The guitar wasn’t my only interest as a kid. When I was in grade school, first or second grade maybe, my dad got a C/PM-80 computer with two (TWO!) 8 ½” floppy disk drives. It sat on top of a file cabinet in the office space of our house. The case was made from a couple of metal boxes that were spray painted dark blue. The machine was glorious. With a couple of Byte magazines and some books I got from the elementary school book fair I went to work learning BASIC. It was an amazing time.

When I wasn’t messing around with my friends all summer long, I was holed up in that room learning to use and write programs. I learned logic. I began to understand syntax. I was figuring out one of the most important lessons of my life: how to teach myself things. It was my dealing with the bit box that led me to the conclusion that I could probably do just about anything with the right book and some spare time. Thirty or so years later it still feels true.

My dad always made sure that we had a computer in the house. Always. He’s a nerd of the first order but more than that he really understood where the world was going and how it was going to get there. He didn’t predict the timing of the explosion of the Internet, but he knew it was coming. That’s a lot more than most could say since most people didn’t know that there was an Internet until it was on the cover of every magazine and newspaper (remember those? So quaint!).

With a simple upgrade came a modem. With a modem came figuring out how to communicate with one of my nerd buddies down the block over a computer. No one would think anything of a 5th grader chatting on a computer today, but back in the early 80s? No one even knew what that meant (unless they’d seen War Games). And for that I am thankful!

The BBS community taught me how to get my hands on software that I didn’t write. I learned to make noises with that little speaker inside of the PC. By the time the SoundBlaster card (yeah, the original with 8 blazing bits of audio fidelity!) came out, I could write some pretty cool software that made music.

The experimentation that was possible with computers held my attention. I understood what could be. I could someday record my guitar onto my computer. But at 11 MB/minute of stereo CD quality audio, that wasn’t going to happen until I was in graduate school. Nonetheless, I watched and waited. I went to NYU where I could get my hands on all of that tasty technology. I was surrounded by people who understood what could be done with those boxes with the blinking lights. It all made sense.

Some of the software that I wrote back then, in 1995, was pretty cool. It was at that moment that the whale of the Internet was breaching into popular consciousness. More and more musicians and composers were trading ideas. Motion capture, interactive environments, and artificial performers were the hot topics. I was in the middle of it. The things I saw and the people I met inspire me to this day. Oh, and all of that Internet nerdery eventually led to full time, gainful employment. A nice side benefit for composers of unpopular music who like to eat and sleep in warm, dry places.

Computer music dominated my life for most of my 20s. I lost track of the guitar for a while. It sat in a spare bedroom waiting for me. I did eventually find my way back, but it took some time to restore a little balance.
Today it’s hard to imagine music without a computer. After all, what is an iPod? What about your music server at home? Or the entire infrastructure of music distribution? Does anyone buy CDs anymore? I haven’t bought one in close to 10 years. And for a creator of music the computer is almost as important as the instrument or voice. These are and have been amazing times with the best stuff still ahead (I think).

Yesterday on my lunch hour I did something incredible. I downloaded an analog synth program to my new iPad. I made a sequence and noodled with some patches. Then I bounced it down and passed it off to another program that allowed me to process it further. An analog synth that would fill the better part of a dining room table and an 8 track recorder now fit in a package that weighs in at just over a pound and is small enough to be held in one hand. Forget the flying cars, this is the future that I ordered!

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