METRONO.ME interview with Lars Larsen/LZX Industries  12/22/2011

How long has LZX Industries been in existence?

About 4 years.

What inspired you to start up a modular video synthesis company? Were you designing modules before the company started?

Simply put, I wanted a tool I didn't have (a modular analog video synthesizer), and I wasn't going to get access to it unless I built it myself.  I was a film school graduate, a professional interactive programmer/designer, electronic musician and I had been building my own analog synthesizer modules -- so all of these disparate experiences converged in a real obsession with the idea of video synthesizers as an artistic process I felt compelled to partake in.

After making some inquiries in various online forums, I met and teamed up with my partner Edward Leckie of Sydney, Australia to design the first modules of the LZX Visionary modular video synthesizer system.  At first this was a DIY project only, born out of our mutual desire to have such a system for our own artwork -- a few months along, we realized we needed to attempt to release it as a commercial product to other artists.

How do you collaborate on completing a module? Could you briefly describe the module making process? Where and how do you build and design the modules?

Ed and I collaborate via e-mails (lots of them!) and the occasional Skype session.  We also use an SVN repository and Trac system to pass files back and forth and keep notes organized.  Typically a module design starts with a concept born out of necessity -- some processing function or generator that we think would be useful within the system.  Sometimes it's a product of our own observations, but we also get lots of great feedback and ideas from our system users. 

After that, I will mock up several panel layouts and possibly block diagrams in Adobe Illustrator,  and Ed and I will discuss the chips and circuit designs we want to use.  Ed is a very accomplished engineer, so he serves as the guiding force behind part selection and design of the more intense circuitry.  During this time I will draw up schematics in Cadsoft EAGLE, and we will both run simulations using 5Spice Analysis software for portions of the circuit. 

Once we are satisfied with a circuit and panel design, we begin prototyping.  Sometimes this involves just diving straight into designing a circuit board layout (if we are confident enough that the circuit will work as desired) and sometimes we build the full circuit or parts of it on prototyping boards before getting that far.   After prototyping and revising the module to a point at which we are satisfied, we are ready to plan for manufacturing.

Have have your modules evolved since LZX first started? What were your first creations?

There were two major prototype systems built before the version of the core system that we put into production.  Initially we were planning to do a system in Frac format with banana jacks, but eventually decided to go with EuroRack format due to the wider user base and our system beginning to lean towards the heavy use of switched jack connections.

What kind of setup do you have at your home base in Texas? Do you have a separate location for the company or is more a DIY thing? Any photos of the lab or the operation behind the scenes we can check out?

Myself, Ed and Jonah (our full-time assembly tech) all have workshops/labs set up in our homes.  Mine is in a spare bedroom.  It would be nice to have a proper workshop someday, but it's also nice to be working at home.  Building small electronics doesn't require much space, just good organization.

Any other favorite companies that are inspiration for what you're creating, or that you just happen to dig?

Absolutely!  The current community of other small manufacturers of synthesizer modules are a consistent source of inspiration and encouragement.  It's like being in a big family, and there are too many of them to list.  Historically, we're inspired by pioneers of video synthesis who created their own instruments such as Dan Sandin, Stephen Beck, Stephen Jones, Steve Rutt, Bill Etra, Bill Hearne, Richard Monkhouse, Dave Jones, Eric Siegel and others.  The initial set of LZX Visionary modules were most directly inspired by the work of Dan Sandin's Image Processor & Stephen Jones' SuperNova 12.   It is our eventual goal to be able to replicate the functions of almost all vintage devices existing as patches inside of our  modular system.

And a few personal questions -

Is LZX your full time gig or do you have another job?

I had the privilege of working on LZX full time the first half of this year, but right now it's part time for me and I've hired a full time assembly tech.  My dayjob is at the University of North Texas, where I program interactive games and content for online courses at the Center for Learning Enhancement, Assessment and Redesign.

What got you into making electronics in the first place? Do you make anything else?

I was at a big transition in my life when my long term band broke up, I graduated school, got married, and became a father all around the same time.  Looking for different outputs for my creative energies, I decided to begin creating electronic instruments.  Once I began tinkering with electronics, I began to wonder why it had taken me so long to do so -- it was like finding an old friend I never knew I had. 

Have any hobbies like stamp collecting or knitting? Your site says you have several Amphibians. What do you have?

Stamp collecting and knitting were both childhood hobbies of mine!  I've always been extremely focused on hobbies and have seen lots of hobbies come and go.  Some of the ones which have stayed include tabletop roleplaying/board games and caudate husbandry (salamanders and newts.)  Right now I keep a family of five Fire Salamanders (S. s. salamandra.)   I have a problem where whenever I get too invested in a hobby, I end up wanting to create instead of just partake. I can't play video games any more, because when I do I start thinking about quitting everything else and making video games for a living.  Tabletop games are great because I don't get obsessed with that urge as much, since playing them is naturally a creative exercise itself.

Do you play any instruments ?

Bass guitar and all manner of synthesizers and drum machines.  I am primarily a vocalist, as long as you are the type to consider crazed, incoherent shouting as vocals.

Do you collect anything or are you a minimalist?

I prefer to keep things minimal and collections culled to the important stuff.  I don't like having instruments around I'm not actively using or anticipate actively using in the near future.  That said I collect vintage gaming books, but I do it slowly.

What was the last book you read?

The Burning Wheel Fantasy Roleplaying System by Luke Crane.

What are you currently music or video are you really into?

My favorite current band is Yip-Yip and they also had the favorite album I heard all year.  I love everything prog punk and synth punk, and like some meaner sounding things like early industrial.   I like synth bands that do everything live.  I just saw Xeno & Oaklander in NYC last weekend and was blown away.  As far as current video work, I'm pretty obsessed with and dedicated to the current generation of video artists using my system and other similar tools.

Do you watch TV or listen to the radio at all? Any favorite shows, broadcasts or podcasts?

I watch documentaries, television dramas and films mostly.  I think the best television drama to come along in a while was Game of Thrones.  I love 60s-70s science fiction and some horror films, and New Queer Cinema from the early 90's like Gregg Araki and Tod Haynes.   I have a total guilty pleasure for 90's teen dramas.  Videodrome is probably my favorite film (duh!)

Where do you go to discover new audio or video?


What video art and/or music did you grow up listening to that might have fueled your inspiration to create video electronics?

I was a young child in the late 80's and early 90's, which were definitely a period of colorful visual overload and a focus on animation in popular culture.  I'm sure that set a precedence for my aesthetic tastes.  I have a big love for retro-futurism and science fiction.  I feel like what I do with
video synthesizers is a type of parallel universe technology.

Who are your influences in general, artistically and/or technically?

Whether I'm doing music, video, playing games or designing instruments, I am very focused on the idea of fantasy landscapes, narratives and visions into other worlds and alternate realities.  Especially when these surreal environments can be made personal and communicated to others in a manner that induces new thoughts and emotional content.

Are you involved in any other groups or projects that you'd like to mention?

I have an ongoing musical project titled Phantastes that I plan to resurrect at some point in the next year. 

Describe a day in the life of Lars Larsen.

Sleep, breakfast, kisses, work, e-mails, lunch, work, forums and e-mails, shipping stuff, swinging by Jonah's to check on assembly stuff and swap parts around, dinner, kids and homework, prototyping and SMT work, kids bedtime, more SMT work and e-mails, preparing to ship stuff, and then couch and reading game rules manuals or watching television with my wife until bedtime.  Occasionally I may find time to turn on my video synthesizer and hypnotize myself into docile submission to its will for half an hour in the evening somewhere.  Sometimes I make it out to see friends in the evening.  Living in a small town is nice, all the clubs are 5 minutes away.

What does your family think of your company and do they support you?

I have three young kids and a beautiful wife who is immensely supportive.  Our family is very project oriented, it's not rare for one of my daughters to be at the desk next to me coloring or doing crafts projects while I'm working on modules, or for me to be stuffing parts or putting caps on knobs while we all hang out on the couch watching a movie.  Since this is a second job for me, it can be difficult balancing all of my responsibilities at times, but we make it work and my family has a genuine respect for the nature of my work.

Any advice for people who are starting out creating electronics/synthesizer modules or people who want to build a modular video synth ?

There are tons of great resources out there and a thriving community of helpful individuals for anyone interested in getting into Synth DIY.  It's an extremely gratifying hobby and I highly recommend it.  If you think you'll save money by doing things yourself though, you won't.  I definitely learned that!

I saw on youtube that you have some new modules coming up, previews of a module with preset Video Ramps, the Triple Video Processor, Video Logic, Voltage Interface II, and the Sandin Differentiator/IP Function Generator. Can you tell me a little about these modules, and what stage of design and production they're in? Anything else on the drawing board besides these? Any newer stuff or ideas in your head?

Some of the modules you mentioned are already released, and others are finished and ready to go into production as well as others.  I have a working list of about 40 module concepts I'd like to tackle -- there is no end to the potential for this unique creative environment to grow, as long as our customers are still pushing development by purchasing the modules.   And even if interest wanes, I will still be here, making video synthesizer circuits.  Some concepts we've been working on that haven't been announced yet include a window key generator and a Hue-to-IQ waveshaper.

Any parting words or pearls of wisdom you'd like to share with whoever's reading this interview?

Be honest with yourself and make things.  Stop talking about bands so much.  You can probably do anything you want.  Don't hold back.  Take the time.  Use the right tools. Video synthesizers are difficult to learn and rewarding to use. Long live the New Flesh.

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