Sean Williams > Learning from the past

As an unapologetic analogue synthesis and hardware freak, I was most interested in having a look around STEIM to see what old machines might be lurking in cupboards and studios. To my great delight, one of the first things I encountered, after Frank’s Digisound modular, Korg MS-50 and 3U Eurocard custom system, was the VCS3 in Studio 2.

I’m not sure if the all-silver knobs mean that it is an early or late model, but in any case it has obviously seen some action. I assumed this was the machine that gave Michel Waisvisz the electric shock which provoked the design of the STEIM Cracklebox but it appears that this may be a different machine.

Despite a lack of functioning spring reverb, and several controls being way off their expected operating range I managed to settle in nicely with it over two two and a half hour improvisation sessions, firstly with Martin Parker, Owen Green and Lauren Hayes, and subsequently with the above plus Yolande Uriz and Thorbjørn Nyander Poulsen.

Having only spent 2 hours with a VCS3 before I was still in my comfort zone and the familiar feel of direct contact with electronics via knobs, pins, switches and a joystick is such an easy way of channeling existing musical experience that it was no trouble to be as expressive as I wanted with this new instrument.

What is great is that you can constantly reconfigure the patch and sensitivities of the controls very quickly so you can respond to the other performers in no time. Tristram Cary spent an awful lot of time and effort designing the VCS3 interface and its ease of use  os testimony to this great design. Components can be upgraded  to give more/less resistance, more/less turns etc. and it is this level of detail in selecting and implementing the appropriate components that I am focusing on with my own designs.

Check Martin Parker’s blog for links to the recordings of our first two sessions.

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