I still remember my first Korg.
I had a Saturday job at Pools Corner during school selling, polishing, repairing, and drooling over guitars, brass, effects pedals. It was here that I found the Rhythm 55 drum machine.
It was pretty basic, all preset patterns; but using the trigger output half jacked into the expression port of a Zoom effects unit, and sliding a paperclip across the contacts of the swing function turned it into a crazy synth with the pitch controlled by the tempo.
I later formed a band and we were recording a single in a studio in Gilberdyke.
Our programmer was off to Holland that weekend so he pre-recorded his parts, including the drum machine, to CD.
The studio had an original Korg MS-10 lying around. The keyboard didn’t work, but we still managed to squeeze some squelches from it and include it on the single. I noticed the trigger in port on the MS-10, it would have been nice to have connected to the Rhythm 55.
Our programmer was subscribed to Future Music Magazine, and I would always drool over the synths being reviewed and dream of having the cheddar to buy the sheer pornography of the tech.
In 1999, Korg introduced the MS-2000 – a digital modelling version of the MS-20 (twin oscillator version of the MS-10). How I drooled. Later, the Electribe series brought the same synth engine as had modelled the MS-2000, as well as complementary units for rhythm and sampling.
Korg and the bastard sons of their initial success in the MS-10 seem to have been ubiquitous in my life ever since I got into synths.
Fast-forward five years, and local band Mr Beasley were formed in Hull. For the first time, I could see in front of me, in my stomping ground, people producing and performing live electronic music with punch, charisma, and panache.
I later discovered that Bobby (Beasley) was using VST plugins – software equivalents – of the same tech borne from Korg’s original innovation.
I felt like this was something I could do.
Another couple of years and Crystal Castles came to my attention. Their work was robotic and tight, but so punk it almost felt off the rails. I often listened to their debut thinking it was the result of conjugal union between two inner city fruit machines. As it turned out, Ethan of CC played most of his live stuff through an MS-2000 and a MicroKorg. Again, this felt like something I could do.
It wasn’t until 2008 when I heard the Nintendo ‘game’ Korg DS-10 was being developed that my mind truly opened up to the possibilities.
I’ve always been put off by software, when there’s so much you can create with outboard equipment you can see in front of you and tweak in real time. That may have led to a little more in the way of histrionics than I’d like when I listen back through my archives, but at least I didn’t have to worry about Windows crashing on me, hardware breakdown, all the foibles that come with digital audio workstations that just weren’t dedicated enough to purpose.
At least, with the DS-10 package, I only had to worry about charging my battery and occasionally blowing the dust from the contacts on the cartridge.
Finally, it felt like this was something I could, and would, use to enter the field of live electronic music production.
The DS-10 is basically two fully programmable and tweakable MS-10s for bass and melody; along with a further four MS-10s which serve as drum parts – or, if you only need bass drum, hi-hat, and snare: a further MS-10 to play with.
I started programming for real for the first time, using the touch pad to key in scale quantised notes with the touchpad, recording with the virtual keyboard, or the awesome step sequencer that could be used to program notes, volume, stereo panning, even filter sweeps.
I’d toyed with sequencing before in Fruity Loops (as used by Mr Beasley!) and played around with Rebirth (an early incarnation of Reason with the famous Roland 303 being modelled along with other Roland classic drum machines); but for the first time, I had something in my palm, at the bus stop – even in the bath – to write music with whenever inspiration struck or my hands got bored of rolling cigarettes.
It was this dedicated, battery powered freedom that really allowed me to finally put my love of synths and electronic music into action.
In 2010, Korg began releasing small, battery powered synthesisers with the same analogue tech used in the MS-10, and the Monotron was born.
For years, the much bemoaned lack of analogue synths on the market was swept aside with affordably true analogue toys that enthusiasts soon began using in serious production; later the Monotribe series of analogue grooveboxes was followed by the Volca series – analogue synths, drum machines, samplers.
The release of the MS-20 Mini saw analogue synths with digital control and the collection keeps on growing but I still don’t feel the need to upgrade from my trusty MicroKorg. It’s programmable, reliable, and packs a real punch for playing live keys over the top of the frameworks I run off the Nintendo DS, which I can affect in real time using the Kaoss pad packaged with the DS-10 on the Nintendo’s touchpad. Let’s not even mention the variations of the Kaoss pad Korg has released, the Kaossilator series and the mobile apps for Kaossilator and the iDS-10 for the iPad…Korg has taken the world by storm with its affordable exit from the bedroom for many producers. The list just goes on and on; and it’s nice to think that my DS and my MicroKorg have something in common when I perform live.
I just put a deposit down on a MicroSampler, another extension to Korg’s range of budget production tools.
It’s been fifteen years since the MicroKorg first showed up, and next year, we’ll again celebrate where it all started out with the 40th year since the MS-10 was introduced.
Last I saw Ethan of Crystal Castles, I noticed his MS-2000 and MicroKorg had the brand names covered with gaffer tape. I told him I thought it was a really cool punk gesture; it transpired he was just pissed because they turned him down for sponsorship. Maybe they should take note, because my having seen what he was playing was an inspiration to me and future generations of would be producers and buyers of the illegitimate children of our beloved MS-10.
About a month after I bought my first MicroKorg for around £170 in 2010, I saw that someone was selling one on Ebay that had apparently been borrowed by Ethan for a gig. I emailed their management to confirm this and they did , but not ‘til after the sale had closed for a mere £10 more than I’d paid for mine.
I could have been gutted by this, but I’m not that sentimental.
Much like when I saw Mr Beasley perform using VSTs of the MS-10 spurred me on, knowing the MicroKorg was good enough for Ethan was good enough for me.
Counting to Zero,