Monday, November 30, 2009

Aries Music Inc. Modular, August 1977

Aries Music Inc. Modular ad from page 30 of Contemporary Keyboard magazine August 1977.

This 1/4 page ad was one of the earlier ads by Aries to run in CK, mostly during the summer and fall of 1977 before being replaced with a Phase/Flange module ad.

I have to admit I'm not that familiar with Aries, but I'm always surprised at how memorable the ads are. I don't have to tell my regular readers that one of the reasons is that awesome Aries logo - most likely designed by then-resident designer Jennifer Morris. This wasn't their first logo, but it is a classic.

But other than the logo, I don't know why I'm drawn into these ads. In fact, Aries ads confuse me a little.

In some ads, like the one posted today, Aries is positioned as a maker of modular systems, competing directly with Moog, ARP and others. While in other ads, they only push one or two modules and stress the fact they are fully compatible with other major instrument manufacturers. To top it off, Aries was also trying to sell the modules in kit form like Paia did.

Maybe Aries was trying to be a lot of different things to a lot of different people. Or maybe they didn't know what made themselves great yet and were still trying to find the niche that best fit. Who knows... . But either way, since they only had a quarter of a page to get their game on, they could really only choose one message to fit into that little space, hindering their ability to effectively stake their claim in all the different markets they were trying to compete in.
I came across two great online resources for anyone interested in Aries. Definitely check 'em out.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Taking the day off.

Sorry folks. No post today.

Going to take the day like my friends down south for American Thanksgiving Day.

Eat lots of turkey for me. :o)

Monday, November 23, 2009

ARP Pro/DGX , Contemporary Keyboard 1977

ARP Pro/DGX synthesizer from back inside cover of Contemporary Keyboard April 1977.

This Pro/DGX ad started appearing on the back inside cover of CK shortly after the instrument was announced in the Spec Sheet section of the February 1977 issue, and dominated the back inside cover up to August, after which a freaky looking Axxe ad started to appear (will blog about that one later).

What strikes me about this ad is how crowded it seems - at first glance I can't even tell what instrument the ad is trying to push. My eyes just can't decide where to look first. That was until my friend pointed out that one finger near the top of the ad pressing on the 'bass' button. That finger is now always the first place I look and it's freaking me out.

As mentioned in the ad, the Pro/DGX is basically an updated version of the Pro Soloist. I blogged a bit last week about the Soloist-Pro Soloist evolution (with their secret love-child) and the PRO/DGX was the next piece of fruit to fall off the family tree. The big improvement over its predecessor was the implementation of push-button digital switching (hence DGX) for sound selection along with LED status lights, while keeping virtually the same 30 presents and single oscillator design.

I've never heard one before and the online reviews are mixed - due mostly to a new filter design. According to the Vintage Synth Explorer page, some say it sounded 'worse' than the Pro Soloist, while the Wikipedia page remains steadfastly on the fence - some describing the sound as warmer than its predecessor while others saying it sounds less "organic". Both sites provide some good basic reference info about the instrument and the VSE page includes a MP3 demo of the presets.

Julian Colbeck's Keyfax book sums up the keyboard with:
"This is not an instrument for the enquiring mind and eager finger. It's just a simple soul that lets you sound like you're being creative, without, in fact, having to be so at all."
Poor thing.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

ARP Family Dealer Ad Sheet, 1970s

'The ARP Family of Electronic Music Synthesizers' dealer ad sheet (front and back) from the 1970s including the Soloist Mk II, Pro-Soloist, 2600, 2500, and Odyssey.

I don't have an exact date on when this dealer ad sheet was printed, but my guess is around 1972 or 1973 since the Pro-Soloist is mentioned alongside the Soloist Mk II... What? Soloist Mk II? What is this piece of kit? Why have I never heard of it!?!

Looking at the Soloist Mk II description and photo from this scan, it looks to be the evolutionary 'missing link' between the original Soloist and the Pro-Soloist.

First, a bit of info about the original Soloist and the Pro-Soloist:
  • The Pro-Soloist Wikipedia page and Mark Vail's 2006 article on the Pro-Soloist have some good history of these two instruments and inform us that the original Soloist was entirely analog while the Pro-Soloist used digital read-only memory chips to program all of its internal functional modules. If I'm not mistaken, neither mentions the Soloist Mk II.
  • Images of the two instruments from the Vintage Synth Explorer page clearly show that the Soloist had a light-coloured panel of toggle switches located underneath the keyboard while the Pro-Soloist's switches were located on a dark panel above the keyboard. Again, no mention of the Soloist Mk II.
Now, compare the features above to the description and picture of the Soloist Mk II included in the dealer ad sheet, and you can clearly understand how it could be the electronic love-child of the two:
  • light-coloured panel like the Soloist
  • toggle switches on the main panel are above the keyboard like the Pro-Soloist
  • layout of switches seem to resemble the Pro-Soloist
  • controls beside the keyboard have a white lever or toggle switch in the middle of the darker sliders like the Soloist
  • 15 instrument sounds like the Soloist
  • digital design like the Pro-Soloist
I found two references to the Mk II online in forum and comment posts - both by who seems to be the same person - who I now dub thee Soloist Mk II expert.
- a 2008 comment by Micke on the Vintage Synth Explorer site mentions that the production dates for the Mk II was between 1972 and 1973.
- a 2006 BlueSynths forum post by Micke (Mikael L) where he describes it as a cross between the original Soloist and Pro-Soloist.

There is also a mention of the Mk II in an ARP 2500 brochure PDF on Tim Stinchcombe's Web site. The last page of the brochure contains the same list and images of the ARP instruments in this dealer ad sheet and lists the Soloist Mk II for $995 US.

But other than those references above, I can't seem to find much on this instrument. I even failed to get Google images to bring up a photo. I'll have to add it to my list of Wikipedia updates I need to do.

End note: Aren't you proud of me for not mentioning the ARP name-dropping thing that appears on the back of the ad sheet?. Oh... I guess I just did... :o)

Monday, November 16, 2009

E-mu Emulator, Keyboard Magazine 1982

E-mu Systems Inc. Emulator sampler advertisement from page 41 of Keyboard Magazine January 1982.

Wow, what a great ad. Simple and memorable. And, probably hit the right market segment - musicians that were into samplers at the time were probably also heavy into science fiction as well.

But it begs the question - did Sir Arthur C. Clarke actually endorse the Emulator? If so, what was the connection between Clarke and E-mu?

I had to find out,
but this is one case where I took the long road.

Science fiction readers, including myself, will tell you that Clarke wrote some awesome sci-fi - heavy on the science. Movie buffs will throw out the fact that he collaborated with Stanley Kubrick on the film 2001: A Space Odyssey. And tech-junkies will quickly remind you that he is known for contributing to the idea of the geostationary communications satellite. But none of these facts connect Clarke directly with music technology or with E-mu.

Clarke's quote in this ad is well known among sci-fi enthusiasts as the third of his Three Laws of Prediction and has been referenced or alluded to numerous times by others in literature, movies and video games. I took a look at the Wikipedia page for further investigation, but again, found no direct links to music technology or E-mu.

Clarke's Wikipedia page didn't bring up anything directly related to music technology either, but following a few links from his page did eventually lead to a few surprising musical connections.

One of those links was to John Pierce's Wikipedia page. Turns out John Pierce, also associated with the concept of the geostationary communications satellite, was a good friend and colleague of Clarke as well as a fellow science fiction author. But most importantly, he was prominent in the research of computer music.

And, according to the Bell Labs Web site, Clarke was visiting Pierce at Bell Labs in 1962 while a demonstration of a vocoder synthesizer was underway. The song used in this demo was 'A Bicycle Built for Two' (aka 'Daisy Bell') and Clarke was so fascinated by the performance that he later used it in the climactic scene of the novel and screenplay for 2001: A Space Odyssey.

It gets better...

Pierce, while working at Stanford University's Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics (CCRMA, pronounced 'karma'), presented an excellent speech for the Arthur C. Clarke Lecture series in Sri Lanka in 1987. During the talk, Pierce spoke on such topics as space, satellites, and computer music. He also mentions John Chowning, the director of CCRMA.

Chowning, among other things, just happens to be an electronic music pioneer, composer and the guy credited with inventing FM synthesis - you know, the technology used in many of Yamaha's synthesizers including the DX-7. The Mix Web site has a great 2005 interview with Chowning where he talks about FM synthesis, CCRMA, and other things music-related. Definitely check that out. A 2006 audio interview with Chowning is also available on Wikipedia.

Clarke was obviously connected to some electronic music heavyweights. But still, throughout all this research, there was still nothing to connect Clarke directly with E-mu.

Time to get creative. Or logical, depending on how you look at it.

According E-mu's corporate history, Marco Alpert was the marketing manager at E-mu around the time this ad came out. And, in an E-mu article in the September 2002 issue of Sound On Sound, Alpert is credited with "...many new product ideas as well as some of the company's best adverts. This guy would know the connection.

I tracked down Alpert at Antares Audio Technologies (maker of Auto-Tune and other plug-ins) where he now works as V.P. of Marketing. I left a voice-mail message and he called back almost immediately.

Finally - an answer to the question. What is the connection between Clarke and E-mu?

Marco Alpert is a fan.

"I didn't have any permission." Alpert admitted. "We were young at the time, learning as we went along. I was a big fan of science fiction like many synthesizer/tech guys at the time. Clarke was a popular author and I loved that quote. Best of all, it fit perfectly."

The long road to a perfectly simple answer.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Bob Moog - a blunt and totally biased view point, May 1977


Update: Michelle Moog-Koussa from The Bob Moog Foundation has posted an excellent commentary on this ad on MATRIXSYNTH. From the comment:
"This is indeed a very cool ad on the face of it, but I can tell you for sure that this was not written by Bob Moog. To those of us who knew him well, this is evident in so many ways." ... "This ad has a slick marketing department's fingerprints all over it, not Bob's".
It explains why this ad is so different from other Moog ads that appeared before it and provides us with an insider's perspective... Seriously - read the whole comment.

Ms. Moog-Koussa - no disrespect to the Moog name intended. It was indeed a slick marketing department.

Moog ad from page 26 and 27 of Contemporary Keyboard Magazine May 1977.

This rare 2-page centerfold advertisement from Bob Moog only ran once or twice, but it brings to light what I think was happening in the synthesizer market at the time: as synthesizer technology became more affordable and new companies and products started coming to market, competition was heating up.

Moog was, in no uncertain terms, defending their turf from the Axxes, Odysseys, CATs, and other synthesizers that were starting to pop up. Like any good leader in a turf war, or like me when I play the game Risk, Moog decided the best defense is a good offense.

And as any good Risk player knows, the best offense takes a multi-prong approach:

Name dropping: If you've read my blog in the past, you are aware that I've crowned ARP the king of name-dropping. In this ad, Moog hits back with a few heavy-weights of their own - including Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock, Jan Hammer and Walter (now Wendy) Carlos.

Promotion of their technology: Moog bluntly reminds readers not just that they started it all in 1964, but they were first with a number of technologies including:
  • multiple waveform voltage controlled oscillator
  • the balanced, voltage controlled amplifier
  • keyboard with memory and glide
  • four-part ADSR envelope generator
  • polyphonic synthesizer
Promotion of their creative design: I've pointed out in a few posts that ARP was fond of the term 'human engineering' around this time period. Throughout this ad, Moog takes aim squarely at ARP by using the term 'musical engineering' multiple times.

Attacking rumors: I'm not sure when this pots vs sliders debate started bubbling to the surface - maybe there was ongoing rumors or debates in music stores or some of the industry mags at the time - but in this ad, Moog wanted to make it clear to readers that their engineers knew best. And is it just me, or does Moog throw a punch directly at ARP with the line "Just try to accurately tune and all-slider instrument!" ?

Reading this ad in 2009, Moog may come off as arrogant to some, but I think they got the tone just right. The ad starts off with a humorous tone but still lets you know right off the bat that this is Bob Moog's opinion [Update: the company's opinion]. Also, although Moog knows that they were the bee's knees of the synthesizer world, they take the high road and never actually mention any competitor's names in the ad.

That's class!

Monday, November 9, 2009

Octave Electronics Inc. CAT ad #3, Contemporary Keyboard 1977

Octave Electronics CAT ad from page 15 of Contemporary Keyboard Magazine May 1977.

This is the third CAT ad to appear in the magazine and Octave Electronics continued to showcase the distinctive artwork of J. Mannix. The first ad introduced the CAT in an illustrated 'jungle' setting to try and distinguish it from other synthesizers with its low cost and features. The second ad featured the CAT in a 'back lane' setting, but didn't really include any new information for readers.

This third ad, featuring two CATs connected by a ball of yarn, finally gave readers a bit more information about its unique 'slave/master' jacks - aka its CV and Gate connectors.

I've never owned a CAT, but from what I gather, unlike most synthesizers that at the time used separate cables for CV and Gate, it looks like the CAT used one stereo cable to connect the CV and Gates between instruments. Each CAT had both 'From Master' and 'To Slave' jacks allowing you to connect CAT synthesizers in a series. This unusual CV-Gate format evolved throughout the life span of the instrument, as mentioned in a call-out box in the May 1999 issue of Sound on Sound (SOS):
"The earliest version of CAT had no CV and Gate sockets at all. Later examples of the same model had two sockets marked 'To Slave' and 'From Master'. These were stereo quarter-inch jacks that carried the CV on the tip and the Gate voltage on the ring. If this wasn't strange enough, the Gate voltage was a non-standard 7.5V, which led to unreliable envelope triggering when used with conventional synths. It was only on later SRMs that Octave got its act together, although the synth retained the stereo jack arrangement rather than offering four individual sockets for the CV and Gate inputs and outputs."
SOS indicates that early CATs had no CV and Gate sockets and although this ability is not mentioned in the CAT's Spec Sheet announcement in the November/December 1976 issue of CK, the earliest CAT ad from February 1977 does mention this ability. I can't imagine too many CATs are out there without sockets.

On a tongue-in-cheek end note: The ability to have multiple CATs in a series got me thinking - I wonder what kind of cumulative 'delay' would have been introduced as you linked more and more CATs together in a series? Were there musicians that would swear they could 'feel' the delay and refuse to use this feature on the CAT, similar to the MIDI delay issue that was 'the' contentious topic of many synthesizer articles in the 1980s and 1990s? Just wondering :o)

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Yamaha CS70M, Keyboard 1982

Yamaha CS70M synthesizer advertisement from page 25 of Keyboard Magazine April 1982.

I actually posted this scan earlier in the year, but never got around to blogging about it.

Almost two and a half years after the infrequently-run CS40M/CS20M/CS15/CS5 ads began appearing in Keyboard, Yamaha launched this (also) infrequent CS70M ad in early 1982. I don't think I'm going out on a limb when I say that although Yamaha ads were pretty common in Contemporary Keyboard/Keyboard throughout 1981-82, their large family of keyboards, electric pianos, mixers and other gear may have made it particularly hard for any one individual ad to really 'stick' in the minds of readers.

And that's a shame, because although a reader may not recall any ads, he or she would definitely recall hearing the sound of a CS-series synth. Vintage Synth Explorer calls the CS70M lush - and I have to agree. Is it a substitute for a CS80? Um... not in my opinion. But it really does give a lot of synths a run for their money.

Surprisingly, there is not a lot of reference information on the Web about this beast, and even Wikipedia only has pages for the CS80 and CS30/CS30L (as far as the older CS-series are concerned). Vintage Synth Explorer, as mentioned above, has some good reference material. And a quick MATRIXSYNTH search will lead to some good images, brochure scans, old auctions and Youtube videos.

I did find a crafty version of the CS70M on the ILOVESYNTH site. These little felt instruments are created by Australia's Pul(sew)width, but a quick jump over to her Etsy site doesn't show the CS70M up for sale. But other models are, and the Minimoog is especially cute.

And, it does say she will custom-build.

Hmmm... I was going to start a Wikipedia page for the CS70M, but now I'm probably going to start planning my custom built felt modular moog. :o)

Monday, November 2, 2009

Moog 1982 Product Catalog

Moog 1982 Product Catalog featuring the Memorymoog, DSC, The Source, Taurus II, Liberation, Opus 3, The Rogue, and the System 15 and 55 modular systems.

I thought I would try something a little different today and post a scan of a product catalog that I haven't seen around online too much - hopefully you will find it as enjoyable as I find Moog's 2009 catalog.

As always, you can click on the images above to view each page. I've also tried something else a bit different - I've put all the pages into a PDF for those that want to download and view all the pages in one document. Let me know if you have a preference.

This four-page catalog is great - it contains photos and some good descriptive text for each instrument. But what I find most interesting are the list prices. This helps me really understand how good we have it today. For example, the Memorymoog listed for $4,195 in 1982. That's around $7,800.00 in today's dollars.

Here's the others in today's dollars:
  • DSC $1700
  • The Source $2600.00
  • Liberation $2700
  • Opus 3 $2400
  • The Rogue $900
The best example is the Taurus II. In 1982 it listed for $895 - the equivalent of around $1700 today. Moog recently announced a limited run of 1000 Taurus III's that will be faithful to the Taurus I sound, and also includes MIDI and CV, 48 programmable presents, and an arpeggiator for only $1,995. Seriously great stuff.

For the record, Moog isn't paying me for any of this... I doubt they even know this blog exists :o)

I also have an emotional attachment to this particular piece because it was one of the first Moog catalogs that I ever held in my hands.

I distinctly recall being in a friend's basement years ago where he was showing off his ever-expanding home-built modular. While noodling around with the machine I mentioned that I had recently bought a Pro-1 and, due to his generous nature, he immediately turned his attention to a nearby box to find a copy of a manual.

As he dug deeper and deeper into this container of wonders, more and more synthesizer manuals, catalogs, and magazines started appearing like rabbits out of a hat. The amount of synthesizer history that came out of that box was almost comical, and a copy of this catalog was among the treasure. If my memory is not mistaken, he mentioned that he received the catalog along with some other manuals during a gear trade with another member of the Analogue Heaven email list.

I remember spending hours in that basement reading material out of that box. Then, years later, a copy of the catalog fell into my lap. And I obsessed over it - all over again.

End note: This same friend retrofitted the Pro-1 I mention above with a blue LED while it was at his house for a good cleaning and check-up. Blue LEDs were very rare in synthesizers at the time, I think due to their cost, and his thinking was that if it was ever stolen and used on stage, I would be able to easily identify it as mine. A sincerely generous and thoughtful dude.