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 Roland Gaia SH-01 

Remarkable for being: The new definition and reference point of "plastic".

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I was kind of interested in this piece and wanted to see for myself if it deserves all the hate speech it gets, but what actually pushed me to buy one was an amusingly low price ($370, the guy's wife got pregnant; they needed to abandon things they love for the sake of aimless replication of the species and its selfish genes - old story). Bwoy would I be angry if I paid $930 for it in a shop!!!

I really don't know how much more plastic a contemporary synth can get. What's with the theory that the technological progress enables VA synths to sound better and better with time? Seems not to work quite often, definitely in Japan. I'm sure the guys at Roland wanted to develop a Casio with a nice knobby interface, and in this they succeeded. No kidding. When I was a kid I used to go to the local electronics store, there was a stand with home keyboards, Casios and Yamahas, they were always switched on and everybody interested could play them. The Gaia reminds me of those keyboards. The raw oscillator wave may sound ok, but the moment you start using the filter the patch begins to sound unconvincing. And the envelopes make a thump-thump sound. I'm not sure if you know what I mean, so let me just say that thump-thump is not a fucking good thing. Just recall the sound that your finger makes when you knock on or scratch against a cardboard box and you'll understand.

Do you ever look back in amazement at how parents perceived their kids' novel behavior as outrageous? In the 60's the youth wore long hair and yelled to the Beatle's tunes and had that rock'n'roll thing going on and whatever. That was unimaginably outrageous. Ten  years later there was the heavy metal and some kinky shit, Kiss and Alice Cooper, and G-war, and putting up a show of piss and blood being spilt on stage and Judas Priest singing about killing yourself. And finally there was GG Allin and Michael Alig with the Club Kids actually doing all this stuff for real in the 90s. (You're going to ask me what we have now? hmmm... maybe Vice Magazine telling teens how cool it is to suck dick and vomit and make a fucking bitch out of your useless self?) I'm sure there were people sensing the end of the world and asking themselves 'how much more outrageous can it get?' not believing that it actually could. So, dear God, absolve me from all my sins for I want to make amends; I am sorry for having labeled the JP-8000 or the Virus TI plastic-sounding. Having the Gaia as the new reference point, the JP-8000 sounds wonderfully lush and the Virus TI sounds orgasmically organic. I want my Virus back!!!... I feel like I'm gonna cry. Even the Korg Radias - which often gets described as the pure plastic - has much, much more life in its digital lungs than the Gaia. It's like there's this good Radias plastic vs bad Casio Casiotone (Gaia) plastic. The Gaia timbre is like a dish that follows this recipe: 30% vintage Roland SH, 70% cheap clone of Virus TI, plus stale Korg MS-2000 Effects added as spice. Remember to undercook a bit.

In terms of the engine, this synth is definitely not a choice for synth aficionados. Or actually I should phrase it differently; this synth is not meant to be tweaked by synth-freaks, yet it's perfectly okay for synth-aficionados and students of synthesis. Roland say that they named it "SH" because they wanted to model it on the easy, accessible and transparent vintage synths of the past. And this is fine, they did a great job with the intertface (although I doubt the credibility of this justification). If this is going to be your first synth, or if you need a set of really simple synthy sounds to be tweaked live to distract the attention of the audience for a moment, then the Gaia works great. It's really light - only 4 kilograms, which after the Micro-models (Microkorg, Mininova, etc) makes it the lightetst synth to carry around (yet the worst sounding out of those minis).

But if you belong to the second group, that is synth freaks, you need to know that the Gaia goes into filter bypass mode when oscillator sync is on, and oscillator sync puts you into mono voice. I mean, what the fuck. Thank God that they changed the algorithm of the delay - they didn't just copy the horrible delay from JP 8000, instead they made it work like the MS-2000 / Virus TI delay, which means that you can swing the delay knob wildly to the sides and get this cool vr-vr-vr-vvvvvvvv-vrooooom-vroooom real-time effect. And don't worry, there is a chorus on the Gaia - it is disguised as Pitch Shifter which gives chorus-like effect when fine-tuned with the Shift button depressed. The fact that it doesn't sound anywhere near the classic Roland chorus is another (and unfortunate) matter.

/Shit my broccoli is boiling over while I'm writing this, I need to salvage!/

I was excited with the quality of the phaser and the possibility of putting external sounds through this and other effects, but... uh-uh; don't get too excited - there's no such possibility. The External In section is just an add-on with one function - removing vocals (or sounds that are perfectly even in the left and right channel) from the external audio signal. Jesus Christ, I am no engineer, but was it really so tough & costly to place the External In section BEFORE the Effects section in the signal path?

The trick of dividing the synth into 3 mini-synths with independent synthesis engines is a magnificent idea. The D-Beam is a nice addition too. So yeah, fully deserved A+ for the organization and layout and the controls.

I never really like to bash synths or any products for that matter, because I appreciate the amount of effort that is needed to put something into existence. But in this case I have no qualms. Roland is a big corporation, they know what they're doing. I liked the small sum allowing me to buy this synth, but no matter how little I pay for it, it still leaves me pretty dissatisfied and wanting. Wanting more features and wanting more sound appeal. Wanting to give more and get more. Wanting a good VSTi instead. Conclusion? - Bad investment (now I'm even starting to think that synths like Waldorf Q are severely underpriced at $1300).

But am I, like all those die-hard-nerds, angry at Roland for releasing the Gaia and thus throwing shit into the synth-pool, or am I saying it is hopelessly useless? No. I would never say such a thing, all the more so when Claire Boucher aka Grimes uses the Gaia and the Juno-G as her staple in building her amazingly cool songs. She proves how pointless the good-synth-bad-synth debate is and how far removed the synth-freak community is from the ways the real world and art operate.

The motto for today: Make fucking music, not points.




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