Few instruments are as inaccessible as modular synthesizers. Alissa DeRubeis wants to change that.
“I feel like all technology comes with a cultural baggage,” DeRubeis says. “Modular synths, in particular, are used to being only available to elite universities and particularly wealthy individuals.”
Two years ago DeRubeis and Felisha Ledesma, Executive Director of Northeast Portland arts space S1, founded the Synth Library (7320 NE Sandy Blvd., s1portland.com/synth-library), a collection of synthesizers, music equipment recording and DJ equipment. which is available for the public to play with a flat fee of $ 20 per month.
“Why shouldn’t everyone have access to the tools? Ledesma asks.
Currently, the library houses digital and physical modular synthesizers from over 40 manufacturers. The collection ranges from a wide selection of popular Eurorack synths to rare and specialist gear, like an electric kalimba made in the Czech Republic by a company that learned its trade from a manufacturer in Portland.
Recently, the Synth Library even opened a branch in Prague, run by a DJ named Mary C, whom DeRubeis met at a conference in the Czech capital on Gender and Modular Synthesis.
“What’s important to me about the Synth library is also the people who run it,” says DeRubeis. “It’s a lot of work, but it’s a job that we love, so it’s amazing when there are more people in the world who share our values.”
The esoteric culture around high-tech instruments can be almost as much of a hindrance as their price. There is always a facilitator at the Portland Synthesis Library in case any of the users have questions about the equipment. S1 runs workshops for new users, including workshops specifically for people who identify with women and diverse genders.
For Ledesma, the more people the synth library can reach, the more possibilities there are in the world. “All of these people, who have never had access to this expensive equipment,” she says, “have the same basic level to create whatever they want.”
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