Thursday, January 26, 2012

Firstman SQ-01 Sequence Synthesizer from Multivox - Part 2, Contemporary Keyboard 1981

Something happened after I wrote my last blog post. I kept on researching.

The result... Part 2.

The reason I kept on researching was mostly because of the July 1981 Spec Sheet promo that I initially dismissed as not providing any info that didn't already appear in the ad. But as I re-read that Spec Sheet, something clicked.

Both because of something I saw, and something I didn't see.
"Multivox Sequencer. The SQ-01 Mini Music Lab is a monophonic synthesizer and sequencer. It operates on either AC current or batteries. It will record up to 1024 notes on 16 channels, combine time values, program glides, program triple and duple meters, and play back with from 30-300 quarter-note beats per minutes with sixteenth-note subdivisions. The synthesizer portion of the unit has a seven-octave range, a 24db/octave filter, and an envelope selection system. Rear panel jacks offer interface possibilities, syncing to other sequencers or clocks, or other synthesizer control. An optional bass pedal controller, the BS-01, is also available. Multivox/Sorkin Music, 370 Motor Parkway, Hauppauge, NY 11787."
First - what I saw:

Right at the beginning... The SQ-01 Mini Music Lab!  What an awesome spin on this tiny machine. But yet I find this descriptive label nowhere in the ad. Boo! You've got every other marketing trick in the book coming through in that ad, but something as cool sounding as Mini Music Lab is totally left out. And when you gaze at that machine with its lovely membrane touch controls and other futuristic good looks, my mind immediately gravitates toward the term "Mini Music Lab".

I am geek, hear me roar!  :)

And what was missing from that Spec Sheet blurb? "Fastman". Only Multivox and Sorkin Music get creds.

These two things just led to more questions. Where did the whole "Mini Music Lab" label come from if not from the ad? And who the heck was Firstman? I decided to do a bit of digging to see what other info I could uncover. Lucky for me, the obvious comparison to Roland's legendary TB-303 makes the Firstman SQ-01 a rather easy machine to find information on.

Gun. Fish. Barrel. It wasn't long before Google provided these answers, and more.

[Side note: Incredibly, this ad appeared a good year before the legendary ad for the TB-303 made an appearance in  Keyboard Magazine.]

One quick Google search and I found the origin of the "Mini Music Lab" label. Turns out it comes directly from the manual - I found an online PDF at And the "Mini Music Lab" name isn't just referenced once in the introduction. It is referenced throughout. Interesting that this term wouldn't make it into the ad for the instrument. That was definitely a conscience decision on someone's part. And in my opinion, a missed opportunity.

As far as who Firstman was, and its connection to Multivox? Those questions, too, were quickly resolved when I came upon the Firstman/Multivox connection in a  July 2002 Sound On Sound article titled "A tale of two string synths" written by Gordon Reid. The article focuses on the similarities of the Roland RS202 and Multivox MX202, and while looking at the circuit boards inside the Mulitvox, Gordon found the name Hillwood.
 "I found the name Hillwood, a little-known Japanese manufacturer who were active in the late 1970s and early 1980s. This was a company founded by a Japanese gentleman called Kazuo Morioka, whose name translates as First Man Wood Hill. Morioka thus gave his name to the Hillwood synths and keyboards released throughout the mid-to-late '70s, as well as the short-lived manufacturer Firstman."
Gordon Reid also points out that that even though Multivox, Hillwood and Firstman were some of the first casualties of the digital synth revolution of the 80s, Morioko continued working in the industry.
" appears that Kazuo Morioko did not depart the world of synthesizers; he went to work for both Hohner and Akai, where, in 1983 or thereabouts, he helped to design parts of its aborted Akai Studio System, including the MG1212 multitrack recorder and the AX80 polysynth..." 
Awesome historical info.

You can also find a wack of photos online including this December 2011 auction post on MATRIXSYNTH. That machine sure does look purrrdy in colour. Also found a good May 2011 MATRIXSYNTH auction post for the optional BS-01 foot pedals that also appear in the ad. Excellent!

There are also a few good video demos of the unit online, and I really enjoyed this one.

BTW - can I get dibs on the band name "Mini Music Lab"?


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