The Tubon was an early ancestor of the guitar-style electronic instrument family developed throughout the 1970s and 80s to allow the keyboard to become a front-of-stage performance device alongside guitars and vocalists. The Tubon was a tubular battery-powered, monophonic keyboard instrument that was played standing up supported around the neck with a strap, guitar-style, allowing the performer freedom to move around the stage. The Tubon was primarily designed as a bass instrument and had six preset sounds: Tuba, Contrabass, Electric Bass, saxophone, electric bass, woodwind and was commonly used by pop and folk bands in Sweden during the 1970s.
The instrument was manufactured by in 1966 by the Swedish manufacturer of electronic tube organs, Joh Mustad AB, in Gothenburg, Sweden and also sold under license in the UK as the ‘Livingstone’. Very few of the instruments were sold outside of Sweden but one was purchased by Paul McCartney ( the original score for ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’ includes a Tubon intro which was replaced by a Chamberlin on the final recording) and by Ralf Hütter of Kraftwerk in the early 1970s.
EMS (Electronic Music Studios) was founded in 1965 by Peter Zinovieff, the son of an aristocrat Russian émigré with a passion for electronic music who set up the studio in the back garden of his home in Putney, London. The EMS studio was the hub of activity for electronic music in the UK during the late sixties and seventies with composers such as Harrison Birtwistle, Tristram Cary, Karlheinz Stockhausen and Hans Werner Henze as well as the commercial electronic production group ‘Unit Delta Plus (Zinovieff, Delia Derbyshire and Brian Hodgson).
Zinovieff , with David Cockerell and Peter Grogono developed a software program called MUSYS (which evolved into the current MOUSE audio synthesis programming language) to run on two DEC PDP8 mini-computers allowing the voltage control of multiple analogue synthesis parameters via a digital punch-paper control. In the mid 1960’s access outside the academic or military establishment to, not one but two, 12-bit computers with 1K memory and a video monitor for purely musical use was completely unheard of:
” I was lucky in those days to have a rich wife and so we sold her tiarra and we swapped it for a computer. And this was the first computer in the world in a private house.” – Peter Zinovieff
The specific focus of EMS was to work with digital audio analysis and manipulation or as Zinovieff puts it “ To be able to analyse a sound; put it into sensible musical form on a computer; to be able to manipulate that form and re-create it in a musical way” (Zinovieff 2007). Digital signal processing was way beyond the capabilities of the DEC PDP8’s; instead they were used to control a bank of 64 oscillators (actually resonant filters that could be used as sine wave generators) modified for digital control. MUSYS was therefore a hybrid digital-analogue performance controller similar to Max Mathew’s GROOVE System (1970) and Gabura & Ciamaga’s PIPER system (1965).
Even for the wealthy Peter Zinovieff, running EMS privately was phenomenally expensive and he soon found himself running into financial difficulties. The VCS range of synthesisers was launched In 1969 after Zinovieff received little interest when he offered to donate the Studio to the nation (in a letter to ‘The Times’ newspaper). It was decided that the only way EMS could be saved was to create a commercial, miniaturised version of the studio as a modular, affordable synthesiser for the education market. The first version of the synthesiser designed by David Cockerell, was an early prototype called the Voltage Controlled Studio 1; a two oscillator instrument built into a wooden rack unit – built for the Australian composer Don Banks for £50 after a lengthy pub conversation:
“We made one little box for the Australian composer Don Banks, which we called the VCS1…and we made two of those…it was a thing the size of a shoebox with lots of knobs, oscillators, filter, not voltage controlled. Maybe a ring modulator, and envelope modulator” David Cockerell 2002
The VCS1 was soon followed by a more commercially viable design; The Voltage Controlled Studio 3 (VCS3), with circuitry by David Cockerell, case design by Tistram Cary and with input from Zimovieff . This device was designed as a small, modular, portable but powerful and versatile electronic music studio – rather than electronic instrument – and as such initially came without a standard keyboard attached. The price of the instrument was kept as low as possible – about £330 (1971) – by using cheap army surplus electronic components:
“A lot of the design was dictated by really silly things like what surplus stuff I could buy in Lisle Street [Army-surplus junk shops in Lisle Street, Soho,London]…For instance, those slow motion dials for the oscillator, that was bought on Lisle street, in fact nearly all the components were bought on Lisle street…being an impoverished amateur, I was always conscious of making things cheap. I saw the way Moog did it [referring to Moog’s ladder filter] but I adapted that and changed that…he had a ladder based on ground-base transistors and I changed it to using simple diodes…to make it cheaper. transistors were twenty pence and diodes were tuppence!” David Cockerell from ‘Analog Days’
Despite this low budget approach, the success of the VCS3 was due to it’s portability and flexibility. This was the first affordable modular synthesiser that could easily be carried around and used live as a performance instrument. As well as an electronic instrument in it’s own right, the VCS3 could also be used as an effects generator and a signal processor, allowing musicians to manipulate external sounds such as guitars and voice.
The VCS3 was equipped with two audio oscillators of varying frequency, producing sine and sawtooth and square waveforms which could be coloured and shaped by filters, a ring modulator, a low frequency oscillator, a noise generator, a spring reverb and envelope generators. The device could be controlled by two unique components whose design was dictated by what could be found in Lisle street junk shops; a large two dimensional joystick (from a remote control aircraft kit) and a 16 by 16 pin board allowing the user to patch all the modules without the clutter of patch cables.
The original design intended as a music box for electronic music composition – in the same vein as Buchla’s Electronic Music Box – was quickly modified with the addition of a standard keyboard that allowed tempered pitch control over the monophonic VCS3. This brought the VCS3 to the attention of rock and pop musicians who either couldn’t afford the huge modular Moog systems (the VCS3 appeared a year before the Minimoog was launched in the USA) or couldn’t find Moog, ARP or Buchla instruments on the British market. Despite it’s reputation as being hopeless as a melodic instrument due to it’s oscillators inherent instability the VCS3 was enthusiastically championed by many british rock acts of the era; Pink Floyd, Brian Eno (who made the external audio processing ability of the instruments part of his signature sound in the early 70’s), Robert Fripp, Hawkwind (the eponymous ‘Silver Machine‘), The Who, Gong and Jean Michel Jarre amongst many others. The VCS3 was used as the basis for a number of other instrument designs by EMS including an ultra-portable A/AK/AKS (1972) ; a VCS3 housed in a plastic carrying case with a built-in analogue sequencer, the Synthi HiFli guitar synthesiser (1973), EMS Spectron Video Synthesiser, Synthi E (a cut-down VCS3 for educational purposes) and AMS Polysynthi as well as several sequencer and vocoder units and the large modular EMS Synthi 100 (1971).
Despite initial success – at one point Robert Moog offered a struggling Moog Music to EMS for $100,000 – The EMS company succumbed to competition from large established international instrument manufacturers who brought out cheaper, more commercial, stable and simpler electronic instruments; the trend in synthesisers has moved away from modular user-patched instruments to simpler, preset performance keyboards. EMS finally closed in 1979 after a long period of decline. The EMS name was sold to Datanomics in Dorset UK and more recently a previous employee Robin Wood, acquired the rights to the EMS name in 1997 and restarted small scale production of the EMS range to the original specifications.
Peter Zinovieff. Currently working as a librettist and composer of electronic music in Scotland.
David Cockerell, chief designer of the VCS and Synthi range of instruments left EMS in 1972 to join Electro-Harmonix and designed most of their effect pedals. He went to IRCAM, Paris in 1976 for six months, and then returned to Electro-Harmonix . Cockerell designed the entire Akai sampler range to date, some in collaboration with Chris Huggett (the Wasp & OSCar designer) and Tim Orr.
Tristram Cary , Director of EMS until 1973. Left to become Professor of Electronic Music at the Royal College of Music and later Professor of Music at the University of Adelade. Now retired.
Peter Grogono Main software designer of MUSYS. Left EMS in 1973 but continued working on the MUSYS programming language and further developed it into the Mouse language. Currently Professor at the Department of Computer Science, Concordia University, Canada.
The EMS Synthi 100
The EMS Synthi 100 was a large and very expensive (£6,500 in 1971) modular system, fewer than forty units were built and sold. The Synthi 100 was essentially 3 VCS3’s combined; delivering a total of 12 oscillators, two duophonic keyboards giving four note ‘polyphony’ plus a 3 track 256 step digital sequencer. The instrument also came with optional modules including a Vocoder 500 and an interface to connect to a visual interface via a PDP8 computer known as the ‘Computer Synthi’.
ARP Synthesisers was started by the engineer and musical enthusiast Alan Robert Pearlman – hence ‘ARP’ – in 1970 in Lexington, Massachusetts, USA. Previous to ARP, Pearlman had worked as an engineer at NASA and ran his own company Nexus Research laboratory Inc., a manufacturer of op-amps (precision circuits used in amplifiers and test equipment) which he sold in 1967 to fund the launch of the ARP company in 1969. The inspiration for ARP came after he played with both Moog and Buchla synthesisers and being unimpressed by the tuning instability of the oscillators and lack of commercial focus – especially the keyboard-less Buchla Box – and became determined to produce a stable, friendly, commercial electronic instrument.
“If you would like to spend your time creatively, actively producing new music and sound, rather than fighting your way through a nest of cords, a maze of distracting apparatus, you’ll find the ARP uniquely efficient . . . matrix switch interconnection for patching without patch cords…P.S. The oscillators stay in tune.”
ARP Advert 1970
The first product was the ARP 2500, a large monophonic modular voltage-controlled synthesiser designed along similar lines to the Moog Modular series 100. The 2500 had a main cabinet holding up to 12 modules and two wing-extension adding another six modules each. The interface was designed to be as clear as possible to non-synthesists with a logically laid out front panel and, unlike the Buchla and Moog Modular, dispensed with patch cables in favour of a series of 10X10 slider matrices, leaving the front panel clear of cable clutter. The 2500 also came with a 10-step analogue sequencer far in advance of any other modular system of the day
Despite the fact that the 2500 proved to be an advanced, reliable and user-friendly machine with much more stable and superior oscillators to the Moog, it was not commercially successful, selling only approximately 100 units.
Modules of the ARP 2500
Type of Module
dual envelope generator
This module contains two ADSR envelope generators (actually labeled “Attack”, “Initial Decay”, “Sustain”, and “Final Decay”), each switchable between single or multiple triggering. There is a manual gate button as well as a front panel input for gate/trigger and a back panel input for a sustain pedal.
dual envelope generator
(same as 1003, except re-positioned trigger switches and gate buttons)
A Voltage Controlled Oscillator with a range from 0.03Hz to 16kHz, this module can function as a VCO or an LFO. It features separate outputs for each of its five waveforms (sine, triangle, square, sawtooth, and pulse) and 6 CV (control voltage) inputs, as well as a CV input for Pulse Width Modulation.
This module is the same as the 1004, except each waveform has its own attenuation knob for mixing all the waveforms together. There is a separate output to for the mixed waveforms.
This module is the same as the 1004, except each waveform has its own rocker switch to route any or all of the waveforms to an extra mix output.
This module is the same as the 1004r, except it uses toggle switches.
VCA andRing Modulator
This module is half Voltage Controlled Amplifier and half Balanced (Ring) Modulator. It is switchable between linear or exponential voltage control, and features 11 inputs, 3 outputs, and illuminated push-buttons.
VCF and VCA
The Voltage Controlled Filter (24dB/octave, low-pass, with resonance) and Voltage Controlled Amplifier (switchable between linear and exponential) in one module
This module routes two jack inputs to any of the upper ten lines of the lower matrix. (Remember, most of the patching for this instrument is done from these matrix sliders).
dual noise generators
This module features two random voltage generators outputting white or pink noise and two slow sample-and-hold circuits, four outputs in all.
Both oscillators feature the same waveforms as 1004 with a switch for high and low frequency ranges. There are a total of 10 control inputs and 2 audio outputs.
Preset Voltage module
This module contains eight manually or sequencer-driven gated control-voltages, each with two knobs sending control voltages to separate outputs. It can be connected, via the rear panel, to module 1027 Sequencer or module 1050 Mix-Sequencer.
This is a 10X3 sequencer with 14 outputs (including 10 separate position/step gates), 6 inputs, buttons for step and reset, and a knobs for pulse repetition/width, which controls the silence between the steps.
Dual Delayed-Trigger Envelope Generator
This module is the same as the 1003 ADSR module except it has two more knobs to control gate delay.
Sample-and-Hold / random voltage
This all-in-one module contains a VCO, VCF, VCA, and two ADSR envelope generators, as well as 16 inputs, and four outputs. (Note: Most modules feature a spelling mistake “Resanance” instead of “Resonance”.)
quad envelope generator
This module is basically a 1003 and a 1033 combined into one module.
Multimode Filter / Resonator
This module features 15 inputs, 4 outputs and an overload warning light.
This module features two 4X1 mixers with illuminated on/off buttons.
This keyboard features a 5-octave, 61-note (C-C) keyboard with the bottom two octaves (C-B) reverse colored to show the keyboard split. The top half of the keyboard is duophonic. There are separate CV (1v/octave), gate, and trigger outputs for each side of the split, as well as separate panels on either side of the keyboard with controls for portamento, tuning, and pitch interval.
from ‘The A-Z of Analogue Synthesizers’, by Peter Forrest, published by Susurreal Publishing, Devon, England, copyright 1994 Peter Forrest
The ARP 2600 (1971)
The 2600 similar to the EMS’s VCS3 was a portable, semi-modular analog subtractive synthesiser with built in modules and, again similar to the VCS3 was designed to target the educational market; schools, universities and so-on. The inbuilt modules could be patched using a combination of patch cables or by using sliders to control internally hard wired connections:
“ARP 2600 The ultimate professional-quality portable synthesizer Equally at home in the electronic music studio or on stage, the ARP 2600 provides the incredible new sounds in today’s leading rock bands The 2600 is also owned by many of the most prestigious universities and music schools in the world Powerful. dependable, and easy to play. the 2600 can be played without patchcords or modified with patch cords. This arrangement provides maximum speed and convenience for live performance applications, as well as total programming flexibility for teaching, research composition and recording. An pre-wired patch connection(s) can be overridden by simply inserting a patchcord into the appropriate jack on the front panel.
The ARP 2600 is easily expanded and can be used with the ARP 2500 series.Renowned for its electronic superiority, the oscillators and filters in the 2600 are the most stable and accurate available anywhere Accompanied by the comprehensive, fully illustrated owner s manual, the ARP 2600 is recognized as the finest, most complete portable synthesizer made today
FUNCTIONS: 3 Voltage Controlled Oscillators 03 Hz to 20 KHz in two ranges Five waveforms include: variable-width pulse. triangle. sine, square, and sawtooth 1 Voltage Controlled Lowpass filter Variable resonance, DC coupled. Doubles as a low distortion sine oscillator. 1 Voltage Controlled Amplifier Exponential and linear control response characteristics 1 Ring Modulator. AC or DC coupled 2 Envelope Generators. 1 Envelope Follower. 1 Random Noise Generator. Output continuously variable from flat to -6db/octave 1 Electronic Switch, bidirectional 1 Sample & Hold with internal clock. 1 General purpose Mixer and Panpot. 1 Voltage Processor with variable lag. 2 Voltage Processors with inverters 1 Reverberation unit. Twin uncorrelated stereo outputs 2 Built-in monitoring amplifiers and speakers, with standard stereo 8-ohm headphone jack. 1 Microphone Preamp with adjustable gain 1 Four-octave keyboard with variable tuning. variable portamento, variable tone interval, and precision memory circuit. DIMENSIONS: Console 32″ x 18″ x 9x Keyboard 35″ x 10″ x 6″ WEIGHT: 58 Ibs”
ARP 2600 Promotional material 1971
ARP 2800 ‘Odyssey’ 1972
By the mid-1970s ARP had become the dominant synthesiser manufacturer, with a 40 percent share of the $25 million market. This was due to Pearlman’s gift for publicity – the ARP2500 famously starred in the film ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind’ (1977) as well as product endorsements by famous rock starts; Stevie Wonder, Pete Townsend, Herbie Hanckock and so-on – and the advent of reliable, simpler, commercial instrument designs such as the ARP 2800 ‘Odyssey’ in 1972.
The ARP 2800 ‘Odyssey’ 1972-1981
The Odyssey was ARP’s response to Moog’s ‘Minimoog’; a portable, user-friendly, affordable performance synthesiser; essentially a scaled down version of the 2600 with built in keyboard – a form that was to dominate the synthesiser market for the next twenty years or so.
The Odyssey was equipped with two oscillators and was one of the first synthesisers to have duo-phonic capabilities. Unlike the 2600 there were no patch ports, instead all of the modules were hard wired and routable and controllable via sliders and button son the front panel. ‘Modules’ consisted of two Voltage Controlled Oscillators (switchable between sawtooth, square, and pulse waveforms) a resonant low-pass filter, a non-resonant high-pass filter, Ring Modulator, noise generator (pink/white) ADSR and AR envelopes, a triangle and square wave LFO, and a sample-and-hold function. The later Version III model had a variable expression keyboard allowing flattening or sharpening of the pitch and the addition of vibrato depending on key pressure and position.
ARP Production model timeline 1969-1981:
1969 – ARP 2002 Almost identical to the ARP 2500, except that the upper switch matrix had 10 buses instead of 20.
1974 – ARP Explorer (small, portable, monophonic preset, programmable sounds)
1975 – ARP Little Brother (monophonic expander module)
1975 – ARP Omni (polyphonic string synthesiser )
1975 – ARP Axxe (pre-patched single oscillator analog synthesiser)
1975 – ARP String Synthesiser (a combination of the String Ensemble and the Explorer)
1977 – ARP Pro/DGX (small, portable, monophonic preset, aftertouch sensitive synthesiser – updated version of Pro Soloist)
1977 – ARP Omni-2 (polyphonic string synthesiser with rudimentary polyphonic synthesiser functions – updated version of Omni)
1977 – ARP Avatar (an Odyssey module fitted with a guitar pitch controller)
1978 – ARP Quadra (4 microprocessor-controlled analog synthesisers in one)
1979 – ARP Sequencer (analog music sequencer)
1979 – ARP Quartet (polyphonic orchestral synthesiser not manufacted by ARP – just bought in from Siel and rebadged )
1980 – ARP Solus (pre-patched analog monophonic synthesiser)
1981 – ARP Chroma (microprocessor controlled analog polyphonic synthesiser – sold to CBS/Rhodes when ARP closed)
The demise of ARP Instruments was brought about by disorganised management and the decision to invest heavily in a guitar style synthesiser, the SRP Avatar. Although this was an innovative and groundbreaking instrument it failed to sell and ARP were never able to recoup the development costs. ARP filed for bankruptcy in 1981.
In 1954 the electronic engineer and pioneering instrument designer Harald Bode moved from his home in Bavaria, Germany to Brattleboro, Vermont, USA to lead the development team at the Estey Organ Co, working on developing his instrument the ‘Bode Organ’ as the prototype for the new Estey Organ. As a sideline Bode set up his own home workshop in 1959 to develop his ideas for a completely new and innovative instrument “A New Tool for the Exploration of Unknown Electronic Music Instrument Performances”. Bode’s objective was to produce a device that could included everything needed for film and TV audio production; soundtracks, sound design and audio processing– perhaps inspired by Oskar Sala’s successful (and lucrative ) film work, such as on Alfred Hitchcock ‘The Birds’ (1963).
Bode’s new idea was to create a modular device where different components could be connected as needed; and in doing so created the first modular synthesiser – a concept that was copied sometime later by Robert Moog and Donald Buchla amongst others. The resulting instrument the ‘Audio System Synthesiser’ allowed the user to connect multiple devices such as Ring modulators, Filters, Reverb Generators etc in any order to modify or generate sounds. The sound could be recorded to tape, mixes or further processing; “A combination of well-known devices enabled the creation of new sounds” (Bode 1961)
Bode wrote a description of the Audio System Synthesiser in the December 1961 issue of Electronics Magazine and demonstrated it at the Audio Engineering Society (AES), a convention for the electro-acoustics industry in New York in 1960. In the audience was a young Robert Moog who was at the time running a business selling Theremin Kits. Inspired by Bode’s ideas Moog designed the famous series of Moog modular synthesisers. Bode would later license modules to be included in Moog modular systems including a Vocoder, Ring Modulator, filter and Pitch shifter as well as producing a number of components which were widely used in electronic music studios during the 196os
Text from the 1961 edition of Electronics Magazine
New sounds and musical effects can be created either by synthesizing acoustical phenomena, by processing natural or artificial (usually electronically generated) sounds, or by applying both methods. Processing acoustical phenomena often results in substantial deviations from the original.
Production of new sounds or musical effects can be made either by intermediate or immediate processing methods. Some methods of intermediate processing may include punched tapes for control of the parameters of a sound synthesizer, and may also include such tape recording procedures as reversal, pitch-through-speed changes, editing and dubbing.
Because of the time differential between production and performance when using the intermediate process, the composer-performer cannot immediately hear or judge his performance, therefore corrections can be made only after some lapse of time. Immediate processing techniques present no such problems.
Methods of immediate processing include spectrum and envelope shaping, change of pitch, change of overtone structure including modification from harmonic to nonharmonic overtone relations, application of periodic modulation effects, reverberation, echo and other repetition phenomena.
The output of the ring-bridge modulator shown in Figure 2a yields the sum and differences of the frequencies applied to its two inputs but contains neither input frequency. This feature has been used to create new sounds and effects. Figure 2b shows a tone applied to input 1 and a group of harmonically related frequencies applied to input 2. The output spectrum is shown in Figure 2c.
Due to operation of the ring-bridge modulator, the output frequencies are no longer harmonically related to each other. If a group of properly related frequencies were applied to both inputs and a percussive-type envelope were applied to the output signal, a bell-like tone would be produced.
In a more general presentation, the curves of Figure 3 show the variety of tone spectra that may be derived with a gliding frequency between 1 cps and 10 kcps applied to one and two fixed 440 and 880 cps frequencies (in octave relationship) applied to the other input of the ring-bridge modulator. The output frequencies are identified on the graph.
Frequencies applied to the ring-bridge modulator inputs are not limited to the audio range. Application of a subsonic frequency to one input will periodically modulate a frequency applied to the other. Application of white noise to one input and a single audio frequency to the other input will yield tuned noise at the output. Application of a percussive envelope to one input simultaneously with a steady tone at the other input will result in a percussive-type output that will have the characteristics of the steady tone modulated by the percussive envelope.
The unit shown in Figure 4 provides congruent envelope shaping as well as the coincident percussive envelope shaping of the program material. One input accepts the control signal while the other input accepts the material to be subjected to envelope shaping. The processed audio appears at the output of the gating circuit.
To derive control voltages for the gating functions, the audio at the control input is amplified, rectified and applied to a low-pass filter. Thus, a relatively ripple-free variable DC bias will actuate the variable gain, push-pull amplifier gate. When switch S1 is in the gating position, the envelope of the control signal shapes that of the program material.
To prevent the delay caused by C1 and C2 on fast-changing control voltages, and to eliminate asymmetry caused by the different output impedances at the plate and cathode of V2, relatively high-value resistors R3 and R4 are inserted between phase inverter V2 and the push-pull output of the gate circuit. These resistors are of the same order of magnitude as biasing resistors R1 and R2 to secure a balance between the control DC signal and the audio portion of the program material.
The input circuits of V5 and V6 act as a high-pass filter. The cutoff frequency of these filters exceeds that of the ripple filter by such an amount that no disturbing audio frequency from the control input will feed through to the gate. This is important for clean operation of the percussive envelope circuit. The pulses that initiate the percussive envelopes are generated by Schmitt trigger V9 and V10. Positive-going output pulses charge C5 (or C5 plus C6 or C7 chosen by S2) with the discharge through R5. The time constant depends on the position of S2.
To make the trigger circuit respond to the beginning of a signal as well as to signal growth, differentiator C3 and R6 plus R7 is used at the input of V9. The response to signal growth is especially useful in causing the system to yield to a crescendo in a music passage or to instants of accentuation in the flow of speech frequencies.
The practical application of the audio-controlled percussion device within a system for the production of new musical effects is shown in Figure 5. The sound of a bongo drum triggers the percussion circuit, which in turn converts the sustained chords played by the organ into percussive tones. The output signal is applied to a tape-loop repetition unit that has four equally spaced heads, one for record and three for playback. By connecting the record head and playback head 2 in parallel, output A is produced. By connecting playback head 1 and playback head 3 in parallel, output B is produced, and a distinctive ABAB pattern may be achieved. Outputs A and B can be connected to formant filters having different resonance frequencies.
The number of repetitions may be extended if a feedback loop is inserted between playback head 2 and the record amplifier. The output voltages of the two filters and the microphone preamplifier are applied to a mixer in which the ratio of drum sound to modified percussive organ sound may be controlled.
The program material originating from the melody instrument is applied to one of the inputs of the audio-controlled gate and percussion unit. There it is gated by the audio from a percussion instrument. The percussive melody sounds at the output of the gate are applied to the tape-loop repetition system. Output signal A — the direct signal and the information from playback head 2 — is applied through amplifier A and filter 1 to the mixer. Output signal B — the signals from playback heads 1 and 3 — is applied through amplifier B to one input of the ring-bridge modulator. The other ring-bridge modulator input is connected to the output of an audio signal generator.
The mixed and frequency-converted signal at the output of the ring-bridge modulator is applied through filter 2 to the mixer. At the mixer output a percussiveABAB signal (stemming from a single melody note, triggered by a single drum signal) is obtained. In its A portion it has the original melody instrument pitch while its B portion is the converted nonharmonic overtone structure, both affected by the different voicings of the two filters. When the direct drum signal is applied to a third mixer input, the output will sound like a voiced drum with an intricate aftersound. The repetition of the ABAB pattern may be extended by a feedback loop between playback head two and the record amplifier.
When applying the human singing voice to the input of the fundamental frequency selector, the extracted fundamental pitch may be distorted in the squaring circuit and applied to the frequency divider (or dividers). This will derive a melody line whose pitch will be one octave lower than that of the singer. The output of the frequency divider may then be applied through a voicing filter to the program input of the audio-controlled gate and percussion unit. The control input of this circuit may be actuated by the original singing voice, after having passed through a low-pass filter of such a cutoff frequency that only vowels —typical for syllables — would trigger the circuit. At the output of the audio-controlled gate, percussive sounds with the voicing of a string bass will be obtained mixed with the original voice of the singer. The human voice output signal will now be accompanied by a coincident string bass sound which may be further processed in the tape-loop repetition unit. The arbitrarily selected electronic modules of this synthesizer are of a limited variety and could be supplemented by other modules.
A system synthesizer may find many applications such as exploration of new types of electronic music or as a tool for composers who are searching for novel sounds and musical effects. Such a device will present a challenge to the imagination of composer-programmer. The modern approach of synthesizing intricate electronic systems from modules with a limited number of basic functions has proven successful in the computer field. This approach has now been made in the area of sound synthesis. With means for compiling any desired modular configuration, an audio system synthesizer could become a flexible and versatile tool for sound processing and would be suited to meet the ever-growing demand for exploration and production of new sounds.
During the late 1960’s an intense intellectual animosity developed between the GRM and WDR studios ; The French GRM, lead by Pierre Schaeffer championed a Gallic free ‘Musique Concrete’ approach based on manipulated recordings of everyday sounds contrasting with the Teutonic German WDR’s ‘Electronische Musik’ approach of strict mathematical formalism and tonality (probably a simplistic analysis; read Howard Slater’s much ore insightful essay on the schism). This divergence in theory meant that the studios developed in diverging ways; the Parisian GRM based on manipulation of tape recording and ‘real sound’ and the WDR studio on purely electronically synthesised sound.
After this rivalry had subsided in the early 1970’s Groupe de Recherches decided to finally integrate electronic synthesis into the studio equipment. The result of this was the ‘Coupigny synthesiser’ designed and built by engineer François Coupigny around 1966 and was integrated into the 24 track mixing console of Studio 54 at the GRM. Despite this, the synthesiser was designed with ‘Musique Concrete’ principles in mind:
“…a synthesiser with parametrical control was something Pierre Schaeffer was against, since it favoured the preconception of music and therefore deviated from Schaeffer’s principal of ‘making through listening’ . Because of Schaeffer’s concerns, the Coupigny synthesiser was conceived as a sound-event generator with parameters controlled globally, without a means to define values as precisely as some other synthesisers of the day”
(Daniel Teruggi 2007, 219–20).
The Coupigny Synthesiser was a modular system allowing patching of it’s five oscillators using a pin matrix system (probably the first instrument to use this patching technique, seen later in the EMS designs) to various filters, LFOs (three of them) and a ring modulator. Later versions were expanded using a collection of VCA controlled Moog oscillators and filter modules. The instrument was completely integrated into the studio system allowing it to control remote tape recorders and interface with external equipment. Unlike many other electronic instruments and perhaps due to Schaeffer’s concerns over ‘parametrical control’, the Coupigny Synthesiser had no keyboard – instead it was controlled by a complex envelope generator to modulate the sound. This made the synthesiser less effective at creating precisely defined notes and sequences but better suited to generating continuous tones to be later edited manually on tape. The Coupigny Synthesiser continues to be used at the GRM studio to this day.
Gareth Loy ‘Musimathics: The Mathematical Foundations of Music, Volume 2’
The Triadex Muse was an idiosyncratic sequencer based synthesiser produced in 1972. Designed by Edward Fredkin and the cognitive scientist Marvin Minsky at MIT, the Muse used a deterministic event generator that powered by early digital integrated circuits to generate an audio output. The Muse was not intended as a musical instrument per-se but as a compositional tool (as well as an artificial intelligence experiment), therefore the audio output was left purposefully simple; a monophonic square-wave bleep. The Muse was designed to be connected to a number of other Triadex units – an Amplifier and speaker module, a Multi-Muse Cable (used to link multiple Muses together), and a Light Show module; a colour sequencer whose 4 coloured lamps blink in time to the Muse’s signals, using Triadex’s own proprietary standard (therefore they were unable to connect to any other voltage controlled instrument)
The Muse had no keyboard control but a series of eight slider each with forty set positions. Four of the sliders controlled the interval between notes, and the other four controlled the overall sequence ‘theme’. Visual feedback was provided by a series of displays next to the sliders showing the status of the logic gates. Another set of sliders control the volume from the internal speaker, the tempo of the sequence, and the pitch. Additional switches allow you to start the sequence from the beginning, step through it note-by-note, or substitute a rest point in place of the lowest note.
In the late 1950’s the East German government decided that it needed to develop an ability to produce electronic music for film and TV for ‘Eastern block’ media as well as provide a platform ‘serious’ modern electronic music to compete with the likes of WDR Electronic Music Studio in west Germany. The result of this was the foundation of the first East European electronic music studio under the auspices of the East German National Radio (RFZ) in 1956 (and closed in 1970). The studio was called the “Labor für Akustisch-Musikalische Grenzprobleme” ( laboratory for problems at the border of acoustics/music ) , and in 1960 the ‘Subharchord’ was created as the centrepiece of the Laboratory.
The laboratory was founded in East Berlin in 1956. Gerhard Steinke, a young sound engineer who became its director, was tasked with research and development into stereo-sound and electronic sound generation. Countries all of over Europe were running similar programmes at the time, many of which were visited by Steinke in the years before East Germans were subject to travel restrictions. In 1961, a team headed by Ernst Schreiber, who was latter credited as the inventor of the Subharchord, completed work on the instrument:
While I was working as a sound engineer with the Dresden radio station, I heard of and found numerous tape recordings of Oskar Sala’s compositions for Trautonium, music that I had listened to on the radio while doing my homework, in the programs transmitted by the Weimar and Leipzig stations attached to the Dresden station, and above all in the sound archives. These unusual sounds were often used for the stations’ own programs, and even for advertising. However, what finally set me going was working with the conductor Hermann Scherchen, with whom I made a recording of Bach’s Kunst der Fuge in February 1949 in the Dresden Broadcasting Hall (the former reception hall of the German Hygiene Museum). In conversation with the conductor, it became apparent that Scherchen had long been with the radio and had already worked together with Trautwein, Hindemith and Sala around 1930.
The Düsseldorf Funkausstellung 1953 was the occasion of the first presentation of an electronic organ (Polychord), which was bought by the enthusiastic Berlin chief engineer at the radio station, despite our objections to the lack of transients and our opinion that we could make something much better ourselves. At the same time, the first studio for electronic music had been set up in the Cologne Funkhaus, with a new trautonium by Trautwein, the monochord. In 1955, in the instrument warehouse of the Berlin radio station, I unearthed the surviving parts of a quartet trautonium commissioned by Sala for the station in 1948 and that didn’t really work properly; even Sala’s visit to the laboratory failed to bring life into the instrument. But we were now more than just curious, and announced to Sala that we would develop our own much more modern device … Sala laughed jovially, patted me on the shoulder in commiseration, and went on giving concerts and producing film music with his mixture trautonium.
However, we were able to convince our chief engineer to set up a “Laboratory for problems at the interface of acoustics and music,” and recruited the resourceful television engineer and organ lover Ernst Schreiber. The work on the development began in April 1959. It almost collapsed when the Ministry of Culture objected that subharmonic sounds were a musical fiction since subharmonics did not exist in nature. … However, we were able to prove their existence by dividing saw-tooth sounds into a number of sub-oscillations, and were allowed to start. We were not allowed to develop the organ we had planned, mainly because Dessau had, at my lecture in the Academy of Arts on the presentation of a Polychord electronic organ, complained that such bombastic sounds with such a strong vibrato were more appropriate in a brothel, while the sounds of the trautonium were capable of inspiring the composer’s creativity. However, this wary ministerial representative soon disappeared off to the West, and we cheerfully worked on in the laboratory.
A first subharchord was ready in 1961, and was immediately welcomed with enthusiasm by the composer Addy Kurth from the field of cartoon films and by others in radio and television. We were now able to produce mixture compositions in a laboratory studio, pursue the further development of the instrument and later begin series production. The first marionette cartoon to be accompanied by the subharchord, The Race, was a huge success. We had maintained our contacts with Scherchen over the years and on 9 July 1961, shortly before the unexpected construction of the Berlin Wall, Dessau, who had always supported our development work, Scherchen and I met in the West Berlin Hotel Kempinski to discuss the prototype – although Dessau remained critical of the lack of a second manual, which he had always insisted on.
The development and series production, and the many recordings made at the same time in the laboratory studio, led to the creation of the subharchord II by 1969. Unfortunately, Khrushchev had condemned electronic music as a “cacophony” that was inappropriate to “socialist realism,” which meant that the studio and any further research were abandoned. Nevertheless, a few instruments survived, and two were reconstructed in 2005 and 2007. They are now being used for new creative works.”
Gerhard Steinke “The Creation of the Subharchord – a Recollection ” 2008
The Subharchord’s history dates back to pre-WWII exploration of ‘subharmonic’ synthesis of Dr Freidrich Trautwein’s Trautonium and Oskar Sala’s Mixturtrautonium. These instruments uniquely used a technique of octave dividing sub-harmonic frequencies to modulate a synthesised tone creating a wide range of complex effects and sounds. Unlike the Trautonium family however, the Subharchord was less focussed on micro-tonal tuning and deployed a standard keyboard manual in stead of a sliding scale wire resistor.
Like it’s western counterpart, The Trautonium, the Subharchord was used extensively in film soundtracks and TV production throughout the Eastern block during the sixties and seventies; Karl-Ernst Sasse, former conductor of the DEFA (East German Film Company) Symphony Orchestra, worked with the subharchord in Dresden on the soundtracks of cult science fiction classics, such as ‘Signale’ ( a popular eastern block ‘Star Trek’ series). The subharchord was also used for many of the DEFA’s cartoons. Other composition from the studio include Der faule Zauberer (Kurth, 1963); Amarillo Luna (Kubiczek, 1963); Quartet für elektronische Klänge (Wehding, 1963); Variationen (Hohensee, 1965); Zoologischer Garten (Rzewski, 1965)
Electronic and Experimental Music: Pioneers in Technology and Composition. Thomas B. Holmes, Thom Holmes
The DIMI (Digital Music Instrument) series synthesisers were the work of the Finnish pioneer in electronic art and all-round visionary, Erkki Kurenniemi. Kurenniemi’s career encompassed computer-based music, electronic engineering, film and robotics.
In 1962 Kurenniemi volunteered to construct the electronic music studio for The Institute of Musicology at the University of Helsinki. The studio had a leading role in the development of Scandinavian electronic music and is still functioning today, it is the oldest electronic music studio still in active use in Scandinavia. The studio was used by Kurenniemi for his own compositions including the improvised ‘On/Off ; “my first and so far best electronic composition. Its name reflects the idea that in a distant future computer music studio the only control should be an ON/OFF switch.”. From 1963 onwards other composers began to visit the studio including Reijo Jyrkiäinen, Henrik Otto Donner, Bengt Johansson, Erkki Salmenhaara. Through the studio the Finnish Avant-garde scene established strong links with Karlheinz Stockhausen and the WDR studio in Darmstad, Germany – the leading influence on electronic music at the time
Kurenniemi worked at the university studio until the end of the sixties, when he left to found his company Digelius Electronics Ltd to build and market his electronic instrument designs. The company was funded by The Finnish National Fund for Research and Development to develop the DIMI-A but, By 1972 the company had collapsed;
“Digelius Electronics, the company founded to manufacture and market digital instruments, crashed, and I moved to industrial robotics. Jukka Ruohom.ki, a Finnish pioneer of electronic music, wrote a sophisticated piece of software called DISMAL for the Dimi-6000. It was in effect a music assembly language. But then the world was not interested in code twiddling. It wanted to twiddle knobs instead and pound keyboards.”
After the collapse of Digelius Kurenniemi pursued a varied career in robotics (at Rosenlew in the 1970s’), computing (Kurenniemi is credited with creating the first commercially available microcomputer in 1973), artificial intelligence, as ‘automation designer’ in Nokia’s cable division in the early eighties, and as head of exhibition planning at the Heureka Science Center in Vantaa (Finland) from 1987 to 1999. Today Kurenniemi works as an independent researcher, specialising in subjects such as artificial intelligence. Kurenniemi’s instruments still exist and function at the Musicology Institute in Helsinki.
The DIMI A
“the Institute of Musicology could not afford a computer, not even a PDP-8. There was a rumour of a “microcomputer,” a “computer-on-a-chip” coming. It sounded unbelievable. The first DIMI instrument was to be as powerful as a computer, but cheaper.”
The instrument consisted of two oscillators, octave dividers, digital attenuators, three modulators, and two analogue octave filter banks and was played using two electronic pens.
The DIMI-T or ‘Electroencephalophone’, 1970
Dimi-E was not a actual ‘digital’ instrument but an electronic unit that registered a weak EEG signal from the users earlobe. This signal was filtered and amplified and used as a control source for a voltage-controlled oscillator (VCO).
“The original idea was to build four of these instruments, and let the musicians to go to sleep while hearing each other’s generated sounds. During sleep there appears in the EEG slow high-amplitude delta waves, and short duration “sleep spindles.” Would the brain waves of the sleeping players get synchronized? This test was never made.”
The DIMI-S or “Sexophone” 1971
Was a six player ‘fun’ version of the DIMI-T. Handcuffs and wires connected the players to the central electronic unit which measured the electrical resistance between all six pairs. “When two people touched each other repeatedly, a sequence of musical tones were heard. With increasing skin moisture and contact area, the intensity of the music increased. “
The DIMI-O or “Optical Organ” 1971
The company Digelius Electronics was founded to develop Kurenniemi’s instruments including the Dimi-0, an optical video synthesiser. The instrument synthesised music by reading a digitised image. The 1 bit video input had a resolution of 32 (time) by 48 (pitch: equivalent to four octaves). The original intention was to have an instrument that could read a musical score but it was soon used to experiment with more interactive techniques such as allowing a dancer to create sounds by movements. Kurenniemi demonstrated the instruments capabilities in an early piece of interactive art the 11 minute long film ‘DIMI Ballet’ (1971)
The DIMI-600 (1972)
The last “and most unsuccessful” in the series was Dimi-6000, an analogue voltage controlled synthesizer using the then new Intel 8008 based microcomputer. The computer ran a control programme specially written for the instrument called DISMAL (Digelius System Music Assembly Language) in effect a music assembly language the complexity of which lead to the instruments lack of popularity and the eventual downfall of the Digelius company.
Robert Moog started working with electronic instruments at the age of nineteen when, with his father, he created his first company, R.A.Moog Co to manufacture and sell Theremin kits (called the ‘Melodia Theremin’ the same design as Leon Termen’s theremin but with an optional keyboard attachment) and guitar amplifiers from the basement of his family home in Queens, New York. Moog went on to study physics at Queens College, New York in 1957 and electrical engineering at Columbia University and a Ph.D. in engineering physics from Cornell University (1965). In 1961 Moog started to produce the first transistorised version of the Theremin – which up until then had been based on Vacuum tube technology.
In 1963 with a $200 research grant from Columbia University Moog Collaborated with the experimental musician Herbert Deutsch on the the design of what was to become the first modular Moog Synthesiser.
Herb Deutsch discusses his role in the origin of the Moog Synthesiser.
Moog and Deutsch had already been absorbing and experimenting with ideas about transistorised modular synthesisers from the German designer Harald Bode(as well as collaborating with Raymond Scott on instrument design at Manhattan Research Inc). In September 1964 he was invited to exhibit his circuits at the Audio Engineering Society Convention. Shortly afterwards in 1964, Moog begin to manufacture electronic music synthesisers.
“…At the time I was actually still thinking primarily as a composer and at first we were probably more interested in the potential expansion of the musical aural universe than we were of its effect upon the broader musical community. In fact when Bob questioned me on whether the instrument should have a regular keyboard (Vladimir Ussachevsky had suggested to him that it should not) I told Bob “I think a keyboard is a good idea, after all, having a piano did not stop Schoenberg from developing twelve-tone music and putting a keyboard on the synthesizer would certainly make it a more sale-able product!!”
Herbert Deutsch 2004
The first instrument the Moog Modular Synthesiser produced in 1964 became the first widely used electronic music synthesiser and the first instrument to make the crossover from the avant-garde to popular music. The release in 1968 of Wendy Carlos’s album “Switched on Bach” which was entirely recorded using Moog synthesisers (and one of the highest-selling classical music recordings of its era), brought the Moog to public attention and changed conceptions about electronic music and synthesisers in general. The Beatles bought one, as did Mick Jagger who bought a hugely expensive modular Moog in 1967 (which was only used once, as a prop on Nicolas Roeg’s film ‘Performance’ and was later sold to the German experimentalist rock group, Tangerine Dream). Over the next decade Moog created numerous keyboard synthesisers, Modular components (many licensed from design by Harald Bode), Vocoder (another Bode design), Bass pedals, Guitar synthesisers and so-on.
Moog’s designs set a standard for future commercial electronic musical instruments with innovations such as the 1 volt per octave CV control that became an industry standard and pulse triggering signals for connecting and synchronising multiple components and modules.
Despite this innovation, the Moog Synthesiser Company did not survive the decade, larger companies such as Arp and Roland developed Moog’s prototypes into more sophisticated and cost effective instruments. Moog sold the company to Norlin in the 1970’s whose miss-management lead to Moog’s resignation. Moog Music finally closed down in 1993. Robert Moog re-acquired the rights to the Moog company name in 2002 and once again began to produce updated versions of the Moog Synthesiser range. Robert Moog died in 2003.
Donald Buchla started building and designing electronic instruments in 1960 when he was commissioned by the Avant Garde composer Morton Subotnik to build an instrument for composing and performing live electronic music. Subotnik was interested in developing a single instrument to replace the large complex Electronic Music Studios of the day where most ‘serious’ avant-garde music was composed and recorded. These studios consisted of multiple individual oscillators, processor units, filter and mixers that, with the help of technicians (each of the studios had it’s own unique system), needed to be manually patched together. The advent of transistor technology allowed much of this process to be miniaturised into a single portable, standardised version of the Electronic Music Studio but still using the modular, patchable approach:
The offspring of a technology which is itself but half a century old, electronic music is in its infancy. Instruments specifically designed for its production have been crude and generally unavailable. Therefore, the basic objectives for development of the Modular Electronic Music System were:
1. The achievement of direct, immediate control of musical parameters. Instruments should be played in real time, eliminating such note-forming routines as: set frequency – start recorder – stop recorder – measure – cut – splice – repeat, etc.
2. Compatibility of all equipment, Rules for interconnecting equipment to be straight-forward and consistent. Interfacing with external equipment (recorders, tuners, microphones, etc.) should be readily accomplished.
3. Fully transistorized circuitry, employing conservative design and high quality components. Reliable operation with minimal maintenance must be realized.
4. A special requirement for the system was that the equipment be lightweight and portable, thus making feasible its use in the composer’s home, the concert hall, and on tour.
5. Without compromising other design objectives, cost should be low. Power supplies and cabinetry should be common to several unity, and modular construction should be employed to permit economical system expansion.
With a $200,000 grant from the Rockefeller Foundation Buchla started building his first modular synthesisers in 1963 at the “San Francisco Tape Music Center”. The Tape Music Centre was the hub of experimental and electronic music at the time, founded by composers Morton Subotnick and Ramon Sender and used by artists such as Terry Riley, Pauline Oliveros, Steve Reich, William Maginnis and Tony Martin. Buchla’s early synthesisers were experimental in design to accommodate the experimental music they were intended to produce, utilising unusual control features such as touch sensitive and resistance sensitive plates – one of Buchla’s inventions form this period was the first analogue sequencer.
The first production model synthesiser was the Buchla Series 100 or ‘Buchla Box’, a keyboardless modular synthesiser – or ‘Electronic Music Box’ as Buchla preferred – released 1966 through a manufacturing deal with CBS/Fender (who soon closed the deal, seeing no future in electronic instruments). The Series 100 was an innovative electronic instrument with a logically laid out, intuitive front panel allowing the user to patch and route modules with patch cords (To avoid confusion, the Series 100 uniquely, and unlike the Moog Modular, used separate patch cords for output and control voltages allowing the patching of multiple control voltages with stack-able ‘Banana’ patch cords) designed primarily with the electronic music composer in mind . The manual control of the instrument reflected the concerns of the time around microtonality and the limitations of the tempered scale keyboard; Buchla, very much in the ‘serious’ experimental music camp designed the instrument to be set up and run to produce a continuous piece; more of an electronic music studio than an instrument per-se. The composer could trigger and manipulate multiple parameters using an array of pressure sensitive touch pads or ‘Kinaesthetic input ports’ to free themselves from the constraints of a standard keyboard:
“They [the ports] were all capacitance-sensitive touch-plates, or resistance-sensitive in some cases, organized in various sorts of arrays…I saw no reason to borrow from a keyboard, which is a device invented to throw hammers at strings, later on, for operating switches for electronic organs and so-on. A keyboard is dictatorial. When you’ve got a black and white keyboard there it’s hard to play anything but keyboard music – And when there’s not a black and white keyboard you get into the knobs and the wires and the interconnections and timbres, and you get involved in many other aspects of the music, and it’s a far more experimental way. It’s appealing to fewer people but it’s more exciting”
One of the main innovations of the series 100 was the inclusion of one of the first analogue sequencer modules ; Three sequencers were fit into the first Buchla synth, two with eight stages, the third with 16
” There were three voltage-controlled outputs for each stage. I used to cascade two sequencers so that they would run simultaneously, giving you six voltages per stage. One voltage would control pitch, another spatial location, the third amplitude. Then one, which was really clever, would control the pulse generator that was controlling the sequencer, so that you could determine the absolute rhythm. You could literally program a very complex rhythm over a long period of time, for example, by running five stages against 13.'”
Modules of the ‘Buchla Box’ :
wooden case for 25 modules
six channel mixer
Dual Voltage-controlled Gates
Dual Ring Modulator
12 touch-controlled voltage sources (capacitive keyboard)
10 touch-controlled voltage sources (capacitive keyboard)
Sequential Voltage Source (8-step sequencer)
Dual Envelop Generator
timing pulse generators
Dual Square-wave Generator
Sequential Voltage Source (sequencer, 16 step X 3 layer)
Dual Control Voltage Counter
Dual Sine / Sawtooth Oscillators (VCOs)
White Noise Generator
Dual Random Voltage Source or ‘Source Of Uncertainty’
Dual Microphone Amplifier
Dual Instrument Pre-amplifier
Dual Equalizer / Line Driver
Dual Attack Generator
sharp cut-off filter
dual low pass filter
octave formant filter
The Series 100 was followed by the Buchla Series 200 Electronic Music Box in 1970. The ‘Buchla Box’ was much used during the Acid Test psychedelic happenings of the Haight-Ashbury era by rock groups such as the Grateful Dead (and later, provided the sounds for R2D2 in the film series Star Wars).
Around this time affordable mini-computers became available and Buchla created the first digitally controlled analogue synthesiser, the Buchla 500 series in 1971. This was followed by the ‘Buchla Music Easel’ in 1972 Touché (1978), the Buchla 400 (1982), the Buchla 700 (1987). More recent products have included MIDI controllers and re-vamped versions of the Series 200.