Thursday, September 16, 2010

Garfield Electronics Doctor Click Rhythm Controller, Keyboard 1982

Garfield Electronics Doctor Click Rhythm Controller advertisement from page 29 of Keyboard Magazine December 1982.

This was the first Doctor Click advertisement to appear in Keyboard, and only ran once or twice before being replaced by a much more descriptive ad ( post maybe ?!?! :o)

The ad itself it actually pretty well-balanced. Maybe a bit top-heavy, but, right away, the eye definitely catches the name of the device in that really cool computer techie font that I used to see on many early rave posters.

The photos are great too - large enough that the reader can even make out some of the front panel text. And, Garfield was smart to show off the back panel with all its connections, enforcing the message that this thing has more in's and out's than you can shake a DIN cable at.

Garfield also took a page out of ARP's marketing plan and provided a list of artists who's tracks had used the device. Pia Zadora? Really?

So, what exactly is Doctor Click? How did it come to be? I guess you could say that it's all about timing... pun absolutely intended.

Go back to late 1982. At the time, synth companies weren't really open to talking to each other much about their technology, and the result was that pretty much every company had developed a different standard to sync their own gear.

To get an idea of the number of sync standards that were around in 1982, you just have to tally up all those inputs and outputs available on the machine. I found a list of them in a 2008 MATRIXSYNTH post:

Inputs: Pulse, Tape Code A/B, Tape Code C, External Metronome Trigger, Inverter In, Delay In, Reset, Play, Enter

Outputs: 12X (Roland CR68/78, SCI), 24X (MemoryMoog, MXR), 48X (LinnDrum, Roland MC-4, E-Mu), 64X (PPG), 96X (Oberheim DSX, DMX, DX), 348X (Fairlight), DIN Sync (Roland x0xbox, Korg), Gate (5V/15V), Trigger (5v/15V), Trigger to Click, Time Lag, Envelope 1, Envelope 2, Headphone, Metronome, Inverter Out, Delay Out, 5V Start, Ground Start

For a musician or producer, trying to sync up all that different gear must have become increasingly painful.

And you can almost feel author Craig Anderton's own pain, in the introduction to his November 1983 Keyboard review of Doctor Click (almost a year after this ad's debut!):
"Those of you who have tried at one time or another to interface various electronic music devices together have probably noticed that this is easier said than done. Not only do different synthesizer arpeggiators accept different kinds of triggers - some positive-going, some negative-going, and so on - many drum machines use particular timing references (sync tracks) which make them incompatible with other drum machines."
Craig goes on to explain that it was only a matter of time before some brainiac came along with a box to sync all everything together:
"Doctor Click is not a keyboard instrument, not a drum machine, and not a signal processor: What it does is synchronize and interface these three families of devices together. Not only can it interface to existing sync tracks, it can build up click tracks from incomplete click tracks, and even create sync and/or click tracks which are referenced to a live musician."
The review does a great job of explaining how to use Doctor Click, including an example of how Craig used the device when the original sync track on one of his recordings was accidentally erased. Great stuff.

In his conclusion, he has nothing negative to say about the functionality of the machine itself. He explains that Doctor Click's 'Achille's Heel' was that with all the cords running in and out of the unit to all those different synths and recording gear, it was really easy to create grounding issues that would introduce noise into recordings. Hmmm... I had never even thought about that - and I experience it every day with all my gear running through my old trustly Mackie 24 channel 8-bus mixer with the 24 channel side-car -- Doh!

But, my biggest issue with the device was the cost. The Doctor Click initially went for $1,950.00, with an expanded version up'ing the price to $2,295.00. To me that seems steep. You could get another synthesizer or two for that price.

Sure, the device was cutting-edge with its ability to sync Roland, Linn, Oberheim, Sequential Circuits, Korg, Moog and virtually every other synthesizer and drum machine out there - as well as humans. And as far as I know there was nothing else around at the time that could do what Doctor Click could. So, maybe it was worth it.

In the review, Craig agrees that the Doctor Click 'isn't cheap', but that its not unreasonable either:
"...once you have the Doctor Click, you really are set - this one device solves just about every common (and not-so-common) interfacing problem you might encounter in the studio or while playing live..."
Well enough.

Those issues aside, Doctor Click is a great example of a company seeing an increasingly open opportunity and creating a nicely packaged solution.

I guess I shouldn't find it amazing that it's existence is in large part due to the paranoia that synth companies had at the time with sharing technology. But more on that in my next blog post...

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