Thursday, January 28, 2010

Octave Electronics Kitten and Cat SRM ad, Contemporary Keyboard 1980

Octave Electronics Kitten and Cat "SRM" synthesizer ad from page 67 of Contemporary Keyboard Magazine February 1980.

Octave Electronics took what looks like a 16-month break from advertising in CK before running this ad from August 1979 until February 1980.

The ad itself is quite different from all previous Octave Electronic ads - and it is all good. For the first time in CAT advertising history, you actually get to plant your eyeballs on AN ACTUAL CAT SYNTHESIZER! All past ads (going back more than two years), either used an illustrated representation of a CAT synthesizer or small and blurry synth-hero photos that didn't really give you a good idea of what a CAT synthesizer actually looked like.

This ad not only features a great view of the CAT SRM and Kitten synthesizers, but for the first time also includes a free offer for a 'home demo kit' featuring a demo-record, reference sheet, patch blank and product literature. Oddly, there isn't a cut-away form of any kind to fill in your name and address to actually send in for the offer - but I almost don't mind since it makes more room for that large lovely photo.

A hint to why Octave Electronics may have drastically changed its advertising strategy is visible near the bottom of the ad. If you look closely, you will see that the address of the company has changed to 928 Broadway, New York. More importantly, you will find this text in very fine print - "Division of Plateau Electronics Inc."

That's right! We are witnessing the beginning of the first of the mergers, acquisitions and name changes that eventually turned Octave Electronics into the company known today as Voyetra Turtle Beach, Inc. And with many mergers often comes shifts in marketing strategies.

The full history of the company is available on their current Web site, but this paragraph in particular sums up the first merger:
"In 1979, Octave merges with Plateau Electronics, a prominent synthesizer repair facility located in downtown Manhattan, the center of NYC’s music district. The company is renamed Octave-Plateau Electronics and, in addition to manufacturing synthesizers, becomes a popular synthesizer maintenance facility for professional musicians and recording studios in the NY metro area."
So, this ad came out after the merger, but before the actual name change to Octave-Plateau.

Almost as interesting is the fact that the current President & CEO, Carmine J. Bonanno, was the founder of Octave Electronics in 1975 - that is 35 years in the biz!

In case you didn't notice - I actually posted this scan back in February 2009 without a write up. But, since becoming obsessed with Octave Electronic ads, I thought it deserved another post so I could include a bit of my latest research :o)

Monday, January 25, 2010

Octave Electronics Inc. CAT SRM advertisement, Contemporary Keyboard 1977

Octave Electronics CAT SRM advertisement from page 41 of Contemporary Keyboard Magazine December 1977.

This ad ran in CK magazine for four months starting in December 1977, introducing a new updated CAT model - the "SRM" (Series Revision Model). After the ad's last appearance in the March 1978 issue, it looks like Octave Electronics took a 16 month break from advertising anything in CK magazine, with a new ad not appearing until August 1979.

The previous CAT ad showed up only once in the November 1977 issue of CK. And if you recall, it wasn't one of my favorites. But, obviously some designer back in 1977 agreed with my reasoning, and solved many of the problems with that previous ad.
  1. The tag line is of a reasonable length: The CAT "SRM" Synthesizer - now with 2 note memory. Simple and clear.

  2. The text size has been increased a bit - and I think there is even a bit more room between the paragraphs.

  3. No white-space abuse here. The white space between the title, photos, ad copy and logo footer are spread out creating a more balanced feel. In addition, the designer has incorporated a light gray background to frame the ad better on the page - unlike the previous ad where everything just kind of floated on top of the white page.
The one problem this ad didn't solve, and that NONE of the CAT ads have managed to do so far, is SHOW ME A CLOSE UP OF AN ACTUAL CAT SYNTHESIZER. Come on! Do you really think a real-life CAT synthesizer made it up to the local synthesizer shop in my little Canadian town?

Instead of a close up shot of a CAT SRM, we are treated to some much cleaner action shots of David Burns of 'Burns, Renwick & Rags' - or as PINWIZZ calls them in a comment he left in the last CAT ad post: synth-hero photos. Unfortunately, by the looks of the back panels of the CAT synthesizers, I think he is playing two original CAT synthesizers - not SRMs.

But, do you think the fans of David Burns would have notice something like that back in 1977 when viewing this ad? And does it really matter since the CAT and CAT SRM look almost identical?

Nowadays, it would matter. Many fans are gear-heads and will comb through musician's action shots and videos at a micro level to try and figure out what old and new gear is being used. Often the gear used is as important as the musician using/endorsing it. But are we focusing too much on the good gear and not enough on the good artists?

Just askin'...

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Moog Imoogination book advertisement, Contemporary Keyboard 1976

Moog Imoogination Book advertisement from page 34 of Contemporary Keyboard Magazine May/June 1976.

I know I've started more than one post with the line 'I was flipping through old issues of Contemporary Keyboard Magazine when...". Well, this time it starts of eerily similar, but with a 21st century twist:

I was flipping through old posts on MATRIXSYNTH when...

...I came across an old 2007 auction for 'Rare Moog Synthesizer literature' - Imoogination. I recognized that crazy Bob Moog image immediately and looked back over my old issues of CK. Sure enough, I found this ad.

The ad is for the original Imoogination 'book', so the first volume must have come out sometime in late 1975 or early 1976. Since the ad doesn't mention Volume 2, I'm gonna guess it was released sometime after June 1976. The auction states that the first volume of Imoogination was 20 pages and the second volume was 32 pages. Both were done in a newsprint format.

I did a bit more searching to try and find some better photos and sure enough, MATRIXSYNTH had also posted a Flickr set from a 2008 PNW synth gathering that included a few Imoogination literature shots. Here's one image that shows some of the content of the books.

A bit more digging, and I found that GForce Software's Web site had some info on a page devoted to the history of the Minimoog (on which they modeled their softsynth Minimonsta). On that page they include an image of the cover of volume 1 and this description:
"This was one of two newspaper type brochures from 1976, the first of which carries the most wonderful psychedelic front cover asking the eternal question “What is a Synthesizer?”

"Inside are features with Keith Emerson, Rick Wakeman, Milton Babbit, Roger Powell and some fascinating facts about Bob’s background. "
Some more information on the content of these 'books' came from a discussion thread I found on
"The seed of the idea came from the already mentioned 'imoogination' (Moog advertising/propaganda from the 70's) article where some guy was trying to explain why Moog products sounded better than the competition. The accidental phase sync thing just stuck with me for some reason. From memory, some of the other things mentioned included really fast attack times (combined with hopeless vca trim resulting in DC in the output), very high quality filters (yeah right)."
I couldn't find too much more... if anyone knows anything, please send me an email or comment. I definitely have to try hunting those down!

Monday, January 18, 2010

Moog Sonic Six brochure, 1974

Moog Sonic Six brochure from 1974.

This week is going to be crazy at work, so I decided to take a look around to see what I could scan in quickly and maybe hold back on the blogging a bit. Let's see how *that* goes... :o)

I've seen the cover of this Sonic Six brochure around the 'net a bit but not the rest of the pages. The centerfold text and image, along with the back page, provide some great reference material.

I've never seen or heard this synthesizer. But I love it and everything it stands for - Education.

The Sonic Six was marketed as a educational tool for the classroom. Sure, the brochure mentions using it in 'live performances', but even the photo looks like my high school band room at lunch hour (minus the Sonic Six).

Turn the page and read the centerfold text, and you can see that this brochure is aimed squarely at music educators, where 'students can concentrate on musical expression ... as they explore and express their musical ideas' and 'grasp the basic concepts of music'. The Sonic Six can help you, the educator, 'illustrate important musical material'.

On the back page, Moog explains that they have 'specifically designed a program of lessons for small groups which you can take at your music store' called 'Meet Moog'. The lessons include an instruction booklet with eight exercises to help you learn the basics of the synthesis on the Sonic Six. Nice.

One of Moog's main competitors in the educational sector, even before the Sonic Six, was surely EML. In Mark Vail's Vintage Synthesizers book, one of the founders of EML, Norman Milliard, talks about how EML really got a kick start thanks to Moog. Norman was setting up his booth at a music educator's convention where Bob Moog was supposed to be the featured speaker. But Bob's plane was snowed in and convention organizers asked Norman to speak to the 2000+ crowd. The result - a lot of business. The competition is also clearly seen in the design of the ElectroComp 101 - it bears more than a slight resemblance to the Sonic Six with its clearly separated synthesis sections and portable form factor.

Okay, one final note - a confession of sorts. I have an extreme fetish for portable synthesizers. If you are gonna shove the guts of a synthesizer into a suitcase, then count me in. The EML 101. The EMS Synthia A or AKS. The Sonic Six. I love all of them. I even like looking at the P (Portable) series of Moog Modulars rather than the C series.

I'm glad I got that out in the open.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Octave Electronics Inc. CAT ad #4, Contemporary Keyboard 1977

Octave Electronics CAT ad from page 45 of Contemporary Keyboard Magazine November 1977.

Before this ad came around in November 1977, there had been three earlier CAT ads during the first half of the same year. I've blogged about each of those three ads (ad #1, ad #2, ad #3), mostly because I found them a little different from other synthesizer ads at the time with their creative illustrated imagery.

But this ad takes the promotion of the CAT in a new direction, and I'm pretty sure its not a good one.

My biggest beef with this ad is actually a beef that spans all their ads to date. As a reader in 1979, I'd be coming across these ads in sequence. Sure, ad #1 may have come off as pretty cute with the illustrated CAT synthesizer in the jungle. But three ads in and three months later I think I'd be a little ticked that I STILL HAVEN'T SEEN AN ACTUAL PHOTO OF A CAT SYNTHESIZER.

Then, finally, this ad comes along three or four months after dead silence, and what do I get - a new ad with CAT synthesizer action shots that are so small and blurry that they are pretty much useless. Just let me see a photo of the synthesizer. Please!

And if that isn't enough, missing from this ad are two vitally important pieces of marketing - the actual CAT logo with the slanted 'A' that appears on the actual synthesizer, and the associated little paw print - both of which appeared in each of the previous ads.

This ad also falls down in other ways too.

First of all, the tag line is way too long. Look at the three earlier ads with their short catchy phrases:
  • "What's new in the synthesizer jungle."
  • "No matter where you perform."
  • "Give your CAT a play-mate."
Now I have to read: "It takes a great synthesizer to give you the Sounds you need... it takes a CAT Synthesizer to give you MORE!"

Plus, they include a sub-title near the Octave Electronics Inc. logo: "The CAT, where quality is our most important feature".

Just not snappy enough for my tastes.

Second - the text in this ad is way too small. And there is no reason for it - there is lots of white space. Which brings me to my third point.

Third - the white space. You hear about white space all the time from graphic designers. Well, here is an example of white space abuse. I purposely left as much of the white border around the ad as possible so you could see just how much more space they had to work with. Where as the earlier ads were well-balanced, this ad comes across as unbalanced and top-heavy.

They did start doing something right - they took a page from ARP and Moog and started using musician endorsements, including David Burns of "Burns, Renwick & Rags", and Rod Argent of "ARGENT". It's a start.

It is no wonder that, as far as I can tell, this ad only ran once. In December, a new CAT ad featuring the CAT SRM came out. Will blog about that one later.

End note: There is one other thing in this ad that didn't appear in earlier ads - underneath the Octave Electronics logo, new text started to appear: "An Affiliate of Syn-Cordion Musical Instruments Corp". I did a quick Google search and came across their home page. They are an organ/accordion manufacturer that recently celebrated their 100 year anniversary. Unfortunately, they also announced their closing at the end of May of last year. :o(

Monday, January 11, 2010

Moog Micromoog, Contemporary Keyboard 1977

Moog Micromoog synthesizer ad from page 5 of Contemporary Keyboard Magazine, October 1977.

This is the second of two Micromoog ads published in CK during the Micromoog's lifetime. The first ad, which I blogged about back in August last year, ran from mid-1976 to early-1977 until this ad took over and continued to run periodically until the end of 1977. Interestingly, after stopping the promotion of the Micromoog in CK, the company took a breather from marketing synthesizers in CK entirely for about six months until the second half of 1978.

After blogging about the great placement of Oberheim's anniversary ad in my last blog post, I started to think about how I always noticed that certain company's ads showed up month after month on (or very near) the same page of CK. This practice seems to be quite common in many magazines, and this ad is a perfect example. Moog held on to page 5 - directly opposite to the Letters section- throughout 1977, and if it wasn't a Micromoog ad you saw, it was a Polymoog ad.

This ad is also one of the earlier Moog ads in CK to feature, front and centre, some great musicians' endorsements - Chick Corea and Herbie Hancock. Synergies in marketing is everything, and using these two wasn't an accident. Chick Corea was a column writer for CK during this time period, and Herbie Hancock was the cover story the following month (which also featured the same Micromoog ad on page 5 again). That's some great Marketing 101.

One other thing I noticed was that although this ad does mention the lack of pitch-drift available with the Micromoog, it doesn't mention specifically "thermostated oscillator", a buzzword that was featured so prominently in their earlier ad. I thought the term was great marketing, but maybe it was just too scientific for the musician crowd.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Oberheim Electronics, Inc. 10th Anniversary, Contemporary Keyboard 1980

Oberheim Electronics, Inc. 10th Anniversary advertisement from page 5 of Contemporary Keyboard Magazine April 1980.

I'm kicking myself for missing this perfect opportunity! On December 31, 2009, it would have been the 30-year anniversary of this 10-year anniversary advertisement from Oberheim.

Well, better late than never. Plus, blogging about it provided me the opportunity to find out more about the history of Oberheim Electronics from Tom Oberheim himself! Read on...

I flip through old issues of CK quite a bit, but I felt like I was reading this issue of CK for the first time when I came across this ad recently. Its placement in the magazine is perfect - page 5, directly opposite the Letters section. The design is also fantastic - the white space... the fonts.... the logo at the top immediately recognizable.

But as I read through the opening paragraph, something seemed odd. I had always thought Oberheim Electronics started in the 'early' 70s, but not as early as 1970. Even Wikipedia states the company began in 1973. And other sites have taken this '1973' date and repeated it on their sites as well.

Time to do a bit of digging.

I did a Google search to try and find a pre-1973 reference to Oberheim Electronics. The one reference that stood out was an article from 1984 by Harald Bode entitled 'History of Electronic Sound Modification" found on MATRIXSYNTH. Reference '44' on page 9 of the PDF points to a presentation made in 1970 by Tom Oberheim entitled "A 'Ring Modulator' Device for Performing Musicians' - almost the exact same wording that is used in this ad under '1970'! Interestingly, on page six of the PDF, Bode also states that "one of the successful phasers of the early times was the Maestrophaser, designed by Tom Oberheim". Certainly a reference to the phase shifter listed under 1972 in the ad.

So, Tom Oberheim was definitely designing and building gear as early as 1970 - but did the company Oberheim Electronics exist?

I decided the easiest way would be to ask Tom Oberheim himself. And, in fact, it was started in 1969.
"Oberheim Electronics was incorporated by me in California in December 1969. The company remained in my hands until May 1985 when Oberheim Electronics's bank foreclosed on the assets of the company and sold them to the ex-lawyer for Oberheim Electronics. At that time Oberheim Electronics was put into Chapter 7 bankruptcy and ceased to exist. A new company, ECC Development continued with the assets. I briefly worked for that company. After early 1987, all my connections to the "old" Oberheim entities were severed. It is my understanding that sometime after that, ECC sold or otherwise transferred the remaining assets to Gibson, including the Oberheim name and logo. As far as I know, Gibson still owns the Oberheim name and logo."
That's some great history!

But enough about the past... If you live under a rock, you may not be aware that Tom Oberheim has reissued his Synthesizer Expander Module (SEM) - the same one as mentioned in the ad under '1974'. You can find more information on the SEM on his Web site - Definitely check it out!

Tom also had this to say about the ad itself:
"I have had a copy of the ad on my wall in my office since it came out in 1979."
I just put a copy of the ad up on my wall too... :o)
End note: Reading through the list of achievements in the ad, I instantly recalled MATRIXSYNTH's 'The first synth to...' list. Taking a look, the only achievement in the ad to make the list looks to be the first fully programmable synthesizer (although listed in a different year). Take a look and see where any of the other achievements may be added.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Sequential Circuits Inc. Model 700 Programmer and Model 800 Digital Sequencer, Contemporary Keyboard 1977

Sequential Circuits Inc. Model 700 Programmer and Model 800 Digital Sequencer from page 5 of Contemporary Keyboard December 1977.

What an interesting ad to start 2010 off with!

The first reason I find this add interesting is the fact that Rick Wakeman makes an appearance. If you are familiar with other SCI ads you may have noticed that musician endorsements were not a common occurrence for SCI around this time period. The only other Model 700/800 ad to date, from six months earlier, didn't drop any names at all. Maybe SCI was testing the musician-endorsement waters since other synthesizer companies like ARP and Oberheim were actively using musicians to promote their gear around the same time. Or, perhaps they purposely decided to stop using musician endorsements after this ad ran for some reason - maybe the costs were too high? Either way, its still interesting to me to see Mr. Wakeman in this ad.

The second reason this ad is interesting is that it helps pin down the timeline of Sequential Circuits' ever-evolving logo and company name. The Model 800 sequencer in this ad has the newer 'Sequential Circuits Co.' logo in the bottom right-hand corner of the unit, unlike the Model 800 in the 700/800 ad just six months previous that included the older SCI logo. You can read a bit more about the SCI logo evolution in that earlier 700/800 advertisement blog post.

The contact information in the ad also provides more information on the evolutionary time line of the company name. In this ad, the contact address used is 'Sequential Circuits Inc.' and the location given is at 1172G Aster Avenue in Sunnyvale, CA. The ad from only six months previous used 'Sequential Circuits Co.' located at 1016 Morse #13 in Sunnyvale. Even the phone number had changed.

Looking at SCI gear production timelines, this change in address roughly aligns to when SCI probably had to expand a bit when they started building and promoting the Prophet synthesizer in late 1979/early 1980.

Using Google Maps, I tried to get an idea on building size, but so much time has gone by, I'm not sure this is a valid comparison what so ever.

Here is the new location. Not too many big buildings...

View Larger Map

Compare that to the older location - which seems to be a larger facility...

View Larger Map

But again... the landscape has changed so much over time. Plus, SCI's contact location may not even be the production location. Well... good try anyways. :o)

So, did the expansion of Sequential Circuits into the production of the Prophet have something to do with the name change of the company itself from Co. to Inc.? And why didn't the logo text on the gear change to Inc. as well at this time? If anyone knows, please comment. Otherwise I plan to do a bit more research into this - hopefully before the spring.