Thursday, December 31, 2009

My cool retro-synthesizer-inspired gifts


Well, I received two really cool synth-related gifts over the holidays, and although they don't fall directly into the category of retro advertisements or promo pieces, They are vintage synth-related and dang cool lookin'.

Both were created by Zenbecca - an artist that has a genuine fetish for anything and everything retro. And that apparently includes vintage synthesizers.

The top image is a retro-inspired Korg synthesizer collage piece that I've proudly hung in my dining room. I'll let her explain more about it:
"This MS-20 is an original paper-pieced collage measuring approximately 9x11 inches. I used printed paper, plain and textured cardstock and vintage (1950s) dictionary pages. Each piece was hand cut and inked before being adhered. I stopped counting at 100 cuts. Everything was cut freehand (including the awesome Korg logo), except for the knobs and round bits that were punched. My tools were precision scissors, 2 circle punches, ink, glue, imagination... and the patience of a saint."
So - why the whitish side panels in her re-imagining of the MS-20, you ask? Because my MS-20 has wooden sides... :o)

I've already got plans in my head to get her to create more pieces based on other gear - in particular some Moog and XOX stuff.

She also created a custom retrosynthads desktop calendar for me to take to work (the two other images above) that includes twelve of my favorite vintage synthesizer ads from the last year.

Most excellent... and it does give me some ideas for a future retrosynthads promo!

Blatant promotion: You can view Zenbecca's other (mostly non-synth-related) work at her blog and Etsy shop. Both sites include stuff she's made, often featuring cool robots, vintage board games and images of hot 1950s women.



She also writes the Going Green column for Try Handmade, featuring some cool upcycling products made by other artisans and crafters around the Web.


Have a good New Years.

Monday, December 21, 2009

EML family of products advertisement 3, Contemporary Keyboard 1976


Electronic Music Laboratories, Inc. (EML) 1/3-page ads of its family of products including ElectroComp 101, 200, and 401 semi-modular synthesizers, 300 manual controller, 400 sequencer, and SynKey (model 2001) from page 38 (both) of Contemporary Keyboard Magazine July/August and November/December 1976.

Okay, I do realize that I've kinda been obsessing with EML ads lately, but I figure the end-of-the-year holiday season is here and I may as well just finish 'em off and then move on to some other great ads in the new year.

So, I'll continue... :o)

This is the third EML ad to appear in Contemporary Keyboard in as many issues. It continued to run for at least the next two to three years - with the only other change being that they sloppily added the 1-800 number after the paragraph of text (see the second image).

If you compare this ad to the the previous ad, you will notice some definite similarities. They continued to run with the 'they grow on you' campaign. They also kept the exact same ad copy and re-shot the photo with the same general positioning of the gear - including some patch cords hanging over the lid of the ElectroComp 200.

EML did change a few things for the better. They pushed up the brightness of the photo so that you could actually make out the ElectroComp 300 sitting on top of the ElectroComp 401. They also moved the headphones.

But the big difference is that the gear and ad copy are rearranged a bit to make room for another piece of EML gear - the Model 2001 SynKey synthesizer. And although I'm glad that EML decided to include another synthesizer in this ad, I am a little disappointed that the ElectroComp 500 synthesizer was not that synthesizer.

It could be that the 500 had already been out for a few years, while the SynKey was a newer synthesizer with a whole different look and feel about it. Plus, as mentioned at the end of the previous blog post, EML had just finished blowing some cash on a full-page SynKey ad as well as in a CK contest give-a-way. So, it would kinda make sense to keep running with it.

But for some reason, even though I've never owned or played an ElectroComp 500, I feel more of a bond with it. Maybe it is because it reminds me of the white-faced ARP Odyssey with its colouring, shape, and sliders (check out Vintage Synth Explorer to compare both the ElectroComp 500 and the white-faced ARP Odyssey). Or maybe it is because the 500 was the underdog in a battle for synthesizer supremacy dominated by the MiniMoog and Odyssey. But most likely it is because I'm cheap - and the 500 was available for a much lower price than the MiniMoog and the Odyssey. Yeah... probably that.

I gotta say, before blogging about these EML ads, I knew very little about EML gear, and I felt like I was playing catch-up.

Sadly, Wikipedia has very little on EML in general, and what little is there seem to be incorrect. The page says that the company stopped producing synthesizers in 1976. Yet I find this hard to believe considering that EML continued to promote their synthesizers in CK well into 1979. And, in Mark Vail's 'Vintage Synthesizers', one of the founders, Jeff Murray, says that although demand fell off, they continued to make all their existing product line in the latter '70s, while also doing custom work for other companies.

Check out some of the other usual online synthesizer reference sites for some good info.

One more thing - I still haven't decided whether to post over the rest of the holidays. Keep an eye on the site!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

EML family of products advertisement 2, Contemporary Keyboard 1976


Electronic Music Laboratories, Inc. (EML) 1/3-page ad of its family of products including ElectroComp 101, 200, and 401 semi-modular synthesizers, 300 manual controller, and 400 sequencer from page 37 of Contemporary Keyboard Magazine May/June 1976.

[Update: December 18, 2009 - After this post appeared on MATRIXSYNTH, John Van Eaton posted a response... and it is beautiful!]

This was the second EML ad to appear in CK, two months (one issue) after the initial 1/6-page advertisement appeared in the March/April issue. Gone are the hand-draw fonts, and sadly, that awesome EML logo. Also gone is the 'Stacked' slogan, replaced with the not-so-great "they grow on you...".

On the plus side, the font used underneath the logo is rather funky for its time. Also, the larger space (1/3 of the page area) did let EML include much larger photos of the same gear found in the earlier ad - throwing in a pair of headphones and some patch cords to boot. And they even had room to include one more instrument from their line-up. In the murky depths of the image, on top of the EML 401, is an ElectroComp 300 manual controller.

Trying to find information on the 300 was like pulling teeth. Reference material for most of the EML line is available at Synthmuseum.com and Vintage Synth Explorer (see my first EML blog post for links to instrument pages), but there is relatively little available online for the 300.

I found a good photo of a blue-faced 300, built in 1969, on Sequencer.de (click on the image to enlarge the photo even further), and a photo of a white-faced 300 on OldTech.com.

As far as finding online reference information, there is a bit about the 300's microtonal capabilities on microtonal-synthesis.com but I couldn't dig up much else through quick searches with Google.

So, Mark Vail to the rescue! He describes the 300 in his 'Vintage Synthesizers' book:
"Alternate controller fanatics take note: Along with a few rudimentary synth components, the ElectroComp 300 manual controller offered calculator-type pushbuttons and pitch knobs. According to an EML product brochure, 'The 300 was originally suggested by a professional composer who wanted to escape from the traditional keyboard with its equal temperament and the patterns it suggests.' "
An interesting end note: Early issues of Contemporary Keyboard magazine included 'CK Giveaways'. In this issue, CK Giveaway #5 was an EML SynKey. This is probably why this issue of CK also featured a rare full page EML Syn-Key advertisement.

Monday, December 14, 2009

EML family of products, Contemporary Keyboard 1976

Electronic Music Laboratories, Inc. (EML) 1/6-page ad of its family of products including ElectroComp 101, 200, and 401 semi-modular synthesizers and 400 sequencer from page 30 of Contemporary Keyboard Magazine March/April 1976.

This was the first and only time that I can recall that this particular EML ad ran in CK. It was replaced in the following issue of CK with the much more popular 1/3-page ad that used the 'They grow on you" slogan.

And I know you can guess the number one reason I love this ad: THE LOGO!

I could not recall seeing this version of the EML logo anywhere - on paper or gear - so I did a quick Google search and it didn't bring up anything even close to it either. Can anyone tell me if this logo ever graced any piece of EML equipment?

The hand-drawn fonts used in the ad are also interesting, vaguely reminding me of the older Sequential Circuits 'Prophet' font that started to appear around 1977-78.

But, I have to admit I'm not that familiar with EML synthesizers, probably because of my limited exposure to the instruments themselves. And I bet other innocent eyes were more likely to focus on the full page ads that larger companies like ARP, Oberheim, and Moog were putting out at the time, and not the smaller ads that were usually allocated to the back-half of the magazine. EML did spend a wack of cash on a full-page ad for the SynKey that appeared in the following issue, but that ad was just as rare as this one - and didn't seem to appear in later issues of CK.

And that is unfortunate, because I think more people would have liked EML had they been able to have access to them. Looking at information I could find online, they definitely looked like well-built tanks and were apparently much more affordable than comparable Arps and Moogs. But, according to Mark Vail's 'Vintage Synthesizers' book, EML made some bad decisions in the mid-70's and in the end they couldn't compete with the 'onslaught of synths from Yamaha and other Japanese manufacturers'.

So, maybe in the end, larger ads in CK wouldn't have helped them in the long-run...

For more information on EML synthesizers, check out some of the usual online synthesizer haunts.

Vintage Synth Explorer has pages for all the instruments including great images: ElectroComp 101, ElectroComp 200 and ElectroComp 400/401.

Synthmuseum.com also has some great information on the 101, 200, and 400 - including links to some excellent brochures for the 101 and 200 courtesy of synthesizer technician Kevin Lightner.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

ARP Arpeggio Newsletter, April 1974, Volume 3, #1






ARP Arpeggio Newsletter from April 1974, Volume 3, #1.

I have a few of these ARP newsletters in my collection, and when MATRIXSYNTH recently posted an eBay auction that included some, I just had to dig 'em up and read through them again (and maybe bid on the ones on eBay... :o)

And so, this is one of 'em!

I've provided the images of each page above - in the order you would read them in. So, if you received the newsletter in the mail, you would have unfolded it, then read the front cover first, then opened the cover to reveal the three pages on the reverse side (the last of which is a three-quarter page!), and then you would flip back to the first side and read the last two pages (the other side of the three-quarter page and then the last page).

Confused? I've also supplied the PDF where I've stitched the images together as if they were the two sides of the newsletter - so, not in order, but if you printed it out on two sides of the same piece of paper, you could fold it up like the original newsletter. A fun project during a slow day at the office.

Anyways, there is some fantastic history within these pages that just shouldn't get lost. From the article "The Making of an ARP" to "ARPs Around the World" - there is just a wack of great info here. For example:

You didn't know that Phillips Corp. bought ARP 2500s for all it's major studios? Now you do!

Or...

You didn't know that there were 38 ARPs on order for Iran in 1974? Now you do!

Or...

You didn't know that famous photo of Peter Townshend laying in front of his ARP 2600 was a self-portrait taken around 1972. Now you do!

Sure, the newsletter is basically one big ad for ARP instruments, but I don't care. And as you know from my blog posts, all ARP ads have one, two, or all three of these characteristics:
  1. Name dropping
  2. Great photos
  3. Somehow, somewhere, they mention the term 'Human Engineering'.

As you can see, this newsletter is dripping with name-drops and photos of famous musicians and organizations that were using ARP synthesizers at the time. And to cover off the 'Human Engineering' side of things, they even slipped in a 'Human Engineering' question in the 'Ask ARP' section:
"What is this "human engineering" jazz that you are always pushing in your literature? - Jack Dunn, San Diego, California"
And the answer to the question explains "Human Engineering" pretty well.
"Hey Jack, did you ever think why a light switch is shaped a certain way, or why a keyboard has black keys and white keys, or why this ARPPEGGIO is folded instead of rolled up like a scroll? All these devices have to be handled by Human Beings and somewhere along the line, somebody designed them to fit the human hand. That is "Human Engineering." Human Engineering is why ARP synthesizers feel good to play, and really let you wail."
I wonder if Jack Dunn still uses the word 'jazz' a lot?

Monday, December 7, 2009

Sequential Circuits Prophet-5, Contemporary Keyboard 1978



Sequential Circuits Inc. Prophet-5 synthesizer ad from page 75 of Contemporary Keyboard magazine, November 1978.

SCI was still just starting to get used to advertising, so I can't really fault them for this rather bland looking ad. And I think even SCI knew it was pretty bland as well - it only seems to have ran once. [I've blogged about some of SCI's best ads - see the Sequential Circuits label for more info]

My thinking is that this ad was a stop-gap measure between the first Prophet ad that ran in CK from February to July 1978, and the new colour Prophet ads that didn't start running until early 1979. That would have been six months of silence from SCI, and I think they realized that they needed to include something in the popular pre-Xmas November issue of CK, and rather than use the original ad, this is what they came up with on short notice.

Another reason SCI might have included an ad in this issue of CK was that the Prophet-5 was one of a number of synthesizers featured in a great article by Dominic Milano called "Polyphonic Synthesizers - Part 2". The article contains a whole page-worth of detailed specs (with reference photos) and a write up for each of a number of polyphonics including:
  • Emu 4060 keyboard
  • Oberheim Four-Voice
  • Polymoog
  • RMI KC-II
  • Korg PS3300
  • Roland JP-4
  • Yamaha CS-60
  • Prophet-5
  • ARP Quadra
  • Multivox MX3000
The Prophet-5 page in the article includes some great reference information and quotes from Dave Smith that helps sum up what was happening in the industry at the time.

On the main reason for creating the Prophet-5, Dave comments:
"We wanted to answer two of the main complaints people seem to have about synthesizers, one being that they're too hard to use live and the other being that they can't be used to play chords."
The article also mentions that Dave was a computer engineer before going into synthesizer design, and how this enabled SCI to be more flexible and save costs:
"Using the computer is more cost-effective"... "It enables us to do quite a few things that we couldn't have done without it. The edit mode, for example, was added as an afterthought. It was done totally with the software. All I did was change the program. I didn't have to add any circuitry at all. By simply changing the program we sudden had an edit mode."
When asked about the use of Minimoog-style pitchbend and modwheels, Dave is very straightforward:
"From what I can tell, everybody likes the wheels. The other alternative to them is to do what ARP and Oberheim and CAT (Octave Electronics) have done, which is try to build something that's different just to be different. Then people probably won't like it. So I figured, I'm not proud. I'll put exactly what people want on it. We even designed it to match the Minimoog's almost exactly. The idea was to get something familiar. That idea carried over to the whole front panel. We wanted something that people could understand almost immediately."
Dave also comments on his relationship with Emu, interfaceability (their words, not mine), and the new double-keyboard 10-voice Prophet to appear sometime in 1979.

And that's just the Prophet-5 page. There are a number of pages dripping in history - including Tom Oberheim providing great background on the Four-Voice, Dave Rossum and Scott Wedge waxing on Emu, and Dave Friend chatting about the Quadra.

Seriously great stuff.

So, what about Part 1? That was also written by Dominic Milano in the April 1978 issue of CK, but it was much shorter and contained more general information on the polyphonic keyboards around at the time. Still a great read, but as far as I'm concerned, nothing compared to Part 2.

I wish I could keep on typing, but my stomach is really growling... I need a veggie burrito, pronto!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

ARP Soloist Mk II Dealer Ad Sheet, 1970s



ARP Soloist Mk II dealer ad sheet (front and back) from the 1970s including the Soloist Mk II and Pro Soloist.

It was only a week or two ago that I had never heard of the Soloist Mk II. I blogged about how little information there was on the Web about it - just a few forum comments. It's like the sasquatch of the online synthesizer world. The Bobby Fischer of Analogue Heaven. The Jimmy Hoffa of Vintage Synth Explorer.

Well, anyways... here is more proof of this shy beast, including a much better photo of the instrument and a plethora of information including it's dimensions and voices, as well as descriptions of its variable expression controls and touch sensor effects. From the sheet:
"The modular design also revolutionizes servicing. Every circuit and switch is mounted on one of the six plug-in cards. Servicing is simply a matter of replacing any circuit card - an operation that can be done by any serviceman in just a few minutes."
Most excellent!

Now I just need to find the time to type all that into Wikipedia or one of the great synthesizer sites out there like VSE... any suggestions on what synthesizer site(s) to contribute to?

Monday, November 30, 2009

Aries Music Inc. Modular, August 1977


Aries Music Inc. Modular ad from page 30 of Contemporary Keyboard magazine August 1977.

This 1/4 page ad was one of the earlier ads by Aries to run in CK, mostly during the summer and fall of 1977 before being replaced with a Phase/Flange module ad.

I have to admit I'm not that familiar with Aries, but I'm always surprised at how memorable the ads are. I don't have to tell my regular readers that one of the reasons is that awesome Aries logo - most likely designed by then-resident designer Jennifer Morris. This wasn't their first logo, but it is a classic.

But other than the logo, I don't know why I'm drawn into these ads. In fact, Aries ads confuse me a little.

In some ads, like the one posted today, Aries is positioned as a maker of modular systems, competing directly with Moog, ARP and others. While in other ads, they only push one or two modules and stress the fact they are fully compatible with other major instrument manufacturers. To top it off, Aries was also trying to sell the modules in kit form like Paia did.

Maybe Aries was trying to be a lot of different things to a lot of different people. Or maybe they didn't know what made themselves great yet and were still trying to find the niche that best fit. Who knows... . But either way, since they only had a quarter of a page to get their game on, they could really only choose one message to fit into that little space, hindering their ability to effectively stake their claim in all the different markets they were trying to compete in.
I came across two great online resources for anyone interested in Aries. Definitely check 'em out.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Taking the day off.

Sorry folks. No post today.

Going to take the day like my friends down south for American Thanksgiving Day.

Eat lots of turkey for me. :o)

Monday, November 23, 2009

ARP Pro/DGX , Contemporary Keyboard 1977



ARP Pro/DGX synthesizer from back inside cover of Contemporary Keyboard April 1977.

This Pro/DGX ad started appearing on the back inside cover of CK shortly after the instrument was announced in the Spec Sheet section of the February 1977 issue, and dominated the back inside cover up to August, after which a freaky looking Axxe ad started to appear (will blog about that one later).

What strikes me about this ad is how crowded it seems - at first glance I can't even tell what instrument the ad is trying to push. My eyes just can't decide where to look first. That was until my friend pointed out that one finger near the top of the ad pressing on the 'bass' button. That finger is now always the first place I look and it's freaking me out.

As mentioned in the ad, the Pro/DGX is basically an updated version of the Pro Soloist. I blogged a bit last week about the Soloist-Pro Soloist evolution (with their secret love-child) and the PRO/DGX was the next piece of fruit to fall off the family tree. The big improvement over its predecessor was the implementation of push-button digital switching (hence DGX) for sound selection along with LED status lights, while keeping virtually the same 30 presents and single oscillator design.

I've never heard one before and the online reviews are mixed - due mostly to a new filter design. According to the Vintage Synth Explorer page, some say it sounded 'worse' than the Pro Soloist, while the Wikipedia page remains steadfastly on the fence - some describing the sound as warmer than its predecessor while others saying it sounds less "organic". Both sites provide some good basic reference info about the instrument and the VSE page includes a MP3 demo of the presets.

Julian Colbeck's Keyfax book sums up the keyboard with:
"This is not an instrument for the enquiring mind and eager finger. It's just a simple soul that lets you sound like you're being creative, without, in fact, having to be so at all."
Poor thing.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

ARP Family Dealer Ad Sheet, 1970s



'The ARP Family of Electronic Music Synthesizers' dealer ad sheet (front and back) from the 1970s including the Soloist Mk II, Pro-Soloist, 2600, 2500, and Odyssey.

I don't have an exact date on when this dealer ad sheet was printed, but my guess is around 1972 or 1973 since the Pro-Soloist is mentioned alongside the Soloist Mk II... What? Soloist Mk II? What is this piece of kit? Why have I never heard of it!?!

Looking at the Soloist Mk II description and photo from this scan, it looks to be the evolutionary 'missing link' between the original Soloist and the Pro-Soloist.

First, a bit of info about the original Soloist and the Pro-Soloist:
  • The Pro-Soloist Wikipedia page and Mark Vail's 2006 article on the Pro-Soloist have some good history of these two instruments and inform us that the original Soloist was entirely analog while the Pro-Soloist used digital read-only memory chips to program all of its internal functional modules. If I'm not mistaken, neither mentions the Soloist Mk II.
  • Images of the two instruments from the Vintage Synth Explorer page clearly show that the Soloist had a light-coloured panel of toggle switches located underneath the keyboard while the Pro-Soloist's switches were located on a dark panel above the keyboard. Again, no mention of the Soloist Mk II.
Now, compare the features above to the description and picture of the Soloist Mk II included in the dealer ad sheet, and you can clearly understand how it could be the electronic love-child of the two:
  • light-coloured panel like the Soloist
  • toggle switches on the main panel are above the keyboard like the Pro-Soloist
  • layout of switches seem to resemble the Pro-Soloist
  • controls beside the keyboard have a white lever or toggle switch in the middle of the darker sliders like the Soloist
  • 15 instrument sounds like the Soloist
  • digital design like the Pro-Soloist
I found two references to the Mk II online in forum and comment posts - both by who seems to be the same person - who I now dub thee Soloist Mk II expert.
- a 2008 comment by Micke on the Vintage Synth Explorer site mentions that the production dates for the Mk II was between 1972 and 1973.
- a 2006 BlueSynths forum post by Micke (Mikael L) where he describes it as a cross between the original Soloist and Pro-Soloist.

There is also a mention of the Mk II in an ARP 2500 brochure PDF on Tim Stinchcombe's Web site. The last page of the brochure contains the same list and images of the ARP instruments in this dealer ad sheet and lists the Soloist Mk II for $995 US.

But other than those references above, I can't seem to find much on this instrument. I even failed to get Google images to bring up a photo. I'll have to add it to my list of Wikipedia updates I need to do.

End note: Aren't you proud of me for not mentioning the ARP name-dropping thing that appears on the back of the ad sheet?. Oh... I guess I just did... :o)

Monday, November 16, 2009

E-mu Emulator, Keyboard Magazine 1982


E-mu Systems Inc. Emulator sampler advertisement from page 41 of Keyboard Magazine January 1982.

Wow, what a great ad. Simple and memorable. And, probably hit the right market segment - musicians that were into samplers at the time were probably also heavy into science fiction as well.

But it begs the question - did Sir Arthur C. Clarke actually endorse the Emulator? If so, what was the connection between Clarke and E-mu?

I had to find out,
but this is one case where I took the long road.

Science fiction readers, including myself, will tell you that Clarke wrote some awesome sci-fi - heavy on the science. Movie buffs will throw out the fact that he collaborated with Stanley Kubrick on the film 2001: A Space Odyssey. And tech-junkies will quickly remind you that he is known for contributing to the idea of the geostationary communications satellite. But none of these facts connect Clarke directly with music technology or with E-mu.

Clarke's quote in this ad is well known among sci-fi enthusiasts as the third of his Three Laws of Prediction and has been referenced or alluded to numerous times by others in literature, movies and video games. I took a look at the Wikipedia page for further investigation, but again, found no direct links to music technology or E-mu.

Clarke's Wikipedia page didn't bring up anything directly related to music technology either, but following a few links from his page did eventually lead to a few surprising musical connections.

One of those links was to John Pierce's Wikipedia page. Turns out John Pierce, also associated with the concept of the geostationary communications satellite, was a good friend and colleague of Clarke as well as a fellow science fiction author. But most importantly, he was prominent in the research of computer music.

And, according to the Bell Labs Web site, Clarke was visiting Pierce at Bell Labs in 1962 while a demonstration of a vocoder synthesizer was underway. The song used in this demo was 'A Bicycle Built for Two' (aka 'Daisy Bell') and Clarke was so fascinated by the performance that he later used it in the climactic scene of the novel and screenplay for 2001: A Space Odyssey.

It gets better...

Pierce, while working at Stanford University's Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics (CCRMA, pronounced 'karma'), presented an excellent speech for the Arthur C. Clarke Lecture series in Sri Lanka in 1987. During the talk, Pierce spoke on such topics as space, satellites, and computer music. He also mentions John Chowning, the director of CCRMA.

Chowning, among other things, just happens to be an electronic music pioneer, composer and the guy credited with inventing FM synthesis - you know, the technology used in many of Yamaha's synthesizers including the DX-7. The Mix Web site has a great 2005 interview with Chowning where he talks about FM synthesis, CCRMA, and other things music-related. Definitely check that out. A 2006 audio interview with Chowning is also available on Wikipedia.

Clarke was obviously connected to some electronic music heavyweights. But still, throughout all this research, there was still nothing to connect Clarke directly with E-mu.

Time to get creative. Or logical, depending on how you look at it.

According E-mu's corporate history, Marco Alpert was the marketing manager at E-mu around the time this ad came out. And, in an E-mu article in the September 2002 issue of Sound On Sound, Alpert is credited with "...many new product ideas as well as some of the company's best adverts. This guy would know the connection.

I tracked down Alpert at Antares Audio Technologies (maker of Auto-Tune and other plug-ins) where he now works as V.P. of Marketing. I left a voice-mail message and he called back almost immediately.

Finally - an answer to the question. What is the connection between Clarke and E-mu?

Marco Alpert is a fan.

"I didn't have any permission." Alpert admitted. "We were young at the time, learning as we went along. I was a big fan of science fiction like many synthesizer/tech guys at the time. Clarke was a popular author and I loved that quote. Best of all, it fit perfectly."

The long road to a perfectly simple answer.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Bob Moog - a blunt and totally biased view point, May 1977


-----

Update: Michelle Moog-Koussa from The Bob Moog Foundation has posted an excellent commentary on this ad on MATRIXSYNTH. From the comment:
"This is indeed a very cool ad on the face of it, but I can tell you for sure that this was not written by Bob Moog. To those of us who knew him well, this is evident in so many ways." ... "This ad has a slick marketing department's fingerprints all over it, not Bob's".
It explains why this ad is so different from other Moog ads that appeared before it and provides us with an insider's perspective... Seriously - read the whole comment.

Ms. Moog-Koussa - no disrespect to the Moog name intended. It was indeed a slick marketing department.

-----
Moog ad from page 26 and 27 of Contemporary Keyboard Magazine May 1977.

This rare 2-page centerfold advertisement from Bob Moog only ran once or twice, but it brings to light what I think was happening in the synthesizer market at the time: as synthesizer technology became more affordable and new companies and products started coming to market, competition was heating up.

Moog was, in no uncertain terms, defending their turf from the Axxes, Odysseys, CATs, and other synthesizers that were starting to pop up. Like any good leader in a turf war, or like me when I play the game Risk, Moog decided the best defense is a good offense.

And as any good Risk player knows, the best offense takes a multi-prong approach:

Name dropping: If you've read my blog in the past, you are aware that I've crowned ARP the king of name-dropping. In this ad, Moog hits back with a few heavy-weights of their own - including Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock, Jan Hammer and Walter (now Wendy) Carlos.

Promotion of their technology: Moog bluntly reminds readers not just that they started it all in 1964, but they were first with a number of technologies including:
  • multiple waveform voltage controlled oscillator
  • the balanced, voltage controlled amplifier
  • keyboard with memory and glide
  • four-part ADSR envelope generator
  • polyphonic synthesizer
Promotion of their creative design: I've pointed out in a few posts that ARP was fond of the term 'human engineering' around this time period. Throughout this ad, Moog takes aim squarely at ARP by using the term 'musical engineering' multiple times.

Attacking rumors: I'm not sure when this pots vs sliders debate started bubbling to the surface - maybe there was ongoing rumors or debates in music stores or some of the industry mags at the time - but in this ad, Moog wanted to make it clear to readers that their engineers knew best. And is it just me, or does Moog throw a punch directly at ARP with the line "Just try to accurately tune and all-slider instrument!" ?

Reading this ad in 2009, Moog may come off as arrogant to some, but I think they got the tone just right. The ad starts off with a humorous tone but still lets you know right off the bat that this is Bob Moog's opinion [Update: the company's opinion]. Also, although Moog knows that they were the bee's knees of the synthesizer world, they take the high road and never actually mention any competitor's names in the ad.

That's class!

Monday, November 9, 2009

Octave Electronics Inc. CAT ad #3, Contemporary Keyboard 1977


Octave Electronics CAT ad from page 15 of Contemporary Keyboard Magazine May 1977.

This is the third CAT ad to appear in the magazine and Octave Electronics continued to showcase the distinctive artwork of J. Mannix. The first ad introduced the CAT in an illustrated 'jungle' setting to try and distinguish it from other synthesizers with its low cost and features. The second ad featured the CAT in a 'back lane' setting, but didn't really include any new information for readers.

This third ad, featuring two CATs connected by a ball of yarn, finally gave readers a bit more information about its unique 'slave/master' jacks - aka its CV and Gate connectors.

I've never owned a CAT, but from what I gather, unlike most synthesizers that at the time used separate cables for CV and Gate, it looks like the CAT used one stereo cable to connect the CV and Gates between instruments. Each CAT had both 'From Master' and 'To Slave' jacks allowing you to connect CAT synthesizers in a series. This unusual CV-Gate format evolved throughout the life span of the instrument, as mentioned in a call-out box in the May 1999 issue of Sound on Sound (SOS):
"The earliest version of CAT had no CV and Gate sockets at all. Later examples of the same model had two sockets marked 'To Slave' and 'From Master'. These were stereo quarter-inch jacks that carried the CV on the tip and the Gate voltage on the ring. If this wasn't strange enough, the Gate voltage was a non-standard 7.5V, which led to unreliable envelope triggering when used with conventional synths. It was only on later SRMs that Octave got its act together, although the synth retained the stereo jack arrangement rather than offering four individual sockets for the CV and Gate inputs and outputs."
SOS indicates that early CATs had no CV and Gate sockets and although this ability is not mentioned in the CAT's Spec Sheet announcement in the November/December 1976 issue of CK, the earliest CAT ad from February 1977 does mention this ability. I can't imagine too many CATs are out there without sockets.

On a tongue-in-cheek end note: The ability to have multiple CATs in a series got me thinking - I wonder what kind of cumulative 'delay' would have been introduced as you linked more and more CATs together in a series? Were there musicians that would swear they could 'feel' the delay and refuse to use this feature on the CAT, similar to the MIDI delay issue that was 'the' contentious topic of many synthesizer articles in the 1980s and 1990s? Just wondering :o)

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Yamaha CS70M, Keyboard 1982


Yamaha CS70M synthesizer advertisement from page 25 of Keyboard Magazine April 1982.

I actually posted this scan earlier in the year, but never got around to blogging about it.

Almost two and a half years after the infrequently-run CS40M/CS20M/CS15/CS5 ads began appearing in Keyboard, Yamaha launched this (also) infrequent CS70M ad in early 1982. I don't think I'm going out on a limb when I say that although Yamaha ads were pretty common in Contemporary Keyboard/Keyboard throughout 1981-82, their large family of keyboards, electric pianos, mixers and other gear may have made it particularly hard for any one individual ad to really 'stick' in the minds of readers.

And that's a shame, because although a reader may not recall any ads, he or she would definitely recall hearing the sound of a CS-series synth. Vintage Synth Explorer calls the CS70M lush - and I have to agree. Is it a substitute for a CS80? Um... not in my opinion. But it really does give a lot of synths a run for their money.

Surprisingly, there is not a lot of reference information on the Web about this beast, and even Wikipedia only has pages for the CS80 and CS30/CS30L (as far as the older CS-series are concerned). Vintage Synth Explorer, as mentioned above, has some good reference material. And a quick MATRIXSYNTH search will lead to some good images, brochure scans, old auctions and Youtube videos.

I did find a crafty version of the CS70M on the ILOVESYNTH site. These little felt instruments are created by Australia's Pul(sew)width, but a quick jump over to her Etsy site doesn't show the CS70M up for sale. But other models are, and the Minimoog is especially cute.

And, it does say she will custom-build.

Hmmm... I was going to start a Wikipedia page for the CS70M, but now I'm probably going to start planning my custom built felt modular moog. :o)

Monday, November 2, 2009

Moog 1982 Product Catalog


Moog 1982 Product Catalog featuring the Memorymoog, DSC, The Source, Taurus II, Liberation, Opus 3, The Rogue, and the System 15 and 55 modular systems.

I thought I would try something a little different today and post a scan of a product catalog that I haven't seen around online too much - hopefully you will find it as enjoyable as I find Moog's 2009 catalog.

As always, you can click on the images above to view each page. I've also tried something else a bit different - I've put all the pages into a PDF for those that want to download and view all the pages in one document. Let me know if you have a preference.

This four-page catalog is great - it contains photos and some good descriptive text for each instrument. But what I find most interesting are the list prices. This helps me really understand how good we have it today. For example, the Memorymoog listed for $4,195 in 1982. That's around $7,800.00 in today's dollars.

Here's the others in today's dollars:
  • DSC $1700
  • The Source $2600.00
  • Liberation $2700
  • Opus 3 $2400
  • The Rogue $900
The best example is the Taurus II. In 1982 it listed for $895 - the equivalent of around $1700 today. Moog recently announced a limited run of 1000 Taurus III's that will be faithful to the Taurus I sound, and also includes MIDI and CV, 48 programmable presents, and an arpeggiator for only $1,995. Seriously great stuff.

For the record, Moog isn't paying me for any of this... I doubt they even know this blog exists :o)

I also have an emotional attachment to this particular piece because it was one of the first Moog catalogs that I ever held in my hands.

I distinctly recall being in a friend's basement years ago where he was showing off his ever-expanding home-built modular. While noodling around with the machine I mentioned that I had recently bought a Pro-1 and, due to his generous nature, he immediately turned his attention to a nearby box to find a copy of a manual.

As he dug deeper and deeper into this container of wonders, more and more synthesizer manuals, catalogs, and magazines started appearing like rabbits out of a hat. The amount of synthesizer history that came out of that box was almost comical, and a copy of this catalog was among the treasure. If my memory is not mistaken, he mentioned that he received the catalog along with some other manuals during a gear trade with another member of the Analogue Heaven email list.

I remember spending hours in that basement reading material out of that box. Then, years later, a copy of the catalog fell into my lap. And I obsessed over it - all over again.

End note: This same friend retrofitted the Pro-1 I mention above with a blue LED while it was at his house for a good cleaning and check-up. Blue LEDs were very rare in synthesizers at the time, I think due to their cost, and his thinking was that if it was ever stolen and used on stage, I would be able to easily identify it as mine. A sincerely generous and thoughtful dude.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Yamaha CS40m, CS20m, CS15 and CS5, Contemporary Keyboard 1979


Yamaha CS40m, CS20m, CS15 and CS5 synthesizer advertisement from page 21 of Contemporary Keyboard Magazine December 1979.

This ad was the beginning of Yamaha's 'How serious are you about...' campaign that ran in CK until late 1981 or so. The series of ads first ran in the December 1979 issue on consecutive odd pages (pg 21, 23, 25) to have maximum effect during the holiday season, and then the ads appeared sporadically in later issues of CK. The series included:
  • "How serious are you about a synthesizer" to promote their CS-series synthesizers
  • "How serious are you about an electric piano" to promote their CP-series electric pianos
  • "How serious are you about a mixer" to promote their EM-series mixers.
December '79 was a great month for Contemporary Keyboard readers for another reason too.

Sure, the near-100 page issue included ads like this one for Yamaha, as well as ads for Roland's Vocoder Plus, Crumar's Performer, Octave's Cat and Kitten, and smaller ads for Polyfusion and Serge. The Spec Sheet section also had a wack of goodies including info on Korg's MS-50 and SQ-10.

But the main reason you probably picked this issue up in the store (or right out of the mail box) and started reading it immediately was because on the cover was Wendy Carlos sitting in front of her gorgeous Modular Moog.

Wendy, formerly known as Walter, released the album 'Switched-On Bach' in 1968. But requests for an earlier interview with CK were turned down while she was going through the physical and emotional journey of becoming Wendy. And then, in the May1979 issue of Playboy magazine she revealed her story and she began doing interviews again. And this CK interview doesn't disappoint.

Inside the 14-plus pages devoted to her, Wendy discusses her Moog and it's modules, how she met Bob Moog and her long-lasting friendship with him, her views on synthesis, music and notation style, and how she got started in the biz. And reading it now gets me excited for totally different reasons - for example, her mention of Apple Computers or Chowning FM Algorhythms IN THE SAME PARAGRAPH.

Seriously - excellent stuff.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Roland System 100, Contemporary Keyboard 1977


Roland System 100 modular synthesizer from page 27 of Contemporary Keyboard Magazine February 1977.

One thing that always bugs me when reading old Contemporary Keyboard magazines is that it is sometimes months between seeing a new piece of gear in the Spec Sheet section and then seeing it in an ad or a Keyboard Report. Roland didn't advertise synthesizers consistently around this time, so the System 100 fell into this trap.

The Roland System 100 was announced in the Spec Sheet section of the May/June 1976 issue of CK but it looks like it wasn't until about eight months later that this ad appeared. And unlike the Oberheim 2-Voice that was also announced in the same Spec Sheet section, the System 100 announcement didn't include a photo *and* it had to share it's announcement space with its little brother the SH-2000 preset synth. Booo!

According to the Spec Sheet section, the System 100 listed for $1,950 US - and the ad mentions that you could purchase all the components for under $2000, the equivalent to about $5,800 US in today's dollars. Roland was smart to also mention that you could purchase the components separately in this ad, because other synthesizer ads appearing in the same issue were hitting a much lower list price 'sweet spot' at the time - sitting around $600-700 US ($1800-2100 in today's dollars).

For example, advertisements for the Micromoog and CAT in the February 1977 issue were throwing out list prices of $695 and $599 respectively, and even Oberheim's ad was pushing the $695 SEM module as a starting point for its 2-, 4- and 8-Voice synths.

Maybe I'm reading too much into this, but this issue would have come out after the Xmas gift-spending spree so many buyers would have less in their pockets to spend on synthesizers. Pushing products with lower list prices would be a smart strategy on the part of the gear companies.

I don't have the list prices for the the System 100's separate components, but if they fell even remotely close to the prices listed in these other ads, Roland maybe should have included some pricing info for the separate components to help themselves with the inevitable price comparisons that readers would be wanting to make.

Anyways, check out a few of these sites for more info on the System 100:

Thursday, October 22, 2009

ARP 2600, Contemporary Keyboard 1976


ARP 2600 synthesizer ad from page 26 and 27 of Contemporary Keyboard Magazine November/December 1976.

My CK magazine collection is not totally complete, but as I look through old issues it becomes clear that ARP didn't promote their 2600 in CK ads very often . ARP was definitely bringing out the big guns for the Xmas holiday blast of 1976 with this 2-pager around the same time the Axxe and Pro-GDX really started to get ad-play as well (just not in this issue). ARP did promote the 2600 in the 1976 ARP product family ad that I blogged about last week, but as far as I can tell, this ad just ran once in the magazine.

I'm tickled pink by this ad for a few reasons:

One. I find out that Joe Zawinul names his synths. Or at least he named his 2600's - 'Eins' and 'Zwei' (German for '1' and '2' - kinda makes sense since Zawinul was born in Austria). And at one point in the ad he talks about inverting the keyboard of one of the 2600's and calls playing the two keyboards in this fashion "...a real head trip". You just don't hear that phrase much anymore. Could someone famous please bring it back into the pop-culture conscienceness for me?

As an aside, I've only named two of my synths but I know lots of friends that name all their gear. In fact, if the gear were alive, they would probably be fed better than their own children. And no, I'm not going to tell you what the names of my synths are - just that they might somehow be related to Lord of the Rings. 'Nuf said.

Two. The ad mentions 'Human Engineering' - an ARP phrase that also appeared in a Contemporary Keyboard magazine article about David Friend that I talk about in same ARP family product post I mention above. This ad and the article makes me realize just how much the phrase was actively used by ARP to help separate itself from the pack.

Three. The photo shows the two 2600's standing on either side of an ARP Sequencer. Excellent secondary advertising.

Earlier this year I posted an ARP Sequencer ad that just happens to appear in this same issue of CK. I still think the hand in that ad looks incredibly creepy.

Anways, getting back on topic...

If you aren't familiar with Zawinul, a good place to start is the Wikipedia page for the band Weather Report. From there you will be bouncing around to different Web pages in no time.

I don't think I have to mention (but I'm about to anyways) that although this ad focuses on Zawinul, like most ARP ads, it drops the names of other famous musicians as often as Public Enemy drops beats. The usual lot are mentioned - Edgar Winters, Stevie Wonder, Bob James and Pete Townsend.

Before I go, just thought I would let you know I updated my last Emulator blog post. A former employee of E-mu mentioned that the image in the ad was actually the prototype of the Emulator, and you can see another photo of the prototype in the 'Vintage Synthesizer' book by Mark Vail. The book even mention that the awesome older logo that existed on the prototype was Scott Wedge's favorite. Nice.

Don't forget, you can always comment on my posts or contact me at retrosynthads AT gmail.com to let me know what you think.

Monday, October 19, 2009

DrumDrops Volume One, Contemporary Keyboard 1978


DrumDrops Volume One record album advertisement from pg 41 of Contemporary Keyboard, February 1978.

Before the idea of drum machines and sampling CDs came along, there had probably been a few attempts at providing a relatively low-tech/low-cost way to get some solid beats into the hands of musicians. The Powerhouse 8-Track Rhythm Unit was one that I blogged about recently, but DrumDrops was probably the lowest priced alternative to hiring a live drummer at the time. In 1978 a record album full of live drum tracks could be yours for a measly $9.95 US, the equivalent to $27.71 US today.

Although the ad makes no mention of any names associated with the recording of the album, a quick search online found that it was produced by Joey Vieira, and the drums were played by "one of the finest session drummers on the West Coast"- David Crigger. David has been performing professionally since the age of 18 both in the studio and on stage with virtually everyone in the biz - from the Don Ellis Orchestra to Rick Springfield to David Foster to Elvis Costello to Burt Bacharach. You can learn more about David and keep up to date with where he's recording and performing on his Web site.

By the end of 1982 seven DrumDrops albums had been produced, six of which you can hear David's drumming. The albums proved quite popular at the time and according to his biography, are still popular today:
"The current demand for drum loops as well as a renewed interest in 70's grooves and recording qualities have made the five disks very sought after items. And though it's been seventeen years since the last "DrumDrops" album was recorded, David is still frequently stopped and asked, "Hey! Aren't you the Drum Drops guy?"
Throughout my research I came across many vinyl sites that have these albums for sale. I'm tempted to start my collection today.

I'll hopefully blog more about David Crigger and Joey Vieira in future DrumDrops blog posts.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

ARP 1976 family of products, Contemporary Keyboard 1976


ARP advertisement of its 1976 family of products including the ARP Odyssey, ARP Pro Soloist, ARP Axxe, ARP String Ensemble, ARP 2600, ARP Explorer, and ARP Little Brother from back inside-cover of Contemporary Keyboard Magazine March/April 1976.

Time to add another family photo to the blog!

As noted in previous blog posts, ARP used musician endorsements more than most to help sell their instruments and this ad is no exception. But they satisfied the gear-heads as well by providing a delicious family photo that included all of ARP's latest wares.

The ARP marketing team must also have known that this was a great issue of CK to showcase their whole collection, because it just happened to also include a good-sized article on one of the big-wigs of ARP - David Friend.

The article, written by Hans Klein and simply titled 'David Friend of ARP Instruments' is a great read from a historical perspective of the company. It is also a great journey into the mind of David Friend. The Article starts with a bit of Friend's history including his work towards a double major in music and engineering at Yale, and how he came to meet ARP's founder Alan R. Pearlman (ARP). As I continued to read through the article, it became clear why Friend was "credited with ARP's 'human engineering' in synthesizer design."

For example, it is obvious that Friend cared about designing synthesizers that would be easy to perform with. He knew it would take time for most of the musicians who were still used to the relatively non-expressive electric pianos and organs to become familiar with the expressive performance tools and techniques available with a synthesizer:
"The surface has barely been scratched... Since 75% of the synthesizers sold have been sold in the last three years, it's not surprising that most of the people using them today are still doing so in a fairly unsophisticated, elementary way."
Friend also had (what CK called) some 'provocative comments' about monophonic and polyphonic synthesizers and their separate uses, including:
"Polyphonic and monophonic instruments are played completely differently, and have to be used in different types of music. A melody is by its very nature generally one note at a time. People who play trumpet, saxophone, or other traditional lead-line instruments have never felt any resentment about the fact that they couldn't play a chord, because that's not what the playing of that instrument is all about. "
His recognition of musicians other than keyboardists was most likely what led Friend to try to find ways to get non-keyboard musicians interested in synthesizers:
"For many musicians, the keyboard may be their second instrument, or they may want to process their first instrument's signal through the synthesizer. I expect that as time goes on, more specialized types of synthesizers will be available, that can be played using techniques that are more familiar to people who play other instruments."
In my mind, this thinking led directly to the production of the ARP Avatar - an instrument that was developed to be used by guitar players to control a synthesizer. But the pitch-to-voltage converters weren't the greatest and the instrument didn't do well in the marketplace. According to an April 1983 Keyboard article entitled 'The Rise and Fall of ARP Instruments' by Craig Waters, Pearlman recalled later about the Avatar - "Essentially, we blew our brains out on that instrument." Ouch.

Friend's comments in the article often reached outside the world of synthesizer design. For example, he also observed how the synthesizer was going to expand upon and become an important part of the familiar 'hook' to be found at the beginning of many future hit songs:
"A skillful musician can use the synthesizer to create a musical signature for a song that makes it immediately identifiable to the listener, and that instant recognition factor seems to be one of the necessary ingredients in making a hit record."
It was Friend's ability to look at synthesizer design from a musician's point of view that helped ARP build performance-friendly instruments and this article captures this point of view perfectly.

Lastly, one more quote from the article - a single sentence by Friend that pretty much explains the current state of my bank account:
"Every keyboard player I know has more keyboards this year than he had last year, and I think that's a healthy trend that should continue."
Could he really have predicted 'gear lust'?

Monday, October 12, 2009

E-mu Emulator, Contemporary Keyboard 1981


E-mu Systems Inc. Emulator sampler ad from page 9 of Contemporary Keyboard Magazine May 1981.

Although this is not E-mu's first ad for the Emulator, I thought it most fitting since today is Thanksgiving Day in Canada.

This version of the ad contains a photo of an early model a prototype model of an Emulator that included a lighter display panel and a Tune section with only one knob. Late the same year they replaced the photo in the ad with a later manufactured Emulator. The later model manufactured Emulator (in a totally different ad) can be seen in one of my other blog post scans. I'll give you a second or two to go take a look and compare...

Great - you're back. Did you notice one other difference? I saved it for last since the topic is kind of near and dear to my heart...

THE LOGO!

The Emulator in this ad is sporting an early E-mu logo that included a stylized thirty-second music note and the Mu symbol. You can see a better image of the logo in this Emulator price list pdf from the Emulator Archive Web site. I think this logo might make good tattoo material in the near future.

The Emulator looked great with its clean lines and stripped down user interface. And, best of all, it included a small holder for the 5 1/4 inch floppy disks that you would use to store your samples on. Musicians weren't accustomed to using disks, so having a place to hold the disks right on the instrument was definitely convenient. Unfortunately, the holder couldn't store them while transporting the instrument, and Keyboard magazine writer Dominic Milano creepily predicted the soon to be well-overheard phrase 'whoops - I forgot to bring the disks with me' in his March 1982 Keyboard Report:
"One more thing about the diskettes: Don't forget to pack them up and bring them with [you] when you're taking the Emulator out on a gig, because it won't work without them. We musicians aren't used to thinking about diskettes yet."
I can't tell you how many times I had to drive back home to get my Emax disks after arriving at a gig to set up. Grrr...

Well, time to start preparing Thanksgiving dinner. Gobble gobble.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Korg Maxi-Korg K-3, Contemporary Keyboard 1977


Korg Maxi-Korg K-3 synthesizer from pg 15 of Contemporary Keyboard Magazine January 1977.

I think this is the first half-page ad I've posted. I also think this ad is one of Korg's earliest to appear in CK.

I have to confess I'm not that familiar with this line of Korg synths (my MS-20 and Trident are about as far back as I get). While starting to do some research, it soon became clear that this piece of kit goes by a few different names online. Maxi-Korg K-3. Univox K-3. Korg 800DV. Maxi-Korg 800DV.

The problem is that I'm one of those people that believes everything I read on the InterWebz and, even more problematic, I crave consistency.

So, which is it? Maxi-Korg? 800DV? Univox K-3? Time to dig a little deeper.

Synthmuseum.com indicates that this synthesizer was marketed as the Univox K-3 in the US and as the Maxi-Korg 800DV elsewhere.

This MATRIXSYNTH post (from an eBay auction), contends that the piece of gear in question was sold under the name 'Maxi-Korg K-3' in the US and as the 800DV and Univox K-3 elsewhere.

This other MATRIXSYNTH post has great photos of a U.S. model sporting the Maxi-Korg logo on the front and lists K-3 as the model on the back. And when you click on the link to the auction, there is a photo of the back of the synth with the Univox logo.

Meanwhile, back in 1977, Unicord puts out this ad in a US magazine - with 'Korg' in big print, a Maxi-Korg logo on the left hand side of the control panel, and although distributed through Unicord, the name 'Univox' can't be found anywhere in the ad copy. But, my guess is that 'Univox' is slapped on the back of the synth in the photo.

So, I'm going say the US model should be officially called 'Univox Korg Maxi-Korg K-3 distributed by Unicord'. Sounds about right. :o)

The fact is, the big reason I like this ad is because Unicord totally jacks the Timothy Leary 1960's counterculture phrase 'Turn on, tune in, drop out', tacking on 'EXPAND YOUR MIND' at the start of the ad copy. Nice touch for 1977 - I think Unicord definitely knew their audience.

Sound on Sound has a great article from April 1998 about some of the early Korg gear including the Maxi-Korg, with some great insight as to why this synthesizer was so unique. BTW - big 'ups' to Sound on Sound for putting their older articles online.

For more on the history of Univox and Unicord - it's a good ride - check out this site.

And, one final note. I'm going to beat Zenbecca on commenting on the Univox/Maxi-Korg font. Yes - very retro... :o)

Monday, October 5, 2009

Sequential Circuits Model 700 Programmer and Model 800 Digital Sequencer, Contemporary Keyboard and Synapse 1977


Sequential Circuits Model 700 Programmer and Model 800 Digital Sequencer from page 7 of Contemporary Keyboard June 1977 and page 5 of Synapse May/June 1977.

My archives are far from complete, but this must be one of Sequential Circuits earliest ads - at least in CK magazine.

Historically, I find the images in the ad most valuable from the perspective of SCI's logo evolution.

If you look closely, the Model 700 in the ad has a Sequential Circuits 'Co' logo rather than the more familiar 'Inc' logo. I'm not sure when they stopped using 'Co', but photos that I've found online of the 700 Mark 2 (released in 1979) can be seen with various versions of a non-'Co.' logo, including this one on Matrixsynth with the SC logo on the right side of the front panel and this photo in a brochure PDF I found on the Emulator Archive Web site that has the logo dead centre.

The Model 800 Digital Sequencer in the ad has what I believe is an even earlier version of the Sequential Circuits logo. This stylized 'SC' logo is more visible at the bottom of this very early Model 800 ad I found on synthmuseum.com.

You can follow more of the evolution of the SC logo throughout the Model 800's lifespan. After the stylized 'SC' logo, the front panel of the 800 displayed the 'Sequential Circuits Co.' logo as seen in this photo from Synthnut's tech pages, and then the logo changed to the straight-up 'Sequential Circuits' logo like this one from matrixsynth's Flickr photo stream.

More on SCI logo evolution later...

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Korg VC-10, Contemporary Keyboard 1978


Korg VC-10 vocoder from page 79 of Contemporary Keyboard Magazine November 1978.

This ad began running in CK Magazine in Nov. '78 along with two other Korg ads - the MS-20 and MS-10. Interestingly, as can be seen in past blog posts, these MS-20 and MS-10 ads were very technical in text and design, while the VC-10 ad was largely dominated by artwork and included practically no technical information. Fortunately a bit more information was available in the Spec Sheet section of the same issue.

Although vocoders faded out of the spotlight over time, they never really left us - for example, my 1990's Wavestation A/D contains a fairly usable vocoder effect. More recently, vocoders have made quite a comeback in pop, alternative rock and electronic music. Hardware and software manufacturers have stepped up to the plate to provide updated vocoding tools to bands and producers, including Korg, with their own microKorg and R3.

Basic information on the VC-10 can be found online in the usual places, including Vintage Synth Explorer and Synth Museum. Korganalogue.net also has a good online version of the manual.

Wikipedia doesn't seem to have a VC-10 page, but they do have a fairly extensive general vocoder page for those interested in more information.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Octave Electronics CAT ad #2, Contemporary Keyboard 1977


Octave Electronics Inc. CAT synthesizer ad from page 7 in Contemporary Keyboard Magazine April 1977.

This is the second in a series of Octave Electronics' CAT ads featuring distinctive artwork that appeared in Contemporary Keyboard Magazine when the synthesizer was first introduced.You can read about the first ad here.

Looking at this ad, it got me thinking about the whole cat&synth meme that currently exists on the Web. As far back as I can remember, discussions about cats and synth gear have existed both on- and off-line. Members of forums and e-mail lists such as Analogue Heaven have exchanged stories at least as far back as 1999.

When matrix, owner of the popular synthesizer blog MATRIXSYNTH, was asked about the phenomenon in an e-mail earlier this month, he replied "I noticed that of all animals, cats seemed to be the most predominant in synth shots". He started posting cat&synth photos on his blog with a cat label (now synth cats) back in December 2005, and it became such a popular MATRIXSYNTH theme that readers began sending in their own videos and images featuring cats and other animals. Dogs run a close second along with birds and reptiles.

Amar, creator of the CatSynth blog, started blogging about cats and synths in mid-2006, virtually unaware of the large number of others sharing the same two interests. "I started searching online for 'cats and synthesizers' and found Matrixsynth and some past articles at CDM, and it was only then I really found out the phenomenon of cat and synth pictures". Amar adds that it is not surprising to see cats with music gear. "They do like to get around and explore things and they like warm surfaces. I think a lot of musicians with cats enjoy having them as a presence in their creative spaces".

Many, says Amar, refer back to the popular 'cat on a keyboard in space' image as a possible unofficial beginning to the meme - but I've yet to track down the date this image first appeared online.

Regardless of when the phenomenon took off, it didn't take long for photos, videos, and everything else cat&synth to start showing up all over the Web. There is even a VSTi called the meowSynth.

On a side note, another cat&keyboard meme has caught on recently - and the original VHS videotape recording apparently dates back to 1986. The 'Keyboard Cat' video meme has been described by Rocketboom's History of Keyboard Cat as the "mercy kill of the Internet". Great stuff - definitely check it out.

Don't be a stranger - if you have any history to add, please comment.

And on that note, I'll let Fatso play me off...

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Moog Minimoog, Contemporary Keyboard 1979


Moog Minimoog synthesizer ad from page 18 of Contemporary Keyboard Magazine July 1979.

Moog took some time off from promoting their Polymoog, Multimoog and effects gear to pay proper tribute to their golden child. Believe it or not, this is the first Minimoog ad that I've put up on the blog. And before you ask - no, the scanner didn't miss anything. This is Moog's most minimalist ad ever.

No logo.

No contact info.

No famous people or free stuff.

Nothin'.

The ad copy is simple and effect and the outline of a Minimoog is still synonymous with synthesizers. Could you imagine any company BESIDES Moog trying to pull this off today?

Seriously, anyone even remotely familiar with vintage synthesizers can immediately pick out the back-lit Minimoog your favourite musician from the 70's, 80's, 90's, or 00's is playing onstage as soon as the curtain goes up.

This ad is like one of those 3-D puzzles found in the comics section of a newspaper. When I stare at it long enough, my vision gets blurry and I see Devo pop out at me.

I'm going to stop typing now and stare some more. Oh! hello Mr. Mothersbaugh!