I was lucky enough to receive an email from Peter Grenader from Electro-acoustic Research over the weekend, who offered to give Fourtheye readers some exclusive insight into the Toolbox Synth that he designed for Danny prior to the recent Australia/NZ/Japan Tool tour.
I met Danny Carey through Skinny Puppy’s cEvin Key, who I had partnered with on the reissue of two of our modules – the Model 15 VCO and Model 37 LFO via Subconscious Communication. I was originally brought to the Tool studio in Hollywood to give them both a quick run through of Danny’s Buchla 200, specifically the MARF module – a very rare contraption which I had programming experience with. This led Danny to contract me to repair some of his analog arsenal, which runs deep.
I hit it off with Danny immediately. I’ve been in the synth building business for over ten years and in the process I’ve had the good fortune of working with some famous musicians and I can say that Danny is a refreshing exception to any stereotype you may wish to apply to artists of this calibre. He does not take himself overly seriously, approaches his career with humility and looks down to no one, proving this by the sincere and gracious respect he grants to everyone he deals with. I just wanted to premise with this information, to verify that everything you’ve probably heard about him that backs up this confession is 100% true. He is a seriously stellar individual by every measure.
Along the way of doing these repairs, he mentioned that he had been buying up some of my Plan B/EAR analog synth modules as he found them on eBay and in that conversation he expressed interest in the possibility of putting a performance system together to replace the Synthi AKS Tool had been using live for years. This is where I employed the benefit of my own experience – I didn’t push him on it. I assumed if he was serious that I would hear about it again and felt that was the best way to handle it. A few weeks passed, and he indeed expressed his intention and that’s when we got serious – as we had to: the system would be required for their 2013 Australian/New Zealand/Japan tour which was 3 1/2 weeks away.
I immediately blocked off this time and set off to create an instrument which not only complimented Tool’s unique timbral legacy but offered integration possibilities for both electronic and acoustic drums. This began with a tasteful yet heaping swath of bling – the case – and for that I contracted my long time friend and unquestionable genius composer/sculptor/instrument designer Chas Smith, who conceptualized what would become this masterpiece of aluminum and stainless steel three weeks later. He opted for Danny’s favorite color (Laker purple) for the primary finish and embellished it with a unique polished 1/4 inch thick plasma cut aluminum Tool logo gracing it’s back. The 3/8 inch aluminum plates which make up it’s body are held together by 124 inset stainless steel socket bolts – much more than necessary, but what you come to expect when an artist conjures a box. Further modelling came with the 1/2 inch grooves routed into the body plates. Nine groves per side, commensurate with Tool’s nonogon (nine sided) logo arranged in a 1, 2, 3, 2, 1 pattern with obvious numerology attached.
Concurrent to that, I had a hell of a lot of work on my end and this is where working with Danny paid dividends as he placed his complete trust in me and stayed out of my way except when needed, which is exactly what I require when faced with these sorts of challenges. I’m not necessarily proud of this personality trait, I have however come to realize it’s a rather indelible marking. I knew I could call him with little warning and he would make himself available, which he did on countless occasions at all quadrants of the clock.
Along with my preparing my own modules, a challenge as some of them had not been produced in years, I knew that we would need more than I had to offer and the final result in this co-op manifested – one row of the four consisted of instruments by friends and fellow manufactures Malekko Heavy Industry, Make Noise, Doepfer and Intelligel. Within my own gear, a few were new and had never been built before – namely the Model 7 ELF Panner, The Model 12 Mark II Dual filter and Model 11/13 Mark II Evil Twin Filter, which were handmade SMT protoptypes using production grade printed circuit boards as I could not risk the complications of point to point perfboards facing the abuse of baggage handlers and Customs inspection.
Long story shortened, we made it. I received the case on time from Chas and the module preparation completed, I had three days before their departure to Australia for the gargantuan task of wiring the chassis for power, testing and conducting a brief summary with Danny on it’s operation at the Tool man cave before we packed it into it’s matching purple road case – literally 90 minutes before he left for the airport. Being thorough, Danny videotaped the entire three hour session which he reviewed extensively on the plane trip over the pond.
Job done and challenge met, any hope of relaxation after this three week ordeal vanished when I received news from Danny a few days after he and it shipped off that the instrument was held up at Australian Customs and when finally released days later, ferried to the wrong city. After awakening from the coma that proceeded this email (kidding, but just) it was Carey’s long time friend cEvin Key who sent me an image of Danny with the instrument in the green room of the Rod Laver Arena in Melbourne. It had arrived just an hour before their soundcheck for the evening’s performance. What echoed through the world then was not the synth, but the sound of my other shoe dropping.
It was an amazing experience, with an amazing set of partners, the apex being one of the most legendary drummers we have known. A true gentleman who I am both humbled and honored to call a friend. I think I speak for the world when I say I cannot wait to hear where his mind takes this 50 pound pile of aluminum, stainless steel and silicon.
Peter also included a photo taken from the Tool Loft which includes a number of synths (from left to right: Serge Modular, Moog Mrk II Modular, Buchla 200, The Toolbox Synth, Dakota (my dog – on couch), Roland Modular, Buchla/Oberhiem OBMX, Waldorf Q, Buchla Marimba Lumina (barely showing next to left KRK monitor0 API mixing console once belonging to Rick James, EMS Synthi 100):