Monday, January 16, 2012

Talk Studio/Zypher (distributed by Pi Keyboards & Audio) Digi-Atom 4800 Analog-to-MIDI interface "Control the MIDI World" ad #2, Keyboard 1984

Talk Studio/Zypher Digi-Atom 4800 analog-to-MIDI interface 1/3-page advertisement from page 27 in Keyboard Magazine August 1984.

 Its already mid-January, and although I've only had two blog posts this year, I somehow feel its been ages since I posted an actual ad. As far as I'm aware, this blog is still called 'retro synth ADS', so time to get back to the basics. And I think I'm starting with a gooder - ie: I'm already obsessing a bit.

This looks to be the first and only follow-up advertisement to Talk Studio/Zypher's original Digi-Atom 4800 ad that appeared four months earlier in the April 1984 issue of Keyboard.


There are a few notable differences between the two ads. The first, is that the second ad was shrunk down to a third of the size. I'm guessing at least partly due to ad budget, this size change would have a domino affect on other aspects of the ad. For example, because the ad was shrunk down to a 1/3-page, the company probably realized the photo was going to loose a lot of the resolution - so, why not save a bit more cash and use a black and white format. The only real loss is that 'pop' of the green button on the left side of the front panel. Smart thinking.

That decrease in ad size would also have made the already small descriptive text that actually explains what the heck this machine does even smaller. So, the designer decided to make good use of the white space on the bottom left side of the original ad and increased the font size. Voila! Readable again!

But for me, the biggest difference between the two ads has to do with the company names that are displayed. In that original ad, the two company names associated with the Digi-Atom 4800 are Talk Studios and zypher electronics. In contrast, both of those names are gone in this second ad, replaced with Pi Keyboards & Audio.

I decided to Google "Pi Keyboards & Audio" to find out more information about this company and was genuinely surprised, and excited, by what I found.

I found out a little bit about Pi and it's influence on the Cleveland electronic music scene through a Facebook page about the band "Ghosts in Daylight". Or, I should more correctly point out, it was a Google-cached page for the Face book page. Facebook kept telling me the actual page doesn't seem to exist any more.
"While Cleveland is now recognized as home of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, the city actually fostered an active electronic music scene in the late 1980s. During this time, developing MIDI technology allowed for the connection and sequencing of electronic synthesizers and samplers. A small music shop, Pi Keyboards & Audio, served as a hub for many Cleveland-area musicians interested in this technology – it was also the place where Ghosts in Daylight purchased most of their equipment and made their early connections with the local music industry."
 Another Google result led me to Cleveland-area keyboardist Keith Chelm's web site. His bio page provides a brief note that he worked at Pi Keyboards & Audio in the mid-80s, along side none other than Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails. Now, that's a 'hub'!

I contacted Keith Chelm to ask a bit more about the company and whether he knew any information about the Digi-Atom 4800. He didn't, but he did put me in touch with one of the owners of Pi (and apaprently drummer in Keith's weekend band!) - David Yost.

Through a few email exchanges, I learned that David was one of the owners and CEO of Pi Corp, later changed to Pi Keyboards & Audio, from 1976 - 1990. The company wasn't just a sales and repair shop, but also enjoyed an international reputation for their technical work with Weather Report, Wendy Carlos, Billy Cobham, George Duke, Tangerine Dream, Uriah Heep Jean Luc Ponty, and Devo. That list isn't too shabby!

He looks back on the early MIDI days as "busy, exciting, and rapidly changing". I asked him about the initial confusion of mixing analog and MIDI technologies in gear and he felt that most manufacturers made the switch with ease due to the foresight and prep work done by industry leaders, singling out Dave Smith of Sequential Circuits in particular.

When I asked him about the Digi-Atom in particular, David replied that he thought it was a great piece of gear and was responsible for bringing the unit to the US as a distributor - the only time Pi got involved as a distributor for a foreign product. But, he explained that the lack of sales support from Japan and the language barrier worked against the success of the Digi-Atom. And, that after the few ads failed to generate business, Pi let the relationship with Talk Studios/Zypher dissolve.

Of course, being a young Nine Inch Nails fan way back when, I just couldn't resist asking David about Trent Reznor's time at Pi. David explained that he hired Trent on the recommendation of one of the sales guys. Trent ended up moving from Pennsylvania to Cleveland for the job and worked at Pi for about two and half years. It was then that Bart Koster, owner of Right Track Studios, hired Trent... and, well, the rest is history.

This info would make an excellent addition to Trent's Wikipedia page. It currently jumps from high school directly to his time at Right Track Studios.

I found a few other little tidbits while Web surfing. According to a 1996 Harmony-Central forums post, Wes Taggart of Analogics fame also worked there as a Service Manager in the late 80's. Also found some Pi corporate filings through the Web site. And, if we want to get a little more off-topic, Pi also came up in a UFO sightings report from someone who worked for the company. Gotta love the Web. :)

I have a lot more to say on the Digi-Atom in Part 2 of this blog post - coming on Thursday.

Yup... definitely obsessing.  :D

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