Gino Robair is former editor of EM

Archive for March 11th, 2010

Pondering the Future with the Breakfast Club

Tom Oberheim, Dave Smith, Roger Linn, Gino Robair, and Don Buchla

Tom Oberheim, Dave Smith, Roger Linn, Gino Robair, and Don Buchla, at the 125th AES Convention, San Francisco, Oct. 5, 2008.
Photo by Larry the O

A musical instrument should allow us to express ourselves as easily as we dance or sing—naturally, and without having to think about it. Although the traditional keyboard has dominated music for centuries, its expressive potential hasn’t moved forward since MIDI was introduced in the mid-’80s, despite the latest hardware and software developments. However, a number of other controllers that tap the potential that electronics have to offer have been gaining a wider audience, such as the Haken Continuum Fingerboard, the Buchla Lightning, the Nintendo Wii remote, and the variety of button arrays, such as the Monome. And the current DIY craze, as reflected by the popularity of Make: and Create Digital Music, has resulted in a greater emphasis on personalized performance tools.

For its 25th anniversary this June, EM asked me to explore the issue of synths and controllers in a roundtable discussion with several pioneers in the field of instrument design, all of whom live in the San Francisco Bay Area.

I wanted to meet with Roger Linn, Dave Smith, and Tom Oberheim and follow up on our 2008 AES panel discussion, “The Evolution of Electronic Instrument Interfaces: Past, Present, Future.” Fortunately, it’s not difficult to get them together, because they form the core of the Dead Presidents Society, which meets regularly for coffee near the U.C. Berkeley campus. (The group’s name refers to the original participants, who had each been in charge of their own company.) These days, they refer to themselves as the Breakfast Club, and it was my good fortune that three additional club members—Don Buchla, Max Mathews, and David Wessel—were able to participate in the discussion that morning. more

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