Interview: Jesper Kouthoofd from Teenage Engineering

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The OP-1 synthesizer is now available in our webstore! Same goes for the PX-0 earphones made to match the OP-1 that we designed in collaboration with Teenage Engineering. To mark this joyous occasion, we caught up with Jesper for a chat about the OP-1 synth and the current state of music technology.

The OP-1 synthesizer is the successful end result of an extensive development process that aimed to create the world's preeminent, portable synthesizer. It's hardware that merges the best of classic, analogue 'soul' with the latest in digital technology, and the competent team at Teenage Engineering have created a groundbreaking instrument that gives all music lovers the possibility of unlocking their creativity. Or as the Stockholm-based company like to put it: 'You don't need to be a scientist to use the OP-1'.

The user-friendly display, the colour-coded interface and the sheer power of this hotly anticipated synthesizer, make for an easy to use and thus optimum musical experience that transcends passing fads but remains very now. We caught up with Jesper Kouthoofd from Teenage Engineering for a chat about their portable wonder.

AIAIAI: How did you first get the idea for the OP-1?

Jesper: 10 years ago we had the first sketches but they were put on hold because the technology wasn’t really there yet. It got there around 4-5 year’s ago, with the mobile phone era. Everything got so much smaller and that’s when it was time for our portable synth.

A: What were some of the main difficulties you encountered in the production process?

J: The biggest difficulties we had were actually practical. Getting the right team together, and so on. The thing is that engineers and programmers tend to go to the bigger companies where the money is… we were out raising the finance for the project, which made it harder to attract the right people. And then we had problems finding a good factory. The main technical challenges involved making a small, portable not- too-technical product that everyone can use. That wasn’t easy! But I think we succeeded in the end.

A: How does it compare with and how is it different from the classic, analogue synths.

J: Well, some parts are actually quite similar to the analogue synths - like the LFO it has. We borrowed lot from the classic synthesizers and added up-to-date digital technology, so I guess you could say the OP-1 represents the best of both worlds when it comes to the old versus the new and analogue versus digital.

A: What’s your favourite feature on the OP-1?

J: That has to be the endless step sequencer. With that feature, we really brought something new to the table. It gives the musician the opportunity to create innovation in a way that hasn’t really been seen before, I think.

A: Who would you like to see use the OP-1?

J: When we first started out, I had a very clear idea of who I was making the product for: I was thinking of a young guy in Harlem making beats and rapping over them, or something like that. You know, strong-willed creative people with something to say. That might be a bit unrealistic at the current price setting. We made it as cheap as we possibly could, but the thing is that we didn’t want to compromise on the quality of the product; when you want to make the best synth you can possibly make, affordability isn’t the absolute top priority, which is why the OP-1 is probably not affordable for that young guy in Harlem…Still, recently, Jean-Michel Jarre tried it and said it was the best synth he’s ever played. And he’s tried most of the synths that are out there, so that was quite nice.

A: It must have been. Hopefully, that Harlem kid will grow up and get a job, so he can afford it. Could you talk a little bit about the design – vintage gaming consoles were an inspiration, I’ve heard?

J: Yeah, but the design was also born out our wanting to create the simplest, most logical solutions. The old video games definitely fall into that category, and we’re all fans of those, which is why it made sense to go in that direction design-wise.

A: Can anyone get into using it straight away?

J: Most definitely. We went out of our way to make the interface and the display very user-friendly. We say that you don’t have to be a scientist to use the OP-1 and that’s true. It’s a democratic product that you can use if you’re interested in creating music. The funny thing is that our product is so ‘basic’ that it often unlocks people’s creativity. What I mean by this is that they often use the OP-1 as an excuse. I read a lot of online forums where people say things like:’ I created this track using only the OP-1’. I find that creative people quite like having boundaries and rules that they can break and the very basic design of the OP-1 sort of creates the possibility of doing that.

A: What do you think the most interesting contemporary developments within sound and music equipment are?

J: That’s actually very hard. I really like an old, shitty synth called the VL-Tone, which is a Casio product. And I’m not a big fan of touch-screen technology as I think it’s very limited in the sense that the interface is literally one-dimensional. Having said that, the iPad and even the iPhone has given a lot of people the opportunity to create, which I think is great. But I’m personally much more fond of interfaces where you have knobs and buttons that you can play with. So in answer to your question: I think the innovation within touch-screen technology is great in certain respects, but having a good interface is also extremely important when it comes to making music and that’s part of the reason why we created the OP-1.

Casio VL-Tone