Number 5

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Apologies for the less than optimal pictures on this one – the second half of 2008 was a strange time, primarily documented by a camera that, while I grew to love it, was incapable of taking photos in focus. For years I was convinced I was a horrible photographer. I probably still am, but after the camera in question was destroyed by an over-zealous TSA officer convinced that I needed a thorough wipe down for bringing a synthesizer on a plane, my subsequent camera upgrades have proven that while I’m still not a good shot, at least things are somewhat in focus.

Once again, gotta stress – 2008 was a strange time. About a year had passed since I left the bay area to finish my thesis among the sagebrush and desolation of rural Colorado, and, several odd jobs and detours later, I was finally back in the bay – the shining beacon of dot-com fantasies – at the exact moment when the economy derailed and everything went haywire, for lack of a better word. After about a month or so of searching, I found a half-time position editing primordial embedded sales widgets for a start up in the financial district. That was in September. By October I was down to one-third time, and between the various VP’s talking about secured venture and the general vibe of the office as the markets dropped by triple digits, it was fairly obvious that a plan b was needed. Especially since Pau had opened an account at Washington Mutual to manage her Fulbright funding – thankfully, as we all know, Chase came to the rescue, but for a brief moment, there was a certain degree of white-knuckle fear present in the homestead. I was selected to participate in a residency in New York later in December that carried a relatively decent stipend that would provide at least a couple months of stability, but what before – and what after?

At this point, the thought of selling any of my instruments really hadn’t crossed my minds – I mean, yeah, to friends, sure – call it a labor of love and the cost of materials. But to assemble point-to-point experimental electronic instruments for the general public at a speed that could sustain itself and a design that was stable enough to not require constant tinkering for proper functioning? Yeah, wasn’t quite there yet. And to say anything contrary to that fact would be foolhardy, to say the least. But pipers had to be paid. Especially the good folks at CitiCorp who partially funded and later invested entirely in the debt accrued to allow me to study what I did, where I did. Every day I’d wake up hoping the newsfeed would tell me about Citi’s horrible collapse and dissolution – and that the current presidential candidates would at least say something about the ever-expanding student loan bubble, that, amazingly has yet to burst. Kind of scary, that is. Tangent aside, yeah, I owed them some green and the dot-com wasn’t hacking it. I’d just completed Number 4 a few weeks prior and that went out on the hock and was picked up fairly quickly with a couple additional parties waiting in the wings. Looking to seize an opportunity, I offered to build something similar and immediately began rooting through my initial batch of components left over from my time in Colorado and got to work building a nice, quick and dirty Ciat-Lonbarde Ol’ Mr. Grassi circuit. I’d built one before while I was at Mills, but it never quite functioned right – so, considering that Number 4 was a redemption of sorts for my first circuit, why not make Number 5 in reparation for my second? Actually, 5 years later, I finally figured out what was wrong with my first attempt – I’ll spare the technical details, but basically the legs of transistors can be arranged in two separate ways – I’d bought a random assortment of general purpose transistors thinking general purpose meant what it said and essentially wired about half the transistors backwards. Go figure.

Having the proper transistors for this build, a fire in my belly and an opportunity to take, I got to work and this is what I came up with. At the moment, this particular box is in the collection of Jon Raskin of the ROVA saxophone quartet and has been employed in at least a couple instances of electroacoustic performance along such players as Gino Robair, Liz Albee and Kanoko Nishi. Happy to help, I suppose. Call it a community endeavor. Or something like that.


Fast forward to 2020. Yes, that 2020. Jon emailed me asking if I could take a look at this synth to make sure it was still working properly and to see if I could switch the power supply to something that would work with a 1Spot. I was happy to oblige. Also, seeing as it was 2020 and proper documentation is a lot easier now than then (even though, in all honesty, the only thing that’s really changed is our general mental approach to documentation), I figured I’d record a quick video of this thing doing it’s thing. You know, for posterity and whatnot. Please do enjoy.

Here’s another featuring Number 5 jamming with our Sangre de Nieve module, because why not?

MK 3

A quick video of the third iteration of this box. Same circuit, but in a hand-painted bamboo enclosure with volume controls for each channel. Currently at large in NYC.

And another – this one lives in the Carolinas:

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