Saturday, April 06, 2013

Magic from the Nord

The flashy red keyboard. My recollection may be hazy with the passing of time, but I remember at first the colour as much as anything.

Before I even heard a Nord, in my head it had marked itself clear of the rest of the synthesiser field: born in to a sea of black, it was red. Solid, bold red. A bit more metal, a bit less deep. Then there were the controls. Reared on Roland controls - the thin plastic pitch-bend stick of the Juno 106, the thicker plastic one on the JX series. A brief flirtation with the thin plastic stick on the Korgs. Then there was this red thing from Sweden. The pitch bend stick wasn't plastic, and it wasn't even a stick. It was a strangely shaped block, sprung in a way unlike anything before. And it was made of wood! Then there was the modulation control - it was a disk. A disk made of stone!!

When I finally got to play one, it confirmed everything the different appearance had promised. It was a digital synth - apparently - and was capable of producing some digital sounding noises alright. But it was very, very different from any digital synth I'd ever touched or heard before. Covered in one-control per function knobs like an analogue, it also felt like an analogue, and - damn it - it *sounded* like an analogue.

I'm not sure I've ever felt so at-home with a synth since, perhaps, the Juno-106. High praise indeed given how utterly instant the 106 remains to this day. So my relationship with Nord Leads started somewhere back in those early adverts and reviews, somehow managed to survive my heightened expectations in the first proper experience, and in time transformed in to a love affair with the Nords that continues to this day.

When my sometimes recording partner and I embarked on a random jam session that turned in to a recording experiment that within 8 hours had nearly completely spawned "Zusammen" and birthed the Otomi project (subsequently released on vinyl by Emoticon), the sound and the feel of the Nord Lead (together with a 909) were effectively the bedrock on which the entire track stood. In fact, they practically *were* the entire track. Subsequent Otomi tracks, and my tracks down the line for Ferox were similarly forged within the circuits of the Nord.

I've tried many other digital synths since - in fact I like some, and even love some. Having worked for E-mu for 15 years, I know a digital sound, an analogue sound, and when it's a digital sound that sounds like an analogue sound. But nothing, since digital synths started, has really come close to the Nord.

For the special red synths from Sweden have a sound, a feel, that is unlike any other digital synth. They might as well not be digital, for the control and the flexibility belies what you hear.

And what you hear is the thing: it's the sound, the sound, the sound. Not just warm - there is something else. Something unique, magical - an organic quality, an emotiveness that emerges from the keys, the electronics, the speakers.  Listening to you, talking to you.

These special, beautiful instruments will forever be classics, and I expect that they will continue to be, as they have been, both catalysts, conduits and carriers for the emotion in my music.

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