmas one year a Pioneer tape deck with playback offered both a Dolby B and Dolby C button; Dolby C was so much better than B. That was how I tried to record the entire The Rock Years on Radio Shack cassete tapes.)
We took the boombox to the beach one summer, though, and sand got in the volume control so when you changed the volume it made a lock of crackling noises. But that was only one in a succession of boom boxes during the 70s and 80s we owned. Certainly they were a step up from the small silver Telefunken transistor radios of the 60s. Soon, we even had cassette players in the cars as well, even better than the 8 tracks of my youth and those radios.
Then, one day in December of 1979 or thereabouts, things changed again forever. My father had come home from a trip to Japan and he had these things called a Sony Walkman as presents for us. They were just these little orange foam headphones and a bulky silver box-like gadget to hold the cassette, but you now go anywhere and listen to anything you wanted anytime. No more Neil Diamond (who I still love, tho) on the car tape deck .
Listen, I barely survived the 80s. I don't know what I would have done without those little bent orange headphone lifesavers. When other people were turning on to Duran Duran, I was still talking about how Jimmy Page was doing fine in The Firm because at least he was playing a real instrument, not a machine. Still, synth pop was everywhere at the time, so I do confess to going to and liking a Howard Jones concert.
But I was heading to eighth grade at the time. It was enough for me that Ozzy's' Flying High Again' had his vocals echo left-right-left so crisply on that machine that it gave you a sense of space and dimension and freedom heretofore never experienced by my immature brain!
And of course even amidst the dreck some good music surfaced such as Prince or The Smiths. In hindsight, heck, even some of the synthpop was good despite being totally cringe-worthy.
Then I really started buying music instruments for myself just after I got out of college in 1990. We were trying to get a band together with my high school buddies. One day I walked into a music store near Pico and Westwood in Los Angeles and there were all these electric pianos and synthesizers. I just wanted to oogle. (We had just left the 90s and I didn't want to sound like the Thompson Twins, though, so "synths" were out as far as my thinking went).
Then one of the salesman there shows me this thing called the Korg M1. And I fell in love with a machine for the first time.
He told me it didn't produce cheap "synthesized" tones but real samples of real instruments which were then processed into fully playable patches. That meant that you weren't playing a FM wavetable buzzy zip noise but a real bell that really had been struck by a real ball-peen hammer holding person when you played the 'bell patch.'
The salesman tells me it's 'multi-timbral' which means that you can add and subtract and combine the tones and you can manipulate and effect the samples.
On top if that you could use it to write music because it allowed you to write a practically unlimited number of tracks and record them to the synth in both long form and in short bits to arrange. It was like a songwriting piano genie at my command!
But, alas, I had not the password.
It was about $2000 at the time. Yet this salesman might have been Moses himself because he was going to lead me to the Promised Land no matter what it took. He said thus these magic words: "You can take it home today and pay for it on an installment plan."
A chorus of angels and a shaft of light beamed down from heaven the moment I heard those words.
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