Push Turn Move: A Book By Kim Bjørn
How one designer’s obsession for musical machines became an unexpected studio essential.
In a flood of Kickstarter campaigns, Push Turn Move stood out for its freshness. It was niche enough to catch the eye of synth-heads all over the globe, while staying approachable and appealing to a regular coffee table book customer. Understanding the importance of accessibility and curation were key to the success on the book’s mission: cataloguing and exploring electronic instruments and design.
Bjørn recalls an early fascination with liner notes, specifically those of Jean-Michel Jarre and George Duke. He romanticized detail within a record’s artwork, but loved it even more when he could peruse through the full list of instruments used in the making of the album itself. Growing up, he remembers when synthesizers began to make a bigger splash and found himself learning to play the organ. When the time came to choose a career, design took precedent — but he never forgot his first love. It was through Push Turn Move that he’s reignited the passion for music production, as seen through the eye of an experienced designer who sets out to answer the most instinctual questions: why does this look and feel the way it does? Why is this button here? Why specifically this fader? And so many more.
Jean-Michel Jarre, who wrote the book’s foreword, “has been there the whole way and been part of the book somehow.” according to Bjørn. Two years ago, he got a tip from a friend that the artist would be in Copenhagen to perform. This friend happened to be Jarre’s webmaster, someone close enough to facilitate a fifteen minute meeting between the two. Not wanting to show up empty-handed and miss the opportunity of a lifetime, he worked non-stop for a week in preparation to pitch his idol. “Those fifteen minutes were my now or never kind of moment.”
As it turns out, the idea of crowdfunding was part of the initial pitch and Jean-Michel Jarre was fully sold. Those fifteen minutes built excitement between the pair and they kept in touch. Push Turn Move stopped being a fantasy and began to solidify into a concrete project. It was then that Kim sought out to partner with his friend Lars, who had marketing and distribution chops, as they first began to make noise on the web.
Running a Kickstarter proved to be no walk in the park. How does one pull it off so successfully? “We really tried to be very personal with people. They showed us trust by investing in it, both with their time and money, so I was keen on being direct and staying honest throughout the process.” It’s evident that the heavy lifting involved in running a thriving campaign may not have been possible if not for the design and marketing savviness behind it. By the time the Kickstarter launched, PTM had an existing Facebook presence and a lengthy mailing list, which allowed the funding campaign to kick off with a built-in audience. The venture was at full-speed ahead, with half the book already designed.
The Kickstarter tale is one of a happy ending. Due to a phenomenal response from the online music-making community, the project reached its funding goal immediately, and surpassed Kim’s expectations. The additional capital injection allowed for an upgrade to the print quality and an extra 50 pages, to expand the already impressive content.
The book itself feels super expansive and begs to be devoured. It features a plethora of gear alongside interviews with producers, engineers, and designers. A proper introduction explains how a designer from Copenhagen running a Kickstarter campaign got to chat shop with his idols and create a visual guideline of electronic music’s most utilized tools. He looks back fondly at crashing SuperBooth and discovering that he had the support of the makers themselves, which added fuel to the fire and proved that the project broke ground in previously uncharted territory. Being on the ground allowed him to connect with the pioneers he admired and to reach out to them in hopes of picking their brain.
“Today we use can use an iPad app with a vintage synthesizer side by side, which is really interesting because the interfaces are so different.” — Kim Bjørn
In terms of a narrative, PTM doesn’t offer the typical arduous, overly technical read, or a lengthy list of virtually inaccessible gear. Instead, Kim came to find his own unique framework: User, Sound, Control, Layout, Concept, and Time. This allowed more free cataloguing of his favorite toys as they made sense through his lens of ergonomics and usability. While chatting with Kim, it became clear that this wasn’t just about the instruments themselves but a study of how we interact with them — interfaces, keys, pads, and even screens. Ultimately, it’s nice to admire our tools, but they are there to be put to use.
The framework is effective to navigate for both beginners and experts alike, partly explaining why the ideal reader changed as the book came together. While at first Kim had his eye on musicians and designers as the ideal customer, it turned out a lot of the Makers wanted to peruse through the pages as well. Coming full circle, the readership range transcended both clusters and finally included the generally intrigued folk who want to simply learn why a tool feels and looks a certain way.
Just as it seems that the book is inclusive in terms of an audience, it doesn’t discriminate when it comes to the content. While today we see hyper-inflated prices for sought-after synths, Kim is equally fascinated by all sorts of instruments: from touchscreen apps to modular units or, as he put it “it’s not either or, but it’s both/and”. The idea is to not pin analog versus digital or software versus hardware. “Today we use can use an iPad app with a vintage synthesizer side by side, which is really interesting because the interfaces are so different yet some of the new apps use interfaces inspired by older products, such as the MPC, for example.” The power of innovation has allowed us to explore a mix of both and it’s his intention to promote an idea of diversity.
“One of the joys in going through the process of curation was discovering similarities between these instruments that were made decades apart.” — Kim Bjørn
When it comes to the process of creating, Kim Bjørn the author and the designer stressed the importance and lasting power of a physical book. Sure, YouTube tutorials and hardware forums are helpful. Having made a physical object that documents these tools for posterity, Kim finds joy in the prospect of communities being able to gather and discuss PTM. “The interesting thing about a hardware synthesizer is that it’s still there even though it’s turned off. I feel like it’s the same idea with a book.”
In the end, Bjørn wishes the book inspires the desire to make something with what’s in front of us. It is how we interact with instruments that is at the heart of the relationship between human and machine. It’s also a concept that’s clearly at the core of the interviews featured on this book: Suzanne Ciani, Larry Heard and Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith all explain their own approach to listening, producing, and performing, while everyone from Dave Smith, Roger Linn, Tatsuya Takahashi (Korg’s former chief synth engineer), and Novation’s Dan Clarke share their technical and manufacturing perspectives. The result is a diverse and unusual group of voices, from modern to vintage designers, boutique studio people and corporation heads.
The book doesn’t just focus on hardware, but also highlights different steps in the chain of music-making, and analyzes each component within the chain. “One of the joys in going through the process of curation was discovering similarities between these instruments that were made decades apart,” explains Kim. “Cataloguing each element, its placement, alignment, layout, and color, proves that there is humanity in the gear.” These are all variables that are taken into consideration when making an instrument, but they also also part of the psychology of design. Just as certain colors trigger specific emotions within a billboard or a magazine ad, we react to a synthesizer and its controls. “The use of color and these elements also have history — there’s identity and familiarity, such as it is with the DX7’s [teal blue] or the bright Nord red. For old gear and heritage pieces, warm wood finishing evokes an era of nostalgia.”
“I never thought I’d end up making books, but… I’ve become enthralled with documenting and creating a catalog of these tools.” — Kim Bjørn
Modernists sought to simplify everyday objects, but the devices we use for music-making aren’t always straightforward. Diving further into the framework of the book and honing in on the concept of usability, Kim remarks that “what people are most frustrated with at times is when things are unnecessarily complicated, and if they lose control and don’t know what is happening.” But also that maybe the idea of challenging a user and making them grow and learn with the instrument is part of the journey. Grow with your instrument, put in the time. This is what the discovery process is about. Technology helps people suddenly understand why it’s easier to use something with more controls, but also highlights why it can be a daunting task. The key to good design is balancing these elements and making them resonate with people. Thinking in terms of reasons for creating and the production process, Kim likes to see both sides — simple versus challenging tools — as instrumental to a highly personal process. This lies at the core of what Bjørn also seeks to honor in the book: that you can make music on your iPad or with your modular synth, or both. Ultimately, what’s important is that you’re making something and that you’re exploring the curiosity within. Challenging the user is a way to make them grow and learn with an instrument.
The Next Chapter
Now that Push Turn Move is on the shelves, Kim is already looking at the next project. He makes sure to state that he loves this book, but that there’s always room for improvement and learning, even despite his design pedigree. While he was reacquainted with old gear, he also found modern, exciting and even pre-released products that inspired him to put them to the test. Kim spoke of the legacy of the Launchpad as a game-changer and a highlight within the legacy of the Novation family; while at the same time, his relationship with the Circuit Mono Station yielded refreshing and unexpected fruit. He’s gone from modulars to the OP-1 and beyond and holds no favorites, other than when he feels an instrument exudes design and inspires touch.
“I never thought I’d end up making books, but I’ve come to truly believe in this project. I’ve become enthralled with documenting and creating a catalog of these tools,” says Kim.
Kim’s next book — which he hopes will be announced in the coming months — may not be so design-centric, and will not rely on a crowdfunding scheme, but will definitely focused on the technology and how-to on the occupational side of making. “I’d like to make this about community again” says Kim, who’s looking at his new audience of design and music lovers who are already waiting his next move.