The Rainer Buchty Ratio [archive]

The original “Web2.0 AJAX Popup” was the amazing Rainer Buchty’s Create your own customized SQ80 OS V1.8 version (CYOCSOV), online since at least 1998. Those were heady times, when a reluctant genius could release a Web Application that provided a real value-add for Ensoniq SQ80, ESQ-1, or ESQ-M (NOT SQ1) owners. CYOCSOV (too many letters– has to be “four letters, many vowels” — let’s say SqaT –) performed the valuable Web Service of generating a new firmware for these three hybrid analog-digital synths.

When you’re an electronic musician, you always want to know that your stuff can sound different from other people’s stuff. It only took $200 and a Western Union fee to get my ESQ-M and enabling the “Hidden Waveforms” checkbox in SqaT sounded like the ticket. Kid606, Cex, Luckykitchen, Unagi Patrol, Zammuto, Colognib, Lexaunculpt, Data”chi, Cathars– don’t mind me as I take a trip down 1999 indie IDM lane– those guys would be proper FLUMMOXED. I’d get up there at Brownie’s on a Wednesday and show Toddy-Rock what was who. Maybe someone would come to the gig.

But the SqaT runs up to the eponymous “Rainer Buchty Ratio.” When you make something that people are going to use, you need to compute some variant of the following equation:

RBR = 1 – (p_c * p_k * p_h)

Where p_c is the probability that someone would think your thing is cool, p_k is the probability that someone has the know-how to set up and operate the thing, and p_h is the probability that someone has the hardware / tools necessary to use your thing. The RBR is the RBR because the SqaT has the highest RBR ever, We need a normalising metric as most Things squash up on the top, so we set the RBR of SqaT to 1. Not a true probability, and I don’t think a true RBR of 0 exists. SqaT’s p_c is not bad, at least for his target market, and let’s face it, it remains one of the coolest things on the internet. But the p_k and p_h are dreadful. I had an ESQ-M, but hell if I knew what to do with the OSLOL6legz file that thing spit out. Helpfully:

download the patched images and burn them into 27C256 EPROMs to replace your current OSLO and OSHI EPROMs.

Not only did you need a relatively obscure synth and the desire to access “hidden waveforms,” you had to have an EPROM burner and the ability to pop open your case and swap the chips. God knows if they were socketed. By the time I did all that, Push Button Objects would have released four 12″s on SKAM, all with SimTunes run through an underwater spring reverb.

I often come back to the SqaT when I work at The Echo Nest. As we near “phase 1 completion” I faint slightly at our RBR. We can start with the high number: “How many people like music!” But with every decision you make in a company, the RBR grows slightly. You can only hope that your p_c is off the charts. Sometimes, even when you’ve never picked up a soldering iron, those Hidden Waveforms call you in like a 7-bit siren to the creased bindings of a Forrest Mims book.

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