Here at Crab Central, I’ve set the Way-Back Machine to 1972. My age was approaching double-digits. There were commemorative moon-landing tchotchkes at the gas station. The ghost of Jimi Hendrix was playing “Purple Haze” on WHEB-FM out of Portsmouth, New Hampshire. And my older brother showed me the changes to The Beatles’ “Day Tripper” on the purple guitar which would soon be stolen from his apartment.
That purple guitar was brutal to play. Things didn’t improve much when I got a Les Paul copy from Montgomery Wards. It was a treasure straight out of the Christmas Dreams book. It smelled like varnish, sounded lo-fi anemic, and my parents were saints to buy it. Playing it demanded that I beat my hands on my nightstand until they didn’t hurt anymore, and I still couldn’t get the sounds in my head out into the world.
My hands got bigger and stronger, and better instruments got more affordable, but there’s still that matter of hand vs. steel & tangled-up fingers. Not every kid will grasp how a minor chord touches a nerve, but they should all have the chance to encounter music one-on-one, to discover how far sound can go, but without the pain. For example, one might use a keyboard rather than something with frets.
Back in the dim mists of time, keyboards all sounded like piano-sorts of things. Strings were hammered or plucked, or there might be a reed or a spinning wheel involved & you could call it an organ. Such contraptions were treated as furniture and priced in gold bullion. And then there were synthesizers, explosions of machinery which resembled things Dr. Strangelove might use to launch missiles in three-part harmony from cornfields in Kansas. Not quite as painful as a guitar, but alternately limited and amorphous. Until you get to something like Kontakt, from Native Instruments.
Kontakt is a computer application used to sample sound, part of a program suite called Komplete 8. It can be used to create any sound you can imagine, but it comes loaded with its own palette of sounds both familiar & exotic. Click, and it’s a grand piano. Another click and it’s a string quartet. Click, and it’s neither–or both. With it you can blithely recreate chords which once frightened churchmen, or tones which would tickle Elmo. It makes crystalline sounds which would reduce Bach & Mozart to tears. It makes angry sounds like a slot machine with indigestion. It has just the right number of buttons & knobs. It’s precision, power, and beauty, but here’s the thing–it’s also perfect for kids.
At the Christian Science mother church in Boston, there’s an organ which is a shrine unto itself. Last time I was there it was surrounded by missionaries & had a direct connection to the music of the spheres. With Kontakt, a six year-old can hold that sound in his or her lap, and layer it with armpit farts if that’s what the occasion calls for. Less velvet rope, more Velvet Underground. This is what we’re playing with at the Rock ‘n Hole Roadshow these days, and the means by which we’re hoping to bring sea sounds to life.
Be vewy, vewy quiet–I’m hunting crab-bits.