It is the beginning of a revolution—an
expansion of democracy.
In the late morning of a spring day a quarter century
ago, the strong crisp mid-week light spills fresh and cool into the
shadowed storefront. The walls are stacked floor to ceiling with the
sought after guitars, drums, and music instruments of all kinds. They
pile high above the glass cases full of small useful accessories. Some
of the stock has been moved slightly aside in order to accommodate the
ever encroaching (though still few) keyboards and early electronic
Outside is the barely controlled chaos of New York
City. The buildings are tall and close. The uproar of anarchy, with
divergent paths of vehicles and pedestrians cascading all over one
another, pulls the buildings even closer together and serves to
accentuate the hubbub growing just inside the store’s front door. It
is Manny’s Music on 48th Street and the center of the musical arts
universe of the time.
A cop waves on yet another vehicle trying to park
at the curb. There is always a cop just outside this door. The
congestion of music stores on 48th Street draws musicians from all
over the world, making it consistently one of the busiest spots in the
My gaze is pulled back inside to the excitement of
bright young creative musicians holding court over the latest
development. Everyone is focused on a never before seen box that is
peppered with small square gray, black, white and blue buttons, then
two rows of tiny oddly angular black knobs. Three large red LED’s are
It is the Voyetra 8. Somebody is saying,
"Those are soft-keys. That means they don’t have a specific function,
but they can be programmed to perform whatever."
Few knew what that meant then; but now, years
later, it seems odd that the idea could have ever seemed so arcane and
The salesperson turned the box around and pointed
to its back, "These connectors are for the proposed MIDI
specification. They don’t do anything yet, but eventually you will be
able to plug a computer into them for remote control. Maybe even to
Ramifications of that simple statement were not
lost on this crowd. The intensity of excitement ratcheted up a notch.
I put my hands on the piano type keyboard that connected to the box
via a mic cable and was astonished at the texture and expressiveness
of the sounds. I bought it.
So Factory Preset had begun, but I did not
know it yet. During the next several months I phoned the manufacturer
once a week to ask, "Is the computer interface ready yet?" Always
being told, "No not yet. Maybe next week."
Eventually I found myself sitting in a large open
room surrounded by half assembled pieces of synthesizers and computer
cards—scattered works in
progress—while being presented a MIDI
interface pre-dating the MPU-401. There were only two of us there to
receive this first look at what would be. Unfortunately, I never got
the name of that other musician. We were both focused on absorbing
what we were being shown. Then we briefly shook hands and spirited off
our prizes to begin work with the powerful technology that these other
excellent musicians had assembled for us.
Because I’d prepared an index of the user’s manual
for the Voyetra 8 (gratis) in hopes of helping preserve
worthwhile technology, I was soon called and asked if I would be
interested in Beta testing their new PC based sequencer.
I jumped at the chance and used the opportunity to
combine the Voyetra 8 and four other electronic instruments in
my studio to produce Factory Preset.
Voyetra’s sequencer never crashed once during
the ensuing six months of intensive 18 hour a day music production.
Over the next several years I was always bemused as each of the
world’s sequencer developers announced an amazing "new" function that
always turned out to have already been included in that very first PC
DOS Voyetra Sequencer then Sequencer Plus.
That software was fast, powerful, flexible, and
reliable enough for me to put together the first ever commercial
release of all original, all electronic music produced using a PC
based MIDI sequencer.
I have always been surprised at the number and
diversity of people who enjoyed the Factory Preset album,
especially at the number of people who say they are still listening to
it almost a quarter century later. In fact, I told someone in 1987
that there was some bad news, but also some good news, plus some even
better news about my album.
The bad news was that it did not fit into any of
the music store or radio station categories; the good news was that
people were listening to it anyway; the better news was that in 10
years it was still not going to fit into any category, and people
would still be listening to it. Sometimes I get lucky and predict
things somewhat correctly.
This 2004 re-release of Factory Preset is done with thanks
to all who have supported my music and asked for a CD version to
replace their aging cassette tapes. It is dedicated to those who, like
me, are addicted to tone.