Thursday, May 3, 2012

Kinetic Sound Corporation Prism digital synthesizer ad, Keyboard 1981

Kinetic Sound Corporation Prism performance-oriented digital synthesizer 2-page introductory advertisement from page 16 and 17 in the October 1981 issue of Keyboard Magazine.

 A rare ad for a really rare synth. Although the ad appeared less than a handful of times in Keyboard, I'm sure those that saw it never really forgot it thanks to the fact that it was a colourful two-page spread with a unique rainbow-inspired ad-title.

With over half the ad devoted to a photo of the machine and its accessories, my eyes totally ignored the ad-copy at first, immediately drifting from the colourful ad-title to the photo - and in particular that rather big shiny joystick on the Prism that screams "touch me".

My attention actually doesn't stay on the instrument itself for too long though. After a quick (and failed) survey for a logo on the Prism or on any of the other pieces of gear in the photo,  I noticed those large cables connected to the big case behind the instrument.All the other accessories around the Prism would have been very familiar to musicians - pedals and "satellite" keyboards (as Kenetic calls them). But that big box would have peaked at least a few observers' curiosity. BTW - Is focusing in on that one feature of the photo just a sign of being a full-blown gear junkie? :D

Its not too hard to figure out what that anvil case is - if you look closely there's a power switch and unused cable connectors with it. Also - there are what looks like cooling vents on the case as well. I'm thinking a power supply for the instrument and the satellite keyboards. But it makes me wonder if it had other functions as well.

As I've mentioned in the past, often when I come across a big photo of an instrument in an ad, my first gut instinct is to look for a logo on the machine, but unfortunately one isn't visible in this ad. My first thought is "opportunity missed" since there is a nice empty space just above the joystick on the front panel. But, one quick Google search later and I come across a photo of a Prism on's Prism page, and wouldn't you know it - what was empty space in this photo suddenly has 18 or 20 buttons. So, it looks like the Prism in the ad is definitely an early model.

Not that "early" really has meaning when it comes to the Prism. According to Mark Vail's book Vintage Synthesizers, only two were built. And, out of the two, only one was ever sold. And the instrument that was sold... it was yanked back by Kinetic Sound Corp when it looked like the owner "wouldn't be in the synthesizer business for long". The full write up from the book contains some excellent historical and operational information about the Prism and parent company Kinetic Sound, and I found a full excerpt from the book, copied with permission, on's Prism page.

Speaking of Prism Web pages, one of the most comprehensive sites for this instrument on the Web has to be's official unofficial Prism page. Kinetic Jim enthusiastically includes a wealth of information including history, specs, design, panel control layout and functionality, optional accessories and anything else you can imagine. With most of the facts apparently obtained and/or verified by former Kinetic Sound Corporation president Jim Stephenson! We are talking *a lot* of the information I have not seen elsewhere online.

For example, the site confirms that, in fact, three units were built, but the third was still "awaiting final testing" before the Prism project was abandoned. Bam! That's the kind of great info I'm talking about!

The site also helped me answer a few of my own questions:

That empty space above the joystick in the ad photo - taken up by18-20 buttons in the photo on synthony's site? That's an eight-track, 8000 note sequencer!

And that big box behind the instrument in the ad with the cables connected to it. I was right - that is the electronics enclosure with "two main console connectors and two connectors for expanding to another electronics enclosure". And it also contains the "four audio output jacks [that] are controlled by the quad switch-matrix section". Nice.

But back to the ad for a second. Although I ignored the ad-copy at first, I just couldn't stay away for too long. There is just so much of it. In-your-face themes that keeps popping up in the ad is "performance" and "live performance controls". And they encouraged musicians, in two ways, to find out more about these aspects.

The first was through hands-on workshops. With such an expensive instrument, and with only two built, musicians with a heavy wallet had to do a little bit of work to hear one - make an appointment. This was probably also a good way to weed out those that were just window shopping. The workshops appear to have included both predetermined dates as well as possible future dates (Wednesdays and Saturdays preferred). You could also get a demo at the Kinetic Sound Facility located 35 miles southwest of Chicago.

The second way musicians could learn more was through a free colour brochure. Did someone say "free"?!?!?!

And yerp, I gotz one. Can you guess what my next post is? :D

1 comment:

fallingman said...

I remember the Prism - saw it in the UK Electronics & Music Maker mag (where I first sae and fell in love with, the Jupiter 8), and I think I probably lusted after the Prism nearly as much!

Great to see it on your page and find out more about such a fabulous mythical instrument!

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