Thursday, April 21, 2011

Kurzweil K250, Keyboard 1985

Kurzweil 250 two-page advertisement from pages 74 and 75 in Keyboard Magazine February 1985.

Every now and then an ad comes along that makes you just stop dead in your tracks. You just have to pause and take a closer look. This rare 2-pager from Kurzweil is definitely one of them.

Right form the start, Kurzweil was building it's brand through advertisements in Keyboard Magazine. There were two previous ads that helped in this respect - the second of which focused on one single aspect of the machine - it's spectacular sampling abilities. In particular, duplicating a $35,000 concert grand piano.

This third advertisement piles on another layer to Kurzweil's legendary status by presenting to readers the ultimate endorsement:

Bob Moog.

He liked the K250 so much, he joined the company as "Chief Scientist".

I can't help but make a comparison to Remington razors. Remember the commercials with Remington Product's CEO and advertising spokesman Victor Kiam? "I liked it so much, I bought the company". It doesn't get better than that. Of course, I didn't know who the heck Victor Kiam was back then - owner of the New England Patriots football team apparently. But those big burly men that watched football religiously and who needed to shave three times a day sure knew who Victor was. Just like I sure knew who Bob Moog was.

Bob Moog's time at Kurzweil isn't as well known as some other time periods - at least not to me. But a bit of digging into my archives and on the Web brought it all back to me.

One of the best sources I've ever come across (which isn't saying much :) is a 1985 interview with Bob Moog by Henning Lohner published in the Computer Music Journal (Vol. 9, No. 4). The three and a half page interview took place in February 1985, only months after Bob Moog took on the full time gig, and contains some great historical information. Coincidentally, it is also the same month this advertisement appeared in Keyboard!

According to the interview article, Bob Moog met Ray Kurzweil and others from the company in the summer of 1983 when he visited "the very first Kurzweil exhibit at the Music Merchants Convention". The K250 didn't exist as a product yet, but there was a "demonstration of a computer program that you could play at the keyboard".

Bob was initially hired as a consultant for Kurzweil at the beginning of 1984 in keyboard design, in particular "making certain recommendations to improve the keyboard feel" of the K250. Like most consultants, by the end of 1984 he had worked on several products, and was made an offer that was, according to Bob Moog, "very attractive", so his family moved to Boston in the fall of 1984.

When asked by Lohner about his function at the company, Bob replies that "it's a very interesting position, for someone like me who has a lot of ideas, but not much administrative capability". Bob goes on to say that his title is "Chief Scientist", but that "it doesn't really describe what I've been doing. I exist partly in marketing and partly in engineering". Bob also notes that "a very little bit of my work ended up in the Kurzweil 250 sampling keyboard. A lot more will end up in succeeding products".

The interview also discusses all the features, options and pricing of the K250, including sampling, MIDI and computer connections. For example, Bob mentions that Kurzweil chose to work with the Macintosh for its graphic abilities, the compatible operating systems (both were MC680000-based), and the fact that this brand of computer was becoming more popular and readily available.

The whole article is excellent stuff! I love reading old "Computer Music Journal" magz, for the articles and the ads at the back.

You can also find some good information online, but you have to do a bit of digging. Bob Moog's Wikipedia page makes only a brief mention of his time at Kurzweil from 1984-1988, where after quitting, he returned to Ashville to teach music at the University of North Carolina. The page does note that he helped design the K2000, but unfortunately, neither the Kurzweil page or the K2000 page mentions his name at the time that I write this (April 18, 2011 mostly).

Luckily, the K250 Wikipedia page does mention his name as one of the consultants in it's development (the machine, not the page :o) . Interestingly, it also mentions Alan R. Pearlman, founder of ARP, as another consultant.

I continued searching the Web for more information about Bob's role at Kurzweil, and one of the first search results was a November 2005 tribute to Bob Moog by Ray Kurzweil in Wired Magazine. Most of the article is about Bob Moog's life, but the second last paragraph does contain a small nugget of info on Bob Moog's time at Kurzweil.
"Starting in 1984, Moog spent five years working for Kurzweil Music Systems as vice president of new product research. His thoughtful approach was of great help in realizing our ambitions. He would sit silently during executive committee meetings, not out of indifference or distraction, but because he was listening intently. Invariably, at a crucial moment, he would offer his considered opinion, delivered with a gentle voice of authority and spoken from a deep appreciation of the musician's perspective."
Another search result link that jumped out at me was an article entitled "Intuitive Music" by Amanda D. Angelica from 2002 that can be found on the Kurzweil Accelerating Intelligence Web site. Again, a fair bit of Moog's history can be found there, but another two quotes by Ray Kurzweil stands out:
"He was a sage advisor on our plans and designs,” said Ray Kurzweil, who [w]as CEO of Kurzweil Music Systems at that time. “He was particularly sensitive to the needs of the users, and articulated the musician’s perspective. He was very interested in new ways of controlling music."
And, referencing his 2002 Grammy Tech Award speech to Bob Moog...
"This a recognition richly deserved for your seminal contributions,” said Kurzweil. “I greatly value the years we spent working together at Kurzweil Music Systems during the late 1980s, and the times our paths have crossed since. Your consistently thoughtful insights into the art and science of creating music, and the intimate interaction between the musician and her musical instrument, have always deeply impressed me. I have to say that you’re one of those people whose ideas I always listen to most carefully."
There is a link to view Ray Kurzweil's congratulatory remarks honoring Bob Moog, to appear in the 2002 Grammy Awards program, but it unfortunately doesn't work.

End note: I like Bob's title in the ad, "Chief Scientist", a lot more than his actual title that was apparently Vice President of New Product Research. And he does refer to himself as Chief Scientist in that early 1985 article, so it must have been his title for at least a while.

Just sayin'.

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