Monday, September 22, 2014

Moog 903a Random Signal Generator brochure, 1976

Moog 903a Random Signal Generator two-sided brochure from 1976.

For the last couple of weeks I've been swooned by a series of Moog module brochures. This 903 Random Signal Generator brochure is the third in the series - after blogging on the Moog 921a/b oscillator bank and the Moog 921 voltage controlled oscillator module.

I gotta say, this series is shaping up to become a handsome set of brochures with those lovely front covers. Sweet.

There is one little difference with this latest brochure though. Those first two brochures each included four pages of juicy Moog-y goodness, but this latest 903a random generator module brochure consists of only one two-sided piece of paper. It's not a surprise though - that 903 panel is sparse-city, consisting of just dual white noise and pink noise outputs.  No big dials, switches or flashing lights in the local vicinity.

That may give someone not familiar with noise generators the wrong idea. A noise module is a MUST for any modular. The back of the brochure goes into some good detail on how noise can be used effectively within a patch. Percussive sounds - check! Sound effects - yup!  And of course there's the signal control applications as well like their involvement in creating randomly timed and tuned beep, boop, boop, beep, boops.

Growing up I loved noise. Not the really loud variety of clanging and banging (that came later) but that soothing noise that I find described so well by William Gibson in the opening line of Neuromancer:

"The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel."

I love that quote. and I also love the sound that often accompanied that screen "color" late at night when a television channel went off the air. SSHSHSHSHSHSHSHSH...

It wasn't until I got my Moog modular that I realized there was different "colours" of noise. And even then I wasn't too curious what the differences were for a long time. If you Google the topic you will soon learn there are a wack of different "colours "of noise - and as math is introduced into the equation (pun intended) if you are like me your head will begin to hurt a little bit.

According to Wikipedia, noise tends to be divided into two groups.

The first group are those colours of noise that have precise definitions:

White. Pink. Brown(ian). Blue. Violet. Grey.

In the case of this module, White noise has a "flat" frequency spectrum - "the signal has equal power in any band of a given bandwidth... when the bandwidth is measured in Hz". The example they use is that the sound power between the frequency range of 40Hz and 60Hz is equal to the sound power between 400Hz and 420Hz. Here's the chart for white noise from the Wikipedia page.

Pink noise, on the other hand, is linear in logarithmic space - "it has equal power in bands that are proportionally wide". Using the same example above, there is the same amount of sound power between 40Hz and 60Hz as there is between 4000-6000Hz. Now compare its spectrum chart below to the one for White noise above.

The visuals definitely help. :)

The second group are those with less precise definitions, synonyms for formally defined colours, or have multiple definitions - Red. Green. Black. Noisey White. Noisey Black.

I'm not even going to pretend I know *exactly*what they are talking about, but I get the idea.

I'll let you read the Wikipedia page to find out more info.

My head hurts.   :D

Monday, September 15, 2014

Moog 921 Voltage Controlled Oscillator brochure, 1974

Moog 921 Voltage Controlled Oscillator four page brochure from 1974.

Last week I posted the brochure for the 921a/b VCO bank from the same series. This 921 VCO is like the Simon to the Garfunkel of the 921a/b bank. The Captain to the Tennille.

Actually, maybe I should be using synthpop references. The Annie Lennox to the Dave Stewart of Eurythmics. The Vince Clarke to the Alison Moyet of Yazoo. The Neil Tennant to the Chris Lowe of Pet Shop Boys. The Marc Almond to the Dave Ball of Soft Cell. The Rob Fisher to the Peter Byrne of Naked Eyes. The Neil Authur to the Stephen Luschombe of Blancmange.

Okay, think I milked that one. Point is, chances are you will find both 921s and 921a/b banks making beautiful music together in a Moog Modular.

I mentioned in my last post how researched seemed to indicate that the 921 series came to be in part because the Moog Modular was transitioning from an experimental machine found mostly in music "labs" to that of a musical instrument to be found in some of the top professional recording studios. In particular, the 901 series was replaced by the 921 series with their better temperature stability, tracking accuracy and extra functionality - requirements when trying to churn out the next top 40 hit.

But these modulars were highly technical machines. And they required some technical knowledge to get up and running (and keep going).  Thus, this brochure is NOT marketing Moog modules to the average musician. And I'm not even sure if its directed towards the average studio tech either, although I wasn't hanging around in studios back in 1974 so can't really comment to their technical knowledge. The highly technical content leads me to believe this series of brochures was still being targeted towards the music lab gurus - and probably only the ones with the whitest lab coats, biggest pocket protectors and (in reference to the men) the biggest beards.

Aside: before you knock me for my nerd-bashing, I will have you know that I wear a pocket protector every day at work, and usually a different every day. Geeez - how else do people protect their pockets these days?!?! So, if you have any vintage (or new!) pocket protectors, please contact me! I'm serious.

Back to the point... were was I... oh yeah... targeted audiences.

To make my point, let's compare this brochure to the marketing material of another one of Moog's legendary products - the Minimoog.

No text whatsoever. :)

Yeah, I know - silly comparison. By 1979, the Minimoog was such a standard tool in the studio that not only did it not need more than 10 words of marketing content, but Moog didn't even have to slap a logo in their ad. So, okay, a totally shitty comparison.

A better comparison might be Minimoog's 1972 brochure. Here's the inside scan that links to the blog post.

So, this Minimoog brochure was printed TWO YEARS before the 1974 921 VCO brochure.

Let's compare the first real line of content of the two brochures:

921 VCO
"The 921 Voltage Controlled Oscillator generates periodic waveforms within a total frequency range from .01 to 40,000 cycles per second."

"Brutal, caustic, volcanic - Evocative, flirting, caressing - crisp, powerful, biting - Entrancing, embracing, exhilarating!"

Yup. Definitely different audiences. :)

That 921 VCO brochure content is definitely targeted towards those pocket-protected white-lab-coat-wearing music technicians while the text in that Minimoog brochure was obviously meant for the  tight-shiny-gold-pants crowd.

To be fair, there was some cross over between these two groups. And I have to say, those men and women in the lab coats *and* tight gold pants were definitely the most awesome.

I'm not saying Moog didn't create modular marketing material for a musician audience, I'm just saying this series of brochures was definitely not. 

Monday, September 8, 2014

Moog 921A Oscillator Driver/921B Voltage Controlled Oscillator brochure, 1976

Moog 921A Oscillator Driver/921B Voltage Controlled Oscillator four page brochure from 1976.

I knew it had been a while since I last published a blog post, but I didn't realize it has been about a month! Honestly, I have a wack of ads and brochures scanned, but just haven't been able to find the time to find the words. Summer and its ups and downs have gotten in the way a little bit.

But fall is now here! And although its been a pretty rainy one to date, this morning I'm happy to report I'm blogging from my sunny back deck, coffee in hand.

Perfect blogging weather. :)

I've been wanting to start posting this series of Moog module brochures for a while and the 921a/b was an excellent one to start with because there is some great history behind it.

As you may know from previous posts, I'm a big fan of Moog. I'm also an owner of a Modular Moog (see right). Although my modular contains the 901a/b VCO bank - the predecessor to the 921a/b bank - it provides a great back-story to existence of both.

Let's back up a bit. As you can see in my modular's patch diagram (created by Bob Moog himself!), there is both a 901 Voltage Controlled Oscillator as well as the 901 a/b bank that contains one 901a driver that is wired up to control (drive) three 901b VCOs. What's the point of having the 901a/b bank if you could just have 901s?

For a long time I thought the only reasons the 901a/b bank existed was because it was a great way to cram more VCOs into a smaller space. The 901 takes up a lot of room, so getting three or four 901b VCOs with multiple waveforms into the same space really was one convenience of its design. But then I found an even more valuable reason for the a/b driver system a while back when doing some research on my modules.

A PDF article titled "The 901a/b story"  found on (a company that is building Moog modules!) explains that as the Moog Modular transitioned from a piece of experimental equipment to more of a musical instrument to be found sitting in professional studios and on stage, the 901's thermal instability and older electronic components resulted in problems with tuning. This was fixed to some degree by driving multiple 901b modules from one 901a controller. But, they were still pretty unstable, so Moog eventually replaced the 901 series with the 921 series giving musicians a lot more temperature stability, tracking accuracy and extra functionality.

Great stuff. And so is synth-werks as far I can tell. Definitely going to look into filling that top space in my modular. :)

The brochure/spec sheet is almost as much of a work of art as the 921a/b modules themselves. First and foremost, we get a great close-up of both modules on the front page. Then when you open the brochure up you are greeted with a wealth of knowledge - in fact, pretty much everything you've ever wanted to know about the control panel features and musical applications of the 921a/b. There is even a full page of technical charts and graphs. I'm not even going to pretend I know half of what Moog is talking about there. I'll take their word for it. Finally on the back page we get all the information specs.

I'm a fan of this whole series of module brochures, and you can expect to see more of them soon. But right now its just too nice out. Time to make the most of this gorgeous Sunday. 

Monday, August 11, 2014

Roland Space Echos "What price clear music" ad, Contemporary Keyboard 1978

Roland Space Echos RE-101/RE-201 and Chorus Echo RE-301 "What  price clear music" full page colour advertisement from page 47 in the May 1978 issue of Contemporary Keyboard Magazine.

Man, is it just me, or does that black/olive green combo with pops of red look great. Wow, I love that. 

Anyways, in my recent blog post on Roland's 1984 advertisement for their SDE-series of digital delay rack effects, one of the major talking points about the design of the ad was that of readability. More specifically, Roland's design decision to consciously or unconciously put form before function and make the ad-copy fit within the design of the ad, even thought this would affect readability. In other words, the ad-copy became one big block of text.  I also pointed out that Roland had done this with other ads as well, such as the one for their 1986 Alpha-Juno ad.

And, to be clear, I liked both of those ads.  :)

"Get to the point, Retro!"

Well, my point is that Roland was doing this waaaay before those two ads were created - and you can see it in this 1978 Roland Space Echo advertisement as well. Even more interesting is the size of the logo in the various ads. In those later ads, the logo is almost as small as the ad text. Still, it's interesting that if I asked you to look for the logo, your eyes would only take a few seconds to find it. Placement is everything.

Although Roland really pushed the 101, 201 and 301 in ads and magazines (they were always the photos), the ad actually mentions that there were six models available. Six? What the....?!?!? Let's see...

According to the RE-201 Wikipedia page, The RE-100 was the earliest in the series appearing around 1973 along with the RE-200, the main difference being that the 200 also included a spring reverb. Both were later replaced by the 101 and 201, and according to Sound on Sound's excellent November 2004 article on the history of Roland, these launched in 1974.

That SOS article also dates the RE-301 as launching in 1977 and Part 2 of the article that ran a month later dates the RE-150 as coming out in 1979.

The Wikipedia page also references a later RE-501/SRE-555 rack, and SOS dates it's launch in 1980.

So, in summary:

RE-100: 1973
RE-200: 1973
RE-101: 1974
RE-201: 1974
RE-301: 1977
RE-150: 1979
RE-501: 1980

But wait... this ad came out in May 1978. And it mentions six models. But by 1978 only five models were released. Hmmm... So, either Roland jumped the gun on promoting the unreleased RE-150, Sound on Sound has some dates wrong, or... maybe I researched/typed something wrong. But, I can't find out where I may have gone wrong.

Another possibility is that Roland is including the DC-50 digital chorus that came out in 1976. It had a similar look to the RE-series - big knobs, black/green colour, etc... Later DC-models like the DC-10 (1977) and DC20/30 (1978) were much smaller units with little design similarities with the RE-series.

Huh. last thing... because I think its neat...

A really great comparison between the RE-101 and RE-201 can be found in a 1975 "Deepen the depth of your music" Roland Space Echo brochure I posted back in late 2012. One of the neat-o things about this early Space Echo brochure is that nowhere in the actual text of the brochure are either unit actually referred to as "Space Echos". Yeah, the name is on the actual pieces of equipment, but it's like Roland hadn't realized what an awesome name "Space Echo" was back in 1975.

As you can see by this ad though, buy 1978 Roland had figured it out. And the "Space Echo" name had become a more general term, even for the "Chorus Echo".

"Space Echo". Good name for a band.  :)

Monday, August 4, 2014

Roland SDE 3000 and 1000 "Instant Delay" ad, Keyboard 1984

Roland SDE-3000 and SDE-1000 digital delay "Instant Delay" full page colour advertisement from page 7 in the May 1984 issue of Keyboard Magazine.

Okay - I realize effects, and especially vintage effects, and ESPECIALLY vintage digital effects are NOT my core competence. I've got a rack of them like most vintage synth addicts I know (they're cheap!), but I don't know them as deeply as, say, my Pro-One or Minimoog.  I keep telling myself that when it comes to the blog I should stick to what I know - vintage synth ads and brochures. But, just like with the performance review I'm prep'd for recently,  everyone should have "stretch" objectives. Those outside the comfort zone. So, consider effects like one of my blog's stretch objective.

There is no denying the influence effects such as delay, chorus, reverb and distortion have had on synthesizer players since they first started appearing on stage or in recordings. And today, some synth manufacturers like Dave Smith Instruments treat some of those effects as just another sound-block. Like a filter or LFO. I'm looking at you, Evolver!

But back in the day, effects hardware was hard to come by. Well, cheaply anyways. So, it makes sense that companies like Roland, Korg and others, would advertise directly to keyboard players in magazines like Keyboard when the price point of effects hit that magic sweet spot. since Korg announced the recreation of their SDD-3000 effects unit in to a pedal format, I've been hoping it would lead other manufacturers to realize the big love out there for vintage digital effects among those still using analog mixers like myself. And that's lead me to do a bit of research to see what other big guns were part of the delay world back in the 80s.

Korg wasn't the only synthesizer manufacturer to toy with digital effects advertising in Keyboard Magazine back then. A few others got into the act soon after, including Roland with this advertisement for their SDE-3000 and baby brother SDE-1000. attention to the ad itself, if you recall it was in the mid-80s that many companies like Roland were toying with computer art in their advertisements. I blogged about it while referring to Roland's 1986 Alpha-Juno ad just a few weeks ago that featured more solid abstract artwork. It's wire-frame origins can really be seen when jumping back in time two years to this SDE ad and its more Tron-influenced artwork with glowing wire frames, digital string art and lazers.

Yum. It makes me happy. Like Roland TB-303 level of happy.

Computer effects can only go so far towards the overall design. Ad-copy and layout goes a long way too - especially when readability is involved. Like when listing out the specs of a synthesizer or effects unit in an ad. But in both of these ads, Roland makes the ad-copy part of the design at the expense of readability. This isn't necessarily a bad thing - and the creative half of me prefers it, but it does make it tougher for the reader. Looking at that SDE ad, as cool as those lasers are, the one beam is cutting right through the middle of the text. The result is four hanging hyphens and no paragraph breaks. The Alpha-Juno ad uses a similar technique - one block of text, only this time using a smaller font and even curving it.

Readability suffers a bit, but for me it's all about the art! And I'm digging it.

No matter, if you take the time to read through the SDE ad, the marketing team has done a good job of making the case to purchase these Roland effects units over some of the more complicated effects units out there (like the Korg, maybe?). Their argument is that more features equals more time to set up effects.

If you don't have the patience to read it, that's okay. Readers of Keyboard were actually introduced to many of those features when these two SDEs showed up three months earlier in the February 1984 Spec Sheet section of Keyboard.
"Roland Programmable DDLs. The SDE-1000 and SDE-3000 are programmable digital delays. The SDE-3000 can produce delays out to 4.5 seconds. Delay times are set in 0.1 and 1.0 ms increments. The unit has eight memory positions, which are user-programmable, and can be accessed via a footswitch. LED readouts display all vital system functions. The SDE-1000 offers delay times of up to 1.25 second and four memory positions. Both units are equipped with four remote switch jacks for ease of operation onstage. These are : delay on/off, hold (for repeating delay endlessly with adjustable tempo). Playmate (to set delay times remotely during performance), and preset (for switching between memory channels). The SDE-1000 is also equippted with a modulation foot control jack for footpedal control of modulation rates. Both units are also rack-mountable. Prices are: SDE-3000, $1,095.00; SDE-1000, $499.00. Roland-Corp, 7200 Dominion Circle, Los Angeles, CA 90040."
I'm definitely going to be on the look out for an SDE-3000 now.  :)