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Rocking Hard, with a Computer

For computer music geeks Steve Taormina and Alan Stewart, opening a computer music shop was, in their words, an "inevitable progression". Serving the whimsies and needs of beginner bedroom producers, tiny basement recording studios and fanatical gear collectors alike, Robotspeak is firmly rooted in the San Francisco computer music community.

The half-subterranean room stocked with music gadgets and gear has been filling a void in the mostly guitar-centric music products industry for a little over two years. Taormina and Stewart, both computer music industry vets, saw a need for a place where people felt comfortable learning about and exploring computer music without the pretentiousness of gear snobs and free of pressure from overbearing salespeople who knew more about closing a sale than the products they were selling.

Music software accounts for a substantial portion of Robotspeak's wares. These programs include audio recording software, virtual instruments and programs for musical composition. Hardware stocked includes audio interfaces to transmit sound into and out of computers, drum machines, synths, mixers and all things MIDI. Taormina and Stewart pride themselves on running San Francisco's independent computer music shop. "[We sell] esoteric instruments—stuff with more character," Stewart says. "Big stores tend to gravitate towards Roland and Korg. Those massively produced synths are super impressive but tend to make everyone sound the same." For the last year they have also been an Apple retailer.

Robotspeak also provides friendly and indispensable services to its customers. In-store music software classes are held monthly and taught by guru Gustavo Lanzas, who the shop owners affectionately refer to as "The Gimp". Classes so far have been devoted to Propellerhead's Reason and Ableton Live, composition and audio loop-sequencing/MIDI composition software, respectively. A ten-student maximum ensures maximum attention in a nurturing environment.

Feeling comfortable asking questions is important, Taormina says, because computer music composition is not "self-evident". At Robotspeak people can try out gear and talk about it with knowledgeable people. Taormina and Stewart are genuinely interested in helping their customers progress. Their Robotspeak Sessions are one means they use to keep up-to-date with what people are doing musically. Each session features three 45-minute acts followed by a Q & A session with each of the performers. Robotspeak Sessions has featured everyone from customers to well-known acts, such as local Broker/Dealer and Chachi Jones.

The storefront is also an intimate setting for "Clinics" -- discussions and demos with the experts. Past guests have included electronic instrument and synth creator Bob Moog, synth inventor Dave Smith and Warp Records artist Richard Devine. Devine is a "sound designer" for software company Native Instruments and whenever new Native Instruments releases new products, Robotspeak's customers are treated to an in-store demo by someone from the company.

Robotspeak is fully equipped for computer musicians of every level. Yes, it can be costly. But people have been known to rock hard even with simple gear. It is really a matter of knowing how to use your gear well. Have questions? Don't know where to start? Stop by. These guys are enthusiastically waiting to assist you.