Me and My OP-1

I've enjoyed messing around on keyboards and pianos since I was about 10. The few lessons I endured never really took but I found I had a mild affinity for the piano. I could sit down at one and make up a pretty ditty. But I didn't play other people's music and I couldn't pull together anything like a whole song. It wasn't even a goal. I liked being mildly musical. I doodled on the piano.

But at some point in early 2018 (maybe late 2017) my friend Dan told me about a tiny synthesizer called an OP-1 and pointed me to this...

OP-1 YouTube Video

I was... intrigued. It didn't look like something I could do, but it looked like something I would enjoy. But that little synthesizer costs 1000 dollars. It's crazy how expensive that is. And I really hadn't even touched the piano for more than a few minutes at a time in months. I am admittedly self indulgent and overpaid, but surely there are limits.

Then Dan bought one. That doesn't automatically mean I will buy one. Dan has a BMW. I don't. Proof! But when I actually touched the thing, all was lost. And as it turned out, Dan had ordered a second OP-1 for reasons too irrational to go into here. So, being a good friend and a certifiably insane person, I offered to buy that OP-1 from Dan. He, of course, accepted.

At this point it was sometime in the middle of January.

One of the big selling points of the OP-1 is its incredible battery life. It is perfect for travelling. And, as it so happened, I had a work trip to the UK coming up at the end of January. It seemed like there was at least a small chance that I could have the OP-1 in time for my trip.

As it turned out, the OP-1 arrived at Dan's house a few days before I was to leave. But Dan lives in California and I live in Washington. Never fear; Dan went to great lengths to package and ship the OP-1 to me.

Sadly, UPS misplaced the package and it didn't even get into the tracking system until after it was supposed to arrive. But on the day I was scheduled to leave, the package arrived. My flight wasn't until 6:30 that evening so I was at work. But instead of going straight from work to the airport as I planned, I detoured past my house, tore open the outer box, stuffed the unopened OP-1 box into my bag, and drove myself to the airport.

Once I was past security (oddly they didn't say anything about the peculiar electronics in my bag), I found a quiet spot in the airport lounge and unboxed my OP-1. I used the hour or so before boarding to download the latest firmware, update the OP-1, and download a book on how to actually use it. The official OP-1 instructions are very light and entirely browser based.

I imagined that I would use my new toy on the flight but it had been a long day and I actually spent the flight eating, watching movies, and sleeping. The OP-1 made a brief appearance but it remained largely impenetrable.

Once I was settled in my hotel in London, I had a bit of time. I played around some but getting from nothing to something turned out to be impossible that day. Every day following, when I wasn't working or visiting with family or seeking good fish and chips, I tinkered with the OP-1.

I started to feel my way around the edges. I made some simple loops. Played with the 4 track recorder. Listened to all the preset sounds and drum kits. And continued to fail to make anything resembling music. As my trip came to a close, my OP-1 remained barren and devoid of music.

My flight home was a day trip. So once I was settled on board I got out the OP-1 and started to fiddle some more. Pretty quickly I had to stop to eat and, while eating, I watched one of the movies I'd already watched on the flight over. But with that chore out of the way, I had about seven hours of free time ahead of me.

I started by laying down a simple chord progression on piano that I'd been fiddling with for, literally, years. And then I just started adding to that. For seven hours.

The production was muddy. I had no idea how to mix anything and I put it together in such a way that I couldn't pull it apart to fix it. But, despite that, it was a whole piece of music. That I made. On a plane. In seven hours.

It was one of the best seven hours I can remember.

© Nick Simons