In the 1980s, the music industry was bustling with new technologies aimed to advance musicians’ resources. After years of coming to terms with the strengths and shortcomings of analog instruments, musicians and manufacturers had begun to dream of what the future of electronic instruments might be, and what musical scenarios future instruments might address. Perhaps a wall of patch cables could be replaced by a means of storable/recallable settings; perhaps new instruments could offer the same editing facilities of the ever-loved but monophonic Moog Minimoog while increasing polyphony; perhaps faculties could be provided in which a single instrument could produce an entire ensemble’s worth of sound. The 1980s delivered all of this and more: instruments with preset memory and support for user presets, polyphonic synthesizers galore, digitally-controlled instruments with analog voice architecture, and wholly digital instruments which boasted entirely new and promising synthesis methods from FM to sampling, sequencing, and more.
As with any period of growth in new music technology, some instruments catch on and gain iconic status, acting as the cornerstone to entire paradigms to follow (think of the Minimoog or TR-808)—and some things simply do not catch on, perhaps due to a hefty price tag, esoteric design, or countless other pitfalls. The Technos Acxel is one such instrument: an unabashedly digital device with a user interface comprised of more than 2000 LED-embedded capacitive touch plates and a processor the size of a modern mini-fridge, the Acxel is utterly singular. At a time when instruments like the Yamaha DX-7 and the Akai MPC were finding their way into the hands of musicians, it feels clear in retrospect that the Acxel would not find widespread use; however, it remains an icon of a different era in instrument design, one in which the future was unclear and designers felt empowered to build devices of which no one had ever dreamed.