Thursday, April 26, 2012

MPC Electronics Music Percussion Computer "Play What You Feel..." ad, Keyboard 1983



MPC Electronics Music Percussion Computer "Play What You Feel..." 1-page colour advertisement from the December 1983 issue of Keyboard Magazine.

I've never forgotten this rather rare ad. For some reason it has always stood out from many of the other drum machine ads that appeared around this time period - and you can bet there were a lot of them in all shapes and sizes. In this issue alone there were ads for the Stix Programma, Boss Dr. Rhythm, Oberheim DMX, E-mu Drumulator, and LinnDrum. I even think this ad is more memorable than the popular Roland TR606 and303 ad.

Even one of the Keyboard Reports in this issue was for the MXR Drum Computer.

Did you catch that? Not drum machine... "Computer".

Computers were hot. A big buzz word. And they could be found winding their way into more and more synthesizer and drum machine ads as manufacturers found different ways to integrate both the term, and actual computers. In this issue, Sequential was promoting their Model 64 sequencer for the Commodore 64, both Rhodes Chroma and E-mu Drumulator ads featured Apple computers,  and CMI  - well that thing was basically one big-ass computer.

And then there is this Music Percussion Computer. I'm not sure why, but I'm drawn to it. I get the urge to trawl eBay endlessly for both the instrument AND its partner in crime - a Timex Sinclair 1000 computer.

As much as I loved the look of the MPC, it was the idea of attaching a computer to it that first caught my attention back in the day. And the fact they chose to use the relatively cheap Timex Sinclair makes me absolutely giddy. My friend Bob had a Timex Sinclair when it first came out and we were mesmerized. I decided to catch up with the computer before the instrument itself.

According to the Sinclair ZX81 Wikipedia page, the TS1000 was a Sinclair clone manufactured and distributed in the United States by Timex under a licensing agreement:
"The TS1000 was launched in July 1982 and sparked a massive surge of interest; at one point, the Timex phoneline was receiving over 5,000 calls an hour, 50,000 a week, inquiring about the machine or about microcomputers in general.  It was virtually identical to the ZX81 save for re-branding and the addition of an extra 1 kB of memory, making for a grand total of 2 kB. In the five months following the TS1000's launch, the company sold 550,000 machines, earning Sinclair over $1.2 million in royalties."
Nice chunk of change. I found a bit more info on the Timex Sinclair 1000 on the oldcomputers.net site and ToyNfo.com. And there are a lot more links out there - just Google 'em and see where they take you.  Never enough time. :)

Enough about the computer. Back to the advertisement and the instrument.

The Ad itself is half photo/half ad-copy.  You almost miss the computer in the photo, but the TV monitor sitting beside it is a dead giveaway and probably was the fishing line to hook those musicians that were also computer enthusiasts. I'm not usually a fan of lots of text in ad-copy, but in this case I think it was necessary for the distributor, On-Site Energy Music Corp, to get as much out there as possible. The ad only ran a handful of times, if even that much. I almost read it like an article rather than an ad. 

If you happened to read the magazine cover-to-cover each month, chances are you would have ran into more information on the machine two months before, in the October 1983 issue of Keyboard. The Spec Sheet section had a rather nice little promo for it. Tons of great historical reference information, including operations, enhancements when hooking it up to the computer, and best of all - price!
"MPC Electronic Drums. the MPC (Music Percussion Computer) interfaces with a Timex-Sinclair 1000 computer and links up with any TV set to read out a graphic display of the rhythms programmed. The MPC master module consists of eight touch-sensitive pads of ABS plastic, which you can play with your hands or with sticks. Each pad is spring-based to simulate real drum heads. the pad arrangement has two options - bass drum, snare, open hi-hat, closed hi-hat, and four descending toms, or bass drum, snare, open hi-hat, closed hi-hat, two toms, cymbals, and a handclap. All the voicings have individual level and tone controls, with an over-all mute button for dynamics. there is a 16-key on-board computer processor to record, play back, control tempo, bar length, and time signatures, program sequences, and add accents where needed. The performer may also play along with the sequence as it plays back. All programming is done in real time. Once link-up to the Timex Sinclair has been made, more complex programming and storage is available. While the on-board computer sustains four channels of 2-bar groups with up to 16 beats per bar, access to the T-1000 opens up 26 different bars of rhythm, each containing up to 20 beats. Both systems can arrange their bars into sequences to play back songs with up to 199 variations and infinite repeat capability. A tape sync input/output allows for loading and dumping of programming and synchronization with pre-recorded tracks. Measurements are 25-1/4"x7"x13-1/4", and weight is approximately 20 lbs. Price is $1,299.00. The software interface is $129.00. On-Site Energy Music, 3000 Marcus Ave., Suite 2W7, Lake Success, NY 11042."
 Today, there are a few good information sources on the company and the machine. The initial problem is finding them. Before even thinking about it, I typed "MPC" into Google's search field. Errr.... not so much.

Among other things, MPC just happens to be the name of that other rather well-known Akai series of products, and those Akai links tend to dominate the Google search results. But with a little bit of digging and a few key word changes, I found a few gems.

According to Wikipedia, Micheal Coxhead was the founder of MPC Electronics, and it was when electronics wiz Clive Button came to him with the basic design for their first product, 'The Kit', that the company was formed.

Synthmuseum.com has a good article on the company, MPC Electronics, reprinted from the December 1983 issue of Electronics & Music Maker magazine. Together with Audiotools.com's info on the company and the gear, you get a wack of great historical info.

Designer Clive Button has a Web site with some awesome information on the drum machine as well as many of the other products he has designed - including the "MIDI Humanizer"! Scroll down the home page to the section titled "Other Clive Button created products" and you will find the MPC and Timex Sinclair info. According to the page, later interfaces were also built for the Commodore 64 and Sinclair Spectrum computers. Excellent stuff! He can also be found on Twitter @musichillout to promote his music

Oh - and last but not least, you can find the manual online too. In fact, Lazy Blue Octopus has a copy of the manual and schematics online.
 
You will find a few more gems, like auction info and photos, online, but for now I'll end with this: Youtuber snolan1990's overview of the MPC. Great sound!



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