IPEM ‘Institute for Psychoacoustics and Electronic Music’ Ghent, Hubert Vuylsteke & Walter Landrieu, Belgium, 1963

Walter Landrieu at the IPEM studio

Walter Landrieu at the IPEM studio

IPEM electronic music studio founded in 1963 as a joint venture between the Belgian Radio and Television broadcasting company and the University of Ghent with the objective of operating as both a creative studio, and a research institution – IPEM continues to this day to research into audio and psychoacoustics. One of the first instruments developed was a sine wave generator by Hubert Vuylsteke. His assistant, an engineer called Walter Landrieu, invented a vacuum tube based instrument called the ‘Melowriter’ in 1976 that allowed the musician to create sounds through an 8bit code typewriter style interface.

Melowriter designed by Walter Liandreu

Walter Landrieu’s ‘Melowriter’ 

Metaphon Landrieu

Inside the Melowriter

Landrieu's electronic organ (based on a design by Hubert Vuylsteke).

Landrieu’s electronic organ (based on a design by Hubert Vuylsteke).

470 compositions were realised at IPEM between 1963–1987. It is still operational, housed in the University building in the same place it was founded.


Sources

http://www.ipem.ugent.be/

IPEM: Institute For Psychoacoustics And Electronic Music: 50 years of Electronic And Electroacoustic Music At The Ghent University is published by Metaphon, and comes with 2CDs of music made at the studio between 1963 and 1999. More details on the book here.

The “Ekvodin”, Andrei Volodin , Soviet Union, 1931

Designed and built by the Russian inventor Andrei Volodin (1914-1981) the Ekvodin was a sophisticated and versatile electronic keyboard instrument. The instrument was unique at the time in allowing the player a high level of control over the timbre and shape of the sound. Apart from the standard keyboard manual the player was given extra control with various knee levers, sliders and foot pedals. The player could add vibrato effects to the note by manipulating the pressure sensitive keyboard directly. The instrument was also one of the first instruments to include what would become a standard feature in much later synthesisers, a bank of preset sounds which was said to accurately imitate musical instruments of the symphony orchestra including percussion. Volodin continued developing the instrument throughout the 1940s which culminated in a commercial model in the 1950s. However Volodin’s instrument was at the mercy of the Soviet Government who decided to stop funding the project in the mid 1960s after only twelve of the instruments were sold. Volodin continued research into musical acoustics and teaching at the Moscow State Conservatory as well as privately developing a polyphonic version of the Ekvodin and other electronic instruments, none of which were ever built.

EKVODIN is a professional musical instrument intended for universal use in various ensembles and orchestras and for solo performances including concerts with the accompaniment of piano and other instruments. The EKVODIN is suitable for different musical genres.The sound is produced in the EKVODIN on purely electrical principle. The instrument is noted for wide variety and brightness of timbres, broad range and high limit) power of the sound, and also for rational and highly-developed system of reproduction means (vibrating keyboard, loudness pedals, portamento, etc.). This ensures expressiveness and accuracy of performance. The profession of a piano player is closest to that of a man playing the EKVODIN. This similarity, however, does not determine the application of the EKVODIN which is, first of all, an ensemble and orchestra instrument.The EKVODIN comes in two design versions : one-voice and two-voice versions. A thoroughly developed system of timbres, varied with the aid of a special switch (and also depending upon the methods of performance), makes it possible to obtain an expressive and pleasant sound. The EKVODIN imitates quite fully the sound of symphonic orchestra instruments (bow, wood and brass groups, as well as certain percussion and pizzicato instruments) and also folk instruments. The EKVODIN allows to obtain sound personality in new timbres of modern style. The instrument can be used in mixed ensembles and orchestras for supporting and emphasizing different groups of solo parts performed on the usual (mostly string and brass) instruments, when their natural power is not quite sufficient for overruling the orchestra and for creation of new sounds. In incomplete orchestras and ensembles the EKVODIN can handle practically any part (the two-voice will handle two parts) of the bow, wood or brass groups. A special ensemble consisting of EKVODINS allows to obtain, for a very small number of instruments (sextet or octet), a multifarious, fluent and high – power sound in original and common timbres.Both design versions of the instrument come in semi-stationary (dismountable-transportable) construction and high-class finish. The extension loudspeaker unit, supplied with the instrument, can be located independently up to a distance of 5 m. The loudspeaker unit is installed depending upon the location of listeners. When carried or transported from place to place, the instrument is packed in two units of suitcase type. For operation the instrument is connected to alternating current mains (127 or 220 V).

The EKVODIN is not sensitive to fluctuations of the mains voltage. The one-voice version weighs about 35 kg, and its power consumption does not exceed 90 VA. The output power of the sound channel reaches 10 V. The two-voice version weighs about 65 kg, and its power consumption does not exceed 200 VA. The output power is up to 10 Win each channel, the timbre setting being independent for each voice. To double the. power of solo parts and timbre effects the voices can merge in unison, octave and two octaves.

Details from the Moscow Theremin Centre

Sources:

Theremin Centre, Moscow. interview with A.Smirnov by Simon Crab
Theremin centre website: http://theremin.ru/archive/volodin0.htm
Volodin, A. “Generation of sounds controlled by the force of the blow on the keys of electronic musical instruments (Electropiano),” Invention certificate, No. 66, USSR Cl. 154 (1946).
Volodin, A. “Acoustical-psychological aspects of the evaluation of musical sounds,” in Proc. of the 7th USSR Acoustical Conference (L., 1971).
Volodin, A. “Electrical synthesis of musical sounds as a basis for research on perception,” Voprosi psychologii, No. 6, p. 54-69 (1971).
Volodin, A. “Multifunctionality of the formants of musical sounds,” in Proc. of the 8th USSR Acoustical Conference (M., 1973).
Volodin, A. “Perception of vibrato in musical sounds,” in New research in psychology and age physiology, No. 2 (M., 1972).
Volodin, A. “Psychological aspects of the perception of musical sounds,” Candidate dissertation (M., 1972).
Volodin, A. “Perception of vibrato in musical sounds,” in New research in psychology, p. 3-5 (M., 1974).
Volodin, A. “The role of harmonic spectrum in perception of pitch and timbre,” in Musical Art and Science, issue 1, p. 11 (M., 1970).

‘DIMI’ & Helsinki Electronic Music Studio, Erkki Kurenniemi. Finland, 1961

Erkki Kurenniemi (born July 10, 1941 in Hämeenlinna, Finland)

Erkki Kurenniemi (born July 10, 1941 in Hämeenlinna, Finland) playing the DIMI A

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 1063 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.
DIMI A

DIMI A

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)

dimi_y

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.


Sources:

http://www.avantofestival.com/2002_live/lp_ie.html
http://www.synrise.de/docs/types/d/digelius.htm
http://www.kiasma.fi/on-off/essay.html
http://www.music.helsinki.fi/Overview.html
http://www.phinnweb.com/early/erkkikurenniemi/

The ‘Clavivox’ Raymond Scott, USA, 1952

Raymond Scott's Clavivox

Raymond Scott’s Clavivox

The Clavivox was invented by the composer and engineer Raymond Scott circa 1950. Scott was the leader of the Raymond Scott Quintet working originally for the CBS radio house band and later composing eccentric but brilliant scores for cartoons for Warner Bros such as ‘Loony Tunes’ and ‘Merrie Melodies’. Scott incorporated elements of Jazz, Swing, pop music and avant-garde modern music into his compositions using a highly personal and unusual form of notation and editing. To the exasperation of his musicians, Scott would record all the band sessions on lacquer discs and later, using a cut and paste technique, edit blocks of music together into complex and almost unplayable compositions.In the 1946 Scott founded Manhattan Research, a commercial electronic music studio designed and built by Raymond Scott, featuring Scott’s own electronic devices and other electronic instruments of the period. The studio had many unique sound processors and generators including ‘infinitely variable envelope shapers’, ‘infinitaly variable ring modulators’, ‘chromatic electronic drum generators’ and ‘variable wave shape generators’. Scott built his first electronic musical instrument in 1948 dubbed ‘The Karloff’ this machine was designed to create sound effects for advertisements and films and was said to be able to imitate sounds such as voice sounds, the sizzle of frying steak and jungle drums.

Raymond Scott in his studio with the Clavivox

Raymond Scott in his studio with the Clavivox

In the 1950′s Scott started to develop a commercial keyboard instrument the Clavivox or keyboard Theremin (completed circa 1956). The Clavivox was a vacuum tube oscillator instrument controlled by a three octave keyboard (with a sub assembly circuit designed by a young Bob Moog). The instrument was designed to simulate the continuous gliding tone of the Theremin but be playable with a keyboard. The machine was fitted with three ‘key’ controls on the left of the keyboard that controlled the attack of the note or cut of the note completely, these keys could be played with the left hand to give the enevelope characteristics of the note. Other controls on the Clavivox’s front panel were for fine and coarse tuning and vibrato speed and depth. Scott used the Clavivox in his cartoon scores for sound effects (similar to the ‘eerie whine’ of the Theremin) and stringand vocal sounds. The Clavivox was inteneded for mass production but the complexity and fragility of the instrument made this venture impractical.

During the 1960′s Scott built a number of electronic one off instruments and began experimenting with analogue pitch sequencing devices. One of the prototype instruments built during the sixties was a huge machine standing six feet high and covering 30 feet of scott’s studio wall. The pitch sequencer was built using hundreds of telephone exchange type switch relays and the sounds were generated from a bank of 16 oscillators, a modified Hammond organ, an Ondes Martenot and two Clavivoxes. The noise produced by the clicking switches had to be dampened by a thick layer of audio insulation.Scott used the machine to compose several early electronic music pieces in the 1960′s including three volumes of synthesised lullabys “Soothing Sounds for Baby” (1963) predating minimalist music’s (Phillip Glass, Steve Reich) use of repetition and sequences by 20 years.

Trailer of’Deconstructing Dad‘ a documentary on Raymond Scott.

Scott’s final and most ambitious machine christened the ‘ Electronium’ (not to be confused with the Hohner Electronium ) was the culmination of his work using pitch and rhythm sequencers (the design used a number of Moog-designed components, who had also contributed to the Clavivox) . Scott described the machine as an;

“instantaneous composition-performance machine, The Electronium is not a synthesizer — there is no keyboard [it was manipulated with knobs and switches] — and it cannot be used for the performance of existing music. The instrument is designed solely for the simultaneous and instantaneous composition-performance of musical works”

Raymond Scott

In 1972, Scott became the head of electronic music research and development for Motown Records. After his retirement, Scott used MIDI technology to continue composing until 1987, when he suffered the first of several debilitating strokes. Raymond Scott died in 1994.

Raymond Scott: born Harry Warnow September 10, 1908, Brooklyn,NY

Raymond Scott: born Harry Warnow September 10, 1908, Brooklyn, NY, February 8, Died 1994 North Hills, Los Angeles, California

 


Sources:

The Raymond Scott Archive. P O Box 6258,Hoboken.New Jersey 07030. USA.

‘Moog Synthesisers’ Robert Moog. USA, 1964

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.

Herbert A. Deutsch working on the Development of the Moog Synthesiser c 1963

Herbert A. Deutsch working on the Development of the Moog Synthesiser c 1963

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

Early version of the Moog Modular, 1964

Early version of the Moog Modular, 1964

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.

Early Moog Modular from 1964 at the interactive Music Museum, Ghent, Belgium.

Early Moog Modular from 1964 at the interactive Music Museum, Ghent, Belgium.

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.

Moog Production Instruments 1963-2013
Date Model
1963–1980 Moog modular synthesiser
1970–81 Minimoog
1974–79 Moog Satellite
1974–79 Moog Sonic Six
1975–76 Minitmoog
1975–79 Micromoog
1975–80 Polymoog
1976–83 Moog Taurus bass pedal
1978–81 Multimoog
1979–84 Moog Prodigy
1980 Moog Liberation
1980 Moog Opus-3
1981 Moog Concertmate MG-1
1981 Moog Rogue
1981 Moog Source
1982-1985 Memorymoog
Moog Company relaunch
1998–present Moogerfooger
2002–present Minimoog Voyager
2006–present Moog Little Phatty
2010 Slim Phatty
2011 Taurus 3 bass pedal
2012 Minitaur
2013 Sub Phatty

 

The Mini Moog Synthesiser with Herb Deutsch

Images of Moog Music Synthesisers


Sources

http://www.moogmusic.com/

http://moogarchives.com/

Bob Moog Foundation

INTERVIEW WITH HERBERT A. DEUTSCH. October 2003, and February 2004

Analog Days: The Invention and Impact of the Moog Synthesizer.  Trevor Pinch, Frank Trocco. Harvard University Press, 2004

The ‘RCA Synthesiser I & II’ Harry Olson & Herbert Belar, USA, 1951

The RCA Mark II Synthesizer at the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center at Columbia's Prentis Hall on West 125th Street in 1958. Pictured: Milton Babbitt, Peter Mauzey, Vladimir Ussachevsky.

The RCA Mark II Synthesizer at the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center at Columbia’s Prentis Hall on West 125th Street in 1958. Pictured: Milton Babbitt, Peter Mauzey, Vladimir Ussachevsky.

In the 1950′s RCA was one of the largest entertainment conglomerates in the United States; business interests included manufacturing record players, radio and electronic equipment (military and domestic – including the US version of the Theremin) as well as recording music and manufacturing records. In the early 50′s RCA initiated a unusual research project whose aim was to auto-generate pop ‘hits’ by analysing thousands of  music recordings; the plan being that if they could work out what made a hit a hit, they could re-use the formula and generate their own hit pop music. The project’s side benefit also explored the possibility of cutting the costs of recording sessions by automating arrangements and using electronically generated sounds rather than  expensive (and unionised) orchestras; basically, creating music straight from score to disc without error or re-takes.

RCA MkII

RCA MkII

The RCA electrical engineers Harry Olson and Hebart Belar were appointed to develop an instrument capable of delivering this complex task, and in doing so inadvertently (as is so often the case in the history of electronic music) created one of the first programmable synthesisers – the precursors being the Givelet Coupleux Organ of 1930 and the Hanert Electric Orchestra in 1945.

Paper punch roll showing parameter allocation

Paper punch roll showing parameter allocation

The resulting RCA Mark I machine was a monstrous collection of modular components that took up a whole room at  Columbia University’s Computer Music Center  (then known as the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center). The ‘instrument’ was basically an analogue computer; the only input to the machine was a typewriter-style keyboard where the musician wrote a score in a type of binary code.

 

Paper-punch input of the RCA Synthesisir

Paper-punch input of the RCA Synthesisir

Punch paper terminals of the RCA MkII

Punch paper terminals of the RCA MkII

The keyboard punched holes in a pianola type paper role to determine pitch, timbre, volume and envelope – for each note. Despite the apparent crudeness of this input device, the paper roll technique allowed for complex compositions; The paper role had four columns of holes for each parameter – giving a parameter range of sixteen for each aspect of the sound. The paper roll moved at 10cm/sec – making a maximum bpm of 240. Longer notes were composed of individual holes, but with a mechanism which made the note sustain through till the last hole. Attack times were variable from 1 ms to 2 sec, and decay times from 4 ms to 19 sec. On the Mark II, High and low pass filtering was added, along with noise, glissando, vibrato and resonance,  giving a cumulative total of millions of possible settings.

Structure of the RCA MkII

Structure of the RCA MkII

RCA Synthesiser structure

RCA Synthesiser structure

The sound itself was generated by a series of vacuum tube oscillators (12 in the MkI and 24 in the MkII) giving four voice polyphony which could be divided down into different octaves . The the sound was manually routed to the various components – a technique that was adopted in the modular synthesisers of the 1960′s and 70′s. The eventual output of the machine was  was monitored on speakers and recorded to a lacquer disc, where, by re-using and bouncing the disc recordings, a total of 216 sound tracks could be obtained. In 1959 a more practical tape recorder was substituted.

Babbit, Luening, Ussachevsky and others at the RCA MkII

Babbit, Luening, Ussachevsky and others at the RCA MkII

It seems that by the time the MkII Synthesiser was built RCA had given up on their initial analysis project. Mainstream musicians had baulked at un-musical interface and complexity of the machine; but these very same qualities that appealed to the new breed of serialist composers who took the RCA Synthesiser to their heart;

The number of functions associated with each component of the musical event…has been multiplied. In the simplest possible terms, each such ‘atomic’ event is located in a five-dimensional musical space determined by pitch-class, register, dynamic, duration, and timbre. These five components not only together define the single event, but, in the course of a work, the successive values of each component create an individually coherent structure, frequently in parallel with the corresponding structures created by each of the other components. Inability to perceive and remember precisely the values of any of these components results in a dislocation of the event in the work’s musical space, an alteration of its relation to all other events in the work, and–thus–a falsification of the composition’s total structure…

Why should the layman be other than bored and puzzled by what he is unable to understand, music or anything else?…Why refuse to recognize the possibility that contemporary music has reached a stage long since attained by other forms of activity? The time has passed when the normally well-educated [person] without special preparation could understand the most advanced work in, for example, mathematics, philosophy, and physics. Advanced music, to the extent that it reflects the knowledge and originality of the informed composer, scarcely can be expected to appear more intelligible than these arts and sciences to the person whose musical education usually has been even less extensive than his background in other fields.

I dare suggest that the composer would do himself and his music an immediate and eventual service by total, resolute, and voluntary withdrawal from this public world to one of private performance and electronic media, with its very real possibility of complete elimination of the public and social aspects of musical composition. By so doing, the separation between the domains would be defined beyond any possibility of confusion of categories, and the composer would be free to pursue a private life of professional achievement, as opposed to a public life of unprofessional compromise and exhibitionism.

But how, it may be asked, will this serve to secure the means of survival for the composer and his music? One answer is that, after all, such a private life is what the university provides the scholar and the scientist. It is only proper that the university which–significantly–has provided so many contemporary composers with their professional training and general education, should provide a home for the ‘complex,’ ‘difficult,’ and ‘problematical’ in music.

Milton Babbitt

Among the composers who used the machine frequently were the Princeton composer Milton Babbitt and Charles Wuorinen, the latter of whom composed the Pulitzer Prize-winning “Time Econium” on it in 1968.

RCA Synthesiser

RCA Synthesiser

The pioneering RCA Synthesiser became obsolete and fell out of use in the early 1960s with the arrival of cheaper and reliable solid state transistor technology and the less complex programming interfaces of instruments such as the Buchla and Moog range of synthesisers. Neither machine survives in working condition today. The MkI  was dismantled during the 1960s (parts from it cannibalised to repair the MkII). The MkII is still at Columbia University’s Computer Music Center, but has not been maintained and reportedly is in poor condition, it was vandalised sometime in the early 1970′s and little used after that.



Images of the RCAI& II

 

rcasynth_labelrcasynth01

RCA issued a box set of four 45 RPM extended-play disks with a descriptive brochure.  This set featured a narration and demonstration of the basic features of the synthesizer, and concluded with renditions of several well known popular and classical pieces “played” on the synthesizer:

Side 1: The Synthesis of Music-The Physical Characteristics of Musical Sounds (7:13, 3.3 mb)
Side 2: The Synthesis of Music-Synthesis by Parts (Part 1) (5:55, 2.7 mb)
Side 3: The Synthesis of Music-Synthesis by Parts (Part 2) (4:37, 2.1 mb)
Side 4: Excerpts from Musical Selections (Part 1) (6:05, 2.8 mb)
Side 5: Excerpts from Musical Selections (Part 2) (3:28, 1.6 mb)
Side 6: Complete Selections-Bach Fugue No. 2, Brahms Hungarian Dance No. 1 (4:47, 2.2 mb)
Side 7: Complete Selections-Oh Holy Night (Adam), Home Sweet Home (Bishop) (6:42, 3.1 mb)
Side 8: Complete Selections-Stephen Foster Medley, Nola (Arndt), Blue Skies (Berlin) (7:49, 3.6 mb)

 


Sources

http://www.jamesfei.com/pictures/pictures-rca/pictures-rca.html

The ‘Composer-tron’ Osmond Kendall. Canada, 1953

The Composer-tron

The Composer-tron

Developed during the early 1950′s by Osmond Kendall for the Canadian Marconi Company, the Composer-Tron was an analogue synthesis and composition instrument that utilised an innovative and unique control system. The Composer-Tron had a cathode ray tube input device that could ‘read’ patterns or shapes hand drawn on it’s surface with a grease pencil. The drawn shape could be defined as the timbre of the note or as the envelope shape of the sound, rhythmical sequences could be written by marking a cue sheet type strip of film.

The purpose of the Composer-Tron, like that of the ‘Hanert Electrical Orchestra‘, was to provide a synthesis and composition tool that closed the gap between composer and performer allowing the composer to define all the aspects of the music in one session:

“At present, the composer writes his mental symphonies as black symbols on white paper. He has no way of knowing wether they’re just what he had in mind. Months or years may pass before he hears them played by a symphony orchestra. Not uncommonly he never hears his best work……with Kendal’s grease pencil, the composer can, in effect, draw the grooves in the record. Working with a Composert-Tron….he can walk out of his study with his recorded composition under his arm.”

Sources

“The Art Of Electronic Music”, Darter,Tom. 1984 GPI Productions.

‘Buchla Synthesisers’ Donald Buchla. USA, 1966

Buchla Series 100

Buchla Series 100 ‘Buchla Box’

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.

Buchla Associates

Donald Buchla

Donald Buchla

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.

Buchla 100

Buchla 100

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”
Donald Buchla

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.’”
Morton Subotnick

Modules of the ‘Buchla Box’ :

Module Number Description
M.101 wooden case for 25 modules
M.106 six channel mixer
M.107 voltage-controlled mixer
M.110 Dual Voltage-controlled Gates
M.111 Dual Ring Modulator
M.112 12 touch-controlled voltage sources (capacitive keyboard)
M.114 10 touch-controlled voltage sources (capacitive keyboard)
M.115 power supply
M.123 Sequential Voltage Source (8-step sequencer)
M.124 patchboard
M.130 Dual Envelop Generator
M.132 wave-form synthesizer
M.140 timing pulse generators
M.144 Dual Square-wave Generator
M.146 Sequential Voltage Source (sequencer, 16 step X 3 layer)
M.148 Harmonic Generator
M.150 Frequency Counter
M.156 Dual Control Voltage Counter
M.158 Dual Sine / Sawtooth Oscillators (VCOs)
M.160 White Noise Generator
M.165 Dual Random Voltage Source or ‘Source Of Uncertainty’
M.170 Dual Microphone Amplifier
M.171 Dual Instrument Pre-amplifier
M.175 Dual Equalizer / Line Driver
M.180 Dual Attack Generator
M.185 Frequency Shifter
M.190 Dual Reverberator
M.191 sharp cut-off filter
M.192 dual low pass filter
M.194 bandpass filter
M.195 octave formant filter
M.196 phase shifter
Buchla Modules of the series 100

Buchla Modules of the series 100

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.

Buchla System 500 hybrid analogue-digital instrument 1971

Buchla System 500 hybrid analogue-digital instrument 1971

Buchla Music Easel 1972

Buchla Music Easel 1972

Buchla Series 700

Buchla Series 700

 




Sources:

Buchla and Associates

http://flickrhivemind.net/Tags/buchla/Interesting

‘Analog Days’. T. J PINCH, Frank Trocco. Harvard University Press, 2004

‘Vintage Synthesizers’: Pioneering Designers, Groundbreaking Instruments, Collecting Tips, Mutants of Technology. Mark Vail. March 15th 2000 by Backbeat Books
http://myblogitsfullofstars.blogspot.co.uk/2010/02/buchla-with-labels.html