All posts tagged electronics

File date: January 11, 2014

My Roland hiring story:

I was about 22, quite broke and at the time programming my own Apple II graphic adventure game.
I would temp at different companies in the area using a temp agency.
Of those, I had one job where I assembled wiring harnesses in a room filled with only women.
Another was at ITT Cannon, a famous maker of connectors.
It was there I stayed the longest.
I was given a room with a bench and some parts and a much older gentleman would give me a schematic and tell me to make the board.
These boards were all done using wirewrap methods, not printed circuits or soldered.
As it turns out, I was making devices to shut down or monitor huge machines when they got jammed, out of parts or for whatever reason, wrong.
It was the first time I used an IR thermometer.
One you just point at something and get a temperature.

My boss was a somewhat scattered brain, but highly focus-able man named Eduardo Miranda.
In the last 30-60 mins of the day, he’d teach me electronic theory on a blackboard.
I never expected that, but it was nice to be in a class of one and able to ask questions directly. He helped mentor me beyond what I had been learning since I was very young.

ITT was interesting.
It was a secure company with badges required and it was filled with dimly lit warehouses of oily and steamy machines.
Going into the warehouses became a real drag.
While I got to sit by myself and make circuits, I also had to install and calibrate them.
I also had to work on antique computer called a Data General Nova where it had rows of boards about a foot square. Half were originals, half were to control all the machines and again, wirewrapped.
Since the environment was oily and steamy and these boards were filled with thousands of connections, working on this beast became a whack-a-mole type duty.
I was pretty fed up, jobs were easy to get and I left.
Only afterward, did I learn that they wanted to hire me full-time and at a substantial raise with benefits.

My next job was soldering boards.
Again, all women around me.
That was an ok job, but they listened to the oldies radio stations and that meant hearing 1950’s music all day.
Whatever, it was a cake job.

I also was traveling to every musical instrument repair shop in LA.
I visited them all and all turned me down.
One place was called Hi-Tech Electronics. It was owned by JL Cooper, a prominent engineer. But he didn’t fix synths, he had others man the shop.
One of my neighbors at the time was also Michael Basich, a one-time member of Oingo Boingo.
He was already a tech at Hi-Tech.
But the guy I met was named Tim.
Tim had an attitude.
He had an open JP8 in front of him and with a smirk asked if I’d ever worked on anything so complex before, basically laughing at me for his assumed answer.
I told him yes, I had. He brushed me off.

Another was a guy on Sunset blvd in guitar row. (if you’re from Hollywood, you know the area.)
He had an upstairs shop that was tiny, but he secured the repairs from the Guitar Center across the street and had gear up to his eyeballs.
I don’t know if he was on drugs or not, but he couldn’t look me in the eye, was very jittery and gave me the spooks.
Finally he said, if you can fix that, you can have a job.
What he pointed to was a Teac Portastudio.
It seemed that when you put it in a certain mode, two of the meter lights went out.
I told him that was normal. It was in two track playback mode and even showed him it in the owners manual right next to it.
Insulted, he got huffy and I didn’t get that job either.

I also asked Paul Morte who had secured all the repair work for Yamaha.
He basically blew me off too, but admit I only spoke to him on the phone and should have driven down to his place.

Around this time one nite, I was up late programming my Apple.
It was about 10:30PM and the phone rang.
It was my friend Bruce in a semi-panic.
The problem was that he had this friend named Forrest who worked at a newly formed division of Roland called Roland DG, they were about to start exhibiting at Comdex and had no video demo for their new line of monitors.
They were about to display video monitors with no video.
Not good.

Bruce asked if I could make a self-demoing slide show of various pics on an Apple II and get it to them at Comdex the next day.
So I did just that.
I thought, wow… well, yeah I can do this, but how do I get there?
I had no money to fly to Las Vegas.
I begged my mom.
She loaned the money. It was about $80 at the time.
I made a slide show that held about 30 nice display pics, repeated automatically and via a 6502 machine-language routine, I made each photo display the name “Roland” in the corner as an overlay.
It worked fine though I actually made a mistake- I used Roland’s Musical Logo; Roland DG had their own logo, but everyone was still happy.

The next morning I put on my best clothes and flew out to Comdex by myself with only a few dollars in my pocket for lunch, a disk and a return ticket.
By the way, Comdex is huge. It’s covered at the same time in several hotels.
I had to do a lot of walking, but got to the right hotel where Roland had an Apple computer waiting.
The display installation worked well and so went the first showing of Roland DG at Comdex.

As I was leaving, I met Forrest and we began chatting, but his face suddenly went pale.
He said he saw something he’d never seen.
The president of Roland US, Tom Beckman, had excused himself from speaking with some Japanese men and was walking in our direction.
Tom came over to thank me for doing the slide show and asked if he owed me anything.
It was at this point that I knew I had to say something.
I quickly blurted out “Well, I need a job!”
Tom stopped and listened as I explained that I’d already been fixing synths for years, knew digital stuff and could program.
It all came out as one sentence and I felt foolish, but I was nervous and also had a plane to catch soon.
But it was a now or never moment and even Forrest stayed silent as he appeared to witnessing something he’d never seen before.

Tom calmly pulled out a Roland business card with his name on it and wrote down a name on the back: Jimmy Mothersbaugh.
He told me to call Jimmy when I got back in town.

I think I waited until Comdex was over, but called the number and asked for Jimmy.
A man came on the phone and basically said I was hired.
Could I start the following week?
I said goodbye to the ladies of soldering and drove out to Roland on what did turn out to be a new job. They gave me my own tech room, a small tour and introductions to various people.

As it appears, Jimmy was told by Tom to check me out or hire me and Jimmy did just that. I went to the top first and everyone below was intimidated or following orders.

For what it’s worth, Jimmy is actually Jim Mothersbaugh and Devo’s first drummer, brother to the other members of Devo. Through the years at Roland, I’d get to see and hear much of what Devo was doing via Jim.

But that first day, Jim was apprehensive.
I had never given him a resume.
I never filled out a job application.
He told me, “You know if you only last here a short time, it will at least look good on your resume.”
I felt crushed, but knew he didn’t know much about me then either.
I stayed there from late 1984 to early 1988.
For a long time, I was the only authorized service center for Roland DG monitors and plotters. They had none authorized anywhere else in the US.
All the other techs were very happy about this too.
They wanted to get back to fixing synths and boss pedals and hated the DG line and management.
My record of video monitors repaired in one day is 25.
Most were ok, but all had to be unboxed, checked and reboxed.
Many did need legitimate repairs also.

But I got bored at Roland.
Every year they’d release 60-80 new products and we had to fix them in addition to the old ones. Parts were everywhere and stacked higher than anyone could reach without a ladder.
We were out of space. The file cabinet with service manuals was packed.
We also had to install and tear down the Namm show displays each year, which got progressively bigger in production with stages and huge displays.
The years went on and I felt like I was going nowhere there.
Depressed over a recent girlfriend breakup and wooed by a (so called) friend to work at his company and open my own shop, I left Roland.

Wishful thinking. Unproven and desperately in need of factually cited examples.

Many original musicians have sold (individually) 10’s of million of albums and sold out huge arenas and stadiums.
Merchandising in the form of movies, games, clothes and other tangible commerce comes along with it.
With each artist or act, there comes a huge amount of employment. People eat supporting talented artists.
Drivers, hair and makeup people, roadies, techs, agents, engineers, flights, hotels, legal needs… the list could go on quite a ways.
Each artist actually becomes an employer and helps support a large number of people in various trades.
The level of their musicianship rises to the point of demand and creates jobs and even industries sometimes.
Newman’s own salad dressing wouldn’t be able to donate millions of dollars had Paul Newman been a bad actor.
Angelina Jolie couldn’t help adopt need children or become an inspiring figurehead for that cause.
Sting, Bono and others couldn’t gain the ground needed to elicit milions of dollars to help the rain forests or the victims of land mines.
That is social responsibility and only comes with definite, appreciated artistry.

Now, name some DJ’s that have packed an arena or stadium or sold platinum albums.
Name an artist known for their work on circuit bent instruments that creates and supports jobs.
Name either that can affect society to the point that everyone knows their name and has an opinion of their art.
Name some that have created sectors of jobs, obtained millions of dollars in needy donations or inspired masses.
They don’t exist.

See how limiting such “art” is?
Circuitbending’s outreach is tiny. Likely unmeasurable.
They do little and affect little in their path.
By comparison, trash men are Gods.

You live in Brooklyn?
Stop everyone from circuit bending for a year, then take a look at your city.
You won’t see any change. Not squat.
Now remove sanitation workers, food suppliers, city maintenance workers, garment workers, babysitters, laundry services, medical services, police, etc.
Likely then you’d see what people truly play a part in social needs, environmental needs and the like.
Circuit bending is very far down the list.
Losing a small exhibit at an art gallery or two will hardly affect many people at all.
True musicians will not have any problem expressing themselves if the occasional circuit bent toy is not available.
Life truly goes on without circuitbending.
It’s impact is negligible.

Let’s go farther and a bit sideways here…

Many acclaimed artists are considered “triple threats.”
They are singularly musicians, actors and dancers. They can do all three.
Prince, Madonna, Bob Hope, Fred Astaire, Sinatra (any of the rat pack.)
These are extremely talented people that paid their dues and this combination is to be noted: Had they been massively talented, yet undisciplined, they likely wouldn’t be successful.
Equally, had they been very disciplined, yet poor artists, again they’d likely have not seen success.
It’s only when a talented individual embarks on study and application do they usually succeed.
Only when they can entertain large numbers of people can they effect change, whether it’s laughter, commerce or lasting art.
The point of the triple threat mention is that the bar for talent used to be considerably higher.
It used to take study, practice and discipline to get anywhere in the entertainment business.

Of course there are exceptions and many more so today, but these acts usually don’t last.
Fads based on novelty are nothing new, but novelty wears off.
You’ll notice that we no longer see images by Andy Warhol all around, nor people pushing everyday images as “art.”
It was done once and until we forget about it, it likely won’t take hold again.
Warhol was first, was original, popular and thus locked it up for himself, even past his own death.

An example:
If I say “The Three Stooges” to you, you likely think of well, THE Three Stooges.
But consider the format: three ugly guys slapping each other, telling jokes and getting into mischief.
Hey, that sounds very easy to do, doesn’t it?
There’s no shortage of guys who can do that, right?
The originals are long dead, right?
Ok. Fine.
But why do we not see more versions of the Three Stooges?
Because it’s been done before.
Anything attempting that same format would be considered unoriginal, deriviative or plagiaristic.
These are all widely considered to be negative qualities.
Because of this effect, no one touches doing the Stooges.
It’s off the plate. Untouchable.

When art lasts past the artist’s short life, then it may well be considered art and not a fad.
That’s the reason art is art. It is original. It’s novel and fresh. It’s a 1st… and it lasts.

And this is also why circuit bending so badly fails at both usefulness and true art.
It doesn’t have an ability to be marketed and if duplicated would provide little functionality or usefulness.
Few people appreciate it because it’s not a very capable medium.
It has very little useful aspects .
This is a dead end. It can’t grow or go very far.
The artists performing it don’t end up with a product that’s so unique it’s legacy will outlast the person who did it.
If you died tomorrow, your circuit bent collection would likely not be hailed as the legacy of a serious artist.

Circuit bending always starts with something done fully, then subtracts or adds to it.
Many circuit bent items can’t even do what they were originally designed to do.
They sometimes actually lose their originally designed capability in the process of some circuit bending attempts.
What is the result?
A device that does something different than intended simply for the point of making it do something different.
Now if that difference is truly spectacular, great.
There’s your audience and thus your marketability.
You’ve justified your time and created value where none existed before.

But otherwise, you the artist, the circuit bender, usually end up with more of your art than others do and the time spent is rarely covered to the point of positive gain.
You might survive therefore, but it’s doubtful you’d grow.
One can’t mass market the devices, nor create much demand.
It’s all one on one and very limited in the ability to affect anything to any large degree.

It’s quite like tagging.
If I was a tagger and sprayed up a wall near me, I could look at it often and derive some sort of pleasure from it.
My friends that “get it” would also appreciate it in my small social world. I would feel important to my peers.
But in the larger context of the world, it doesn’t mean anything. Nothing at all.
Three blocks away, no one even knows and showing them won’t elicit a desire for the same in their neighborhood.
Asked, they very likely wouldn’t want it at all.
It’s limited, widely unappreciated and only endorsed by a small, like-minded population.
Yet those in the group doing it, think it’s important and will even die or kill for it.
When was the last time a dead tagger made the nightly news?

Yet had these taggers something more meaningful to do, something with skills that made some money or helped someone, then they could be responsible members of.. there’s that word again… society.
But they don’t. This is what they do. It’s a beginning and end unto itself.
That wall won’t grow and the world will never know if it. It’s limited and again, a dead end.

Indeed, circuit benders practice much of this same sort of denial.
Because they haven’t the skills, they defend their art and call it important.
They gather with others who practice the same.
They stay apart and often shunned from the greater musical world.
The NAMM show doesn’t feature them, music stores don’t carry their instruments and in general they are a very minor subset of an already minor electronic music genre.
Yet they believe they are socially important, musically important and educationally important?
This just isn’t true and circuit bending has failed in all three of these aspects.
It is a dead end because it cannot grow past its own inherent self-limitations.
It cannot create valid enough musical tones to be a featured instrument.
It cannot help create jobs and industries.
It cannot help educate people past its own limitations.

Circuit bending is a big bag of fail.
The sooner you and others realize this, the sooner you can get to doing something truly important, useful and helpful.
Until then, I consider it self-indulgent electronic masturbation.
Great for the person doing it; useless to most others.

–Kevin Lightner, early 2015

Something Kevin wrote in 2004 for prospective clients.
I think we might have used this, but I don’t remember for sure.

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