You’ve probably heard the bromide that the Chinese word for “crisis” is the same as the Chinese word for “opportunity.” Ok, it’s not exactly true, but when Homer Simpson heard it, he coined the word “crisitunity” and that’s exactly where I find myself today.

A happy Yamaha CS-80

Last weekend, after years of dreaming, I finally acquired one of my “Holy Grail” synths: the Yamaha CS-80. It was produced from 1977-1980 and you’ve heard it even if you don’t realize it. It’s the star of the soundtrack to Blade Runner. It’s all over Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” album. It’s the signature sound in “Africa” by Toto. Paul McCartney, Peter Gabriel, David Bowie, Stevie Wonder, Aphex Twin, Kraftwerk, Genesis, Röyksopp. Daft Punk… the list goes on and on.

Only about 800 were made (I have #391). My brother and I drove about 1,500 miles round trip to pick it up (thanks, Eric!) and it brought a huge smile to my face the moment I started playing it. It was a bit out of tune and needed some basic tweaking, but it was 95% awesome.

Two days ago, I killed it.

Ok, that’s not exactly true, either, but let’s call it a serious coma. I spent about 3 hours tuning it and that process went so well that I decided to attempt to calibrate the aftertouch cards as well. The scaling on voice 4 was seriously wonky and I wanted to try and calibrate it before resigning myself to repairing the TKC or TSB boards.

While raising the card rack to get access to those trim pots, I managed to touch something I shouldn’t have. I’m not sure what that was. The CS-80 gave a little whistle and decided to take a nap. It hasn’t spoken to me since.

So we come to the point of crisitunity. I am going to wake her up. It is going to take me a pretty serious chunk of time. I’m reasonably competent with a soldering iron and a multimeter, though I’m a bit rusty. But I’m going to do it.

I will be chronicling the process here and hope to augment what I’m doing with links to online resources, as well as posting my own photos and videos of what’s going on. I’ll be doing this partly for my own records and partly in the hopes that my journey helps someone else along the way.

I imagine this will be a lot like remotely watching someone rebuild a classic car except that instead of it being an 8-cylinder engine, it will be an F-16.


Zen Meditation 1

What do you do when you’re web surfing? Some people play with paper clips or chew their fingernails… I typically play the keyboard that sits in front of my monitors. It’s something that occupies my hands while I read. Other times, I do the same thing and just sit and think, or simply lose myself in the repetitive sound and melody.

I don’t really consider this composition in the true sense because I’m rarely trying to achieve something… it’s just something that comes out. Still, people have sold millions of records doing little more than that, so there must be something of value in it for someone.

Mary gets angry when she hears me playing something for an hour or two and then asks me the next day to play it again. I often don’t even remember playing much less remember the melody or chords. For me, it’s the mental equivalent of sitting on the couch and munching potato chips while watching TV.

I’m trying to capture more of this if for no other reason than keeping the wife happy. I often don’t record what I’m doing because I have this huge perfectionist streak and get upset when what gets recorded isn’t what’s in my head. I’m not the best performer or engineer;  I’ll tweak and wiggle sliders for days and still not arrive at something I like. But I’ve gotten better about that.

I was talking with my brother the other day and noted that with the rise of cheap recording equipment and MP3 files, the bar for “acceptable quality” has gotten a lot lower. That’s not necessarily a bad thing – it gets more music into the world, though it also makes it a lot harder to find the stuff you like.

This morning I loaded up a sound in Omnisphere that I had been playing last night while my other brother was over playing guitar. I fell into a short, repetitive motif and decided that I’d try to record it since it was calming and fit the cold, rainy, Saturday morning I’d experienced so far. It reminds me a bit of Aphex Twin’s Selected Ambient Works Vol. II, though it’s a bit overdone for that… Richard James has a knack for leaving things alone at exactly the right point. I often wonder if that album took two weeks or two years to make. I can see it going either way.

In any case, I present Zen Meditation 1. I hope you enjoy it.


  • MOTU Digital Performer
  • Spectrasonics Omnisphere (Guitar)
  • Access Virus TI Desktop (Bells)
  • Kurzweil K2600XS (Piano)
  • E-MU Mo’Phatt (Water / Wave noise)
  • Waves Trueverb, MondoMod, L2

UPDATE: I’ve written a followup post – Zen Meditation 1 Revisited.