Monday, June 1, 2020

The HAL-ICM Frigit - a "Russian Fairlight" we all still want - but will never have, Keyboard Magazine, July 1984



The HAL-ICM Frigit synthesizer from page 16 in the July 1984 issue of Keyboard Magazine. 

Today's blog post is a co-op piece with mu:zines. Please head over to the mu:zines site and contribute anyway you can to help them thrive and grow. 

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I don't often collaborate, but this curious instrument's story was brought to my attention by mu:zines in a recent tweet and it was only through a good eight to ten minutes of deep, collaborative investigative work that we could dig up the deets on this gorgeous Russian machine.  That would never be. 

Read on!

News releases can be powerful things. They are always so official looking, and as a retired Corporate Communications lacky I know how enticing a well-written news release can be. So I can see how in 1984, from behind the Soviet wall, news of a Russian Fairlight-killer would end up appearing as a half-page article in what was arguably North America's biggest and most well-known synth magazine. 

The instrument itself, called the HAL-ICM Frigit, was designed by a Japanese-Soviet team, with the head of the music division of the Ukraine Society Academy of Scientists describing it as the "most advanced computer musical instrument in the world". It was similar in appearance to the Fairlight but it's "costs, signal-to-noise ratio, digital recording facility, and synthesizing techniques for both sound and light were far superior to any current system". 

Some of its features included:
  • extendable solar-power panel
  • touch-sensitive display screen
  • a three point headset sensor unit for monitoring and utilizing human brain wave patterns
  • sound and voice-recognition device for triggering responses
  • a laser beam unit
  • a computer graphics interface for syncing visual display patterns to sound
  • MIDI (remember, this is 1984, a year after MIDI actually launched)

Further specs were unavailable but at the end of the article, one of the designers suggested that the instrument incorporated "silicon chips which were originally destined for the Western war machine". 

Okay... in all the years I've been flipping through my Keyboard magazines, I've never given much thought to this article. I'm sure I've come across it from time to time, but it just didn't register. I may have even tried Googling the synth from time to time, but until mu:zines was online, I never would have come across any other information on it. 

That was... until mu:zines tweeted out something curious. 

Whaaaaaaat? April Fools? As an avid April Fools blog poster, I was naturally intrigued. I got in touch with mu:zines to get a few more bits of information and started digging through my magazine archives. 

First - who was the Union of Sound Synthesists? I remembered coming across the name in a 1983 Keyboard magazine article when they were showcased in what would be one of Keyboard's most classic issues "The Great Synthesizer Debate - are electronic instruments putting acoustic musicians out of work?". So I decided to dig out that issue to see if there was an juicy info there.

In the article, we learn about how a local London musicians union passed a resolution 2-1 to "proscribe and prohibit, for the purposes of recording or live performances, the use of all electronic devices that make audible imitation or simulation of any musical/percussive instrument as defined by the Musician's Union directory." 

The English synth community responded accordingly. Some resigned from the union. Thomas Dolby wrote a piece in the June 5, 1982 issue of Sounds regarding the "futility and impracticability of any attempt to halt the advance of electronic music by force".  

Some took a more humorous angle, with one magazine article penning the article "The Great Trumpet Dispute: Should Elephants be banned". And one musician named David Tufnell headed up a group of musicians that "elected to form their own lobbying group in order to actively resist what they saw as the union's retrogressive policies". This group was called the Union of Sound Synthesists and along with the more serious work of supplying the media with info about synths and pushing pro-synth issues to unions and government, they also did hesitate to show their humorous side to the issue with T-shirts and bumper stickers that included slogans like "I'm A Synthesizer Sympathizer", "Keep Synthesizers Live", and "If You're Not One of USS, You're Probably One of Them". 

Ahhhhh. So they have a funny bone. I like that in my musicians union. 

Next up - find the Keyboard article itself. mu:zines suggested targeting 1983 and 1984 issues of Keyboard, so I dug them out of their storage box and flipped through the Spec Sheets and News sections. Sure enough, there it was - a half page "Profile" article in the July 1984 issue. 

I don't blame Keyboard. That's some juicy info! And British humour is well... its even lost on us Canadians sometimes.  :)

mu:zines and I are guessing the letters in HAL-ICM FRIGIT rearrange to R(ussian) CMI FAIRLIGHT. 

And so it was that, a few months afterwards, British magazine Electronics and Music Maker Incorporating Computer Musician decided to do a bit of pre-Internet trolling of their American competition in October 1984:

From mu:zines: "It's curious, isn't it, how jokes get blown out of all proportion.

Which reminds me, how about the piece that's published on page 16 of the July 1984 issue of Keyboard? You know, the one that starts: 'The Soviet Union may be gaining ground on the electronic music battleground. At a recent meeting of the Ukraine Society Academy of Scientists at Minsk, a new digital computer-synthesiser system, the HAL-ICM FRIGIT, was unveiled. A member of the British Union of Sound Synthesists, invited to the gathering by the Soviet cultural attache in London, sent us a report.'

And so it goes on, a verbatim rendering of ESSP organiser David Tuffnell's HAL press release. Well, almost verbatim - Keyboard's assistant editor forgot to look at the date on the aforesaid: April 1, 1984.

So, who was it that said you can't fool some of the people all of the time...?"

Ouch!  

Now, I'm not sure what caused them to pick on Keyboard magazine so badly. Maybe it was because "Keyboard" was a much better name for a synth magazine than the really wordy "EMMICM" (I didn't event want to spell it all out again). 

mu:zines noted that it became a bit of a tradition of these magazines to resort to ridiculing their competitors when they could. "It was all inoffensive, and they usually went out of their way by not printing anything libelous, but if they could get a subtle kick in from time to time, it would often happen." 

Those Brits!

The extent of the joke and the subsequent publishing of the article would continue to be felt for months afterwards, as documented in the December 1984 issue of One-Two Testing Magazine, which would write about how the USS was receiving multiple calls, faxes and letters about this Russian Fairlight, and led to at least one company sending someone to Moscow to do some research into it: 

From mu:zines: "Those whacky funsters at the Union of Sound Synthesists are still feeling the breeze from their April Fool joke when they tried to con us into swallowing a Russian version of the Fairlight. Remember we said the American magazine 'Keyboard' had printed the press release, in full, believing the lot. Now USS say they're receiving "a continuous stream of international letters, phone calls and telexes" from the States, all from interested gullibles. "We have, since learnt that at least two major American equipment manufacturers took the story seriously enough to the extent that one company sent a research and development manager to Moscow." Wouldn't be winding us up again would you? Maybe not since they have gone to the expense of producing a booklet containing the original press release, the 'Keyboard' version and a Music Week story. If you want to know how the caper was pulled, the booklet costs a quid, including post and packing, and is available from USS, (Contact Details). Always support a sense of humour!"
Interestingly, back over on this side of the pond, Keyboard magazine received a letter to the editor from Denver, Colorado resident John R. Baude that was printed in the September 1984 issue. 
"After reading your article about the new Russian computer system, the HAL-ICM Frigit (July '84), I was immediately struck by something. It appears that designer Boris Imrikey and company not only borrowed HAL's name from 2001: A Space Odyssey. They also seem to have pilfered the name from "a well known Australian computer music instrument". Just move the letters around a bit and I think you'll see what I mean. Come on, Boris! Somethings a little fishy in Moscow, and I don't mean caviar!"
Seems some Americans got the joke. 

Keyboard responded underneath the letter with:
"There are some competition-level anagram addicts on the Keyboard staff, so we're embarrassed to admit that we didn't notice the word "Fairlight CMI" hidden within HAL-ICM FRIGIT until after the issue went to print We contacted the British Union of Sound Synthesists, which had sent us the report, and were informed by its president, David Tufnell, that the press release describing HAL's splendiferous unveiling was, as he put it, "to be taken with a grain of salt". It seems that the USS, normally a reliable information source, decided to pull a little joke on us by writing up a straight-faced press release on their usual stationery and forwarding it exclusively to Keyboard. Our attempts to glean more information from the USS went unrewarded, when we were able to call during English business hours, no one was there to take our questions. However, because of their past record of accurate reporting, we had no reason to doubt their veracity, and accepted their report at face value. Tufnell assures us that "most" of the story is true. We've asked him for a less fantastic summary of the events in Russia, which we hope to relay to you, with due caution, in the hear future."
Well, sure enough, Tufnell comes clean next month on just how much of the story is true, when his letter to Keyboard gets published in the October 1984 issue. It was obvious that Keyboard was taking some slack over the publication of the info, because prior to the letter from Tufnell, Keyboard's editor prints:
"All right, let's get this Russian synthesizer thing cleared up once and for all. as we admitted last month, we fell prey to a joke when the British Union of Sound Synthesists sent us a press release describing a demonstration alleged to have taken place in Leningrad of a Russo-Japanese digital "super synthesizer". We summarized their account in our July '84 issue. Later on we discovered that the USS was having a bit of fun with us; much of their account was fabricated. We asked David Tufnell, the head of the USS, to send us a letter relating what exactly did and did not happen. Here is his explanation."
The letter from Tufnell is actually quite long. About as long as this blog post (too dang long). So to summarize, the USS received a letter from Bob Moog, dated March 8th, in which he said that Keyboard intended on producing an April '84 issue "full of off the wall articles". For some reason, that did not happen, and only Bob's article was actually an April Fools piece. The USS was hoping to give some useful material, and so they prepared a report for Keyboard's entertainment, duly noted April 1. The report went to a number of magazines and papers in the industry and throughout the world. 

He points out that every other publication realized the joke, but Keyboard went on to print the article months later, editing out most of the "giveaways" that made it the joke it was intended to be. That should have been the end to it, except that at the time there was actual rumors that the Japanese were working with the Soviets on a synth project. As well, while preparing the report, they tuned into Radio Moscow and adapted some of the news they had heard. For example, there was actually a meeting of the Ukraine Society Academy of Scientists that discussed music around the time. 

Near the end of the letter, he assured readers that the USS actually does exist and doing some great work. And that they also have a sense of humor.  :)

It was that little bit of truth that gave this solid April Fools joke even more of a solid foundation. 

I tip my hat to you, USS! 

BTW - we would love to get a copy of that booklet if anyone has it.

And, speaking for myself - I'd still pay thousands for this Fairlight killer. Especially with the solar panel. 

Again - head over and give mu:zines some support! Keep that amazing archive alive!

Thursday, April 23, 2020

Roland A-110, 220 and 880 "MIDI peripheral equipments" six page brochure, 1991

   

Roland "MIDI peripheral equipments" six page colour brochure featuring the MIDI separator A-220, MIDI patcher/mixer A-880 and MIDI display A-110 from 1991. 

USB MIDI sucks bum. There. I've said it. 

Give me a five-pin DIN MIDI interface any day of the week. That's how my grand daddy did MIDI. That's how my pappy did MIDI. And that is the way I'm going to go to the grave doing MIDI. 

This brochure is simply gorgeous. Lovely diagrams. Gorgeous cover photograph. Lots of info. But one thing irks me - the title - "MIDI Peripheral Equipments" With an "s" on the end of "Equipment". Odd. But other than that, this brochure hits a home run!

I've placed the scans in the order they would appear if you opened up the brochure full and scanned from left to right. Not in the order that it would be read - Cover, flip open to see the A-220 page on the left, A-880 page on the right, Flip open A-880 page and see the A-110 page and the Advanced application page, then the spec page on the back. Hope that makes sense. 

Of all the MIDI devices I've ever craved, it has to be Roland's A-110 MIDI Display. There is something so simplistic yet so hypnotizing about being able to see an 88-key MIDI display of the data moving through your MIDI cable. And they threw in five MIDI thru to boot.

The reason I've been looking at MIDI utility devices these days is because I'm currently building my new house that includes a new studio space - and every time I visit the space I think about how things will get set up. And MIDI is a huge part of that thinking. So I pulled out this brochure to get some ideas. 

Of the three devices featured in this brochure, the A-110 and A-220 MIDI Separator are cool little tools to have in the shed. But, as with any large number of MIDI keyboards and drum machines, a MIDI thru like the A-880 is a necessity. This thing is not just a MIDI patch bay to send a MIDI input to up to 8 MIDI outputs. It also has merging functionality too! 

I don't have an A-880, but I have a few of its simpler cousins including three Casio TB-1s, an Akai MP30P, a Korg KMP-68 and a few others. But they all require power. And they have a max 8 MIDI in and/or outs. Sure, there are bigger ones out there like the Kenton 25 MIDI thru box - but it only has one input.  

I'm looking for something that is like a MIDI matrix system. But simple to use. 

What I figure I want is a MIDI patch bay that works like an audio patch bay.  No power required - totally passive. You just plug all your MIDI INs and OUTs into the back. Then use short MIDI cables to connect different MIDI in's and outs together. This way, using the patch bay system together with my MIDI thru boxes,  I could have my Commodore 64, Amiga, Atari, PC computer and my desktop and modular MIDI/CV sequencers all plugged into separate gear. And I could easily re-patch using the patch bays. 

Yeah, I haven't even totally figured out what I want, but it doesn't mean I haven't started searching the web for an answer. :)

Googling around, it's clear I'm not the only one that has asking for this type of thing. And some people have come up with some creative solutions - all of which unfortunately seem complicated. One creative solution was to use a TRS patch bay, and make a bunch of short female MIDI Din to TRS cables to connect their gear to the patch bay. Interesting. Others just want to solder a bunch of MIDI Din connectors together in a box and wire them internally.  That seems like a lot of work. 

I'd like a passive patch bay like I described, or even better a powered matrix of 25x25 midi ins and outs that is just button presses like the A-88 to assign different ins and outs together, mixing midi signals as required. 

Out of all the real-world solutions I have found, this one is so far the closest to what I want - the Signex CPM22M Midi Panel with rear DINs. 



Each rack gives you 22 MIDI DIN connectors on the front and back.  I would need two of them (one for ins, and one for outs, and then connect them together from the back connectors. There is even a version that doesn't include Din connectors on the backside, just wires. So I can save some cash and solder between the two myself. Then I'd have 22 in's and out's in a two rack space. Buy four and I have 44 ins and outs. Hubba! 

Like I said - I haven't figured it all out yet. But I'm getting there. 

Any suggestions welcome. 

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Roland JX-8P / PG-800 "Simple to operate..." synthesizer colour brochure, 1985



Roland JX-8P synthesizer / PG-800 programmer  "Simple to operate" synthesizer colour brochure from January 1985

The JX-8P has played an interesting part in my life. I sell very few synths, but I've bought and sold a number of  JX-8Ps and its bigger brother, the Super JX. Usually it's come and gone during the peaks and valleys of my life and even my therapist brings it up as a way of highlighting certain behaviours in my life.

One of those deep valleys that involved the JX-8P was when my creativity had hit rock bottom. Life wasn't going well, there was a ton of stresses pushing down hard on me and all that gear was just sitting there not being used.

Many synth-head friends that I talked to, online and off, made the same remark:
"Too much gear reduces your creativity."
If you don't live under a rock, chances are you've seen (or even written) a similar type of post or comment in an online forum. It isn't new - I'm sure I first saw it on listservs and newsgroups back in the '90s. But more recently this phenomenon has become an almost-daily occurrence on forums like Reddit and in Facebook groups. Just two days ago, I came across FOUR of these types of posts in different Facebook groups.

In particular, more and more people seem to love blaming a pile of gear they have purchased for...
  • their lack of creativity
  • their inability to master one particular piece of gear
  • wasting their time noodling when they could be making music
Like everyone else, I too came to the false conclusion that the solution was to remove the gear from the equation. Or most of it anyways. Little did I know at the time that I was just putting a band aid on the problem. And luckily I could never bring myself to selling much gear anyways except for that dang JX-8P - but that was another issue I had to work out with myself. And I eventually bought that JX-8P back.

In the end, it would take years of  trial and error and a wack of therapy to unravel all the issues surrounding my unhealthy relationships between people, money, gear and creativity to figure out what the real problems were. But it was worth it. And although my experience is unique, the solution is not. 

Before I could get to the solution, I needed to ask myself two questions:

The first question: Why did I feel the need to purchase all that gear?

For me - at first it was because I was genuinely interested in gear. But as decades of life wore me down, it became less about the functionality of the gear and more about the thrill of the purchase - that hit of dopamine every time I bought something new. For others, maybe its to be validated or accepted within a peer group. Or Maybe they think it will help them be more creative.  I'm sure there are other reasons too, but those other ones never were a part of my problem, and I eventually figured out what to do about the bad habits I had formed.

The second question: Now that I had all this gear and I'm not using it - is it really inhibiting my creativity, or is there something else going on here?

There can obviously be many reasons why you haven't been creative lately. But, this idea that inanimate objects are somehow responsible for a reduction in creativity doesn't fly. 

This isn't an "abundance of music technology" problem. This is a psychological problem.

The Internet didn't just affect my synth purchasing habits, it also changed how I consumed media. Many, including myself, have become conditioned to living distracted lives. Even my career in digital marketing and communications enabled me to be distracted by constantly jumping back and forth between different projects.

For me, these bad habits made it harder and harder to concentrate on any activity for any significant length of time. Making music in my little studio decreased and that had a negative effect on everything else in my life. That would make me crave my hit of dopamine so I'd purchase another synth. I wouldn't use that synth either, which then affected me even further.

A viscous circle.

As I finally figured out, the real solution was to learn to concentrate again. To gain the focus-based skills and self-awareness techniques required to be able to be fully present when in the studio. And the big benefit was that these skills have come in handy in ALL ASPECTS of my life.

There are lots of tools and techniques in books and online that can help. It's not easy, especially when there is so many things going on around us. But why not start while you are self-isolating anyways?  Professional therapy helps a lot too - because its rarely about inanimate objects. And it's rarely just about getting your studio mojo back.

Now when I see one of those "too much gear" posts, I have a standard reply that revolves around two main principles:

1. Inanimate objects aren't making you less creative. Whether than means having too many inanimate objects, or not being creative because you don't have a particular inanimate object. You can learn concentration skills to be fully present in the activity of creating music, even when you are in a room full of potential distractions, and those focus-based skills and self-awareness techniques will help in all aspects of life.
Self-check: Do you have to remove gear from your sight in order to be creative with other gear? Do you think that next particular synth is "all you need" to complete your studio?

2. Its okay to buy as little or as much gear for your personal enjoyment. As long as you can afford it and its not just a dopamine hit to fill a void in your life.
Self-check: Can you still feed your children if you buy it? Do you get an anxiety attack every time the credit card bill comes in?  Are you jealous of other peoples gear? Do you get anxious about not using the gear you do have?  How easy would it be to sell the gear you have if you absolutely had to?

I'm not saying this is the only answer. But I am telling you want the answer ultimately isn't. Unless the inanimate object is literally a brick wall between you and your music gear, then there is a good chance it's the wall in your head.

Either way, get rid of the wall.

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Roland Bass Plus 30 "Roland has seen the future..." organ bass pedal replacement synthesizer advertisement, Choir and Organ Magazine, 1984




Roland Bass Plus 30 "Roland has seen the future and it doesn't involve... feet" organ bass pedal replacement synthesizer advertisement from page 32 in the March 1984 issue of Choir and Organ Magazine.

Hey - hope everyone is doing well out there during these uncertain times. While practicing self-isolation, I know a lot of you are playing with your organ a lot, so I decided to dig through my archives and post something that hasn't received a lot of attention until of late.

Roland used to love to repackage gear. A great example is the Synth Plus 60 - basically a Juno 106 with integrated speakers that looked more at home in the living room or church than in the studio. The Synth Plus 10 and 80 had the innards of the Alpha Juno 1/2. All three machines are coveted by collectors and musicians almost as much as the originals.

Another example is found in this advertisement - the Bass Plus 30. It too is a re-packaged product.

Let me give you a hint... from the ad-copy:
"The remarkably stable bass synthesizer section features full voice flexibility with dual wave forms and control for Tuning, VCF-cutoff, Resonance, Envelope Modulation and Decay."
Sound familiar? How about this:
"The programmable Accent and Slide functions bring true bass technique capabilities to the Bass Plus 30."
Whaaat? Ooooh yeah - a stripped down 303! Not to replace your band's bass player, but to replace your organ's bass pedals.

Roland wrapped the Bass Plus 30 in the same lovely wood/wood-print material you'd find covering your favourite Roland's Piano Plus-series keyboards such as the Piano Plus 30, 60 and 70 - or most any other organs for that matter. And why not? Even if you didn't have an organ with pedals, the Bass Plus would match nicely while sitting on top of your living room's electric piano.

Advertising for the Bass Plus didn't make a lot of appearances in the wild - this ad only appeared in the top nine organ-based magazines and weeklies within a relatively short four-month period in 1984. But it's not surprising that it also joined it's TB and TR brethren in the well-loved Roland "Rhythm Machines" brochure where it shared space on the back page with the Piano Plus series as well as some of Roland's ultra-greats like the Jupiter 8, Juno-60 and SH-101.

The Bass Plus didn't sell well due to the mostly-false rumors that it didn't sound like real organ bass pedals. Some geographic exceptions included the Southern United States, Belgium and the Canadian city of Regina. In all, only around 300 units were produced.

According to Organ Weekly Digest, the Bass Plus was discontinued only six months after production began, and many soon after ended up in pawn shops. But unlike it's sibling the TB-303, most Bass Plus 30's continued to sit unused on shelves and in closets until 2018 as word finally began to slowly spread of its abilities. What was once one of the most unknown pieces of Roland gear, it turns out, had been in use by well-known electronic musicians for decades.

A great March 2019 thread started on the Organ Heaven listserv by member OrganLover4Ever lists famous users, which include Jean-Michel Jarre's brother, Billy-Bob Jarre, who owned five until they were sold as a package for over three figures in an exclusive 2019 Christie's auction.  Since that time, he went on record in World of Organs magazine that he had used them mostly for his live performances. Their small size, durability and wide range of sound were great replacements for his five much heavier Jupiter 8s.

Other notable users include Borgore, who used a Robin Whittle-modified Bass Plus on his banger, "Bass Plus Bass", as well as Hardwell's "Plus Bassing" and DJ Guv's "Thirty Plus Bass". During an extended VJ session on the popular OTV (Organ Television), Richie Hawtin announced that his Plus 8 record label was named after the fact he owned eight Bass Plus 30's while living for six months in Regina, Saskatchewan.

Edna Boil, editor
Organ Emporium Magazine
Digging through my archives, I found a great review by Editor Edna Boil in the "New and Blessed" section of the June 1984 issue of Organ Emporium Magazine. Along with the other specs of the machine, she highlighted its key change feature.
"The unit contains sufficient memory to hold many patterns and also has a key-change feature that can raise the key of a programmed pattern. This feature is useful to add variation during long consecrations at mass or during those extended snake-worshiping dance sessions."
 Edna Boil knows here organs. Make sure you take the time to play with yours.

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Korg Electribe A (EA-1) and Electribe R (ER-1) "The cure for the common groove" brochure, 1999




Korg Electribe A (EA-1) and Electribe R (ER-1) "The cure for the common groove" two page colour brochure from 1999.

Hey - an early morning post from me! Gotta get it out of the way before the Pet Shop Boys pre-sale begins!  :)

So, a short while back Korg tweeted out a Bob's Burgers gif that featured a synth. No, it wasn't the ol' one with Gene Belcher flying through the clouds in a diaper with synths floating all around him:. Although that is a classic...


No. This is one I hadn't seen before. It's Gene (of course) playing with what is unmistakably a Korg Electribe ER-1! Hubba!! It's so new, I can't even find it anywhere online yet. Kudos to Korg for being so quick on the ball.


Credit where credit is due... here's the tweet from Korg.

That gif made me happy enough to get off my ass and go looking through my packed up files to find this Electribe EA-1/ER-1 brochure from 1999.

Korg released the EA-1 and ER-1 together at 1999 Winter NAMM, and since the brochure is dated 1999, I'm guessing its one of the earlier batches of Electribe marketing material. A great start to what will become classic machines.

The cover of the brochure is exactly what you would, and should, expect from a 1999 Electribe brochure. Its definitely got that 90's techno/rave flyer vibe happening. The italicized fonts for titles, the glitchy video backgrounds behind the descriptive text, the crazy background patterns. Its all there.

The brochure does a super job explaining the two machines as well, with the two subtitles "the classic analog tweak box" and "the ultimate analog beat box" and just enough descriptive text without feeling overwhelmed. Flip it over and get all the specs.

The ER-1 is my favourite of the two - and may be my favourite out of all the first-gen and MKII Electribes. Sure, the EA-1 is a great virtual analog synth that also makes a nice addition to any acid studio - it can really growl!  But for me, the ER-1 is *definitely* the cure for the common groove and my secret weapon when I want to add an extra something-something to a techno track. And its not just the analog feel I dig - I'm even a fan of the PCM samples used for the 909-ish open and closed hi-hats.

So what exactly makes the ER-1 sound so unique and sit so well in a track? It's got everything to do to the motion sequencer. That feature allow it's sounds in a pattern to jump around and fill out unoccupied space with crazy harmonic changes in just the right way.  Add to that n awesome delay and extremely simple interface with just the right amount of programming options and you end up with an electro-making juggernaut in a box.

But don't take my word for it - read Chris Carter's review of both machines from the July 1999 issue of Sound on Sound magazine.

Spoiler alert - here's his summary for the ER-1:
"What a refreshing change, a beat box that doesn't want to sound like every other beat box. Plenty of innovative features and tons of parameters yet so easy to use. It really makes you want to experiment and try out new sounds and rhythms. Cheap too, so I'm buying one."
His summary for the EA-1 isn't too shabby either:
"A bold attempt to break the dance workstation mould with something a little different. The EA-1 is a very capable and great sounding synth/sequencer combination whether you are on a budget or have just won the Lottery. Go on, get analogue modelling you'll feel better for it."
I will never, ever give up my ER-1.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Moog Sonic Six "Moog makes the scene" ad, Rolling Stone 1973


Moog Sonic Six "Moog makes the scene" half page black and white advertisement from page 51 in the February 1, 1973 issue of Rolling Stone Magazine.

After the great response to my early 70's ARP ad from Rolling Stone, I thought it would be fun to post this Moog Sonic Six ad from the same issue... just two page flips away!

The Sonic Six doesn't get a lot of love when it comes to advertising compared to its siblings like the Minimoog. Although Moog did come out with a lovely colour brochure in 1974.

Its interesting to note that in the brochure, Moog is not just going after the live musician looking for a light-weight synth in a carry case, but its also using up as much ad copy targeting the classroom as well. Now compare that to the Rolling Stone ad... no mention of classrooms at all.

Moog definitely knew their audience and stayed mum on the school angle.  :)

The ad copy is top notch - there is so much said in such a tiny amount of space. I liked it so much I've typed it all out...
"The synthesizer that started it all is the one behind the innovative new music groups like Emerson, Lake and Palmer and Mike Quatro, Jam Band. Behind the restless exploration of new sounds, rhythms and tone colors by Gershon Kingsley's First Moog Quartet. Now Moog quality and engineering are available in the Sonic Six, the complete electronic synthesizer in a compact carry-along case. And the famous Minimoog that brings studio quality to your live performances. For name of your nearest dealer, write Moog Music Inc., Academy Street, P.O. Box 131, Williamsville, New York 14221."
It uses phrases that have since become synonymous with Moog such as "the synthesizer that started it all" and "Moog quality and engineering", and for good measure references the Minimoog (smart move!). But even more exciting is the name dropping - Emerson, Lake and Palmer. Mike Quatro and ... one of my favs... Gershon Kingsley.

Gershon Kinglsey is probably best known for his song Popcorn.



Love that song. He also formed the First Moog Quartet, who were -  according to Wikipedia - "the first to ever play electronic music in Carnegie Hall." With Bob Moog there too! Kingsley passed away last December at the age of 97.

Now, I'm embarrassed to admit this next bit, and that's that I had a bit of a mind-blank for the first few minutes while staring at that lovely artwork in the ad. ELP, Kingsley and Quatro were all bands mentioned in the ad-copy, but I was struggling to remember the other two bands - Trilogy and Paintings.

Yeah... then it clicked. Trilogy is an album from ELP, and Paintings is an album from the Mike Quatro Jam Band. Duh.

And speaking of the illustration, I *love* the artwork used for this ad. There's even a signature there - Lawson - but I haven't tried looking it up to see if I can find anything interesting on the artist.

If you know more of Lawson's work, send me a note!

Monday, January 13, 2020

ARP Odyssey "Conduct an Arp" ad, Rolling Stone 1973


ARP Odyssey "Conduct an Arp" half page black and white advertisement from page 47 in the February 1, 1973 issue of Rolling Stone Magazine.

Sometimes I'll take an hour or two and just look through my archives, when all of a sudden something new will jump out at me. And so it is that after more than sixth months of brochure posts, it's time to fall back in love with a synth advertisement.  In this case, a lovely Arp Odyssey ad from Rolling Stone. I've never actually seen this ad in the wild anywhere else - in another publication or online as a scan. It has just somehow managed to hide in plain sight from me.

A happy surprise.

And not-so-coincidentally, The Alan R. Pearlman Foundation / ARP Archives happens to be at NAMM (booth #8600) soonly. Make sure to check them out and show your support - financially and otherwise! 

Before Contemporary Keyboard came on the scene in 1975, many Americans would find synth ads popping up in the pages of Rolling Stone - what founder Jann Wenner described as a cross between a magazine and a newspaper that wasn't "just about the music, but about the things and attitudes that music embraces". She also described it as "reflecting what we see are the changes in rock and roll and the changes related to rock and roll".

What better product to advertise in such a magazine as a synthesizer?  Synths had begun to change the landscape of rock with many musicians embracing the technology, and the Odyssey, released just a year earlier, was already creating buzz (pun intended) on stage and in studios.

A perfect match.

The ad itself it quite tall - it spans the full vertical of the page making it over 17" high. And half the width of the page, about five inches. At the top of the ad is the lovely and large, bold ad title. And right underneath that we get that first large image. Even with the big illustration, there is still lots of space, so its not surprising that there is a fair amount of content, but it is surprising how technical that content gets. After an initial introduction, readers come across this...
"Add such state-of-the-art firsts as phase-locked oscillators, digital ring modulator, sample and hold circuits, and a lot of the functions of a complete studio synthesizer, and you've got yourself a genuine space age instrument."
ARP obviously believed there were some pretty technical musicians reading the mag, and quite frankly, even those that didn't understand the lingo would probably be impressed by it. I still am. :)

And if the buzz words didn't impress you, then the very bottom of the ad might...
"ARP ... conducted by Stevie Wonder / Pete Townshend / Ike & Tina Turner / Frank Zappa / The Beach Boys / Elton John / and many others"
ARP name droppin'!  It's an effective marketing technique and if you've read any of my earlier blog posts about ARP ads, you know I think ARP was one of the best name-droppers in the biz.

But the real joy of this advertisement is obviously the illustrations that play off the "orchestra conductor" theme and content of the ad. I'm a big fan of illustrations in synth ads, so much so that I've created a blog tag so you can see some of the other lovely artwork to be found in synth marketing material.

Here we get two lovely pieces of art. The top image is that of a conductor in a auditorium with just an Odyssey on the stage, and, even better is the second image of the conductor standing beside the ARP.

Tell me that ain't gorgeous. I dare ya!

I just wish there was an artist's signature included with the ad. If you recognize the work, please send me a note!