How Synthesizers and Rave Parties Shaped Me as a Creative Technologist
I was very nerdy as a pre-teen in the mid-'80s. I was good in school, I loved math, history, geography, knew all the world capitals. I loved my Apple IIe as well, even if we couldn't do much with it at the time.
And I loved music, loved listening to my older brother's cassettes and CDs—artists like Pink Floyd, Midnight Oil, Bob Marley, Dire Straits, Jean-Michel Jarre, Vangelis and Serge Gainsbourg. I particularly liked Jean-Michel Jarre and Vangelis, two 1970s pioneers of electronic music. Not sure why, but that cold sound attracted me.
One day around age 10, I was gifted a Bontempi. If you don't know, that's a terrible digital piano brand from Italy. I liked it and started pushing it to the edge, took lessons, but gave up after a year. Then I got a cheap drum set, learning on my own and driving the entire neighborhood crazy. I played in rock bands during high school. We were not very good, but we had fun trying to cover Pink Floyd and others.
In the mid-'90s, the electronic music scene was rising. I started going to rave parties and producing music with module trackers—digital audio workstations of the '90s, very well-known within the Amiga and Atari computer scene. But this was soon not enough for my friends and me, so we started purchasing samplers, drum machines and synthesizers with whatever money we had saved.
Synthesizers, analog ones especially, are just incredible machines. The applied physics that governs them is a very nerdy topic. I loved the fact that they are based on simple elementary sound shapes, like waves, triangles or squares, that once filtered, transformed, stacked, altered or brought through sound effect racks and pedals, can deliver the most unearthly sound.
We started producing psytrance and other weird things with that hardware. We were also sampling every sound we could find, played live in student events and radio shows, and also started tagging along with a metal fusion band (a mix between electronic instruments and traditional metal band sound). We even produced a record with that band. I never liked metal but it was just fun to hang around with other musicians.
Eventually, I had to take a break from music to make sure I graduated with my computer science degree (I'd had to repeat a couple of years due to too many rave parties ... ). I started being really passionate about software engineering and spent most of the 2000s building my skills and becoming a well-rounded proper hardcore software engineer.
Interestingly, my life experiences gave me a certain ability to apply creative thinking from an engineering perspective. I never really connected the dots until realizing, after moving to Asia in the late 2010s, that this was a rising need in the creative industry. That's when I progressively transformed and started branding myself as a creative technologist.
My experience with music-making also came in handy because sound is such an important dimension of any creative work, no matter if it's a film, a physical installation or a digital product experience. It's particularly important to me, important to how I present my work, and important to the experiences I end up putting out there. If they are not grounded in music, they have at least been created under the influence of the music I have been listening to when coding them. I can't prevent it but I largely imagine experiences in terms of visuals and sound. It is a feeling that is difficult to transmit to your team and colleagues. If they are not into it, it's important to spend time demonstrating it to them because sound, as important as it is, is often forgotten by creatives and designers in the experiences they imagine and design. Most exceptional work will have sound as one of its pillars.
As a creative professional, you should never be shy to bring your personal life experiences into your day-to-day work. Personally, I am glad I had these parallel passions and found a way to bring them together. And I am also glad to say that I have resumed accumulating synthesizers and getting back into geeking out with them, probably more my own form of a mid-life crisis.