Nostalgia for an age yet to come

Nostalgia. It’s that muscle memory of emotion and pride whose grasp, like that of a clenched fist, is not so easy to force apart.  It’s the secret child of evolution; we look to the future with ever-increasing interest in the past and what can be unearthed or savored from it.  Occasionally, the results become photons of illumination for our current sense of aesthetic well-being.

Mostly, however, the overall experience is like really wanting one of those old pens that write in black, red and blue ink. Actually getting one again? Meh.

Opal Gann — dual Santa Paula electronic archaeologists Keith Trago and Cameron Leggett — takes their name from a dearly departed old lady, summoning the spirit of a former age through the alchemy of aging music-making technology. Officially, they are billed as “analog subtractive synthesis combined with choice digital circuitry and custom rewired children’s toys, utilized in the creation of deep sonic textures.” Translation: old electronic instruments made less boring by knowing what to disconnect and where to reconnect.  

The names of the machines used by Opal Gann are legendary: the Moog Voyager; Texas Instruments Speak and Spell; Radio Shack. Through ring modulators and guitar effects pedals, they weave their magic — which, 200 years ago, was interchangeable with technology — through circuits bent by Leggett and wielded by Trago, a former postman whose focus is on “all analog, no audible digital circuitry.” Leggett: “Keith is shooting for the ultimate all-Moog modular system, and he’s as close as he can get with modern unused and abused gear. Keith plays with his whole body — or least all the appendages.  Factory presets are for the weak, but self-made presets and modular routings are beyond mere mortals.”

One of their main instruments, the Big Briar Etherwave Theremin (made by Moog, which rhymes with “vogue”), contains an almost romantically doomed touch in that it is the only instrument that need not require human touch in order to be played. What results from this morass of new and old technologies is a spacey, wistful cosmos of groans and whispers that radiate from the center of Opal Gann’s rewired world.  Leggett: “My set-up is pretty mixed, with a heavy lean on the early ’80s six-voice programmable analog poly-synth. I like delay and phasing effects. I use digital devices for effects, sampling, sequencing, scratching and gating; I crave real knobs, sliders and buttons and shun the mouse while performing but willingly consent to the pad.”

As you hear those gently bizarre sounds seeping from the ornate machinework that is Opal Gann, know that there are some things beyond definition; things that may remind you, as you hear them, of times past and people lost, and that clouds can shatter the earth just as surely as any earthquake.                   

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