Kiwis get $210k deluge of orders for synth instrument designed in Wellington bedroom

A pair of Kiwi entrepreneurs have sold $210,000 in pre-orders for a new electronic music instrument developed in a Wellington bedroom.

The Deluge - a simple-yet-powerful combination of synthesiser, sampler and sequencer - allows musicians to create and perform electronic music, as well as improvise live.

It was independently designed and created over the past three years by Wellington electronics engineer and musician Rohan Hill, who gained a Computer Science degree from Victoria University in 2011.

Rohan played in bands, and combined his talents by creating hardware to be used on stage.

"I wanted this device that worked in this way, and that wasn't available already - so I just sort of sat working on it just for myself, " Rohan says.

The Synthstrom Audible Deluge
The Synthstrom Audible Deluge, Source: Synthstrom Audible

He initially thought the units might be useful for one or two of his friends and posted on Facebook about it, not expecting much - but for experienced music scene manager and promoter Ian Jorgensen (a.k.a Blink), the device was a revolution in the making.

Ian, who now lectures in Commercial Music at Massey University to prepare students for the industry, still finds it amazing that the device came from such humble roots.

"This device built by a dude in his Wellington bedroom is more powerful than anything on the market made by the biggest manufacturers in the world," he says.

The pair formed Synthstrom Audible, and Ian has spent much of last year travelling around Europe to promote the device, and to Asia after receiving a grant from Callaghan Innovation to explore manufacturing options.

While in Europe, Ian made an offer that he would personally visit the homes of potential buyers if they could bring a couple of friends to the demonstration.

"It was definitely a pretty non-traditional approach," Ian says.

"I think when people get to actually meet the people behind the company it gives them that extra faith and they see how passionate you are - they got to feel it and see how solid and how well it was built."

International response

Callaghan Innovation has also now provided funding for the company to travel to the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas next year - widely considered to be the world's biggest electronics show.

Pre-orders for the first 200 units opened on October 25, selling within 30 days to musicians from countries including New Zealand, South Africa, France, Israel, Germany, England, Serbia, Norway and Canada.

The international response has been huge, Ian says, with the language barrier giving way to the universal language of electronic music.

Customers will receive their units in four months' time, Ian says, but in future the manufacture and delivery process will be much quicker.

Musicians from groups including The Mint Chicks, Toro Y Moi, Mt Eerie and Daedelus have provided royalty-free samples to be included with the Deluge, with an unusual condition.

Ian says the musicians were happy for their samples to be used indefinitely - so long as a number of Deluge units made their way to needy kids in Kiwi schools.

For every 100 Deluge units sold, one will be donated, along with training, to a low-decile school in New Zealand, and Ian says he is really keen to encourage more schools to adopt and teach electronic music.

"Kids aren't really that interested anymore in guitar, bass and pianos," Ian says.

Every piece of music they listen to - pop, electronic, hip hop - they were all produced in a computer - Ian Jorgensen on why students should learn electronic music

"There's still a need for traditional instrumentation to be taught in schools but the reality is now that every piece of music they listen to - pop, electronic, hip hop - they were all produced electronically.

"I think it's really important for schools to start giving their students access to that type of equipment and knowledge."

He says school-age children will have no problem adopting the device (they may even understand more quickly than adults) and gives the example of a 12-year-old boy learning to use the device skillfully in just two hours - performing at the product launch in Auckland later that day.

"I would love to see schools embrace this - especially because it's a New Zealand product."

Rohan says the success so far has been "amazing" and that he never imagined the project would go this far.

"It's just wonderful to have the thing that I've worked on - that we've worked on - actually out there getting into people's hands internationally and people getting excited about it."

Rohan Hill and Ian Jorgensen say the pre-launch reception of the Deluge has been incredible. Source: Ash Smith