What do baby boomers have in common with Gen Z...? One answer is Synthplex. An American answer to Berlin's Superbooth, Synthplex in the brainchild of American synth master and historian Michael Boddicker, who has a sincere desire to get anybody and everybody excited about synthesizers and other tech products.
Synthplex was first held in 2019 and, like so many things, delayed two years by the pandemic. But, it was quite well-timed this year. With NAMM delayed until April, and the fact that Synthplex is entirely focused on all types of synthesizers (hardware and software, controllers and modules) makes it really exciting for those of us that love these things.
Over three days there were a series of exhibits, seminars and performances by some of the best synth players in the world. Synthplex 2022 was also a great chance to greet friends, old and new, and to see what people have been working on. All are rooting for the success of smaller more focused trade events like this.
Synthplex is the perfect regional replacement for NAMM for the synth community. It's so great to see all the people I have grown up with in the same place.Roger Linn - Founder Roger Linn Designs
Here's are a few observations:
Pop Up Synth Museum
In addition to the many and events there was the Pop Up Synth Museum in a special room devoted to commercial synthesizers contributed for display by Mike Boddicker and several of his synth collector friends.
The room was packed with iconic synths and sound processors
A hero of the 2022 museum was industry leader, Marcus Ryle, who dismantled a big part of his personal studio, schlepped the gear to Synthplex, set them up, made sure they worked and, we assume, schlepped them back and reinstalled them after the show. Anyone that has a hardware based studio knows how hard that is. On top of that, Marcus escorted Tom Oberheim, his former boss and early mentor, around the various exhibits. They moved slowly as both greeted many well-wishers. Marcus' contributions to the Oberheim brand can't be overstated and are worth a separate story, coming soon...
For fans of the artists who used the synths, the Pop Up Museum was an opportunity to see hardware that was used for many iconic recordings. For example, the original prototype Oberheim 4-voice that Stevie Wonder bought on the spot after a demo by Tom Oberheim himself.
Among visitors to the Pop-Up Synth Museum was Jimmy Jam, who were along with his music partner Terry Lewis has been recently inducted into the rock 'n' roll Hall of Fame. To a cheering crowd, he played the riff from "What Have You Done for Me Lately" on Marcus' OB8. It was Jam's OB8 that actually produced the original recorded sound. For those of you that missed that, here's a link to Jimmy Jam playing the new OB-X8 in his studio.
It's great for us to have such a targeted audience of people who are synth fanatics and want a combination of education and access to products. I attended a couple of the sessions and they're excellent. The Pop Up Synth Museum is a fascinating snapshot into the history of synths and a way to see how the technology has developed over the last 40-50 years.David Gibbons - CEO Sequential
The theme is revival, starting with the show itself was was revived after having to postpone for two years. There was much to talk about for old timers because there were several new issues of products that go back a generation or two.
In the Sequential/Oberheim booth there was an opportunity to check out the aforementioned Oberheim OB-X8, a very accurate revival of the OB Series from the 1980s First shown at Summer NAMM, the product was developed from a cooperation with Tom Oberheim, Sequential, and Marcus Ryle. Pricey, but worth it for previous owners of the originals (it will probably keep working for the next 40 years), and modern synthesists who want some 80s vibe in their arrangements.
Roland has stayed committed to their Boutique series of small form factor (battery, USB, or 9v powered) synths, with the JD-08. It's modeled after their original JD-800, which appeared in 1991 and countered the trend of small displays with multiple page editing. Instead it featured a surface covered with hand manipulated controls. The JD-08's got many of those same controls squeezed into a 12"x5" desktop form factor.
In the Synclavier booth Cameron Jones was showing off the new Regen desktop synthesizer. Additive and FM synthesis just like the original Synclavier. Polyphonic aftertouch and MPE is fully-supported and there's a sophisticated modulators section where the user can apply responsive curves to properties driven by pressure, velocity, and mod wheel position. It plays samples too. Included is one library with over 700 original samples from the NED era. It costs $2499, but that's still only about 10% of the original cost for NED's least expensive model.
Not to be left out of the revival is the new/old SP1200 drum machine. E-mu Systems co-founder and original SP-12 and SP-1200 designer Dave Rossum went all the way to duplicate the original analog and digital electronics. It's been 35 years after the debut, so there are some new features too. For those of you that are interested in some history of commercial synthesizers. Here's an interesting Synthplex History of E-mu video presentation by Dave Rossum
The MIDI Association booth featured several interesting gizmos that highlighted the benefits MIDI 2.0 and MPE. One was the ERAE Touch from Embodme. It's a supersize version of the ROLI Blocks of a few years back. We hope they'll be able to find a way to consistently manufacture them with the finicky membrane technology.
We're thrilled to be here at Synthplex. We've been meeting a lot of sound designers from video game companies as well as many composers from this area that are interested in novel sounds and the latest technologies.Joe Cozzi - Eventide
The Quiet Room
In the "Quiet Room" there were a number of state of the art controllers being displayed from Roger Linn, Buchla, John Worthington (Apple) and Evan Brooks (Digidesign/Apple) were showing their Jambé controller. Evan and John are making this product for pure enjoyment, and it shows.
In the spirit of modular software the Ilio Booth featured both Multiphonics CV-1 from our friends at Applied Acoustics and Unify, which was being demoed by PluginGuru founder and chief content developer John "Skippy" Lehmkuhl. To learn more about that check out one of his many livestreams on YouTube. Like Skippy himself, they're fun.
Synthesizer Pioneers' Legacy
In addition to the Pop Up Museum there were other opportunities for viewing some of legacy of synthesizers in an area off to the side of the main rooms. One could easily run into electronic music pioneer Robert Margouleff (check out recent NY Times article about the making of Stevie Wonder's record, Talking Book), or Patrick Gleeson, or Jordan Rudess. You might have even run into film director JJ Abrams, an unapologetic synth nut, deep in conversation with fans and colleagues.
First of all, I've been waiting two and half years to come here, see old friends and meet people face to face that I've only met online. It's wonderful to be in the room with people who have been really supportive. It's an honor be sharing space in the Pioneer Room with people like Raymond Scott's son and Bob Moog's daughter.Dina Pearlman - Alan R. Pearlman Foundation
There was also a booth for Bjooks, which has published a series of books about synthesizers, other electronic music products, and the artists who create with them. When not participating in one of the panels, former Recording editor and nuclear physicist Mike Metlay could be found here, where several coffee table/ technical product books were being sold, including his own, SYNTH GEMS 1.
My first Synthplex was an extraordinary experience. Being surrounded by the creators of some of the world's best synth gear, learning about new trends in music and technology, meeting fellow professionals, making new friends, and passing on worthwhile knowledge in panels and presentations (or just chatting with folks on the show floor), I found Synthplex tremendously enriching and inspiring. I'll definitely be there next year.Mike Metlay - Journalist and author
The Dr Bob Soundschool
In addition to a Bob Moog Foundation's booth in the pioneers area, Michelle Moog Koussa was in a large room devoted to the Foundation's Dr Bob Soundschool, for which proceeds from tickets were also donated. The DBSS is a program that Michelle started as a way to further her father's legacy by teaching kids about sound in a fun and engaging way. For example Resonance was explained utilizing the movement of waves in a water bowl. August Worley was the presenter for an enthusiastic group of young people and old people.
For people who weren't heading to bed early there were evening concerts, including a tribute to the great Keith Emerson with his former bandmates like Marc Bonilla. A high point was Jordan Rudess doing his faithful interpretation of ELP's Tarkus. Here's a cellphone recording of it:
Overall Synthplex was in the minds of us and many others as a great success. Fun, educational, and a great opportunity for a meeting of the minds from all generations.
Would I go again next year? Absolutely.Craig Anderton - Legendary author/musician