What Does Acid Smell Like?

Wednesday, September 2, 2009 at 8:36 pm

“So if I asked you about art, you’d probably give me the skinny on every art book ever written. Michelangelo, you know a lot about him. Life’s work, political aspirations, him and the pope, sexual orientations, the whole works, right? But I’ll bet you can’t tell me what it smells like in the Sistine Chapel. You’ve never actually stood there and looked up at that beautiful ceiling; seen that.”

–Sean, “Good Will Hunting”

It took me a while to understand the fixation so many people had with certain early Rolands like the TB-303. They sounded nice enough, but I didn’t see why people went completely gaga for them. I actually felt embarassed about this, being worried I was missing something that was completely obvious to everyone else. So, I borrowed some early Rolands from a friend, an MC-202 and a TR-606. I fiddled around with them tenatively, learning how to program them and seeing what noises I could make, and my nervously underwhelmed impression remained. But, I kept picking at them.

One day, picking at them yet again, I’d synced them up and programmed some pleasantly meshing patterns. I set it all running, gradually brought the 202’s filter cutoff up… and something weird happened. I had an intense moment of zen, and I heard the sounds in a way I hadn’t before. The sounds seemed to form stable shapes in various stages. I’m reminded of electron orbitals from chemistry class, where you get different patterns as you increase the energy…. or maybe shifting gears on a car with manual transmission.

Of course, if you don’t get the acid sound, those analogies will sound like abstract babble. Here is something you will understand: when that moment of zen hit, a huge grin spread across my face. It felt great!

It wasn’t the first time I’d had a moment of zen like that, but it got me to start chasing them more. If I don’t get some hyped machine or plugin or technique, I seek to get my hands on it and my head around it. Use it for a bit, and see if sparks happen…. see for myself if it’s any good. Music is an experience, and in order to create a rich experience, we must experience as much as possible ourselves. While I got some starting tips on EQ off the net, 99% of what I know about EQ is from sitting around and playing with it. I didn’t understand the Roland fetish until I spent some time using Rolands. Experience is the best teacher. Cliche, but true.

P.S. — It’s hard to write about music, because language has no meaning in and off itself. Language merely serves as a means to reference experiences we’ve had. I can tell you, “think of the smell of freshly-cut grass,” but I can’t translate the smell of freshly-cut grass into words. If you’ve never smelled freshly-cut grass, the best I can do is compare it to other, similar smells. Writing this blog, my single biggest challenge has been coming up with analogies that don’t sound like schizoid babble to people who haven’t experienced what I have.

Categories: musical development

One Comment on “What Does Acid Smell Like?”

  1. Hmmmm…any chance of letting me borrow some of that Roland gear? =P

Post a Comment