Electronic Music interview: Teenage Engineering TE OP1 Team
Written November 10 2009
Teenage Engineering is a combination of members from a varied history of beloved electronic music tools. Johan Kotlinski behind LSDJ is on the team as are people who worked on the ever-popular Elektron MachineDrum and MonoMachine. It's no surprise then that their upcoming product, the TE OP-1, or 'Operator' is already anticipated with great lust by many.
The OP-1 is a synthesizer and controller. There are 8 synth models, 8 samplers, effects for producing sound, not to mention an FM radio tossed in for good measure. You can also use it to control your software sequencer thanks to 2 octave keyboard and buttons for play, stop, record, forward and rewind. The Operator is not only built to impress internally, it also has a very sleek and modern looking exterior and user interface.
In terms of inputs there's a 3.5mm input for audio or mic, 3.5mm output for line out or headphones, a proprietary power connector, a USB 2.0 port and holes for use with a carry strap.
The OP-1 team at Teenage Engineering was kind enough to take a few minutes to answer some questions about what the device was about and where the inspiration came from.
Your mission is "to create products with superior quality, functional design and top-class engineering." It may have been believed that you are solely looking to create electronic music devices but products such as the Studio System work light and the nefarious looking Syricon confuse expectations. Can we expect a TE Toaster as well? Can you expand on your mission please?
I guess you can expect anything from TE in the future. But we have a plan with all products and all will have one thing in common. You'll see.
What products (musical or otherwise) inspired the OP-1? Was something missing in your own studio?
The first idea came up about 10 years ago. Some of the team worked together on the MachineDrum and the MonoMachine with Elektron, that's the reason behind a synthesizer.
We wanted to create a modern portable unit with a real and intutive UI. The inspiration for the Op-1 is a mix of a lot of machines (not just synthesizers) that we all love. To mention some: DX7, JX3P, SH-101, Nintendo and the LSDJ (Johan Kotlinski is a teammember), Buchla, Fairlight MFX3, Animac, Electrolux, Vortex... Also we want the Op-1 to be a fun and creative tool. We think we have some great new stuff here that opens up for that.
What are your thoughts on allowing the public to update, program and access the software of the OP-1? Will there be a publicly available API so that anyone can hack and modify the machine? If not, why not?
Good question! In some ways it will be "hackable". We have some great ideas on this subject. Can't reveal that yet, sorry.
There's a noticeable amount of concern about the price of the OP-1. Success of other machines such as the Elektron MonoMachine indicate that there's a market for well-built, unique electronic music machines. However, the 649 EUR (~$950 USD) price of your Studio System light is making people very nervous about where you could be headed with the price of the OP-1. It's clear that you're not targeting the mass market, but how concerned are you about making your products affordable?
We want to create great products with superior quality. We hope that people will understand, and appriciate this. But we also try to make it as affordable as possible of course. We are doing the best we can here. But we will not trade quality to a lower pricetag.
Are you including software that will allow us to store and manipulate patches on a computer?
No. Not in that way. Yes, in another way. Very simple.
Can you explain the sequencer? How many sequences/banks can it store? Can you automate the envelopes, copy/paste sequences and export sequences via USB/midi?
How customizable and how sensitive is the motion sensor?
+/- 3g. And assignable.
Can you tell us about some of the other synth models?
We have FM, Cluster, DRW, Pulse, String (and maybe a few more) ready.
Can you explain the purpose of the FM radio?
We wanted a built-in FM radio. Just for the sake of it. And it's useful sometimes.
What type of battery will it use? Can users take it out and put in a new or stronger one?
It's a Li-Ion type. The battery takes up a great space of the Op-1's interior. It's 3600 mAh. You are not supposed to change the battery.
Tell us what you think about the device. Does this sound like something you're interested in? What's missing? What did they get just right?
I didn't realize that some of the developers also worked on the MonoMachine and MachineDrum, that's definitely a good sign.
The FM radio could be useful for wireless audio connections using something like a Griffin RocketFM.
I wish they provided more details on software hackability, it sounds promising though.
i really like the look of this.
i know i wont be able to afford this, but i think people like korg are starting to take notice of these smaller manufacturers and what they bring to the table. lots of great stuff that you want, rather than two things you want and loads you dont.
True. Korg is tops in this area. Roland and Yamaha are so out to pasture its ridiculous. When are they going to clone an affordable machinedrum!?!?!?
Given the hardware, this device could potentially function as:
- A flash recorder (very basic DAW/4 track)
- Tuner, metronome.
Hopefully 3rd parties (open source plz!) can develop software to expand the capabilities of the device, I think that's the only way this thing could justify its price tag.
influenced by buchla eh? interested in how that manifests.
I've been salivating over it since it's reveal, I'd love one just to stare at! It seems just about flawless, and from the demos so far sounds bonkerz.
My only concern is with the non-replaceable battery and I'd love a way to have standalone MIDI in/out due to the sequencer (maybe in a similar fashion to the Tenori-On... mini din connector). Other than that it's almost too good to be true. FM Radio!!!!
i think this is a great example of what the music companies have been tryin to push so far as "portable music solutions".
i make music sometimes on my computer when im at school, but ive always felt like it was kinda bullshit. the big companies push portability and that you can do it anywhere, and i guess you really can ... but what i always felt was lacking was my synthesizers. i just get more creative when i can use a device instead of software.... and this little machine beautifully bridges the divide. just on its own you could make entire tracks, .. chiptunes level kinda .. but the music would be super weird ... and thats great!
it is possible that the price will put this thing out of the range of affordability for almost everyone with sense... but if that doesn't happen,.. i can imagine some folks having this as their one tool, paired with a little macbook- making baddass tunes in a wide and weird range of electronic music. personally i cant wait to hear that.
colin i totally agree with you. so many times companies have said - the portable do it all music workstation. and its a load of shit. the best thing i have found recently has been lsdj - and although not a massive fan of trackers it flexibility and great sounds makes it a great portable tool. at the moment i haven't found any one box to replace the many boxs i use live. if someone did make such a thing i would definately be interested!
We have not learned much that couldn't be gleaned from the website to be honest. They dodged some of the important questions altogether.
Still thanks for trying.
exper said: "True. Korg is tops in this area. Roland and Yamaha are so out to pasture its ridiculous. When are they going to clone an affordable machinedrum!?!?!?"
It would be nice to see some of the more computer focused manufacturers produce portable units like this, for example TC Electronic, Universal Audio, RME, Mackie...
MrMagic said: "influenced by buchla eh? interested in how that manifests."
I was thinking the same thing. I really like the look of the screen, havent heard any sound examples but I bet it will cost a lot.
Horizons said: "We have not learned much that couldn't be gleaned from the website to be honest. They dodged some of the important questions altogether.
Still thanks for trying."
This looks great, sounds like more top notch Sweden designwerk. IMHO I really think its not the best option for projects like this to post a really detailed web page and specifications untill AFTER its completed and ready for shipping.
I mean its pretty obvious this thing will get eventually released, but without a pricetag it kind of reminds me of other hardware that looked cool in concept but for whatever reason just didn't go very far, like that lcd screen keyboard, and the homebrew GP2x sucessor.
I mean, theres more to hardware design than a good idea and a smart website, take for instance - monome - link
I don't see any currently avaliable for sale, meanwhile every other midi controller maker has been taking the monome lighted button format and making their own kind of version to sell - link .
Anyway just playing devils advocate here, its nice to know what Johans been up to for the past year or two and its great to see some hardware that has some of that magic inspiration to it.
This looks really fun. I wish they'd sacrifice some quality for the price.
yeah they copped out on answering the tough questions, but hey it's a business.
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