Late ’80s, early ’90s. Most of the gear that now populate our dreams was simply considered big, old, heavy junk and could be bought for pennies (Think 10 Roland TB303 for the price of a brand new Yamaha DX11!). Sure enough, such rock bottom prices led to a secret renaissance of analog synths, an era when people began making entire records and gigs using musical instruments that had been out of production for decades. One of those guys was Mark Verbos. He started playing at Midwestern Raves in the early ’90s and still is well known in the techno underground scene. His journey didn’t end there: he’s also an experienced recording engineer and music equipment technician. Fast forward to January 2014: Verbos Electronics was born. And only a few knew what was going to happen. Mark introduced his own eurorack line of modules, instantly recognizable by the mouth-watering design.
We got the chance to ask him some questions:
Horizontalpitch: What influence did Grant Richter have on your work?
Mark Verbos: When I met Grant in 1995 or so, I had never seen a Buchla 200 or a Serge. Through him I got to learn about why they are so great, but also got to see how they are built. He was doing repairs on vintage Buchla stuff back then and I got to see a lot of them inside and learn. I also helped him when he started Wiard, so I learned about manufacturing from him as well.
HP: To many people, Buchla is the only brand name associated with west coast synthesis; others often get forgotten. What can be learned from Serge and Wiard and how much of their philosophy can be found in Verbos modules?
MV: Serge and Wiard both set out to bring the power of the Buchla 200 into a more accessible format. I do the same. More than anything, I take from Buchla the idea of building a musical instrument rather than an electronic tool. I design the module, and then figure out how to make electronics do that. I don’t know if that qualifies as “West Coast Philosophy”, but I think it’s the most important thing Don Buchla did.
HP: Eurorack makes no distinction between signal patches and control patches. Does this change something in the way you conceive modules and their interaction?
MV: It definitely changes some things. Even though every control is intended for control or signal, they all have to be ready for either. It’s odd that in Euro, the signal level is way above line level and the control signals are sometimes very small.
HP: What strikes me is that every module you make has some kind of Verbos twist that clearly differentiates it from a simple clone. What’s the “Verbos ingredient”?
MV: Nothing of mine is a clone. The ingredient is my desire to make something that can be used to make music. I have been an electronic musician for longer than I have designed synths.
HP: I know it’s difficult, but is there a Verbos module you’re particularly proud of? What about other manufacturers? Is there a module you’d bring with you in a very tight skiff?
MV: The Harmonic Oscillator is our signature module. There isn’t anything else like it. I have lots of other brands’ stuff, but my desert island synth is still my Buchla 200.
HP: In a recent interview, Dieter Doepfer said he doesn’t have a modular at home. Do you?
MV: I have a studio at my workshop. I have lots of gear in it. Lots of modular, vintage and new. I had my studio and workshop at home until last year when I moved it all to a commercial space. So, no not at home, but…
HP: What would you say “playing a modular” actually means?
MV: Interacting with it intelligently. If you can start with nothing plugged in and get to the sounds you want, you can play a modular.
HP: How does it feel to make your own music on something you designed? Does your musical experience influence the way you design modules?
MV: I don’t know how anyone could design modules who doesn’t make music. It’s the most important thing in my process.
HP: Imagine living in a dystopian universe where the “East Coast Police” forces you to find a different job: what would you do?
MV: I have several jobs, so I could stand to lose one.
HP: You’re handed over the keys of a time machine. What then?
1964 San Francisco Tape Music Center?
1976 at CalArts studying under Morton Subotnick?
1992 in Berlin?
I think now is just fine. Thanks for the offer.
HP: On a related note, what’s in the future of Verbos Electronics?
MV: Hopefully a bigger workshop…We’ll just have to wait and see.