RIP 2014: Oberheim Matrix 12

The Matrix 12 is gone! It didn’t actually die or anything. I decided to sell it.

Matrix 12

This was my prize synth – my pride and joy! I had dreamed of owning one (or rather, an Xpander) for years and years. What happened? Basically, a few things.

With all the equipment breakdowns that I’ve had in the last year, I have started to grow a little paranoid. This Matrix 12 has always worked well for me, but I’ve heard a lot of horror stories about these things breaking down and then being difficult to repair (or even source parts for). The fact that it’s worth so much and could potentially be so fragile made it hard to sleep. I decided that I wanted to get out before any of that happened.

I also started to use the Matrix 12 less and less. During one of the bouts of the afore-mentioned equipment failures, I decided to buy a mostly-new Oberheim SEM. I picked up the version that had all the patch points on the side (although the cheapest, I think this is the handiest version). Together with the Roland MC-8 sequencer, I was really starting to enjoy CV/gate more than I have in years. I’ve got a few friends that have basically sworn off MIDI, but I wasn’t trying to go down that route at first. I figured that the MIDI stuff would just take a back seat. I even picked up an MSQ-700 sequencer to sync up to the MC-8 and keep the foot in the door for the MIDI equipment.

But with the patching potential on the SEM, and with getting the Minimoog back working and the Arp Axxe back from my friend Jon, I started to see the writing on the wall. It really just seemed a lot more fun to have some patchable equipment than to have twelve super-flexible Matrix 12 voices that were nevertheless insulated from all my other equipment. Don’t get me wrong: the Matrix 12 is a great synth. I was never unhappy with the sound. But I realized that I just wasn’t very interested in the areas where it really exceled. I didn’t really want/need twelve simultaneous voices. I didn’t really need patch memory. I just wanted a bunch more SEMs or something to play with.

So I finally sold the Matrix 12 and then promptly headed over to…

Goodbye cruel studio

Everything is in the midst of being packed up, unplugged, powered-off and boxed away. The move date is less than a week away.

Last Look

I was never able to get the equipment layout I was quite looking for. I started doing this wrap-around workspace, with the recording computer in front of me and then equipment sort of all around. I had a roller chair where I could spin around and feel like a big shot. But the room was too small to have stuff on all sides, so I had to settle for a 270 degrees layout.

To successfully pull off this sort of layout without risking death by cables, I realized that I’d finally need to fully embrace a patch bay and run lots and lots of long cables on the outside of the equipment perimeter. I spent a lot of last summer and fall making cables, and I got about 75% of the way there. Then I got married and studio life stopped.

But now we’re moving and we actually got a two-bedroom apartment. I fiercely resisted the call to place a guest bed in the second bedroom. Guests, if any, will have the expansive living room and the time-tested couch. That second bedroom is 100% studio.

So anyway, I raise my hat one last time to the old studio. I must admit, it was always pretty crappy.

And now, time for something new

New Era

A New Era

Following weeks, if not months of growing frustration with non-working gear, I got one of the new SEMs this week. This is one of the first times I’ve ever actually bought a new piece of equipment. This is uncharted territory, for sure.

The box showed up today, and I’ve been particularly interested in testing out the MC-8 to confirm it works. I can assure you that it plays a basic scale up and down. It’s a fiercely-ornery machine, and I’m going to have to spend some more time reading the manual before I can coax much more out of it.
In the meantime, I also bought an MSQ-700. I wanted a MIDI sequencer that would discourage me from getting too obsessed with programming each note. I’ve still got some learning to do with the MSQ-700 also, but it’s definitely easier to use than the MC-8. I gave it a simple sequence to play so that I could try out the SEM a little more. Highly-iterative electronic music doesn’t normally interest me, but it’s fun to make. So, although I’m crappy at doing this, I hooked up the TR-808 and the Lexicon PCM-70 (for a little delay) and had some fun tonight.

Doing something new with something new:

Catastrophic Failure!

Sadly, the state of my equipment is not good these days. I’m not really sure how this happened, but a ton of stuff is broken at the moment. As I recently wrote, I very excitedly got a Roland MC-8 and spent a while building a cable to get it up and running. The machine turns on and appears to be working ok, but I couldn’t really give it a full test! It turns out that none of my CV/gate synthesizers are working!

MC-8 Waiting to PlayHaving equipment failure just goes along with having old gear. But I was surprised at how everything seems to have broken down at once! With this much stuff down, it’s hard to actually make any music. Anyway, the day that I tried to test the MC-8, I discovered that, one by one, each of my CV synths was down for the count. I’m pretty disgusted with the state of affairs. So for therapeutic value, I’m going to write about all the broken gear.

In the sick bay right now:

Sick MinimoogMinimoog: my normally-reliable and robust Minimoog suddenly caught some sort of CV-averse bug. Hitting different notes on the keyboard doesn’t change the pitch at all. This was working fine just the week before. It’s unfortunate, because the Minimoog has tended to be one of the synths that I can always turn to. Time to get it to the doctor. I’ve been thinking about getting some preventative servicing done on it anyway. Replacing caps and stuff. I’m still on the fence and I’m not totally sure it needs this, but now might be a good time.

SH-101 sad and sick SH-101: Yes, I realize that this looks like it ought to be broken. It arrived looking like this (keyboard sawed off, half the case missing) in one of my most fortuitous eBay experiences ever. I bought a (very slightly) broken Oberheim OB-1 for $300 a few years ago. The seller asked if I was interested in also buying a project SH-101 that he had begun to take apart for $250 more. I was actually pretty interested, but I was concerned about taking on too many projects, so I told him no. Apparently he just wanted to clear out equipment, and he ultimately threw the SH-101 in with the OB-1 for free. Despite the case being chopped up and the keyboard being gone, this SH-101 has actually worked like a champ and has been incredibly reliable. Until last week, that is. When I pulled it out of the closet to try testing out the MC-8, it suddenly starting behaving more in line with its disheveled appearance. Most of the controls don’t affect the sound anymore, and it won’t respond to CV/gate input. What a bummer.

Sick Odyssey Arp Odyssey: to be fair, I bought this in non-working condition. I thought I’d be able to fix it up with a few hours of work. Well, it’s been torn apart for about half a year, and the repairs are going nowhere. I’ve cleaned up all the boards, re-flowed the solder on a couple of them, confirmed that the power supply works and that one of the two oscillators is working. However, there’s no sound output. I haven’t been able to crack what’s going on with the second oscillator, and I haven’t ventured any further downstream to check out the filter or VCA. As busy as I am, I’m thinking of just putting it back together and throwing it down before the mercy of eBay.

Sick Quadra Arp Quadra: this is another project-synth, but I didn’t realize how involved it would be. I got it a few years ago and thought that I would slowly fix it back up. I’ve fixed some things (like keys that weren’t responding) but managed to break other things (like the CV-tracking on the keyboard). This strange beast is actually four different synthesizers that ARP shoe-horned into one box, and something is wrong with each of the four parts. I found an esteemed repair guy recently, and I think I might just ship it out to him and wash my hands of the whole thing.

Sick Lexicon Lexicon Prime Time: Despite listing this last, the Lexicon Prime Time might actually be my greatest disappointment. I bought it a couple years ago in supposedly fine-working condition. I had been shopping around for an old delay unit, but I wanted something that laid the controls out nicely with lots of knobs. There’s an interesting parallel between old synths and old delay effects units. The 80s brought an explosion of functionality and lower prices for each, but usually at the cost of devastating user-interface quality. The small display screen and single data input for all parameters was the bane of so many otherwise-great synths (Six-Trak, the Alpha Junos, AX-73, Bit One, Moog Source, Matrix-6). The same trend afflicted most effects-units of the 80s. This crime is particularly unfortunate for delay effects since there are really only a few controls, and their interaction can so quickly and chaotically transform the sound. Trying to wade though menus and screens of settings to adjust the amount of feedback or level of modulation just never worked for me. So when I discovered that there was a brief window in the late 70s when delay units were produced while companies still believed in adding a knob for every possibly parameter, I got excited. Lexicon might be mostly known for their reverb, but they were also churning out interesting-looking delay units. I bought this Prime Time 73 (what a great name!), and it worked great…for about a week. It worked precisely long enough for me to leave positive feedback on eBay. Oh well. I’ve heard that reseating all the chips (of which there are many in this unit) can sometimes help. I guess I should start with that.

This is a lot of broken gear. I’ve always been inclined toward being vintage when given the opportunity. Now I’m starting to rethink this.