Thursday, May 9, 2013

Sequential Circuits Inc. Model 64 Sequencer "The $195.00 Sequencer" ad, Keyboard 1983

Sequential Circuits Inc. Model 64 Sequencer "The $195.00 Sequencer" full page black & white advertisement from page 13 in the November 1983 issue of Keyboard Magazine.

Not so long ago a friend came over with his Commodore 64. No, not for music-making, but for a night of Donkey Kong-ing and other retro-gaming. Good times... good times...

I do recall that one of the first MIDI systems I ever saw running was a Model 64 with a Commodore 64. I hardly remember anything about that system except the small dark brick sticking out of the computer with MIDI cords attached. It was cool, and I was definitely hooked as soon as I saw it.

My first computer sequencer was Master Tracks running on an Apple IIe - I had to borrow money from my parents to pay for it. Then, when I finally upgraded to a Mac IIci, I purchased MOTU Performer 3.61 which soon became 3.64.

Then at work I had to learn Twelve Tone System's CakeWalk Dos, and then an early Windows version. Since then, I've never really left CakeWalk and would probably be considered one of those outspoken Sonar users everybody hates to be in a room with. I will admit I also have licenses for ReNoise, Reason (just ordered 7!) and a few other sequencer packages, but I usually end up powering up Sonar for the heavy lifting. 

But lets get back to the Commodore 64. After playing those games that night, I knew I had to find a Commodore 64 of my own to play around on. I waited very patiently for a clean one to make it's way onto eBay Canada, and pounced as soon as one popped up. It came with A TON of software - cartridges and disks - including the way-cool GEO OS with it's graphic user interface. Think early Apple Mac. Just look at that drawing program screen shot if you don't believe me. Look over there   ----->

Alas, there was no MIDI software or hardware included in the box that showed up on my door step. And so I wait... and wait... and wait... for a reasonably-priced Model 64 or similar Commodore 64 sequencer to come my way.

I would even consider the original $195.00 price tag featured in the title of this advertisement a reasonable price to pay for the enjoyment of again seeing a Commodore 64 MIDI system in action. And I'm guessing that if you are musician that already had a Commodore 64 and a Prophet-600 synthesizer, $195.00 probably wasn't going to blow the bank account either.

BTW - not sure if you noticed it, but if you look under the Commodore 64 in the ad photo, what do you see? A Linn LM-1 drum machine! It's not often you see other company's products in an advertisement, but you can probably look at this as one of the earlier pairing of Roger Linn and Dave Smith. A partnership that would bear fruit years later.   :)

The ad-copy provides us with a great glimpse into the early history of one of the major forces behind the development of MIDI - Dave Smith and SCI. Even nine months after the SCI launched the first commercial MIDI synthesizer, the Prophet-600, the whole idea that there was now this one musical standard available called MIDI that *any* manufacturer could build into their products to connect directly to other manufacturer's products was still very alien.

So, what did an early computer-based sequencer get you?
  • 4000 note storage, including velocity, pitch bend and modulation amounts
  • storage of nine independent polyphonic, real-time sequences of variable length with up to five overdub tracts available per sequence
  • song composition: sequences may be linked together to build up to nine different songs of variable length
  • auto-correct, transpose, and playback features
  • save and load to tape
  • select clock pulse, up to eight settings available for optimum drum box interfacing
Not too shabby.

Although a rare beast in 1983, by 1987 the computer-based sequencer was firmly catching on, and a flourish of products had became available. For the Commodore 64 alone there was Moog's Song Producer that used the Moog Manybus MIDI interface, MIDI/8 Plus by Passport that used its own interface, Keyboard Controller Sequencer by Dr. T's Music software that used its own interface, and Studio One by Syntech Corp that used MIDI interfaces produced by Syntech themselves, as well as Dr. T's, Passport, Sequential or Yamaha.

But sequencers weren't the only MIDI programs available. A number of MIDI patch librarians for DX/TX and CZ synths by many of the companies already mentioned above became available by 1987. There was also algorithmic MIDI composers, MIDI echo/arpeggiators, MIDI filters/channel-reassigners, and even a mini-sampler called Sound Sampler by SFX Computer Software Commodore Business Machines Ltd. that included a microphone and 1.2 seconds of sampling.

And that's just for the Commodore 64. Hardware and software for the IBM PC and compatibles, Apple Macintosh (Performer - yay!), Apple II, Atari ST and even the TI 99/4a were also out of the gates and getting into the hands of computer musicians.

Why do I know this? Not because I saw all of these programs in action.  But because a long while back I was lucky enough to be given the 1987 book "The Complete Gudie to MIDI software" by Howard Massey and the staff of PASS (Public Access Synthesizer Studio) in New York. If you are into retro computer MIDI software, definitely search out a copy.

While I'm waiting for a vintage Commodore 64 sequencer (hardware and software) to come my way, I have to say I am quite curious about the more recent MSSIAH MIDI SID hardware/software from  It looks like it could keep me busy while I wait.

Yup. Gonna have to order it.

Right after I'm done with this post.  Which is now.

Yup.  :)

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