The Matrix, Reloaded.

After futzing with a MiniMoog for a few days, I started thinking to myself “you know, I should really get myself an analog synth. Just to play with.”

Then it occurred to me that I already have an analog synth, just to play with, that I never use.

About a dozen years ago I bought, for a stultifyingly low $80 on eBay, an Oberheim Matrix 1000.

It is, in a word, eccentric.

Somebody in 1986 thought this was a good idea for a user experience.

On the one hand, it has the worst user interface on earth – a 3-digit LED, a 0-9 keypad, and a +/- button. It was never intended to be much more than a glorified preset box. But it does retain that Oberheim filter, and the matrix modulation, and the Curtis-chip DCO’s. And secretly, it was programmable, if you had its big brother, the Matrix 6 (which had a merely awful user interface, not the impenetrable one of the M1000). A few years later as computers and MIDI started converging in useful ways, it became possible to program one with a computer editor/librarian. Not exactly a hands-on, tactile experience, but I’ve never been one to really worry about that (and there were some parameters that could take MIDI continuous control by assigning them to the annoyingly named “levers”).

So for about a year I sailed along with a cheap editor/librarian on my computer. A few Oberheim-y blips and bloops made their way onto my first two albums. Then softsynths got better and I sold a lot of my hardware. But I kept the Oberheim because…well, Tom Oberheim is a personal hero, and I always assumed I’d come back to it and re-integrate it into my setup.

That was probably about 2005. I’ve dusted it a few times, and powered it up to make sure it still works, but that’s been about it.

My editor-librarian hasn’t been updated since about then, and no longer works. But some quick poking around the ‘net found a few options, so I snagged a free one just to see what I could do with it. It’s clunky and awkward and the UI has a lot of excessive extra windows, but it gets the job done. And in the intervening decade I’ve gotten better at stuff like “gain staging” and “effects processing” so I thought maybe I could do better with it this time around.

And oh, I was right. It’s beautiful. Still a mind-bendingly clunky interface (although there’s an iPad-based editor for it now, that I’m interested in trying), and it is not without quirks (the envelopes are slow, certain MIDI parameters can’t be easily modulated in realtime without locking the whole thing up) but man, there is nothing like a real Oberheim filter with its weird fuzzy resonance.

So I think this one might go back into the regular rotation.