November 21, 2014

Cosmic Pyramid

The PPG Wave 1982

Coming soon...

November 20, 2014

Roland GR-700 & Roland G-707 Guitar Synthesizer (1984)

Courtesy of Roland Corporation

The GR-700 is a stomp-box guitar synthesizer with the same synth engine as the JX-3P. it's basically an Roland MKS-30 without the MIDI input circuitry, jack, wiring, or firmware support. The G-707 is the flashy guitar controller which connects to the 700 via 24 pin cable. On the 707 guitar are knobs for the cut-off edit and LFO modulation. So you can play synth sounds with the guitar instead of a keyboard. If you want to control parameters and edit patches, you use the PG-200 programmer by Roland.

The GR-700 is a six voice polyphonic with two DCO's per voice which means analog oscillators and sounds with digital stability and control. The typical assortment of a resonant lowpass filter, ADSR envelope, LFO and oscillator sections are here with easy and straight-forward programming.

The GR-700 is classic Roland 1980's analog synthesizer technology. Released in late 1984, the GR-700 is the pinnacle of early Roland guitar synthesizer design. The distinctive and futuristic GR-700 features both a digital CPU for guitar tracking and a warm, fat hybrid digital/analog synthesizer engine for lush sounds.
A look at articles written about the GR-700 demonstrate the enthusiasm in the belief that the long anticipated age of the guitar synthesizer had finally arrived. The GR-700 launched just as the MIDI standard was being introduced, and musicians were entering a brave new world of electronic music where relatively inexpensive CPUs made possible instruments like the Simmons Drums, Sequential Circuits Prophet 5 and the GR-700, instruments unimaginable a decade earlier.

Generally speaking, the GR-700 has not held up as well as its 24-pin brethren, like the GR-100 or GR-300. But for a guitar player in 1985, the GR-700 offered an astonishing range of sounds that could never have been triggered from a guitar: strings, basses, electronic effects, synths, and more. It was assumed that guitar players eventually would become fluent in programming, and that the great silver box could become as ubiquitous as the wah-wah pedal.

Like the current generation of Roland guitar synths, the GR-700 controls the internal synth engine directly for faster response. But, make no mistake about it, when it comes to tracking the GR-700 is not a GR-300. Of all the products Roland has ever made, the GR-700 has the trickiest and most erratic tracking. The GR-700 is certainly better than equivalent products made by other manufactures at the time, but it is inferior to the GR-100, GR-300 or Korg Z3. The GR-700 has a MIDI out port for controlling other MIDI modules, but the MIDI output is erratic and unreliable. In addition, no pitch bend information is sent via MIDI.

Stand alone converters like the GM-70 became more popular toward the end of the eighties. They were faster and more accurate than the GR-700, plus via MIDI the range of sounds available to guitar players expanded considerably. The GR-700's combination of clunky pitch tracking, married to a limited synth engine, boxed up inside a huge, heavy foot pedal crammed with complex electronics made it more of a curiosity than a must-have piece of gear for the gigging musician. Still, for those who love the GR-700, nothing else sounds or responds quite like this unique guitar synthesizer.

The GR-700 Synth Engine

The GR-700 has six, independent, analog synth voices, two oscillators on each voice. Roland digitally clocked these oscillators and called them "DCOs", as a response to the fact that the earlier Roland oscillator’s pitch had a tendency to drift in performance. The DCOs on the GR-700 generate classic analog waveforms: sawtooth wave, square wave, and pulse width modulated wave, as well a noise for special effects.

The oscillators on the GR-700 can also be synced with cross modulation for hard, biting analog sounds or with ring modulation for metallic sounds. The GR-700 has a sweet Low Pass Filter with Resonance on each voice, with an additional High Pass Filter. And of course there are complete LFO and Envelope controls. To top it all off, the GR-700 adds a classic Roland analog Chorus circuit! If you like that expansive Roland Chorus found on early 80's products, you will love the Chorus on the GR-700.

The synth engine in the GR-700 is the same synth engine found in the Roland MKS-30 and JX-3P. And, like these synths, the Roland GR-700 can use the PG-200 as a programming tool. You will need this optional programmer if you want a real hands-on experience with the instrument.

May 19, 2013

The Korg Preset Synthesizers (1975-1980)

Korg 900PS Preset Synthesizer (1975)

The Korg 900PS is quite a basic but very interesting monosynth. The 900PS definitely 'borrowed' some ideas from the Arp Pro-Soloist. Instant selection of 29 different tone colors. From the sweet sound of a violin to the chugging of a steam locomotive. Sensitive soft-touch switches and plentiful controls provide a wide variety of effects including vibrato, repeat, even the harmonics you need for a Hammond organ tone. The 900PS has 29 presets: Timpani, Electric Bass, Synthe Bass, Piano, Harpsichord, Shamisen, Banjo, Mandolin, Xylophone, Tuba, Bassoon, Horn, Cello, Trombone, Saxophone, Voice, Clarinet, Accordion, Trumpet, Funky Trumpet, Synthe Trumpet, Oboe, Violin, Recorder, White Noise, Scale Noise, Harmonics I, Harmonics II, Harmonics III.You can edit: Portamento, Repeat, Vibrato: Speed/Depth, Attack Control, Sustain Control, Harmonics Control, Traveler Control (filter cutoff), Pitch Bend, Forte, Volume.

Korg M500 Micro-Preset (1977-1980)

This 32-note monophonic preset synthesizer had 6 push-button presets ("voice", "synthe 1", "synthe 2", "brass", "string", and "wood" as in woodwind) and a five octave switch. If you pressed two buttons at the same time, those two presets would mix. There were controls for attack and "sustain" (decay/release), VCF, modulation depth, modulation speed, and portamento speed (as well as a lever to switch the portamento on or "momentary"). The SP version of the synth had a small built in speaker. The Korg Micro Preset synthesizer is a curious late 1970s beast with a slightly bizarre matrix of pre-set sounds, including laughable woodwind and similar noises and a low-quality keyboard all housed in a wooden box. Perhaps it was aimed at the beginners market. There is a lot of fun to be had with the 'traveller' control, a sort of filter and resonance control rolled into one, offering interesting squelchy acid-style bass run effects. In fact, like the MS-10, bass is about all you'll get out of this oddity in terms of useful noises. 

But overall this is a bit of a novelty synthesizers, and is not especially playable nor distinctive - apart from its looks! There are no MIDI, CV nor similar inputs.

December 07, 2012

Cosmic Apple

Cosmic Apple Laser Cut

November 15, 2012

Don Buchla - The Electronics Genius

Don Buchla is widely regarded as one of the major pioneers in electronic musical instruments; He constructed the first voltage-controlled synthesizer in 1963. Since then, he has produced a variety of conceptually and technically advanced instruments, many of which are in use in university and private studios around the world. He has consulted for several instrument manufacturers, including CBS, Kimball Piano, Zeta Music, Yamaha International, Gibson Guitars, and E-Mu Systems. Don Buchla has served as technical director of California Institute of the Arts, technical director of the Electric Symphony, co-director of the Artists' Research Collective. Don has received grants from the Veterans' Administration (guidance devices for the blind), the Guggenheim Foundation (music languages), and the National Endowment for the Arts (composition). He recently received the prestigious 2002 SEAMUSLifetime Achievement Award "in recognition of his pioneering achievements and lifetime contribution to the art and craft of electro-acoustic music". Hundreds of his unique instruments continue to be in use and vintage Buchla synthesizers continue to be in strong demand. Don received a degree from UC Berkeley in Physics in 1960, and holds several patents in the fields of optics and musical instruments.

He developed one of the first synthesizer systems on America’s west coast, just as Robert Moog was developing his own, soon to be more famous system on the east coast. Don Buchla’s own creations were used by pioneering composers Morton Subotnik (on Silver Apples of the Moon), Ramon Sender and others. Buchla’s Box, as it was known, became a part of Ken Kesey’s ‘Acid Test’ setup, squawking and skronking away as test subjects lost their minds and found them again, and he has a cameo in Tom Wolfe’s The Electric Kool Aid Acid Test. Meanwhile, to earn a living, he worked on a number of projects for NASA , developing life support systems for rabbits in space, amongst other things.

Don grew up with a passion for music and a passion for engineering. When he combined the two loves, he created electronic musical instruments the world had never dreamed of before. His early synthesizer pre-dates the work Robert Moog was doing on the East Coast while Don was working in Berkeley, California. Composer Morton Subotnick commissioned Don to build an electronic musical instrument for live performances and recording. Don Buchla was definitely part of the avant-garde. He has been called a mad scientist, a genius, an innovator, a recluse, an iconoclast, and has gathered a horde of fiercely loyal admirers by following his own visionary path, and dancing to his own muse.

The System 100 Series (1963) – Buchla 101

Buchla was born in 1937 in South Gate, California, and studied physics, physiology and music. He formed his electronic music equipment company, Buchla and Associates in 1962 in Berkley. Buchla was commissioned by avant-garde music composers Morton Subotnik and Ramon Seder, both of the San Francisco Tape Music Center, to create an electronic instrument for live performance. Under a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation Buchla completed his first modular synthesizer 1963. The result was the Buchla Series 100, which he began selling in 1966. Buchla's synthesizers experimented in control interfaces, such as touch-sensitive plates. In 1969 the Series 100 was sold to CBS, who soon after dropped the line, not seeing the synthesizer market as a profitable area.

In 1970 the Buchla 200 Series Electric Music Box was released and was manufactured until 1985. Buchla created the Buchla Series 500, the first digitally controlled analog synthesizer, in 1971. Shortly after, the Buchla Series 300 was released, which combined the Series 200 with microprocessors. The Music Easel, a small, portable, all-in-one synthesizer was released in 1972. The Buchla 400, with a video display, was released in 1982. In 1987, Buchla released the fully MIDI enabled Buchla 700.

Beginning in the 1990s, Buchla began designing alternative MIDI controllers, such as the Thunder, Lighning and Marimba Lumina. With the recent resurgence of interest in analog synthesizers Buchla has released a revamped 200 series called the 200e.

NIME-05, the 5th International Conference on New Interfaces for Musical Expression, held in Vancouver, Canada in 2005, featured a keynote lecture by Don Buchla as well as a sizable exhibition of many of the instruments he and his team have created over the years.

Historical Overview

Don Buchla created the 100 Series Modular Electronic Music System

The 200 Series Electric Music Box

Minicomputers became affordable, and Don built the first hybrid (digitally controlled analog synthesizer) - the 500 Series and along came microcomputers and the Series 300 (using series 200 analog modules combined with 300 series digital modules)

A hot little analog performance instrument, the Music Easel was introduced

Four hybrid (digital/analog) instruments. Don conjured up the Touché

The Buchla 400, featuring an outrageous video display

The Buchla 406

Introducing of the Buchla 700, now enabled with MIDI up the Wahzoo

Don shifted his attention to controllers and designed the Thunder

The Lighning

For Oberheim (then a Gibson subsidiary), he designed the OB-Mx

The Lightning II

Don built the gold edition of the Marimba Lumina

He added the silver Marimba Lumina 3.5

The smaller Marimba Lumina 2.5 is born

Introducing the Piano Bar, now manufactured and distributed by Moog Music Inc.

Photo: Richard Ecclestone

Several new modules, calling the 200e Series

Introducing the Lightning III

The new Buchla Music Easel, Buchla 272e Polyphonic Tuner
Buchla Electronic Musical Instruments is the new incarnation of Buchla & Associates