Number 16

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It pains me to say it, but Number 16 took over two years to build, with an additional year on top of that reserved for planning. Allow me to elaborate. First, let’s take a temporal field trip back to the fall of 2007. I working in Colorado, living in a yurt and beginning to feel the effects of the cold. I was also in the process of booking an east coast tour and most of my gear was in storage in California, since I was somewhat unsure as to which side of the continental divide I would drift towards once my tenure in the wilderness ended. Not having the cash to invest in a rig, or ship mine east in time for tour, I decided to hit the books and teach myself to solder, thinking it would be a skill that could be applied to both my then occupation of solar installation, as well as my academic training in electronic music. I was still green at reading schematics, but I’d gone to college with Peter Blasser, so when the time came to commit to a circuit, I opted for a full Rollz-5 drum machine as my first build, hoping that I’d have something cobbled together by the time I hit the road and wouldn’t have to worry about assembling a rig out of the dregs of my collection that I’d left with my folks in New York when I moved west.

Needless to say, that didn’t happen. Scrounging components in a small cowboy town was damn near impossible and doing anything that involved fine motor controls in sub-zero temperatures using tools intended for large-scale construction was limiting, to say the least. Not to mention I was broke and living 30 miles off grid without a mailing address, so ordering components was out of the question. Hell, I had a hard enough time getting a library card. Three months later, when I returned to the bay area to defend my thesis, I nabbed a couple components from Mills College’s Intermedia Lab and eventually cobbled together Number 1 for Pau for Christmas in Costa Rica that year. But the notion of a large-scale Rollz still persisted. When I returned to New York to recoup my losses from the Colorado adventure and await the decision ala where Pau would be enrolling via Fulbright Scholarship, I build a couple other synths with the components that were intended for the first build – namely Numbers 2, 3 and 4, but still hadn’t lost sight of my original goal – figuring the funds collected from the sales of these smaller boxes would help pay for the components and provide the practice needed to begin building on a professional level.

In August 2008, a year after leaving the bay for Colorado, we returned and Pau enrolled at SFAI, while I was left to reassemble my life from storage, find a job and do what I can to stay afloat financially as the economy plunged into a nosedive that effectively nixed most creative sound-folks out of gainful employment for the foreseeable future. And as we plunged, I soldered, producing an additional ten or so synths and other devices, investing what little I could into components that I dutifully plugged into a single, lonely sheet of plexiglass propped up in the corner of my office. A year later, gainfully employed, but strapped for time and energy, the sheet was almost complete, with only a few lonely components left to assemble. I’d just finished my run of Number 12‘s and had fallen pretty hard for the design aesthetics afforded by bamboo cutlery trays. Realizing that the largest trays were about half the size of my sheet of components and similar in dimensions to wedges of a Buchla boat, I impulsively hacked a year’s worth of labor in half, and began drilling a template that would accommodate my creation. And by mid-February 2010, Number 16, consisting of 48 patch points controlling 12 oscillators and two filters was ready for deployment and integration, not to mention the inevitable addition of two other similar-sized additions to complement this box in pure boat-fashion.

Update and Retirement

An update to the story, if you will. Starting in the spring of 2016, semi-rabidly pursuing the Eurorack bug, I decided that a good portion of the surviving early instruments in m collection needed to have a standard format, effectively creating a meta-instrument of sorts that would allow me to safely perform on these guys without worrying about a certain toddler scooting around the house at the time putting her eye out on a machine screw, as well as curtail my spending on synthesizer modules since let’s face it – I already had a bunch of stuff that I’d built over the course of a decade that was being largely under-utilized. That in mind, the machine screws were removed and replaced with 1/8″ jacks. this particular number was admittedly a bit of a challenge. First off, there were 50 jacks that all needed to be wired and grounded. Then it was a matter of having enough sheer physical space in the box to fit everything – especially since this was an issue from the beginning. I somehow managed to get away with using only 4 screws to anchor this guy’s faceplate down and there was always a bulge and bowing due to the sheer amount of wires in the box. To rectify this, I attempted to use right angle brackets to hold the case together similar to Number 11 but the bamboo was a little rigid, the screws were too big and I stupidly thought I didn’t have to drill pilot holes. Long story short, there were some failures in structural integrity. Nothing too horrible, but enough to make me question the future of this instrument as a tour boat. It actually did fine once it was mounted in the giant flight case I started using to travel with these guys – and call it a LILO approach, was one of the last boxes retired from touring.

Speaking of. As of October 2018, I did just that. It’s still entirely functional, but at the same time, the thought of preservation is currently a thing, having been in the building game for over a decade at the time of writing this, my current MO is to preserve some of the earlier gems as I move forward, using my current knowledge and experience to build on my past designs and instruments as we look towards and bright and shiny electronic future of sorts. I believe we call that progress. Not to mention that this guy looks pretty amazing on my wall – and if I ever really need to, its once to know that I can still take it down and jam on it if I need to.

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