You’ve found him! Our so-called columnist has moved. He is now officially the sport pages of electronic music. New home, same level of delusion…
Excuse my dusty knees. I’ve been scrabbling in my attic looking for old copies of Electronic Sound. I’m pretty sure I preserved a bunch of early editions in a bucket of water, to keep them fresh. Instead, I found something quite special – a perfectly preserved Casio VD-1.
Actually, there’s still a bit of Tippex from when I daubed PROPERTY OF FAT ROLAND to stop Leaky Gavin from nicking it in school. Otherwise it’s in mint condition. I’m sure you remember the VD-1: every classroom and penal institution had this classic keyboard. And who was the genius behind this nifty slab of synth? Yes, you guessed it. No, not Robert Moog. Me. I’m talking about me.
In 1985, when the Eurythmics were riding high in the charts with the anatomically risky ‘There Must Be An Angel (Playing With My Heart)’, I won a school competition to design a synthesiser for Casio Computer Co. I won’t bother you with all the technicals, but here’s a quick guide to building a synth:
Get the cardboard box used to deliver your microwave, dishwasher, pet horse, or any similarly large product
B. Bend the cardboard box into a synthesiser shape
C. Draw on keys and buttons using permanent ink, maybe with one of those four-colour click pens for extra pizzazz
D. Make a note to buy canned ravioli because Leaky Gavin says ravioli sandwiches are boss
E. Use the marker pen to measure your height on a door frame – oh look, you got shorter!
F. Watch ‘Lampshade Traders’ on BBC1 where people buy and sell… well, you get the idea
H. I really have forgotten what I was meant to be doing, sorry about that
As you can see, the basics were easy. But nobody wants basics, unless you’re shopping for the Sainsbury’s Basics food range, in which case you definitely want something with the words “Basics” written on it, but let’s not get into that. Back in the 1980s, Britain had more Casio keyboards than lava lamps: we’re talking, like, 16 per household. So to make the VD-1 distinctive, it had to sound better than any other bit of kit. It’s like that old saying, “Anyone can wear wellington boots, but if you’ve not Sellotaped fireworks to them, what’s the point?”.
I loaded my synth with the best sounds I could. As you’ll remember, the VD-1 has a vortex of preset buttons curving in a Möbius loop around its lower treddle. The first preset says “piano”, but is in fact a recording of a leaf falling in a forest while attached to a piano. The second preset says “flute”, which sounds like “arooga honk honk p’tang aaaargh”. The third preset says “trumpet?”, which is just me saying “trumpet?”. The fourth preset is blank, but is actually a wormhole beyond which infinite spaniels challenge each other to chess matches until the end of time. It sounds like this: “Paf”.
The true power of the Casio VD-1 is its on-board effects unit, which is a trombone glued to its walnut sideboard. This flourish ensured huge sales: I bought at least 12. Tandy offered a free VD-1 to anyone who caught Leaky Gavin licking their batteries. I was so proud, I sent my Casio to that great 1980s experimental music artist Joe Dolce. Not wanting to brag, but I’ll leave you with the amazing thank you letter he sent, signed to me personally. This, my friends, is the true legacy of the Casio VD-1.
To “Fat Roland”,
Why have you sent me some old cardboard? I think you’ve got the wrong person. Don’t write to me again.
Mr M Ure