Monday, June 17, 2019

Alesis 1992 "Alesis Product Line" product catalog




                 


Alesis "Product Line" 7-panel two page colour product catalog from 1992.

So, I uploaded these scans as two long pages, and also segmented them out to higher res scans of different panels depending on content flow. Basically an experiment to see what works best. 

Surprisingly, I've only ever posted one other ad from Alesis - a Christmas ad for the HR-16 and MMT-8. But I was recently intrigued by my own MMT-8 and thought I'd share my little experience. I could have posted a number of earlier marketing promo pieces that feature the grey MMT-8, but I kinda love my black MMT-8 so I specifically dug into the vault and chose this brochure because of it.  Besides the MMT-8, it includes a great summary of Alesis' gear from 1992 - drum machine, mixer, effects and their ADAT. All fantastic gear for a great price at the time.

Anyways, about the MMT-8...

A few days ago, I was scrolling through Twitter when I saw this tweet from Peter Kirn:


Well, there's two things I love in one sentence! The Alesis MMT-8 sequencer and Shawn Rudiman.

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Side note for Rudiman fans: Just found out he's releasing a new EP on Tresor Records. From the page:
"The studio is Rudiman’s vehicle, the weapon and the balm. From synthetic wonders to dark-warehouse drum missives, Autonomic Pilot proves once again Rudiman as a master of his craft. Tresor Records is proud to welcome his new work into the world."
Sweeeeet!

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I jumped over to Peter Kirn's article on the CDM Web site called: "Post Album Techno: 9 years of live sequence data, from Shawn Rudiman". As Peter puts it -
"Shawn has taken the plunge and dumped years of live performance practice from his backups, in an irrationally specific media archaeology experiment for techno nerds." 
And specific it was! Each of the 12 live sets on the album called "Finest Quality, Big Time Data" are from the MMT-8's data tape audio back-ups. That's right. Not the audio. The DATA. I you try to listen to the tracks, it's just that screechy 90's dial-up modem-like sound for four or five minutes.

Brilliant! It's like he posted it just for me.  Okay, not just me - it's also for the eight other people that also purchased the "album" so far.

To me, that's one of the most interesting things about this release by Shawn. He knew when he posted it that it had a very narrow audience and hence was obviously a very limited money-maker. But from a promotional standpoint, it's a fun and interesting exercise aimed directly at us "techno nerds".

And exercise I did!

Unfortunately I had just packed up *all* my studio for a temporary move (over 200 synths, drum machines and sequencers into 250+ feet of 4' wide bubble wrap, 20+ cases and 25 carry-totes) so I had to find that MMT-8 first. Luckily, it only took about half an hour to find it and get it out of its bubble-wrapped sleeve. The power supply was somewhat easier to find since I have a healthy addiction to label makers.

So I plugged it in, and hoped for the best. Sure enough that lovely little screen lit up bright!

It turned on!

Next, I needed to figure out how to restore the audio data. One of the great things about the MMT-8 is its ease of use, and the fact that most of the directions on its use can be found on the flip-up lid on the top of the MMT-8.
flip-up instructions
So, with the instructions on how to restore pattern and song data identified, I dug out an audio cable and plugged one end from the headphone output of my laptop and the other end into the "tape in" port on the back of the MMT-8. I then pulled up the Shawn Rudiman's Bandcamp page, entered the correct key combo on the MMT-8 to start the restore process, and hit play on the Bandcamp page to get the first set of audio data playing.

Nothing.

I tried different volume levels.

Still nothing.

I tried downloading and playing the MP3 file from the computer. Nothing. Uncompressed WAV files. Nothing. Stereo cable. Nothing. Mono cable. Nothing. Mono->Stereo cable. Nothing.

Anger sets in.

Then I had an idea. I pulled up the Bandcamp app on my Android tablet, plugged the audio cable into the headphone jack and hit play.

Boom! The screen on the MMT-8 indicated it was restoring the data.

I had forgotten how fussy tape backups/restores could be. And not just fussy. But time-consuming. And so it was four minutes and fifty-seven seconds later the MMT-8's screen returned to normal and I started looking for parts (what Alesis calls patterns).

00. 01. 02..... 16 - jackpot - "Deep Techno-2"!

Success!
But now for problem #2. All my synths were packed up! What do I connect to the sequencer to see what exactly was restored?

I got an idea.

What if I play each track, one by one, from that first pattern on the MMT-8 while sync'd up and recording into Propellerhead Reason?

And that's exactly what I did:


The great thing about this method is that it created a nice visual reference of the MIDI data and I could get a better idea of what might be a percussive, pad or bass-type track. I then created a new instance of Kong, Thor or any of Reason's other great instruments (or VSTs!) and copied over the midi data from the track. Voila!

It also helped that I contacted Shawn to let him know I had managed to pull in one of his sets and he gave me a few more tips and hints about his workflow. Thank you Shawn!

So now I bet you want to hear something. Well, that's gonna have to wait because I have a few more Alesis brochures to post yet!  :)

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Moog Minimoog "The Moog for the road" brochure/poster, 1974



 

Moog Minimoog "The Moog for the road" eight page colour brochure/poster from 1974.

I've sweated over blogging about this brochure/poster for a long time because I was never sure exactly how I was going to scan and post such a unique piece of marketing material? The problem is that it is both a brochure and a poster. Let me explain.

The piece starts off as a brochure - with a front cover, two inside pages, and a back cover. Great. Cool. I can scan that easily enough and post the scans as I normally would for a brochure (which I did above).

The other side is a poster, where the two upper quadrants are specs and features and the two bottom quadrants make up one big awesome photo of the Minimoog. Again - Great! Cool! I can scan and post that side as chucks of a poster.

Here's the problem...

Because of the way the piece was design and folded,the two inside pages on the "brochure-side" are actually upside down!


You will also notice that those two top quadrants (the inside pages for the brochure side) are also a bit shorter, The designers purposely did this so that tag line "Minimoog... a whole new freedom of expression" from the bottom of the "poster" side can be visible on the "brochure" side!


Not only is that a cool design feature, it's also functional, giving a great visual cue to the reader to flip up those two inside brochure pages to reveal the poster right-side-up on the other side! Genius!


The piece is gorgeous and quite a departure from the Minimoog "The INstrument of the pros" brochure from just two years previous.

Don't get me wrong - I loved that 1972 brochure with its amazing illustrations. But this 1974 brochure's professional photography, less busy design and unique brochure/poster fold makes for one of my favourite historical pieces - not just from Moog, but for all synths.

Just gorgeous.

Happy Birthday Mr Bob Moog.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Propellerhead ReBirth (RB-338) Techno Micro Composer Version 2.0 "Believe the unbelievable" brochure, 1998



Propellerhead ReBirth (RB-338) Techno Micro Composer Version 2.0 "Believe the unbelievable" four page colour brochure from 1998.

No. This isn't a repeat. Although at first glance it very well looks like it. That lovely shiny silver front and back cover, the wire-frame imagery that gets peppered around the inside pages and the line diagram of the software interface on the back. Its fun to see how the writers decided to keep a lot of text in the brochure.

But as you can see, by the time Version 2.0 rolled around, there was a lot of new features and functionality to talk about.

First - the software itself. They had delightfully added a TR-909 drum machine, a compressor and a cool little synchronized filter (that was actually introduced in version 1.5!). That's in addition to the two TB-303s, a TR-808, a digital delay and a distortion that was initially released in Version 1.

But more exciting to me as a two-bit historian and archivist though, is how the company updated the wording in the brochure to reflect its closer association with Roland's instruments.

For example, in the first version of the brochure, Steinberg/Propellerhead were very low-key in their association. They let the images in the brochure speak for themselves and instead of directly referring to the TB-303 and TR-909 would use Roland-speak words like "bassline" and "303 sound".

But by Version 2.0, Propellerhead decided to makes its association with Roland a little more concrete by directly referring to the TB-303, TR-808 and TR-909 in its opening paragraph in the brochure. What changed? Well, according to the the Rebirth Museum Web site (which no longer exists but can be accessed through the Wayback Machine thank you very much), quite a few downloads of the alpha version of ReBirth came from Roland HQ in Japan, who then reached out and eventually stipulated that the following be added to the packaging and splash screen.
"ReBirth was inspired by the TR-808 and TB-303, originally created by Roland Corporation. Their unique sounds and visual images have been re-born through digital simulation by Propellerhead Software."
And while something similar exists in the V1 brochure, its not exactly the same.


But by V2, Propellerhead had included this exact phrase (with the inclusion of the TR-909) in the second iteration of the brochure. And then some:


Could it be that the V1 brochure was printed prior to the agreement between Roland and Propellerhead? Cool thought.

Either way, as mentioned on the now defunct Rebirth Museum Web site, Propellerhead considered this a "thumbs-up" by Roland and a good reason for Propellerhead to strengthen its association with Roland in V2 of the brochure.
"Propellerhead Software regarded this as a blessing from Roland, as it was considered an "unofficial thumbs-up" and their acknowledgment provided strong marketing leverage. In a sense, Roland's stamp of approval legitimized ReBirth as something that met the standards of Roland quality."
This story is now canon in Propellerhead-land, but I wonder if Roland has the same memory of events.

The incorporation of new gear wasn't the only reason ReBirth users were excited for V2.0. As can be seen in the brochure, ReBirth allowed users to create their own front panel graphics and, even more important (and fun!) for me, create custom sounds. Along with an "exchange platform" for songs and mods.

Propellerhead's ReWire functionality was also introduced in V2. Initially code named "TopHat", ReWire was created to connect  audio and synchronization between ReBirth and Cubase". And, it eventually became a standard for other companies that wanted to sync their software to Rebirth.

And this leads me into one of the biggest, yet subtle changes to the V2 brochure. Along with ReWire came the ability for a lot of musicians to sync up ReBirth with other professional software. So, it made sense for Propellerhead to boost the "professional appeal" of ReBirth in the "Functions Overview" section.

Take a closer look and you will see that in V1, the first bullet point in this section highlights Roland's machines. And rightly so, since its ALWAYS ALL ABOUT THE ROLAND GEAR!!!!!
"Two bass line synthesizers, one "analog" drum machine, a distortion box and a delay."
But in V2, those instruments have been bumped to bullet point #3. And what has made it to the number one feature in the overview?
"16 bit, 44.1 kHz audio quality (stereo)."
Yup. The instruments took a back seat to audio quality.  Okay, not really - just in the bullet points.

But it still makes me nervous, and I sometimes wonder if that was some kind of foreshadowing.

Anyways, that's enough thinking for today. Time to play with ReBirth 2.0 on my Windows 10 laptop. 


Thursday, May 16, 2019

Moog PianoBar "Fall in love with your piano all over again!" brochure, 2003


Moog PianoBar "Fall in love with your piano all over again!" two page colour brochure from approximately 2003.

Well, here's a rare beast - a Moog PianoBar brochure!

I haven't run into this particular piece of literature anywhere online that I can remember - just in my local music store in the early- to mid-2000's.  My "guy" at the store knew I had a Moog Modular, Minimoog and Taurus pedals and would often put other Moog literature aside for me, including this brochure. This is the same awesome dude who gifted me his Sequential Circuits belt buckle, among other things. I've been frequenting that store for what must be over 35 years - and he's still there. And still a great guy.

Anyways, enough personal nostalgia.

If you aren't familiar with the PianoBar... um... that makes two of us. Sure, I'd heard of it. But never bothered to do any actual in-depth research into the thing. Then recently, I was hanging out in the Moog Fan Club Facebook group and one of the members posted some up-close-and-personal photos of the device in its carry-case. Serial number 0009 no less! Wowza.



Now, is that gorgeous, or what?!?!?!

Anyways, where was I? Oh yeah...I'm not familiar with the PianoBar. So, I pulled this brochure out of my archives. And that led me to become even more curious, so I did some research and this is what I've found out so far...

According to a 2005 Sound on Sound magazine review article on the PianoBar, it was "Moog, in concert with Buchla" that came up with the piano-to-MIDI converter. A New York Times 2016 article celebrating the life of Tom Buchla seemed to corroborate this by indicating that Buchla consulted with Moog to begin manufacturing the PianoBar in 2002.

But, I'm also finding references in forums indicating that it was more a Tom Buchla innovation that was then marketed by Moog.

For example, in the MusicPlayers forum under the question "What ever happened to the Moog PianoBar", member "The Real MC" commented "To be fair, the PianoBar was actually a Buchla product. Buchla gave it to Moog to sell."

Also, A CDM post from September 2005 indicates that "the device is actually the brainchild of synth legend Don Buchla, not Bob Moog as you might assume."

In any case, I dig any occasion where Moog and Buchla team up.

The brochure itself provides plenty of detail into how the PianoBar operates.
"What makes the PianoBar unique is the revolutionary, patented Scanner Bar, which sits ever so slightly above the piano's keys leaving the touch and feel wonderfully unaffected.  The Scanner Bar is less that 1/2" thick and rests against the fall board out of the way of the flying fingers. It contains sensor for each key that use infrared to detect their motion. The Pedal Sensor rests underneath the piano's pedals to register their motion. The Scanner Bar and Pedal Sensor work together to capture the full range of your expressive touch - from resounding chords to delicate passages."
How unique was it? That Sound on Sound article I mentioned earlier provides some great historical perspective for us by listing a few competing products.
"Approached in the right spirit, the device opens doors that hitherto simply weren't accessible to the piano player, unless you had the ultra-expensive Bösendorfer or Steinway systems, or the less expensive, yet still pricey, Yamaha Disklavier system. All these, of course, are built into the piano and therefore not transferable, unlike the Piano Bar. The ability to extend the sonic palette of your humble Joanna is, if not mind-blowing, pretty marvellous."
Pretty f**king unique.  :)

So, I was gonna stop there, but I've had a glass of wine and my ribs have another hour in the oven before I transfer them to the bbq for the finishing touch. So, lets keep this boat rockin'.

According to Electronic Musician's June 2004 review of the PianoBar by Allan Metts, the cost of the PianoBar was $1,495. And in the end, gave the device these ratings:
FEATURES 4.0
EASE OF USE 4.5
QUALITY OF SOUNDS 4.0
VALUE 3.5
RATING PRODUCTS FROM 1 TO 5 
PROS: Accurate piano tracking with no significant latency. Easy, noninvasive setup. Capable sound set.
CONS: Pedal Sensor moves too easily and needs height adjustment. No MIDI SysEx dump capability. Cable attaches only to the left side of the Scanner Bar.
That 2005 Sound on Sound review I keep referencing listed it at a UK price of 899.99 pounds, along with this:
Pros - The only viable device to let virtually any piano output MIDI.
 - Opens up all kinds of sound-layering possibilities.
 - Relatively straightforward to install if you're lucky.
 - Very fast triggering with no dicernable latency.
Cons - Can be fiddly to install and calibrate, depending on your piano.
 - Some piano actions are too far gone to make the Piano Bar usable.
 - Very dependent on the mechanics and tuning of your piano.
And remember that 2005 CDM post I referenced earlier? It indicated that Moog had a sale on the PianoBar at one point bringing the price down to $995.00 US!
"...Moog Music this week is introducing its “Be the First” promotion. Be the first, second, or third person in your U.S. metro area (Moog has identified 364), and you can get the PianoBar for as little as US$995. (You also have to be a school teacher, gigging musician, or someone else who can convince other people to buy them, so you can’t get the discount and take it to your cave — the Phantom of the Opera is totally disqualified.)"
A September 16, 2005 Synthopia article provided even more details on the price structure of the sale:
"If you are the first school, teacher, gigging musician, church, or studio to purchase the Moog PianoBar and are in position to share your enthusiasm for the product, your purchase price will be $995, a $500 savings off the published price. If you are the second qualified person in the metro area, your price will be $1095 – a $400 savings. If you are the third qualified person, your price will be $1195 – still a $300 savings!"
A common reference that come up when I started researching the PianoBar was Bruce Hornsby. Seems he was a big fan, and in a September 2009 interview with Keyboard Magazine it's explained that Bruce used it to play softsynths from the piano:
"You’ve been using the Moog Piano Bar to control soft synths from the piano and expand your sound palette beyond piano and voice, like on the new song “Invisible.” What is it about the combination of acoustic and electronic timbres that you find so alluring?
It all stems from the fact that I always hear an orchestra playing in my head. Not on all the songs, but often on ballads, like “Mandolin Rain,” “Here We Are Again,” and “Continents Drift.” If I’m playing bluesy, you’re not going to hear any MIDI, because I’m not hearing an orchestra in that stylistic setting. But “Invisible” is a perfect example of dialing in the Bob Moog. I’ve done a lot of solo concerts over the years where I’d show up in a new town to a piano supplied by Steinway. But it wasn’t MIDI’ed, so originally I’d put a Korg M1 on top, playing it with one hand and the piano with another. I used the sound “Overture,” which I came to find out that my old friend Bruce Springsteen used as well."
"Dialing in the Bob Moog." I like that phrase 0- going to have to start using it.

You can see the PianoBar in action in this excellent Spectrasonics YouTube video. Note that that lovely Moog PianoBar logo on the right side of the keyboard bar in a few shots.


Even more "legit", here's a 2003 Moog demo of the PianoBar. Audio not as good, but the coolness factor is through the roof:


Time for me to "Dial in the Bob Moog" on my modular.

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Steinberg Cubit "Visual Song Processing" advertisement, Keyboard 1989 / Cubase "Buy it! Boot it! Love it! " advertisement, Electronic Musician 1990


Steinberg Cubit "Visual Song Processing"full page colour ad from page 65 in the May 1989 issue of Keyboard Magazine and Steinberg Cubase "Buy it! Boot it! Love it! Or your money back!" half page black and white ad from page 112 in the March 1990 issue of Electronic Musician Magazine.

I don't do it often, but today I have two scans. And for good reason!

I had actually scanned each one separately a while back and written little bits to form into future blog posts, but then this morning I noticed a tweet from Steinberg announcing it was Cubase's 30th anniversary. And I thought... heck - that's a bandwagon worth jumping on! So I went back, checked, and sure enough... this Cubit advertisement first showed up in the May 1989 issue of Keyboard Magazine

(Aside: That May 1989 issue of Keyboard Magazine isn't just exciting because of this initial Cubit ad. Its also the now-legendary CYBERPUNK issue.)

It wasn't just on this side of the pond that Stenberg was rolling out its successor to Twenty Four  III (aka PRO24) sequencing software - Cubit was being rolled out in Europe in magazines such as Music Technology  and Micro Music with large three page advertisements as well. Check out Mu:zines for those ads!

But the Cubit advertisements lasted for only a few months before Steinberg shut them down. The reason? According to Cubase's Wikipedia page, a trademark issue was forcing Steinberg to change the name.

And better for it too!

Well, it didn't take long for that name change to happen. How do I know? Well, for one, the Cubase ad includes quotes from three different 1989 magazine reviews - and those aren't the only reviews that came out soon after the Cubase name change. 

Music Technology magazine out of the UK was one of the first with their review. It was actually a two-part review that ran in the August and September 1989 issues running in at over 8000 words. And the reviewer Nigel Lord still didn't manage to cover all of Cubase's features.

In his verdict, he writes: 
"Quite honestly, this is the most impressive piece of music software I have yet encountered for the ST. And I certainly cannot conceive of it being possible to develop a more sophisticated sequencing package for that machine. As with most genuinely worthwhile designs, the transition from well-crafted tool to creative instrument is quite seamless - the features which give it a claim to both these titles being universally well thought-out and meticulously presented. Not only that, but it's a delight to use and one of that increasingly rare breed of technologically advanced designs which positively encourage the user to experiment and get to grips with it."
Not bad. Not bad at all. 

Sound on Sound's review also came out in their August 1989 issue. And I gotta say after reading David Hughes' verdict, we are starting to see a pattern...
"I like this program a lot. Cubase is a natural successor to Pro24 and I would strongly recommend Cubase to any existing Pro24 owners, who should remember that they can save quite a substantial amount of money if they take part in the part-exchange scheme that Steinberg are offering. I would also recommend this program to those musicians looking for a fully professional system with the potential for expansion. Cubase has this in abundance. I've used the review package for over a month now and Steinberg will find it difficult to prise it out of my hands. I feel that I've written some of my best music with Cubase, and consequently don't want to lose a single note of it. I enjoyed the sheer depth of this product. You simply won't exhaust the possibilities in a single night. It will take a great deal longer than that, I promise you."

Keyboard Magazine's October 1989 review by Jim Aikin was a little more low-key, but still very positive. In addition to the quote used in the Cubase ad I scanned, we get a little bit of software sequencer history along with Jim's conclusion:
"The impact made last year by C-Lab's Notator has forced other Atari sequencer developers to put some muscle in their hustle. With Cubase, Steinberg proves that they're up to the challenge; it's fully competitive with anything that Notator has to offer, except in the area of notation printout - and let's face it, that's not Notator's strong point either (me: Ouch!). Dr. T's KCS Level II still leads the pack in terms of sheer editing power, but its user interface is starting to look a bit long in the tooth, though there have been some strong enhancements in version 2.1..."

Interestingly, the ads for Cubase took a while to get into magazines. I'm not sure if this is because Steinberg had spent their 1989 marketing budgets on the earlier advertisements, or maybe they were just waiting for the Mac version slated to come out in early 1990 to be closer to production? 

No matter, because according to Steinberg's earlier Twenty Four software advertisement, there was already a base of 30,000 users. And many of those 30,000 users would have read those early positive reviews or started to see the software pop up in music shops.  

And the proof is in the pudding - or whatever that saying is.  30 years later Cubase is still going strong.