Modular synth lifestyle marketing?


I don’t yet see where anyone is saying this, or telling anyone how to act for that matter. If it were that simple, we would not be here right now confronting this problem. It would be a great relief indeed if we could just simply prescribe the correct action and move on.

No, this is a whole entanglement of conflicted emotions. Any gesture that divides, cuts most deeply from within.

What helps, perhaps, is contemplating what a “nice place to live” really means to and in terms of those systematically denied this opportunity. Again – already a multiplicity. What helps then may be understanding much more about the history of gentrification, and before that white flight, and before that stuff like the Tulsa race riots and how these events all more or less repeat each other, and the role that the real estate industry has played and the common tropes used by that industry to move their agenda forward. This is just history, just a common set of resources that may be helpful in continuing this discussion.

No one can prescribe what one does or does not do with that understanding, or even the form such an understanding may take. I do believe in the basic ability of each to be compassionate and trust each will do what makes sense in the context of our own lives.

Is it wrong to even attempt a discussion of these things? It is wrong, perhaps, if the discussion takes on an accusatory tone, member against member, things like that. But I don’t see where this is happening. If it is, we should correct it.


I’m of the same mind. In a spot that quick where there are only two characters, who are family, I wouldn’t fault the ad for not being diverse. I’d sooner give them props for making it a girl who’s pursuing science and art and music. It’s simply not possible for all media to be equitably representational.

If there’s anxiety over the marketing aspect of it, I think that’s an issue with ads/consumerism in general. And if the anxiety is to do with issues of privilege…I just feel like I see as much of that divide, if not more, nearly everywhere. An ad that markets something to the privileged is a symptom of an awful and unfortunate system, yes, but it’s not a cause of it, and I don’t know that it can bear a whole lot of responsibility for trying to make change in it.


I also probably lack context (I am not from USA and never have been there) but in my country modular synths are only affordable for people that are well being so to me in this ad the modular system fits into this whole luxury picture. To put some prices in the context (I will post all prices after taxes per month):

  • lowest national wage: 400 dollars
  • average wage is 924 dollars but actual median wage is 657 dollars and mode is nearly equal to lowest national wage
  • when renting apartment from private person (and there is not a lot of state owned apartments so this is the most popular option): 1 bedroom apartment (around 30m2) in bigger city is typically around 314 dollars per month

Now compare that with prices of modules like for example Befaco Rampage which costs 357 dollars you can see that even one module can be worth a few months of savings. And when you want to buy stuff like moog synthesizers etc. it is even more.

Of course I don’t want to make anyone feel bad or anything but I definitely would not associate modulars with working class etc. because most of the musicians I know are part of precariat and even stuff like Korg Volca are something that they can’t buy on a whim.


there are several related but distinct issues in this thread that i think are getting a bit conflated in a way that is not super helpful:

–the media and its role in defining and perpetuating culture/the state/capitalism
–the responsibility of those of us in the media to be mindful of how we construct culture
–the responsibilities of an individual musicians trying to make a living through their art
–modular synths as a vessel for individuals trying to make a living through their art
–modular synths as a defining symbol of wealth (up there with homeownership and good schools!)
–how the concept of gender is represented/reinforced by the media
–how the concept of race is represented/reinforced by the media
–how the concept of class is represented/reinforced by the media

etc… how the ad strikes you is largely dependent on which conversation you think you’re having.

as a thought experiment, imagine seeing the ad without the voiceover. to me, it feels aspirational, a life to dream about, with time for gardens and and time for synths and no time for rigidly gender-coding hobbies.

conversely, when i listen to the voiceover without seeing the video, the same ad feels nightmarish. in my limited time in my adopted home of los angeles, i’ve worked for more than one person who was in school here when the local school district was attempting to desegregate via bussing. and they aren’t that much older than me. a cursory google search shows this went on into the early 80s, only a few years before i was born. so the search for the ‘right schools’ reads very very poorly to me, especially when it’s tied so overtly to what homeownership means, because, (while it is a practical concern for many homebuyers and therefore a no brainer feature to advertise for the company) what exactly are we talking about historically that made the school district ‘good’?


Small anecdote: I once had a talk with my friend and he suggested that albeit pricy the Elektron Octatrack is a gear that allows working class people to create music for other working class people. It allows to create whole tracks and play whole live sets without any need for something else and it takes away means of production from big studios etc. with their fancy equipment and gives them to the people.


No accusatory tone intended, apologies if it came across that way.

I have long been saddened and to some extent terrified by the realization that the folks generating the advertising delusions for the rest of us are themselves subject to the same mental forces causing the endless cycles of alienation and unsatisfiable desires…

From a zen perspective we’re all entangled in some pretty advanced collective hallucinations…

The only sane way out is wisdom and compassion… and wisdom requires critical thinking to punch through the conditioning…

So I appreciate and crave the critical perspective, even and particularly when it’s uncomfortable…

On the other hand, I fear that criticism in the society in general may be reaching a point where the tool is being turned into a weapon, and a way to dehumanize others…

I am very grateful for this community in which some deep conversations are taking place with what feels like a good amount of genuine good faith and kindness, and a high level of intelligence…

And so much sharing of music and creativity… truly inspiring…


That was more or less my point at the onset of this thread.

(Not trying to diminish the anguish or discomfort other might be feeling related to the confluence of all sorts of social, cultural and political implications of the ad. Recognizing complexity, and often intersectionality of these issues is an important/good thing. So I do not question that. BUT given where we are now, as a society [as humanity?] I am also progressively more and more aware of the fact that everything comes with the baggage… moral, ethical, cultural, etc. you name it. And that we can destroy any argument within a few carefully placed references. Add to it the generally inflamed tenor of what passes as “discourse” today, and any idea can be reduced to corrosive problematics. Which only makes me want to try harder to be focused and careful with where I invest my energy… I hate to use this violent metaphor, but I want to be intentional with picking the battles, rather than try to fight the whole war. I want the world in which women [and gender non-conforming folks] are empowered, and reclaim positions of leadership. I believe in culture to be the foundation of ethical, thoughtful, true leadership. I believe in the fundamental nature of science as the bedrock defining immutable facts… so, weird as it may seem, if some strange realtor ad seems to connect even to a faintest trace of these ideas: yes, I will applaud that. And that does not mean that I am not acknowledging the difficult complexities surrounding it. Quite the contrary.)

(PS. I have lived under communism, I have lived under capitalism. They are both ideologies fraught with problems, and unable to confront the nature of human greed. Perhaps because they are by and large the products of the patriarchal structures?.. so, back to the girl making music with electricity.)


The ad was 15 seconds long


That’s my fear also. It’s a rough world out there.

What I wanted to discuss without being divisive was how this ad changes retrospectively, how a certain body of work is read. It’s no longer possible for me to view certain videos without reading back into them, the essential characteristics of this ad.

The urgency in this discussion is to not let this ad have the last word. The urgency is to counter with a new reading that undoes or at least modifies the reading placed by the ad.

What the ad changed was the nature of the escapism in the videos. The ad transformed an “escape to” into an “escape from”. “From” what – we can hardly add anything here that hasn’t already been said, if only to reiterate that it is an “escape from” denied to virtually all segments of American society.

But the “escape to”, I find most productive indeed, this kind of escapism allows thought to affect the Real without forcing that thought into the mode of representation. It is a historical already-being-ahead-of-oneself in which one experiences the original phenomenon of the future, and which makes one act to close the gap between present and future. Soyez réalistes, demandez l’impossibleIl est interdit d’interdirePouvoir à l’Imagination … all slogans of 1968.

So perhaps the nature of the “escape from” isn’t even the problem here! The problem is how to recover the “escape to”. Which again raises the question: “to where”?

The “where” seems to appear only in art – and by this I do not mean the “art world”. I mean precisely the realm of art as the realm of the most near. Folkways, some call it.

The “where” does not first appear in already existing language, we need something like art can bring forth a new language. This is why discussion can do little more than critique and indicate the formal structure of what needs to happen. It cannot by itself provide the content or actually bring forth a solution.

Of course, the field should be wide open in terms of who gets to provide that solution. Those who began the tale of the great modular resurgence may not be those who continue it, at least not exclusively.


Look the same happens in Europe, my case and i got paid to do the music.
‚Arts and Science‘ with a strong emphasis on girls! As someone who’s doing advertising since the end of the 8ies, i‘d say its a good thing and i can see that underline of expensive hobby for white middleclass buying houses as well…we don’t buy houses here cos we know we don’t have the money anyway-we inspire girls to go to tech university and noodle on modulars :smiley:


So apparently this is tv in america, you‘d get maybe 10million possible views with an ad. The client gets to pay enormous amounts just to get this aired. Thats why productions are short/clever little movies with 1 message-the budget is eaten up by placing these movies over time in between shows/other movies in a ratio of maybe 1:1500-like this it’s common to buy ‚props‘ instead of rental…modern advertising on a dying media, television


This brings to mind Another Green World…

Add in the 1968 Situationist reference…



This thread is really interesting. For me, there are two key questions here.

The broad one is around how underground or independent music cultures operate within the structures of late capitalism: e.g. if no-one pays for music or other cultural products any more, how do artists sustain their careers? Part of that has involved artists becoming more mercurial themselves, but part of it is a much more subtle and intricate knitting-together of independent culture and advertising.

Red Bull is the big one here, as people have mentioned (there’s a fantastic piece in The Wire recently, where Derek Walmsley sits in on an edition of RBMA and tries to unravel what it means; it captures the uncanny, ambiguous nature of this sort of stuff perfectly), but I’m sure anyone could name plenty of similar examples.

I’ve recently finished working on a series of music documentaries which were funded by Gucci: they gave the artists directing them complete editorial control, and enabled the creation of work which couldn’t possibly be sustainable otherwise; it felt like a really positive process. On the other hand, I’ve known people who’ve sunk months of incredibly stressful work into producing a similar documentary series for another brand, only for them to refuse to release it at the last minute because they changed their brand positioning.

There’s also the ongoing debate over Boiler Room (fuelled by venture capital, owned and founded by a guy who went to one of the most prestigious private schools in the UK) being given hundreds of thousands of pounds to film and promote Notting Hill Carnival, vastly more than the Carnival itself receives, and the difficult questions that throws up about the friction between cultural and capitalist priorities, or the way in which cultural production ties into class, wealth, gentrification and so on (I think the points about housing being a fraught social signifier in relation to this particular advert are really important).

The more specific question here about modular, and its role as a lifestyle accessory, is equally fascinating and thorny. However affordable it might be for some (I’ve built my rack on a modest salary over several years) modular is unquestionably positioned as a luxury item, and coded in a way that (possibly unconsciously) speaks predominately to an audience with higher-than-average disposable income. The modular nature of things is also inherently acquisitive: there’s always another module you can add to your setup, right?

I think much of the culture around modular perpetuates that: breathless gear reviews on YouTube, soft-focus Instagram-filter performance videos focusing solely on the equipment not the artist, endless messageboard exhortations (not necessarily here) to buy another case, all of which essentially function as advertising, albeit consumer-generated.

I feel like ultimately, for much of the culture around modular it’s less about the creative potential of these instruments than the process of acquiring and constructing them: a friend described it as the synth equivalent of a model train set, which I think is harsh but ultimately pretty fair. So for me, it’s not really that surprising to see modular used as a lifestyle signifier in a more formal advertising context: so much of how modular functions in an underground setting is already about branding, advertising and aspiration that it translates smoothly to the sort of imagery in the original post. I think if we want to interrogate the way external brands come in and engage with underground cultures, we probably need to start by examining the way those cultures operate already.


I remember a similar statement from a guy in the 2014 documentary “I dream of wires” – he had no musical inclinination but used his modular to recreate after a work day, just like a model train set. Saw it four years ago and can’t find the DVD right now, so please pardon me for not coming up with the full quote.

Apart from that, as a father of a 12 year old girl I feel it is a good thing that advertising is showing a girl learning & playing at the intersection of music and technology, and using a modular synthesizer to depict this.

A computer or tablet is too universal of a machine (while the girl could have produced the audible music via e.g. SuperCollider, audiences would likely attribute it as a simple background music bed not being created by the girl) and already has too many negative connotations (e.g. mindless web surfing) to be useful in this context.

The music played by the girl on the modular is cleverly chosen as it dispells any negative associations that could have been evoked when using electronic dance music, i.e. substance abuse.


Some very good points.

Musical instruments and the study of music have long been associated with luxury and privilege to some degree. I expect an acoustic piano in good cosmetic condition is much more of a status symbol to most people than a small modular synth is.


What you could reference to classic marketing is the coming of OP-Z by teenage engineering. All of a sudden there‘s a ton of ppl buying this machine despite of its ‚flaws‘ (i even sort of realised the clientele are OP1 users-lets throw in live video so they’ll eat it) because they announce mystery expansions for the future-on top of that you get a very nice looking website and product…basic marketing strategy 101. i‘m not bashing TE or anyone with a OP-Z, but we synthnerds are prone to such basic strategies. Say…lets collect modules, so we have something in our hands instead of software that rots on a redundant laptop. Anyone sell me an original Maths?


Just came across this kinda wtf Porsche ad with some nice background modular vibe


Ummmm…and how do people feel about this? Just curious as recently a similar topic arose in my circle of friends: the (unauthorized) use of a mural in Berlin for a marketing shot of a new Jaguar model. And that swept up a few ripples.

Anyhow, interestingly, “alternative fashion” seems to be the new thing when targeting afluent customers for luxury goods. This does raise some questions for me. Above all “what does this say about alternative lifestyles and the people (and therefore myself) partaking in these?”…

This is confusing at times…


just my opinion but it seems to me that fairly consistently, the political re-appropriation of urban spaces is almost instantly followed by artists projects, squats turn into “third places” and soon become part of the city policy, before some public investment “renovates” the entire block and what was once interstitial is now an upper-middle class housing district. Imho an “alternative” lifestyle is not defined by the goods you stage but by the way you are inserted (or not) in the monetary fluxes. (that’s probably some high level armchair socioeconomics there :smiley: )


Yes, of course; well and pointedly phrased. It just makes me wonder why “alternative lifestyles” are more often susceptible to this kind of monetisation than not.
I mean, I have theories why but from an idealistic point of view they are rather sad…