Monday, October 22, 2018

Casio KX-101 "16-pound recording studio" ad, Playboy Magazine, 1984


Casio KX-101 computerized audio system "16-pound recording studio" ad from page 159 in the May 1984 issue of Playboy Magazine.

Finally!

From the first time I stumbled across a heavily compressed, low res scan of this ad I just knew I had to have the real thing!  And surprisingly, it didn't take long for one to pop up.  It was a while ago - BSPC (Before Synth Price Craziness) - so I think I paid about $200 for mine. But it started me down the path to track other similarly unique machines down. Like the CK-200, CK-500 and others.

I always wondered where this ad came from, and I had always thought I would eventually come across it in my synth/gear magazine collection. But it had now been over 30 years since I'd been reading and collection music magazines, and almost 10 YEARS of blogging about synth ads, and still I just never recalled coming across it. What the heck?!?!

The seemingly exponentially increased occurrence of this ad on Facebook and Twitter finally peaked my curiosity enough to do a bit of active investigation. In other words I took to Google to quickly track down the origin of this advertisement. Or at least, one origin.

Playboy. 1984.  Didn't expect that.

I still needed more details - month and page, so I tried to Google for an online PDF, but all the downloads really looked sketchy. Like... REALLY SKETCHY.  So I eventually got up the nerve to order a one month online subscription to the Playboy archives. 

Page by page, I started looking through issues from 1984.

Good lord. There really is a lot of articles. And ads!

But I finally found it on page 159 of the May 1984 issue.

I have a "thing" about not using scans I find on the Web - so next was to track down a hard copy. Didn't take long, but was surprised how much I had to struggle through all that teen-age angst and guilt from my past that came flooding back in order to convince myself it was okay.

And sure enough, among the ads for cars, VHS cassette tapes, car radios, electric typewriters, film cameras, cigarettes, booze... and more booze... and more booze...

There it was!

It's a gorgeous advertisement with a large close-up photo of the KX-101 with the obligatory hands on the keys, with an inset photo of the machine in full - with the speakers attached. Ad copy does a great job of communicating to what I'd guess is a monthly non-gear-head audience. And I learned a thing or two too!  Including that fact that you can store your programmed chords, melodies and accompaniments onto cassette tape to be dumped back to the machine later. Data! Not audio (although it does audio too).

"Where miracles never cease". Damn right!

You can find lots of information online on the KX-101, including the well-maintained MATRIXSYNTH site with lots of photos and video from various Web pages and eBay auctions.

And if you want to view a comprehensive video including getting a peak at the inside of the unit, check out this YouTube video:



I'm always fascinated by old advertisements - of all types - and made me curious about what I would find. So I expanded my online browsing of the archives to other issues from the 70s and 80s. A few cool technology ads, but only a few keyboard/synth ones. Another Casio keyboard ad did pop up eventually.

I'm probably the first person to say I wasn't reading Playboy for the articles... but for the ads.

But there were some interesting articles as well. For example, it looks like the magazine had a yearly poll for readers to vote for their favourite musicians (including keyboard players).

Even more interestingly, in the April 1984 issue, Playboy gave their Technology award "to past MIT technodarling Raymond Kurzweil, for his Kurzweil 250  keyboard synthesizer, revolutionizing synth rock by not only creating a vast catalog of weird effects but actually sounding like real musical instruments when it attempts to mimic them." Nice.

And, of course, I had to track down the Wendy Carlos interview  - "a candid conversation with the "switched-on bach" composer who, for the first time, reveals her sex-change operation and secret life as a women." Great article about an amazing human being.

End note: If anyone knows of any other magazines that included this ad, please let me know!

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Rivera Music Services Engineering Brief and Photo Sheet for Minimoog Modifications, 1980





Rivera Music Services 12-page Engineering Brief and Photo Sheet for Minimoog Modifications from January 3, 1980.

Engineering brief also available as a PDF (4MB).

It's a lot of text, sure, but if you are a Minimoog modding freak or just a modding addict in general it's well worth the read!

These scans all began (that rhymed!) when someone in the Moog Fan Club Facebook group asked if anyone had a close-up photo of the Rivera Music Services (RMS) Chromatic Transpose Minimoog mod. I knew I had a glossy photo sheet of a fully modded RMS Minimoog somewhere that I could get a sweet close-up scan from, so I went digging and in the same sleeve was this engineering brief as well.

And what do you know... it comes with a price sheet. That's some historical gold, right there. And a good reason to scan everything and post. :)

A lot of the content of the engineering brief actually appears in the "RMS Modified Minimoog" brochure that I posted about a year and a half ago. But there's a lot that's different too, including prices!

So, it made sense to do a small comparison between the two docs... and I guess readers of the blog are coming along for the ride.

For a start, the engineering brief contains a whole new first section of mods called "Updates" that RMS said would increase the stability and reliability of a stock Minimoog. This included options for:
  • New stabilized oscillator board - $320
  • Octave range buffers - $70
  • Power supply updates I - $80 and II  - $40
  • service check $55
*None* of those are listed in the brochure! Excellent stuff.

The next section in the brief is called "Custom Features", with an array of options that "provide new and unique sounds, functions, and control capabilities". This includes a number of features also found in the brochure I posted earlier. I've included prices for each feature with brochure prices in brackets for comparison:
  • Fine tune control:
    Osc 2 - $40  (brochure: $55)
    Osc 3 - $40  (brochure: $55)
    Master tune  - $40  (not in brochure)
  • Beat tune  - $105 ($89)
  • Ribbon controller with pitch wheel reassignment  - $190 (not in brochure)
  • Chromatic transpose with assignment switches  - $185  (brochure: $189)
  • Preamp mode - $35 (brochure:  $29.50)
  • Distortion - $50 (brochure: $49.50)
  • Sync (Osc 2 and 3) - $170 (brochure $174.95)
  • Contour (Osc 2 and 3) - $100 (brochure $79.50)
  • LFO 4 - $150 / $180 with LED (brochure $149 includes LED)
  • Modulation pedal  - $90 (not in brochure)
  • Keyboard trigger  - $125 (brochure $129)
The final section in the brief is called the "Interface Capabilities" which added features to allow your Mini to "patches involving other synthesizers, controllers, processors and studio equipment. Again, most of these were available at the time the brochure came out as well:
  • External CV assignment - $90 (brochure $129.50)
  • Oscillators, filter, and keyboard CV and date outputs - $200 (brochure $124.50)
  • V-trig to S-trig conversion cable - $40 (brochure has built this into the Mini as a V-trig input jack  - $49.50)
  • Separation of keyboard and console - $250 (not in brochure)
I originally estimated the date of the brochure at 1981, and I was hoping I could compare prices to this engineering brief dated January 1980 to get a better date estimate. I figured if prices in the brochure were higher, then an '81 date would still make sense. If prices were lower, then I'd probably date the brochure a bit earlier... maybe 1979 or even 1978 

But they aren't uniformly more or less when compared! For example, the Fine Tune Control mod costs less in the brief than in the brochure, but Beat Tune mod costs more in the brief than in the brochure. Gah! 

It's also interesting to note a few features from the brief don't appear at all in that brochure - the whole service section, but also the modulation pedal, keyboard separation, and the ribbon controller. The pedal and ribbon controller are just external hardware I believe, no real "modding required", so I can see those being left out just to give more space to actual mods. 

And the separation of the keyboard from the synth is not really a mod - its more a massacre of sorts and probably couldn't really be done by your friendly neighbourhood tech. So that, and all those service mods could probably be excluded from the brochure without too much worry too. 

But still... I like consistency. Maybe some future RMS docs will help me out. 

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Roland Synth Plus 60 (HS-60) "A synthesizer for all music lovers" brochure, 1985



Roland Synth Plus-60 (HS-60) "A synthesizer for all music lovers" four page colour brochure from August 1985.

Some synths just don't get the respect they deserve. And I believe the Synth Plus-60 is the Rodney Dangerfield of synthesizers.

Here's what I'm talking about... the model designations found on the back of Roland's Jupiter range of synthesizers are JP-8, JP-6 and JP-4. But everyone and their mother refers to them by their front panel names - Jupiter 8 / Jupiter 6 / Jupiter 4.

Now compare that to the Synth Plus-60 with its lovely large flowing logo found under the right speaker on it's front panel? Pretty much every one and their dog refers to it as the "HS-60" - the model number hammered into the manufacturing label slapped on to the back of the keyboard.

Interesting side note: the JP-style model-naming convention was kept for the JU-6, more commonly referred to by everyone on the planet by its front panel name - the Juno-6.  But then Roland changed  up the model designation format. The Juno-60 model # you'll find on the manufacturing label is the actual name: JUNO-60. Same for the Juno-106: JUNO-106.

So then why oh why did Roland go back to the old model naming convention for the Synth Plus-60 and give this the ol' "HS-60" designation? And, even then why "HS" and not "SP" (for "Synth Plus"??)?  Inquiring minds want to know!

Back to the point - shouldn't that poor ol' Synth Plus-60 get the respect it deserves and be commonly referred to as such - SYNTH PLUS-60?  Even the big red letters on this brochure's cover makes it obvious that it was Roland's preferred name.

To make matters worse, this thing is basically a Juno-106 - that sought-after HIGHLY RESPECTED classic! But even back in the early days of the Internet, whenever I read info about the Juno-106 was mentioned on mailing lists like Analog Heaven or in groups like rec.music.synth, I would only see whispers about the HS-60.

No respect, I say!

So, why the diss? Well, I have my theory: 

Those damn speakers.  

They are a physical representation of everything professional studio snobs hate - THE HOME HOBBYIST.  

Technology has now advanced to the point where everyone is home hobbyist. They just have a different name now - Desktop musician. Or Producer. But at the time, it seems like Roland saw this emerging trend and came up with the HS-60 as one of their marketing experiments to get higher quality studio gear into the living room. 

The brochure itself illustrates how the company clearly went out of its way to market to the non-studio crowd. In other words, those in the house that wanted to create music, but may not have been comfortable around all those studio gadgets. 

For comparison, just take a look at these 1982 brochures for the SH-101 and Rhythm Machines  (click to view the blog posts and scans). 


   

Same lovely design format with big red letters and a large product image, but no booze or cool marble motifs. Nope! They've been swapped out for a classic "home style" theme that even included an obligatory house plant. 

(For the record, I love house plants.) 

The brochure copy fortifies the imagery found on the front cover with phrases like "simplicity and power", "naturally master" and "express your feelings". Words that invoke emotions that are just as comfortable in the living room as that photo of the HS-60 obviously is.

While other synthesizers at the time were praised for their ability to make space-age sounds, the HS-60 is compared to organ sounds and string instruments. Even when the topic of midi technology eventually makes its way onto the inside pages, references to the piano are listed before references to synthesizers or drum machines. 

But, here's the problem. Home hobbyists consciously or subconsciously want to be seen as professional musicians and studio engineers. That may be even more true today.  And slapping speakers and a sheet music stand onto a professional synthesizer probably didn't help those home hobbyists feel more "professional". So, the niche market that would be attracted to the Synth Plus-60 becomes even more... errrr.... niche-y. That would have been a tough nut to crack! 

So, will the Synth Plus-60 ever get the respect it deserves? This is a fully functional synth. With MIDI. And an external input. Except those damn speakers...

Well, Roland has built a whole new series of synths and drum machines that include built-in speakers - the Boutique series. 

But, they do hide those speakers, don't they.  Long Live the HS-60!     :)

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Roland TR-909 "Different Drummer" ad, Roland Users Group 1984


Roland TR-909 "Different Drummer" colour advertisement from the outside back cover of Volume 2, Number 3 (1984) issue of  Roland Users Group Magazine.

Happy 9/09 day!

And you know what brings happiness to my 909 day? A new... er... old... TR-909 advertisement of course!

Don't worry - I'm keeping it short and sweet!

I haven't come across this TR-909 advertisement anywhere other than Roland's own users group magazine. It's part of the "Roland Makes It Happen!" series of neon-inspired ads that have included quite a few sweet pieces of gear from the time period, each paired with a different neon colour.

I've posted a few other Roland ads from the series including the Juno 106 "Synful" blue ad and the TR-707 "Digital Dynamite" yellow ad, and the TR-909 red ad makes a lovely addition to the collection.

 
click on images to view blog posts

There are others too - check out the new Roland timeline for more!

I've also posted a few of Roland's family ads that also play off the same design elements (dark backgrounds, lots of neon), both of which also include... you guessed it...

The TR-909!

 
click on images to view blog posts

I'd love to see all of these poster-sized. Like Dave Smith did for many of his Mattos-designed ads.

Like the other ads in the series, the ad copy is a little hard to read, but definitely worth it. We get Roland promoting the new MIDI standard, Roland software, the works.

In particular, I'm digging this little line:
"We start with digital recordings of real drums, then through a 3-D waveform analysis, re-create the sounds through a hybird digital/analog process." 
And no... not because of the spelling error (hyBIRD), but that they thought it was important to talk about the process they used to create the sounds found in the 909. Sprinkling a little bit of tech into the ad. Letting users see the magic behind the curtain.

The text layout aside, I gotta say I'm totally digging the design of this series of ads. Neon was big in the '80s, and its easy to see why it inspired many designers to find a way to make it work in print during this time period.

Today we see neon making a come back in the visual packaging of one style of music in particular -  Synthwave! And, not coincidentally, a lot of that synthwave is being produced with hardware that was introduced in the 80s through neon-themed advertising like those you see above.

How's that for full circle!

Don't believe me - just do a Google images search for 'synthwave'.

Heck, even if you do believe me, do the search anyways...

...just for the happiness it will bring to your 9/09 day.   :)

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Moog Interface newsletter, Vol. 4 January - March 1984



Moog Interface newsletter, Vol. 4 January - March 1984

Like Deadpool at the end of the second movie, I'm kinda cleaning up my timeline... or, in this case, my blogger drafts. And here's a pretty easy one to knock off the list - so I'm keeping it short and sweet.

So far, I've posted five of these, and now this is the sixth.  You can find the others here - click on each image to be taken to their blog posts!


    
  

My Retro Synth Ads blogger tradition dictates that I create a top 10 list for these newsletters. But since I'm running short on time these days, I thought I'd take it down to five for this baby. But, by no means should you get the idea that this newsletter isn't as worthy as the rest - its just as yummy... as you'll soon see:

Top 5 reasons this newsletter is awesome:

5. Memory Moog Plus info - and lots of it! In particular, the addition of MIDI and a sequencer. Almost one-and-a-half pages devoted to these two topics. Sweet!

4. Within seconds of beginning to read the newsletter, we get references to the Eurythmics and Stevie Nicks. What's not to love about that.

3. The article "Digital Synthesis - a Perspective":  Moog's response to some of the newer digital synths coming onto the market, and a hint at things that were to come from Moog... but we'll get to that in a second...

2. Tom Rhea joins the company as Director of Marketing! In fact, he wrote the Digital Synthesis article in this newsletter referenced above in #3.

1. And finally - the most interesting to me at the moment... Steve Levine joins as Director of Research! I personally hadn't known much about him before reading this little bio, and am impressed. Most interestingly, it says that he was currently developing Moog's first FULLY DIGITAL MUSIC SYNTHESIZER.

Whaaaaaaat?

At first I thought this was referring to the Moog SL-8 - the 8-voice, stereo polyphonic synthesizer announced at '83 NAMM that I wrote about in this Moog Producer C64 sequencer post. But that synthesizer was still analog with digitally-CONTROLLED oscillators - not a fully digital synthesizer.

And it was already designed with prototype cards making the rounds at trade shows prior to when this newsletter came out in 1984.

So, does that mean out there somewhere, at the very least, are some early plans for a Moog digital synthesizer?

And if so, how far along did the design get?

And does it have a groovy digital name?

So many questions. If anyone knows anything, let me know!

UPDATE! Mu:zines tweeted back to me with reference to an article in their online archives from the November 1983 issue of Electronics & Music Maker. In the article "Industry Profile - Moog Music", President David Luce talks about the SL-8, and then drops this little nugget:
"We also have some programmes going in the direction of sampling machines. This is a big step, but one of the reasons that I feel now is the appropriate time is that if we resolve what I think are some of the fundamental problems associated with digital synthesis perse."

Wowza.  Moog Samplers. Yum.