No Synths Please, We're Busy
I don't want another synth. No, really — I'm quite happy with my Wavestation, Microwave and Pro One, and anything else would be a distraction. Given these and a decent sampler, I don't need any other instruments. Did that sound convincing? It's not quite true, of course, but in a sense it should be. There are any number of other synths that I would like to own, but I don't feel that they're worth giving space at home to, or spending the money on. It's not that the synths I've mentioned are uniquely powerful and cannot be bettered — though I would contend that the Microwave and Wavestation are certainly among the five sexiest, most exciting, and plain ol' down-the-line excellent contemporary instruments — the point is that they do what I want, I am familiar with them, and that's what counts.
Electronic instruments are much more akin to acoustic instruments than cynics (yes, they do still exist) give them credit for, and it takes time to get to know any instrument. Once you're familiar with its strengths and weaknesses you can exploit it to the full; until then you're only tapping a portion of its potential. It takes time to get up to speed on any new software, or to master any new synth or sampler to a point where you are in control, and often you have to ask yourself whether that time couldn't be better spent using — writing, recording, playing with — your existing gear. Quite apart from your time, there's also the question of whether your hard-earned money is going on something worthwhile.
This might seem odd advice, given that Sound On Sound is constantly reviewing the latest and hottest gear. Isn't there some inconsistency between saying what I've just said, and carrying so many reviews in this magazine? Not at all — in fact the two go hand in hand. It's all about using technology to achieve your musical ends. Whilst progress brings us better equipment all the time — mixers and tape recorders with audio quality we thought we couldn't afford a few years ago, cheaper samplers with more memory, and so on — a certain amount of scepticism when presented with a new piece of gear is important. Will it actually do anything that your existing gear won't? Is it, therefore, worth your time and money? The answer may well be yes, but be sure to ask the question. The Zoom 9120, for example, featured on this month's cover, clearly passes any such test with flying colours. If you can only afford to spend £500 or less on a single effects unit, it's very unlikely that you'll have anything to touch the reverb quality of Zoom's new baby.
It can be all too easy to become consumed by techno-lust, to long to get your hands on the latest and coolest kit. It's a natural and healthy thing, according to the SOS staff therapist, to get excited by new gear - but know when to say yes and when to say no.
Editorial by Paul Ireson
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