Friday Afternoon’s All Right for Synthesizers

This week’s obsession is electronic music

This week I’ve been a little pre-occupied thinking about the Teenage Engineering OP-1. Actually, that’s not quite accurate: for the past five or six years, I’ve been a little pre-occupied thinking about the OP-1.

It’s something I’ve talked myself out of, dozens if not hundreds of times. But I keep being drawn to it, even as someone who’s by no means imaginable a musician, much less a professional one. The problem is that no rational counter-argument has worked for me because the draw is largely irrational: from the industrial design, to the UI, to the sounds coming out of it, to the advertising, it feels like an object made completely to inspire fun and creativity.

Previously, the argument that I always used to talk myself out of it — apart from the eye-wateringly, guilt-inducingly high price — is that I can just use GarageBand on my iPhone or iPad and immediately get better results, since I understand much better how the tools work. That’s still undeniably true, but it also misses the point. It’s not just that a well-designed device with tactile buttons and knobs and cows and gorillas on the display is more fun to use. The whole process of not knowing exactly what you want and how to get it immediately is the whole point of exploring and experimenting.

(To a point. Over the years, I’ve gotten several of the Pocket Operators. They’re super fun and appealing at first, but I’ve quickly gotten frustrated with them and tossed them into a bucket to sit while their batteries corrode).

Anyway, here’s some interesting stuff I’ve see this week!

2 thoughts on “Friday Afternoon’s All Right for Synthesizers”

  1. Why you do this? I JUST talked myself out of the OP-1 on the grounds that I have a shitload of music gear that I don’t use to the depth that I’d like. So my goal is to dive deeply into the Ableton Push to *do the thing* with the gear I have. And if I can do that thing, then the self-contained bizarreness of the OP-1 can be the *next* step. But I have to get past this one first ti justify it.

    1. You could always do what I’ve been doing for the past week or so, which is waking up every morning thinking about how expensive the OP-1 is. I’m only just barely able to justify it based on the fact that I’ve been wanting it for years. I feel like if I had any more knowledge of or experience with making music, it’d be even harder to justify. A lot of the appeal for me is just that it’s such a well-designed object (weirdly, the Native Instruments Maschine has a similar appeal based on looks alone), not the results you can get out of it. Even I know how to do some stuff more easily and better in GarageBand — like synching multiple tracks or takes, which is surprisingly difficult on the OP-1 — so the end result is unlikely to be as satisfying as you’d be able to do with Ableton and the Push.

      Jeremy Blake is one of the biggest proponents of the OP-1 on the internet, and probably one of the biggest drivers of sales, but he acknowledges he has to take all the OP-1 stuff he makes onto Ableton to turn into a real track. And he’s got at least one video that points out how much a computer or iPad can do that the OP-1 can’t:
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fa-UDAoPeJ0

      I still like the thing, but consider it mainly for experimentation and playing around with, rather than expecting to get any “real” music out of it.

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