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LOUIS MEDINA: Roland Product Manuals

Sounding Off
Published April 1999

LOUIS MEDINA: Roland Product Manuals

Robert Louis Medina explores the sordid world of naked Dutch flesh — and bemoans the gulf between the quality of Roland products and that of Roland manuals.

I once had a friend who as a schoolboy brought a mildly pornographic magazine back from a school trip to Amsterdam. How we tittered at the pages of naked Dutch flesh. How we guffawed at phrases like "Oh, what a lovely tounge!" We didn't know what a tounge was, but it soon became part of our schoolboy vocabulary. Elder brothers were impressed, and naturally pretended they knew what a tounge was. Tounges began to figure highly in the boasts of older boys and one boy even got detention for using the word — until one day, someone realised (with the help of a picture) that it was just a mis‑spelling of the word 'tongue'.

I mention this because I suspect that the author of Amsterdam's Erotic Tales For Boys now works for Roland. I have seen his unmistakable prose in my JV1080 manual and, many times, have marvelled at his idiosyncratic wordplay in the S550 manual. I have now replaced the 1080 with a 2080 and the S550 with an Akai S6000, but I would estimate that at the time I waved goodbye to these faithful servants, I had mastered about 20 percent of the overall capability of each, simply because the manuals were a poor translation from the Japanese and were virtually unintelligible. I think this is quite sad, really, as the JV1080 in particular is a magnificent module. I just wish I'd known how to use it.

Imagine the interview for the job of in‑house translator at Roland...

Interviewer: Why do you think you're suitable for this job?

Interviewee: I have a vague grasp of the English language and I like to wear boxing gloves while I'm typing.

Interviewer: Perfect. When can you start?

'Surely the final product should be written by someone for whom English is their Mother Tounge', murmurs the fly on the wall.

Just before Christmas, I wrote the music for Jo Brand's Christmas Log on Channel 4 and, due to an administrative cockup, had just one evening to write and record the entire commission. Some time during the evening it became apparent that I was going to have to refer to a Roland manual. I approached the bookshelf with trepidation. 'Can't be that complicated', I thought. Ahem...

Some considerable time later, there I was, still sifting through pages and pages of Countdown conundrums. Every page was so cluttered with (brackets) and [CAPITALS IN SQUARE BRACKETS] and {curly brackets} and <POINTY BRACKETS> and asterisks* and footnotes (1) and superscripts<sup>2</sup> and subscripts<sub>17</sub> and DIFFERENT TYPEFACES that it sometimes felt like I was reading a different language (if they speak Polish in Poland, can we call this strange new language Rolish?). It wasn't just the lingo, either. Somehow they managed to anticipate every word I wanted to look up in the index and omit it in advance. This was when my mind began to wander and I started thinking... Is it actually the ARNOLD Sound Corporation? How do we know the company's not called RONALD? Is my orchestra card really a carthorse expansion board? The next step was that I started to mistrust words that were probably actually correct — was that a word I didn't know, or a misprint for one I did?

Two hours later, with that deadline rapidly approaching, I came to rest, staring blankly at the phrase P1, without an explanation. Did they mean Preset 1? Page 1? Perhaps it was — now was that 3.142 or was it 1.342? Perhaps I shouldn't have spent so much time reading Amsterdam's Erotic Tales For Boys during my maths class. I was reminded of that Woody Allen film where he holds up a bank, handing over a note which reads 'I HAVE A GUB — HAND OVER THE MONEY', but the robbery is unsuccessful as the bank clerks spend so much time debating whether it says 'GUB' or 'GUN'.

My point is this: I love Roland products (and the masochist within me says I will keep buying them), but I find nothing more frustrating than an evening in, cracking the Roland Enigma Code when all I want to do is play music. If I'm trying to work to a deadline, the situation is obviously much worse.

By the way, I muddled through and finished the work. The next day I handed my DAT to the producer and, exhausted from lack of sleep and still sulking with my S550, I told a friend that, as I'd spent so much money on Roland products, I thought it was an insult that they put so little care into the manual. He turned to me and said, "That's not an insult. I once bought a small keyboard and on the first page of the manual, it said 'Congratulations! We hope you enjoy playing with your organ...'"

Robert Louis Medina writes music for TV and radio.

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