Here’s a question rarely pondered or asked: why do we still have oboes? The answer is fairly simple: music was composed with the oboe in mind, so people still learn how to play it. But what about the 1964 Lowrey DSO-1 Heritage?
The fact that you don’t know what a Lowrey DSO-1 Heritage is (a keyboard, by the way), is one of the reasons The Audities Foundation, tucked inconspicuously amidst the acreages of Bearspaw, exists. The foundation is dedicated to preserving the electronic instruments whose lifespans were too short to cement their place in our canon of aural hardware. As technology started to change rapidly, especially from the ’70s onward, we gained and lost new sounds at an alarming rate.
David Kean, the original acting curator for Cantos, the audiophile founder of Audities and its sole full-time employee, says in some cases a new instrument could be obsolete within a year. The distinct profile of that instrument would be lost, passed over for the next best thing, but the cycle was based on an assumption that the next thing was better, something Kean doesn’t swallow whole.
In order to drive his point home, Kean walks among his keyboard collection, spread throughout the foundation’s recording studio, and taps out recognizable tunes on the appropriate machine — from The Who’s iconic intro to “Baba O'Riley” (which you probably know as "Teenage Wasteland"), to the opening bars of The Beatles’ “Strawberry Fields Forever.”
“That’s the thing that’s important about these instruments, just the serendipity factor, just the organic, it-only-happened-once kind of thing that we’ve lost with the tyranny of the computer-driven music system,” he says. “It’s a matter of vocabulary. It really is. It’s almost like the music that was made in those years used different verbs and nouns than we use now.”
It’s preservation of sound, of unique qualities that Kean and Audities strive for — that and allowing musicians the opportunity to incorporate these instruments in their recordings. These days, everything is a digital copy of a once-unique sound. Soon, that digital copy will be copied, adding another layer of distance between us and the original. “The complexities and the richness and the immediacy of a thing responding to a thing in sound, in music, is what we’re losing by getting rid of this stuff,” says Kean. “We don’t have those direct connections anymore.”
Listen to some of the collection below (with occasional giddy school-boy voice overs from Drew Anderson and Josh Naud):