Devin Kerr lives in a bungalow, on a street full of bungalows, in a place called Bungalow Heaven, which is a neighborhood in a town known for its bungalows (Pasadena, CA).
One day in the recent past, I drove up to Pasadena for a business meeting.1 There I found Devin and his laptop on the porch behind the bungalow. The conversation started with business chatter, but soon we turned on a microphone and started talking about — what else? — his first instrument.
Devin’s answer (which you’ll find below) struck me, initially, as unusual. I raised an eyebrow. But then, a nanosecond later, it struck me as the perfect first instrument for Devin; these days he spends most days with both arms deep in the vocabulary and mathematics of digital audio.
Find out more about Devin and his work at Goodhertz at goodhertz.co/~dk.
What was the last thing you listened to?
I listened to the Cher track, “Believe.”
It’s the first use of auto-tune as a creative tool. I was curious, just generally, about the progression of the auto-tune sound over time. Antares made that hardware unit, a hardware auto-tune box. Apparently the designer never thought anyone in their right mind would use it on that fast of a speed, because it just sounds robotic. So I don’t know, at the Cher session, if somebody bumped the knob and liked how it sounded, or if it was more intentional than that. But that’s where the T-Pain effect came from — that Cher track in the 90s.
What was your first instrument?
I think my first real axe was a Casio Rapman — 32 keys, with a fake scratchpad and three drum-pads. It also had a realtime pitch-shifter with a mic, which is kind of crazy for whatever year it was, 1990? It was a Christmas present, from my grandpa. I loved that thing, I think I still have it. It’s pretty rad.
What’s rad about it?
Just great 80s sounds. Three-voice polyphony.
So if you hit a chord with four notes…
It just cancels all the notes. But, yeah, it had a bunch of cool backbeats.
Did you ever make anything with it?
I think I used it on recordings in college. [pause] At least, I think that was my first instrument.
What would the other contenders be?
I had a piano in my basement that I played a lot, and my uncle — at some point — gave me a Ludwig 3-piece drumkit, though that might have been later. A Ringo thing, a 1960s Ludwig 3-piece, which my dad later threw away. He didn’t know what it was, but I wish I had it now!