Few instruments are as inaccessible as modular synthesizers. Alissa DeRubeis wants to change that.
"I feel like all technology comes with cultural baggage," says DeRubeis. "Modular synths, especially, have a history of only being available to elite universities and particularly wealthy individuals."
Two years ago, DeRubeis, along with Felisha Ledesma, executive director of Northeast Portland arts space S1, founded the Synth Library (7320 NE Sandy Blvd., s1portland.com/synth-library)—a collection of synthesizers, recording equipment and DJ gear that's available for the public to play with for a flat $20 per month membership fee.
"Why shouldn't everybody get to have access to the tools?" Ledesma asks.
Currently, the library is home to digital and physical modular synthesizers from more than 40 manufacturers. The collection ranges from a wide selection of popular Eurorack synths to rare, specialized equipment, like an electric kalimba that was made in the Czech Republic by a company that learned its craft from a Portland manufacturer.
Recently, the Synth Library even opened a sister location in Prague, run by a DJ named Mary C, whom DeRubeis met when they participated in a talk in the Czech capital about gender and modular synthesis.
"What's important to me about the Synth Library is the people running them, also," says DeRubeis. "It is a lot of work, but it's work that we love, so it's amazing when there's more people around the world sharing our values."
The esoteric culture around high-tech instruments can be almost as much of a barrier as their price. There's always a facilitator at Portland's Synth Library in case any of the users have questions about the equipment. S1 hosts workshops for new users, including workshops specifically for femme-identifying and gender-diverse people.
For Ledesma, the more people the Synth Library can reach, the more possibilities exist in the world. "All these people, who have never had access to this expensive gear," she says, "have the same level foundation to create anything they want."
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