Monday, September 3, 2012

Vibronic Music Service "What a combination!" ad, Contemporary Keyboard 1975


Vibronic Music Service "What a combination!" half-page black and white advertisement from page 23 in the September/October 1975 issue of Contemporary Keyboard.

Have you ever been flipping through a magazine you have read dozens of times (backwards and forwards), only to suddenly fixate on a certain image or article after all that time?

That is *exactly* what happened here.

The Moog modular drawing in this ad is fantastic. I just can't look away. It belongs on my wall or a t-shirt. Or two t-shirts. Gorgeous.

And so, after picking up a magnifying glass to read every little detail in that drawing, I decided I would try and find out more about Vibronic Music Service. It wasn't a name I was familiar with outside of the magazine ads I'd seen in the early issues of CK.

And I was curious.

Naturally, when starting to look for clues in to a synth company, the first place I look is at the ads and their ad-runs. Vibronic's ads started in the September/October 1975 issue of Contemporary Keyboard. This wasn't just an early issue of CK. But THE EARLIEST issue. There seems to only be one other Vibronic advertisement, which appeared a couple of times in early 1976. This tells me either the company didn't find value in advertising in the magazine or that maybe something happened to the company. Kinda like in the fossil record when dinosaurs just suddenly dropped off the face of the earth.

This got me even more curious.

The ad itself is also a good place to build up info on a company. The ad-copy in this ad may be sparse, but those five bullet points actually say a whole lot about Vibronic. It looks like the company was part of a network of service providers that supplied Moog products (Vibronic), service (Beacon), and customization (Polyfusion - another advertiser in early Contemporary Keyboard mags). The company even provided Moog sessions for other bands and recordings by someone named Kenny Fine.

Bam!

A name. Google likes names. Especially when you can cross reference it with other unique terms like "Vibronic" and "Moog". And it didn't take long to find out more info.

The first search result led me to the Moog Music forum where the original owner of Vibronic popped up to introduce himself back in a 2005 post. According to the post, musician Ken Fine owned Vibronic from around 1975-1977 and the company was the "first all-synthesizer music store" in the United States. When it opened in Pennsylvania, it seems it was quite a big deal with already-legend Bob Moog attending, drawing curious local press to see what Vibronic was up to. From the post:
"We supplied Moog products to area college music labs, recording studios, and of course musicians. I personally laid down Moog tracks for Philly Internationally Records, Sigma Sound Studios and Gamble Huff & Bell records. My Modular Moog III tracks appear on albums by the Spinners, Lou Rawls, The O'Jays and other Philly R&B groups of the 70's. Listen to "Rubber Band Man" by The Spinners! I also performed in an all Moog band called the Philadelphia Moog Ensemble."
Later in that string (a lot later - 2010!) he provides a bit more information on what happened with the company, along with the name of his business partner.
"After I closed Vibronic Music Service, I returned to school and became a psychologist. I left psychology in 2001 and got back into entertainment. I now own a corporate entertainment agency, speakers bureau and production company in Denver, CO. www.bluemoontalent.com. I also dabble around with video and have a photo studio on the side.
...
I have tried to contact my former business partner, Mark Paturka, but no luck."
 And this next part is what I like about the Internet so much. Turns out Mark's niece had recognized a piece from the Philadelphia Moog Ensemble playing on the radio and through Google found Ken's post in this forum and responded. Unfortunately it wasn't good news:
"You mentioned in one of your posts that you had tried to find Marc. Unfortunately, he passed away several years ago, I believe it was 2005. He suffered for several years with problems related to obesity & diabetes and died from complications of pneumonia. For many years he fought with addictions which he did finally overcome. When he died, he had been sober for 5 years and living in Southern California in Ramona, a town east of San Diego, where he was director of musical liturgy for a church. He had earned Doctor of Musical Arts degree somewhere along the way, too.
...
I do remember the summer that Marc came back to Wahpeton, ND (our home town) with a (Mini?)MOOG and performed a concert in the catholic church with the pipe organ and the synthesizer."
A 2012 follow up post in the same forum provides a bit more information about the company:
"My partner (Mark Paturka) and I sold mostly Mini Moogs and modular systems and we eventually became an authorized service center."
 So, looks like Vibronic was operated by two partners - Ken Fine and Marc Paturka and the company sold mostly Minimoogs and modular systems, eventually becoming an authorized service centre for Moog. Not too shabby for a small company in 1975.

But Ken made one mistake in those forums. He left contact information. Hee hee.    :) 

So I emailed him the other day, introducing myself and rattling off a long list of questions. Ken was not only open to answering the lot of them, but took the time to talk to me on the phone for over an hour about the company, synths, bands, and even that awesome drawing in this ad.

We had a great conversation - he's a funny and engaging guy who has spent four decades with at least one foot, and often two, in the music industry. Musician. Synthesizer store owner. Audio researcher. Music lecturer and educator. To name just a few.

And his memory from 35+ years ago is astounding. Right down to the name of the font used in that awesome Vibronic logo. No joke!

But all that is going to have to wait until Thursday's post. If you want to know more about what Ken Fine is up to now, check out his current events entertainment agency Blue Moon Talent, Inc.

And while you are looking through that, I'm going to start putting all this material together!.  :D

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