I read about Roland preparing to release a modern version of the classic Jupiter 8 synthesizer called the Jupiter-80 months ago, and I rolled my eyes. Roland were not the best synthesizer manufacturer in the world – Moog, Sequential Circuits, and other smaller and more interesting companies made some spectacular instruments between the late 70’s and into the early 90’s – but Roland have certainly produced the classic machines which have been synonymous with the sounds we know and love. House music was born with a TR-909 drum machine, and a Jupiter 8 synth. Acid house was born with a TR-808 drum machine, a TB-303 bassline, and TR-727 percussion drum machine. I could go on making sweeping generalization after sweeping generalization declaring devices made by Roland and the type of music associated with it, but there’s no point. Any performer, producer, player, or enthusiast knows what I’m talking about. The ugly truth is that Roland haven’t made an interesting drum machine, groove box, synthesizer, or piece of software in more than two decades. The corporation knows this. I know they know because whenever a new synth is prepared for release, Roland sign up some dusty old synth player like Howard Jones, and paint up the “new” synth with decorations which look and seem a bit like the glorious machines they made in the golden age of Synthesizers.
Today I actually had a chance to watch the video announcing the new Roland Jupiter-80, and indeed, theyve signed up old Howard Jones for the promotion. I will spare you the cynical rubbish, and just show it to you:
Disgusting isn’t it? Not an interesting patch, not an interesting feature, not a valuable comment in the entire thing. To be fair, Howard Jones is a pioneer, and an interesting musician, a lovely man, and I don’t disagree with him that the Jupiter 8 was a fantastic keyboard. But this new thing is a huge, middle of the bay miss.
If I were head of product development for the Roland Corporation things would be a bit different. First of all, I would take the guitar products (which have completely distracted them) and strip the Roland name from them. These would all become Boss products, and the product development would continue with a guitarist’s mentality free and apart from Roland.
Secondly, I would hire capable and competent GUI and software designers to create simple, clear, an truly usable interfaces for every single sequencer, drum machine, and synth produced. No more smiling little japanese faces while we wait for things to load, no more redefined terms. We would meet the world at the macintosh interface level of simplicity an clarity, and come forward from there. Nothing would be patronizing, nor overly complex for the end user. From Sequencers to patch editing the interface would be versatile, simple, and flexible. Designed for making sounds, step sequences, and tracks.
Third, and most importantly, rather than capitalizing off the look and feel and names of old products, I would completely and unilaterally scrap these terrible sounding, complex to use, expensive, an boring synthesizers and send every one of my engineers, designers, and every last member of the production team as far from Tokyo as I could send them and advise them not to return until they developed something truly new, modern, unique and interesting.
Meanwhile I would bring the Jupiter 8, the Jupiter 6, the Jupiter 4, the Juno 6, 60 and 106, the TR-909, TR-808, TR-606 and TB-303 back to the modern market. Not to mention the amazing array of CV, Din Sync, and Midi intermediary devices, as well as dedicated sequencers, and arrangers which would all include usb, midi, control voltage, and sync. Creating a line of products electronic musicians actually want, need, and would be excited to use.
I know that these vintage synths simply cannot be but back into production, and this doesn’t make sense. But the curtis chips which made them great can be studied, modeled, and reproduced in a modern, efficient, cost effective, and possibly even green manner which could bring these immortal and essential synthesizers back to the table of music creation.
And finally, I would join the world of VST, RTAS and AU development and produce comparable products which musicians who don’t care for physical devices to use in all modern sequencing and production platforms and stop letting other software developers use our great sounds, good name, and take all the glory from the mighty Roland Corporation.
Roland have already completely missed the most important opportunity in the 21st century – where all the DJ’s and Keyboard players bought guitars, and all the guitarists and drummers bought synthesizers and drum machines – but it’s not too late. It’s never too late to erase the horrible second half of the 1980’s Keyboard collapse from their modern thoughts. To kneel down before the truly inspired creation of the late 70’s and early 80’s and then, completely re inspired, come forward into the moment and beyond.