Monday, January 21, 2013

Strider Systems Inc. DCS II "A New Generation of Synthesizers" brochure, 1979


Strider Systems Inc. DCS II "A New Generation of Synthesizers" four page brochure from 1979.

Whoa. I made some great strides in my research into Strider Systems Inc. last week.

While trying out some different variations of search terms in Google I managed to track down one of the co-founders of Strider Systems Inc. through... get this... LinkedIn.  And once I had a name and current company associated with Strider Systems, it was just one or two more steps to an email address. And then... of course... a barrage of questions.

James Christensen, then president and co-owner of Strider Systems Inc, currently heads up HOLOBLOC Inc., providing support, consultation and training for the IEC 61499 standard and the optimization of software processes. Prior to HOLOBLOC, in the early 90s, James worked at Rockwell Automation (formally Allen-Bradley) building intelligent manufacturing systems. During his time there, he came up with the Holobloc idea and it became a research side project at Rockwell. When James semi-retired, he retained a license to continue development. 

I contacted James to learn a bit more about the history of Strider Systems, the people that worked there and the gear they were designing.

Back when James started Strider Systems Inc., he was a professor of Chemical Engineering at Oklahoma University in Norman and an amateur player of guitar, banjo and accordion. His partner at the company, Roy Nelson, was a Vietnam vet, student in Materials Science at OU and part-time roadie for an Oklahoma City prog-rock band called The Jupiter Effect (not the current band of that name).

The company began in 1976 and their first product was the DCS-1. I asked James if they realized at the time that Strider was at the forefront of digital technology for the synth masses.
"Yes, we did know we were pushing the boundaries. The one thing we didn't realize was that if you wanted to be successful as a start-up business you had to be where the expertise was. At the time, there were only three places that met that criterion: Nashville, LA and New York. The only advantage Oklahoma had was low cost of living. As one of our consulting musicians, Richard Bugg, said, "You can starve to death more slowly here than any place else."
Interesting. That's exactly how I feel about the town I live in now. I kid, I kid... kinda.   :)

I also asked James how the idea of the DCS-1 came about.
"The leader of Roy's band had a Mini-Moog and was continually frustrated by the fact that you couldn't change the patch setup quickly enough between songs, much less change patches during a song. We first looked into the idea of using a microprocessor as a "digital patch memory" with offline cassette storage, but quickly found that the Mini-Moog and similar single-voiced synthesizers, as well as the existing modular synths, were usnuitable because so many of their controls were electromechanical. So we decided to see if we could do a polyphonic synth in which each voice could be controlled digitally."
When asked about other influences on the development, his answer was extremely interesting to me. Normally when I ask this question, the answer will include other synths or synth makers.
"A big resource was the "Musical Engineer's Handbook." Couldn't have done the analog circuitry without it. Wish we had started a few years later when the Curtis and SSM chips became available. Wouldn't have had to do the whole analog circuitry from scratch."
I learned that in the end, only one pre-production prototype was produced. Strider was moving on to bigger and better things.

But that's enough of the DCS-1 and the company for now. This DCS II brochure is probably getting a complex from being ignored so much. I'll have more on James Christensen and Strider in future posts.

When I posted the introductory DCS II advertisement from Contemporary Keyboard, I had mentioned the cool and clean design of the DCS II. And this brochure not only substantiates this observation, but this description also applies to the brochure as well.

The front page of the brochure is minimal - so minimal that someone decided it was a good idea to leave out Strider's gorgeous logo and name of the company. In fact, the only logo to be found that is not on a photo of the synthesizer itself is on the back page. And in fact, if I'm not mistaken, the company name is ONLY listed on the back.

I'm conflicted by this. On the one hand, the company name would only clutter up that front page, but on the other hand branding is important, especially for a small company. And Strider's reverse-colour logo would look so sweeeeet against that black background.

The inside of the brochure provides the most up-close detailed look at the front panel of the DCS II I've seen yet. You can make out most if not all of the labels for the functions in the matrix - simply gorgeous and unique for the time. And we get an even better idea of how exactly the matrix and joystick worked to program this synthesizer. A definite read for anyone even remotely curious about this beast.

The back page of the brochure may be the most curious of them all.

I can hear you yelling at me already - THIS IS JUST A REPRINT OF THE AD!!!!

But there is just one thing wrong with that statement. Well first, you can't yell hyperlinks - that would be just crazy.  But besides that, there is something else wrong. It's not *exactly* like the advertisement, in one very significant way. The image of the synthesizer itself.

    Brochure                          Advertisement

The designer went out of their way to create a new image of the synthesizer for the brochure. One that is a solid black and white. Gives it a cleaner look - nice. This new profile angle was possible because the designer knew they could remove the big "DCS II" since that is the subject of the whole brochure.

A great little brochure. And the start of a great conversation with James Christensen, whom you will be hearing more about in the near future.

Thanks again to James Christensen of HOLOBLOC Inc. for taking the time to chat back and forth with me a few times. Appreciated.


Howard said...

Very cool. It would be amazing if any of these Strider synths were still around and working...

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

RetroSynthAds said...

That's some great information - thanks Tony!

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