Thursday, January 24, 2013

Strider Systems, Inc. DCS II "Get ready to change what you think..." modified ad, Contemporary Keyboard 1979

Strider Systems, Inc. DCS II "Get ready to change what you think..." modified full-page black and white advertisement from page 53 in the April 1979 issue of Contemporary Keyboard Magazine.

If there were two take-aways from my last blog post on the DCS II brochure, the first would be that I tracked down the president and co-owner of Strider Systems, Inc. and managed to squeeze quite a bit of Strider history out of him without managing to be too much of a pain in the arse. [Spoiler alert:  more juicy info below!]

The second take-away would probably have to do with the last page of the brochure, and in particular the designer's choice to modify what was the DCS II introductory ad to better fit inclusion into the brochure.

On a hunch I decided to revisit the three-month run of the introductory advertisement in the February, March and April 1979 issues of Contemporary Keyboard, and sure enough - the design of the ad was also changed during that final April placement - to match the brochure!

original advertisement                        Brochure                       New advertisement

The real problem here is that I'm a little obsessive and so I had to scan the ad and log it on the blog, even though it is exactly like the brochure.

The good news? Its another chance to write more about something else I'm obsessed about right now - the history of Strider!

As I mentioned above, the last post provided a bit of an introduction of Jim Christensen, president and co-owner of Strider, as well as some historical information on the company's initial product the DCS-1. Although that product only saw one pre-production prototype, the company did continue to design new products and grow.  At the height of Strider Systems, the company had five full- and part-time staff, and during his time with Strider, Jim continued to do some consulting and programming from time to time "to keep body and soul together".

The second and only other synthesizer Strider advertised was the DCS-II. I asked James about it's unique front panel and how the design came about:
"Tony Presti (Anthony Prestigiacomo), a musician from Baton Rouge who became our marketing department, convinced us that musicians would like to adjust more than one parameter at a time, for example pitch bend and modulation depth, so the joystick was a natural fit to that requirement. It was also a low-cost way to set parameters without using a knob for every parameter, and you could play the note while adjusting two parameters at once with the joystick to get the sound you wanted."
Development of the DCS II went through a series of changes during the creation of the pre-production models:
"Thinking back on it, I am amazed that it only took about 18 months to the stage of manually assembling the first 6 pre-production units. Everything was changed - signal generation went from analog VCO to a digital TI chip to get pitch stability and flexibility in waveform generation, VCAs and VCFs went from analog multipliers to photo-resistors, processor family was changed from Signetics 6502 to Intel 8048."
It's stories like this that make me wish I now worked at a synth company. Just to watch a new keyboard evolve throughout its development cycle.

Unfortunately, the DCS II's fate was sealed before it could get into production. Strider couldn't get production up and running before their major investor's real-estate empire collapsed and the company lost its source of funding.
"Fortunately, we also didn't accept any orders or up-front payments".
Even though the DCS II never launched, the product did manage to squeak into the Spec Sheet section of the May 1979 issue of CK - a month after the advertising run ended.  Its one of the longer promos I've seen, with a large portion devoted to its unique programming with the joystick/matrix system.

Not gonna lie - I'd be drunk if this was a college drinking game where I had to take a shot every time the word "function" was mentioned.
" Strider Synthesizer. The DCS II features two polyphonic voices that can drive up to eight notes each across its three-and-a-half-octave keyboard. There is a separate synthesizer module for each note produced from the keyboard: each module has three oscillators with mixable waveforms, a multi-mode state-variable filter, and separate ADSR envelope generation for the oscillators, filter, and VCA. Forty-eight patches can be stored in computer memory. 16 of these are permanent factory presets, 16 are user-programmed sequences, and 16 are user-programmed joystick modes. The joystick mode is one where each function is programmed with a single joystick controller - one function at a time, or as many functions as you wish to move in unison at a time. The Command section of the instrument has push-buttons which let you choose the area of memory you're going to alter. By pushing one of the those buttons, and cross-referencing to another button or buttons in the Matrix section (which lists functions in rows, with a button at the top of each row to let you choose the function you're going to change), you set up just what functions the joystick will let you alter. Once you've found the sound you're looking for, you can write it into the memory, the single joystick being programmable to adjust whatever parameter you'd like it to adjust. A cassette interface is also supplied (minus cassette machine) for storage of memory. There are no controls on the front panel of the instrument other than the pushbuttons for the Matrix and Command sections and the single joystick. The unit is available in 2-voice and larger configurations. Strider Systems. Box 2934, Norman, OK 73070."


1 comment:

Tony Presti said...

The years of 1978 and 1979 when Jim Christensen and I worked on the DCS-II where indeed amazing. I've never met anyone that could get more work a piece of silicon than Jim, or could address machine level functions and coding like Jim, a first rate engineer, a true genius. If you really look, there was a DCS-I that Jim had built that was doing fantastic things when I met him in late 1977, but it had to be programmed in Hex. I made some suggestions, Jim educated me on some of the basic engineering, and we were hooked. I brought the perspective of the musician and what I needed in a creative design dialog we engaged in that was one of the most intensive and rewarding 18 month periods of my entrepreneurial and creative career. That period reached its peak when we turned on the first DCS-II and I got to program and play it. It was a dream come true; a singular event, and I count myself privileged to have experienced it. Jim is right, the Joystick and Command/Function control matrix performed all the features you see described, and represented the emergence of a paradigm shift in synthesizer design. Unfortunately, as Jim points out, we lost the angel investor while preparing to ramp up production with everything was already stretched out. If only we had filed the patents... I still play keyboards, but I have been working with AI and reasoning engines for the past 25 years. This time, I have a patent portfolio for these inventions.
Tony Presti
Anthony Prestigiacomo

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