Variety | Music

This Madurai boy is shaking up the techno pop game with his customisable pocket synthesisers

Rohith G   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Synthesisers probably did as much to revolutionise music in the ‘70s and ‘80s as The Beatles did in the ‘60s. Just a thing with knobs and buttons is, perhaps, the simplest way to describe this analogue marvel responsible for producing an entirely new genre of music called synth-pop, and which produced musicians like the immortal David Bowie to present-day sensations like Lady Gaga and Dua Lipa. For an anecdote closer home and more mainstream: if you have ever enjoyed listening to the once-immensely popular and addictive song ‘Evandi Unna Pethan’ composed by Yuvan Shankar Raja, you can thank a synthesiser for it.

Now, synthesisers come in all shapes and sizes, but they will cost you a bomb.

It is an issue, especially, if you are a budding musician composing from the confines of your bedroom and operating under a budget. Naturally, the question of what can be done to make music accessible pops up. It did for Rohith G as well, and now the 23-year-old is at work, crafting customisable pieces of analogue pocket synthesisers from his home in Kalavasal, Madurai, which he sells for a fraction of the market price.

“There are a lot of bedroom producers [in Madurai] who make amazing music. It is just that they are not in the spotlight, but a few of them are trying to break into the mainstream,” says Rohith, over phone from Madurai.

The DJ-turned-music producer, who is happy to describe himself a “polymath”, says building synthesisers started as “a hobby”. The interest kicked in when, as a student at the University of California in Los Angeles, Rohith wanted to buy a controller device called the Midi Fighter.

‘Bombs’ MIDI controller made by Rohith G

‘Bombs’ MIDI controller made by Rohith G   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

“It was selling for ₹25,000-30,000, and with the customs levied on bespoke controllers, the cost could have gone up to ₹40,000 or more. I didn’t buy it then. After I returned to Madurai and got into making music, I saw these amazing buttons (used in MIDI controllers) on Amazon and thought I should give them a try. I jumped into this blind,” he laughs.

Affordable music

During lockdown, he completed his first MIDI controller, and named it Bombs. The components are see-through as he uses reinforced acrylic glass for a case. Around the same time, he also designed the pocket synthesiser that he named Little Boy (after the Hiroshima bomb). “It works on the principle of granular synthesis. It is basically two oscillators with two cut-off knobs and a central knob to alter the frequency of the sound. It makes interesting, pure sounds; especially the 808 beats,” he says, referring to the beats produced by Roland’s iconic synth device TR-808 without which hip hop or trap music from the ‘80s and ‘90s could not have been the same.

‘Little Boy’ pocket synthesiser made by Rohith G

‘Little Boy’ pocket synthesiser made by Rohith G   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Rohith sells his products in the ₹2,500 to ₹3,500 bracket, depending on customisation requests; customising options on both products include adding LED lamps, engraving your name on the case, a choice of two tone or coloured cases. More importantly, his products come with a ‘Made in Madurai’ imprint. “I had to represent the city somehow.”

Rohith’s reasons that hailing from the temple city did him no favours while pursuing a DJ career in India; he claims to have been looked down upon. “I have done DJ work in many private parties and events in cities like Los Angeles, Paris, and the Maldives, but being from Madurai seems like a turn-off for gatekeepers here,” says Rohith, adding that Madurai has “everything one needs to be a creator” but merely lacks organisation.

One of the few people from Madurai who openly proclaims to hate the city’s iconic parotta, Rohith has already started work on his next product. He is developing a “motion-based synthesiser”, based on the Theremin. “An artiste put forward this request, so I’m building one for him to make custom sounds,” he says. While the market price for a Theremin device is upwards of ₹30,000, Rohith’s device is priced at ₹7,000. “I’ll also probably try making a Theremin with a touch screen next,” he adds.

Rohith G can be reached at Instagram handle @rohith_rg.

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Printable version | Oct 25, 2020 9:04:42 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/music/this-madurai-boy-is-shaking-up-the-techno-pop-game-with-his-customisable-pocket-synthesisers/article32268055.ece

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