Thursday, January 10, 2013

Dennis Electronics "Expand your synthesizer!" ads, Synapse 1978

Dennis Electronics "Expand your synthesizer!" 1/9th-page black and white advertisements from page 39 in the March/April 1978 and page 38 in the May/June 1978 issues of Synapse Magazine.

If you've been reading the last few posts, you know Dennis Electronics about as well as I do. Sure, I'm interested in the gear the company manufactured, but it's also been about piecing together as much of the history as I can. I wanted to find out as much as I could about Dennis, and get the info online and into search engines with the hope that someone with more information, even Dennis himself (if he is an actual person), would come across it and fill in a few blanks.

So far I've posted the initial VCO module 1/4-pager that appeared in the July/August 1977 issue of Synapse and the rather dull follow-up Control Voltage Processor 1/12th-page ads that appeared in the two following issues. And in all that time I've learned very little about the company and the modules.

But finally, these slightly larger 1/9th-page ads provide the space required to give us a lot more information about the Dennis 201 Control Voltage Processor. And, just like in the those earlier two 1/12th-pagers, the copy-writer had twiddled the ad a little between the first and second version to make in more effective.

In the first March/April 1978 advertisement ("13 modules in 1") readers finally got to know exactly what a Dennis CVP module contains. And, they get to see what it looks like too. That photo may be small, but you can still pick out some of the jacks, dials and switches. And there were more than a few of them.

Other tidbits of knowledge:
  • a call to action - ORDER NOW
  • a price -$299.00  (jackpot!)
  • and the accessories that come with the unit - power supply and mahogany cabinet
Not too shabby, and it gets better.

In the follow-up ad, the description turns from what is available on the module to what the module can process. And, as noted above, we gain a few more tidbits of knowledge from the tweaked ad-copy in this later version.
  • comes with detailed instructions
  • a catalog was available for 25 cents
All that juicy information, packaged up and nicely organized into that small little space. With room for white space to boot.

And it could be said that Dennis had good timing too. With that first ad in the March/April 1978 issue, we also find out in the Notes from the Editors section that Synapse had grown from its humble beginnings to over 7000 subscribers. And that doesn't include all the non-subscribers out there picking up the issue from their ever-expanding list of distributors. A sizable module-synth-loving audience.

Unfortunately, this looks like the beginning of the end for Dennis - in Synapse anyways. These were the last two ads that I could find. The company kept appearing in Listings section up to and including the January/February 1979 issue. But by the Summer 1979 issue, Synapse had done away with their "Listings" section, I'm guessing because in a way it was giving away free advertising.

I did do a bit more of an exhaustive search online once I could include "control voltage processor" in my searches and came across a few online references. Interestingly, the more common reference was in relation to the creation of the Sequential Circuits Prophet VS!

Side note: For those not familiar with the awesome Prophet VS, it was awesome and rather unique mid-80s synthesizer that allowed the programmer to use a joystick to blend four different waveforms over time. The results are some seriously awesome sounds.

 Lord Frito (I'm not kidding) posted an article by Chris Meyer, ex-employee of Sequential from the VS WaveWrangler User Guide from 1991 (and updated July 1999 and June 2001 by the author) called "The Birth of the Prophet". Simply put, the author was looking at the way the PPG handled waveform cross-fades and he started thinking about how to cross-fade in two dimensions rather than one. He ended leaving the office to "patch it up at home on my rag-tag modular synthesizer".

That "rag-tag" modular he is referring to is an amazing assortment of synth components. The full article is an interested read, but if you are too lazy or don't have time time to click on the link, I've included those paragraphs below:
"For some reason, I was originally convinced that all four waveforms had to be at exactly the same frequency, with their only differences being their waveshape (and therefore, timbre). I plunged into my already heavily-modified Oberheim TVS 1-A (Two Voice Synthesizer - a pair of old SEM modulars, a sequencer, and a three octave keyboard in a road case) and found a way to sync all four oscillators. I then dialed up four different waveforms by playing with the waveshapes, sync tuning, and filters. Since the TVS has only two filters, to create more variations I used my hand-built linear-based PAiA modular for the other two, employing a Korg MS-02 exponential-to-linear control voltage converter to make sure they all tracked the Oberheim's keyboard together.

I then patched the four resulting VCAs from a custom cabinet built by Gentle Electric, using the various control voltage mixers built into it and the inverters and bias offsets in a Dennis Electronics Control Voltage Processor to perform the crossfades. The timbre mix was animated by envelopes from a Sequential Model 700 programmer and an LFO patched in from the Oberheim. This was all mixed together and fed into a final VCA, also controlled from the Oberheim. In the end, one voice took up almost my entire collection of analog synths, spread across modules from six different manufacturers."
D. R. O. O. L.

How awesome is that!  I haven't seen name-dropping like that since a late 1970's ARP post.  :)

The second reference could be argued to be almost as historically significant as Dennis Electronics role in the development of the VS. 

An Electronotes index listing from Tim Stinchcombe's Web site includes the name of an employee - D. Genovese - in an article title in Volume 10, issue 88 (1978)
"A. Envelope Follower With Improved Ripple And Response Time (D. Genovese, Dennis Elect.)"
 Further searches didn't bring up anything noteworthy. But I didn't spend a lot of time (work, work, work!) - so there could be more to dig up for those with time to spare.

But that brings my Dennis Electronics fact-finding missipon to an end for now. Dug up some good info, but  unfortunately didn't end up finding out where Dennis Electronics ended up. Did they get out of the business completely? Did the owner or employees end up working at larger, more successful companies?

Like many creatures of the lost ages, they popped up onto the timeline for a brief period and played their role in the evolution of synthesizers.

And then just disappeared.

1 comment:

Chris Meyer said...

(Sorry if this is a double-post; I wrote it up once, "published" it, and then it disappeared...)

"Dennis" was Denny Genovese, then of Hawaii. I knew him in the late 70s (early 80s?) through mutual friend Don Slepian. If I remember correctly, about 5 CVPs were built; I ended up with 3 of them - 2 in panel-only form (later mounted in a small road cabinet built by my dad) which I still have, and one was loaned to a person at E-mu Systems (Gary Hall?) before I lost track of it.

Denny went on to design and advertise an analog VCO with continuously variable waveform performed through voltage controlled self-FM. It generated a lot of interest, but my understanding was it was hard to keep the pitch stable as the FM amount changed - an issue discussed in Electronotes. I don't believe the module was ever released, and Dennis Electronics got out of the module business after that.

- Chris Meyer

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