Monday, November 15, 2010

Moog Source Part 1, Contemporary Keyboard 1981

Moog Source advertisement from page 71 in Contemporary Keyboard Magazine July 1981.

I recently blogged about a Moog Rogue advertisement, and it's Tron-influenced futuristic design elements. Well, Moog took it to a whole new level with this Moog Source ad that began to run in Keyboard around the same time period. Because not only does the design of this advertisement look as futuristic as that Moog Rogue ad did, but the design of the actual Source synthesizer is something straight out of a sci-fi block buster. In fact, maybe both ads were influenced more by the design of the Source synthesizer than the movie Tron... :o)

Moog wasn't just selling a synthesizer with the Source, it was selling "the future". Just look at that big photo showcasing the silver casing, front panel 1980's colour-scheme, and slick membrane buttons. But maybe slick isn't the right word. The Moog Source was the first (and last) Moog synth to use membrane-type buttons, but from what I understand they were just a little more reliable than the buttons on my Roland JX-8p, and a little less than the ones on my Matrix-6r.

The size and placement of the back panel photo tells us a lot about how Moog was positioning the Source in the marketplace. Back panel photos are often large, and included in an ad so that readers can see all the cool in's and out's. But the small back panel photo in this ad is pretty much useless, and the placement of the photo makes it look more like an after-thought. It's like it was thrown into the ad just because "it's always been done that way". In fact, the small photo is literally pushed aside for what Moog was really trying to sell - the power of digital technology. And all that digital power can be found in the much larger, centred, vertical photo of Moog's "programmed memory chip" and the accompanying Z80 microprocessor.

The Z80's Wikipedia page actually devotes a whole section to its integration in musical instruments under "Notible uses". I didn't realize the number of popular synthesizers that used the Z80 for one thing or another. Gear from Akai, Emu, Lexicon, Moog, Oberheim, Roland, SCI, and Waldorf are listed. Ironically, the only synthesizer that stands out as not being mentioned (on the date of the writing this blog post) seems to be the Source - and it was the one pushing the microprocessor right on the ad! Anyways, the whole Wikipedia article is actually quite an interesting historical read. I recommend it.

The ad-copy of the ad reinforces everything a reader takes in visually through the design. First, unlike this Rogue ad, there is no misunderstanding what synthesizer the reader is looking at. The title "The Source" shows up twice in two different large fonts. And, to make sure Moog got the whole microprocessor-thing across to readers, peppered throughout the ad-copy are words like "digital", "program", and "programmable". This was, after all, the first Moog synthesizer to offer patch storage.

But Moog wasn't dumb - they didn't let years of tradition get totally lost in a sea of one's and zero's. They make it perfectly clear to all potential buyers under "The Sound" section of the ad: "Moog filter, Moog sound".

The Spec Sheet for the Moog Source appeared a month before this advertisement started to run in the June 1981 issue of Contemporary Keyboard. It contains a lot of great reference information, and one of the most interesting things about this spec sheet is the description of how to change settings (in bold). The idea of no knobs on a synth was still pretty new at the time, so it's actually described in quite a bit of detail for all the people that may have been scratching their heads:
"Moog Source Synthesizer. The Source is a microprocessor-controlled programmable monophonic synthesizer. It has a three-octave keyboard, two VCOs, and a noise source. The oscillator's range is from 32' to 1'. They can produce sawtooth, triangle and variable pulse waveforms, and can be synced together. The two four-stage envelope generators are micro-processor-generated and control the VCF and VCA. The oscillators and filter can be controlled by an LFO which puts out triangle and square waves. Modulation and pitch wheels are included. The unit will remember up to 16 patches, and it comes with a cassette interface built-in so the total number of patches that can be stored is virtually unlimited. The front panel controls are touch switches. When one is pressed it is assigned to the incremental control at the left of the keyboard. This pot and LED readout then give you a numerical readout of the value that the switch you hit is set at. You can adjust this value as you like. There is also a software-generated sequencer (two real-time-loaded sequences of up to 64 notes each), an arpeggiator, automatic triggering, and sample-and-hold. Moog. 2500 Walden Ave., Buffalo, NY 14225."
As much as I love all the futuristic aspects of this synthesizer, there is one thing in particular that really got my attention with this synthesizer. Unfortunately, this blog post is already kinda long, so I'm going to save that for part 2.

Besides, I'm still typing it... :o)

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