We caught up with synth shop owner Jason Sole to talk about his work with analog synthesizers, the resurgence of their popularity, and the appeal of opening up a physical brick-and-mortar location.
For starters can you tell us who you are and what you do?
My name is Jason Sole, and I am the owner of Waveformless, an analog synthesizer sales and service shop located in Oakland, California. We specialize in repair, restoration, and sales of vintage analog synths, and carry a very select list of new gear as well.
How did you get started repairing and restoring analog synthesizers?
I have always been interested in how things work, and from a very young age wanted to take things apart to learn about the clockwork of the machines we use every day. I bought my first synth about 15 years ago, and it was in very poor shape. I couldn’t afford to pay anyone to fix it for me, so I took the task upon myself. Over the years, and through lots of trials and many errors, I eventually learned the science and art behind the building and maintenance of these lovely instruments, and here I am.
Do you have a favorite analog synth?
That is a very difficult question. I would put the Sequential Circuits Prophet 5 and the Moog format Modular at the top of my list, among others. Ask me tomorrow and my answer may be different.
If you could pick a discontinued synth to be re-released which would you choose?
I would have to say the Roland System 700, or the ARP 2500. If someone were to faithfully recreate either, that would be something special.
Analog synthesizers and modular systems have been experiencing a surge in popularity. What do you think accounts for this?
We live in a world where there is increasingly little that exists in a non-virtual format. I think that we as animals respond in a different way to representational versions of things in contrast to the real analog artifact. There can’t exist an algorithm complex enough to fool us on a root level, and therefore we for a while subconsciously and now increasingly purposefully move toward the real thing in whatever form we can, even as technology would pull us the other way… The feeling you get in your gut tells you the truth even if your ears are fooled by the lie. I think we are starting to see hints of a balance struck between the advancement of tech versus the acceptance that some things were done right the first time round. I hope that wasn’t too indirect an answer.
What made you decide to open up a brick and mortar storefront for your business?
I decided to open my shop because I saw an opportunity to push a cultural phenomenon that resonates with me in a direction that I believe in. I was doing this as a side project for a long time, and as such it was difficult to really refine and push forward my vision. Having this as my day to day work allows me to really focus on it, and apply the attention to detail that is needed to really do something well. I also see a need to supply my clients with a space that exists in the real world where an interested party can come and talk to someone about an instrument, lay hands on it, and really get to know it before buying it. The nameless faceless transactions of internet marketplaces are risky, and when it comes to such a personal choice as what the right instrument is for you, having a physical interaction is important.
Is the idea of a real physical space versus an intangible web-based business analogous to the idea of hardware versus software?
I think so. As I said before, the human mind gravitates naturally towards the visceral and the physical. The flash in the pan immediacy of the internet marketplace is good for the impulse buy, but to really know, and have a personal experience based on real interaction is absolutely comparable to the difference between the immediacy and breath of choice offered by virtual instruments versus the intuitive and liminal experience of interacting with a purpose built artifact that responds to the subtlety of the human touch.
What’s been inspiring you lately?
Hmmmmm… I woulds say artistically: Andy Stott, Cluster, and Eliane Radigue. Politically: Bernie Sanders. As far as instruments go, these last days I have been glued to my Macbeth M5, controlled by a KMI QuNexus and Arturia Beatstep Pro, and my Korg 700S.
You can check out the WAVEFORMLESS shop here: http://www.waveformless.com/