Eastern Musical Technology

Western Music Culture Attempts at Application of Eastern Culture KORG Technology

The KORG Minilogue XD

Mr. Day / John Coltrane 1960


I was never the most likely one to discover the power of John Coltrane. Out of law school in LA, I had an office on the corner of the 18th floor of Chevron USA overlooking Market Street in downtown San Francisco. It was a relatively peaceful time in history when I started at Chevron. Rare to see a homeless person on Market Street. Even at the cable car turn around. Things were about to hear up with the shooting of Mayor Moscone and Harvey Milk and the AIDS outbreak. 

But it was such an unusual life: working for the big corporation in the day and writing my Jazz Newsletter at night. Then printing a few hundred at Krishna Copy on Telegraph Avenue, across from Shakespear Books. Printed on 11×14 colored paper. My discoveries and reviews in my Jazz Newsletter of people like Horace Silver, Bobby Hutcherson, Charles Mingus, Weather Report, Chick Corea & Return to Forever. Kieth Jarrett.

Inner Voices / McCoy Tyner (1977)

My return to jazz. Pulling together many things that already existing in my life. Silent until now. This silence might be transformed (by some magical, modern alchemical process) into music.

* * *

Music was something always close to me that I would understand later in my life. My father went to LSU in college and founded a Dixieland jazz band. At the time it must have been an avant garde form of music. Spending time in New Orleans at LSU had placed my father close to the original jazz scene. I remember his saxophone he would often get out and play. 

There was the constant music of the big bands of the 30s and 40s played over his rather elaborate stereo system housed in a 15 foot long cabinet with Marantz and MacIntosh powering a clean, pure, powerful sound of jazz through the big JBL speakers on each end of the cabinet. A TEAC four track recording, reel to reel tape machine was part of the equipment placed into the cabinet sideways in exact cut in rectangular cuts into the top of the huge stereo cabinet so that only the faces of the equipment were visible. A clean, non-distorted sound from this great cabinet of sound was what dad and Gene were always aiming for. 

* * *

The owner of one of one of the leading stereo stores in the region, and (as I learned later) one of the most respected people in the world of the fine technical aspects of stereo was this humble looking guy from Springfield, Ohio named Gene Tavner. He and his wife would drive down to our home in Oakwood from nearby Springfield. Dad and Gene would work through the night on the stereo system. Like two mechanics getting some racing machine ready for the race. Each time Gene and his wife visited, they stayed over night. The women would stay up and talk and have wine but were always in bed by one o’clock or so. I knew this as – at 15 or so – I was old enough to stay up and watch my dad and Gene work.

Putting wires here and there. Making new connections between wires. Tweaking various parameters of the Marantz amplifier. It was my dad’s argument to my mother that it was important for his son to learn about stereo music music systems. There wasn’t a better way to learn about this, or, at least to have a respect for the creation of clear, undistorted music. The leading publication on the new type of emerging stereo music was Stereo Magazine and they wanted to do an article on dad’s stereo system but he said no as he wasn’t willing to divulge some of the things he and Gene were using/testing in their all night sessions.

After creating a state-of-the-art stereo system in the mid-60s, the next decision for my father was to purchase the most state of the art in recording albums of the time. Jazz albums for the most part. The leading record company for recording clear, non-distorted sound at the time was Command Records. Dad had a number of Command records but the one I always played was the Dick Hyman Trio. I listened to it over and over on his stereo system and I became good at working it and adjusting its various buttons.

The Command Album of The Dick Hyman Trio

The sound quality of the recording, heard through my father’s system, was far greater than any other musical experience I had at the time. Certainly much better than listening to 45 records or the rock albums of the time. (If truth be known, I did play a number of 45s on the system. Particularly, Joey Dee and the Starlighters Peppermint Twist.) I had my own rock band and played our Cable Nelson spinet piano at the opposite end of our living room from dad’s stereo system. But listening to big bands like Jimmy Dorsey on through my dad’s stereo system was a difficult experience to match. It was my introduction to jazz.

* * *

Thoughts of music dominate my mind these days. Not something that can easily be defined. My love for music seems to be returning to play a more significant role in my overall artistic expression than before. It is this desire to create music that continually comes and goes into my life. The old spinet piano of my teenage years morphed into various digital instruments over the 25 years since my first little Casio piano. I got into the Japanese made KORG digital pianos and synthesizers in the late 80s and continued to trade up for their new technology over the years. I’ve had my KORG instruments stored in my basement for a few years as other muses rose to prominence.

Yet there seems to be a return of the music muse and that desire to create original pieces of music. Using one of the most amazing music machines ever invented. The Korg Minilogue XD. A high point in the entire Korg history of incredible music-making devices for our modern world. A few days ago, I got my Minilogue XD out of the basement. It now sits behind me on from my computer desk which I write to you. Knowing the power of this little musical device it seems to me a sin to keep it silent and unplugged in the basement. I’ve heard what it can do and even experienced some of its moments over my use of it.

The XD, though, is a product of the East and providing a guide to how it works for the West is a task that the Japanese are 1) not good communicating due to the great differences in language and 2) not interested in communicating all that much. On of the tragedies of art in our time is that an Eastern technology firm has created the greatest electronic instruments in history. Yet they have been unable to show Western consumers of their products how to use the product. There are great differences at play between the creator of a leading music technology and communicating this technology so that it might not only be understood but also used, refined, applied by the consumers of the Eastern (Japanese firm of KORG). 

The Simple Set-Up

There are some incredible KORG instruments still in the basement under protective towel cover on plastic shelves from Home Depo. I bring one of my KORG instruments up from the basement. It’s the Minilogue XD.One of the furthest advances with KORG products from one who has used many of them. So much literature from KORG (and others) sing the praises of this small little musical instrument. I know it’s an incredible piece of music technology. I knew this when I bought it. I still know this. Right now. More than ever. For some reason. 

The KORG Waits / For the artist who might know how to use KORG’S amazing technology

A few photos of the MiniLogue XD in this post. Just set up by itself without all the attachments and connections to other KORG instruments. The attachments are not needed. This little piece of Japanese technology can do it all. If only this could be explained, taught, to sWestern artists who attempt to create music with technology developed in the East.

If only the West could understand how to play this amazing musical instrument of the East. So many social, cultural, political issues might be seen in a new light. A new perspective. New alliances formed from all of this. Perhaps. New groups formed from listening to this music. Perhaps. An alliance where no alliance existed before. A bridge where no bridge ever existed before.

I don’t understand the Japanese created electronic instrument called the XD Minilogue I have owned for maybe seven years now. I have never understood it. Instructions on how to understand it have never seemed motivated instructions. There seemed to be the feeling that there were those who knew what the Minilogue XD promised. And delivered.

It was a community of people. I was sure of this.

And I was not a part of it.

I was sure of this.

One thought on “Eastern Musical Technology

  1. You always are very informative and knowledgeable about the music you cherish. When you mentioned Jimmy Dorsey and his big band, that brought back memories for me also. Thanks for the memories John.

Leave a Reply