Thursday, September 29, 2011

Micor Inc. Coupland Digital Synthesizer, Synapse 1978

Micor Inc. Coupland Digital Synthesizer advertisement from page 17 in Synapse Magazine May/June (Summer) 1978.

What can I say about the aesthetics of this pre-1978 NAMM advertisement that hasn't already been covered by author Mark Vail in the most excellent book Vintage Synthesizers (page 74):
"While other synthesizer manufacturers printed full-color brochures depicting sexy keyboards clad in a wispy negligee of LEDs and hyperbolic prose, Micor Inc.'s 1978 promo boldly pictured this vaguely nerdy fellow whose glasses were held together by a safety pin."
 That paragraph alone is worth the price of the book. Seriously.

And... it's true. Look closely and you will see the safety pin in the ad photo! Nerd-core at it's finest a la 1978.

Despite what the ad-copy says, the ad doesn't contain any "technical stuff". Nothing. Instead, the marketing peeps had decided to get a head-start on Yamaha's approach to advertising, and make it all about the sound. Smart move if the hard-to-find specs are any indication of what was under the hood. Musicians probably didn't want to read about Fourier harmonics.

The synth's basic specs, or as Mr. Vail puts it - "tentative" specifications - can also be found in the book.
  • 12 waveform generators
  • each generator had 16-voice polyphony
  • 256 Fourier harmonics
  • dual five-stage envelope generators for amplitude and frequency
  • AM and FM inputs
  • variable phase angle
  • velocity-sensitive keyboard, splittable for each waveform generator
  • multiple pedals used for modulation
  • included sequencer - 20 sequences w/editing abilities
Interestingly, even though these basic specs have been available in print for some time, as of this writing the Wikipage for the synth only includes the very technical aspects of the synth.  But, that Wikipage does include some great historical information on this synth that never was.

And this is exactly why I sometimes find researching synthesizers like this frustrating. Even though first-hand spec-sheet documents are known to exist <- that link goes to an eBay page selling a 1978 eight-page promo-catalog for the Coupland Digital Synthesizer - very little actual technical information exists online as far as I can tell.  Of course, I expect someone will pass me a link to the full specs five minutes after this blog post goes live  :)

Luckily, there are a few tidbits of interesting information just a Google search away.

For example, John Moore, who apparently worked with Rick Coupland on the development of the synthesizer (and also looks to have played a role in it's Wikipage) has been active on message boards in the past. I found this 2006 post in a thread that was commenting on the old Synapse magazine that included this ad.

I've included his whole post below because although it includes a some of the same information from the Wikipage, it is written here in a first-hand perspective. I've also included it since I'm darned scared that this information could disappear at some point in the future.
"I worked with my old friend Rick Coupland on the Coupland Digital Synthesizer, especially the conceptualizing in 1973 and 1974 (while we were designing and bilding the infrastructure of the Ramada Inns/Micor hotel reservations system). We independently invented the waveform buffer, a technique to maintain very accurate frequency by having only the most significant bits of the phase counter address the buffer, and a sneaky multiplication circuit that used a weird logarithmic representation ( I think it was log base square-root of 8) for applying the attack/decay/sustain/release to each output channel. This trick was to avoid the very expensive and heat generating multiplier modules on the market at the time.

The original synthesizer used only 8 bit output, but was 16-voice real-time polyphonic and had an 88 key keyboard. We discovered an aliasing effect that was not due to the sample rate or A/D post filtering, and determined it was caused simply by the quantization effects while still in the digital logic (this is an odd concept that needs more explanation than I can give here). We applied dithering of the master clock to make it go away without noticeably affecting otherwise affecting the sound.

The project then gained funding from Micor and was expanded to include modern packaging and a touch sensitive keyboard. It was changed to 12 bit (better IC's were available by then), and the team included a professor of music from UofA.

It was rushed to the trade show (a marketing decision resisted by the technical people), poor Rick was hyped in the marketing literature (against his wishes), and the subsequent difficulties in keeping it working were embarrassing. Both versions used all MSI TTL logic and lots of wire-wrapped prototype boards, which is why it failed at the show.

The second version had a stylish production packaging and a futuristic touch-sensitive console above the force sensing keyboard. Internally was a Texas Instruments 990 mini (or perhaps, by then, the 9900 IC - don't remember) which provided the user interface and did the non-real-time FFT's required to transform from the harmonic-spectrum based voice construction into the time domain waveform buffer. The prototype was shown to several top popular musicians, who were very impressed and wanted to buy the units, but it never made it to production. Rick still has the original prototype. I believe that original 8 bit prototype was given to University of Arizona, where it's fate remains unknown."
Another search result managed to distract me from finishing this blog post for at least a couple of days. Google has been scanning old issues of Billboard magazines (including old ads!) and after finding  this February 28, 1978 Billboard magazine page with a Coupland Synth reference, I immediately got side-tracked and started looking at all the other magazine pages, including all those old music/band ads.

FYI - Foghat really knew how to wear the space gear (last page of this issue).

I also found a small reference to another employee that apparently worked on the Coupland synth. This 2004 Web page for "Let's Soiree with Baron Benham" includes SoirĂ©e special guest Mr. Jim Dilettoso  - "worlds leading authority on UFO's".


Turns out he's done a lot of technical design work over the years including "the design and integration of the world's first real-time digital music synthesizer for Coupland-Micor".

I find it awesome any time I can connect vintage synthesizers with UFOs. :D

Monday, September 26, 2011

Akai ME10D, ME20A and MM99 MIDI controlled effects, Sound on Sound 1985

Akai ME10D MIDI delay, ME20A MIDI arpeggiator and MM99 sound controller MIDI controlled effects 2-page advertisement from page 40 and 41 in Sound on Sound Magazine November 1985.

Akai had already been pushing musical gear for a while, especially the AX80. But those ads have nothing on this centrefold that appeared in the first ever issue of Sound On Sound magazine. Akai is obviously having fun with this ad - like they told the designer to just go nuts. And It all adds up to a stellar piece of work that keeps me chuckling.

I mean, this thing is really wacked-out. The retro design, acrobats in leopard skin with Akai module racks for heads and those crazy hands playing the AX80 in the bottom right corner. And, to put icing on the cake, I'm not even sure the hard-to-read squiggly ad-copy is even grammatically correct. At all.

Side note: I've been rather tired lately, and to give you an idea just how tired, I spent a good five minutes trying to figure out what Akai meant by what I read as "Tomorrow's S.O.U and N.D.S Today" in the top right corner of the ad-copy. I had literally pulled up Google to do a search on SOU and NDS to figure out what these odd UK terms meant. Gah.

The actual Akai MIDI gear doesn't really interest me, but as I was flipping through this first issue of Sound On Sound, I really started to respect the direction the creators of the magazine were taking. "RECORDING - MIDI - SYNTHESIZERS" is written at the bottom of the cover, and SOS made sure to start the magazine with a bang by putting Midge Ure, fresh off a world tour with Ultravox and appearances at Live Aid, on the cover.

And, if that doesn't set the magazine's agenda, then that first article starting on page 5 will. Called "The Programming People", it has this introductory paragraph:
"The recording industry has recently embraced a new breed - the programmer. These skilled individuals, specialized in the operation of top-flight computer musical instruments like the Fairlight and Synclavier, find themselves in great demand by studios and recording producers. Recognising this need, Karin Clayton has created a specialist agency - The Programming People - which offers clients the services of various expert programmers. Paul Gilby sampled her story and discovered how it all started". 
More articles follow covering MIDI, an intro to SMPTE and of course, gear reviews.

Being Canadian, reading UK magazines is a treat because I just didn't have the level of access to many of the UK musicians of the time period that my UK snail-mail penpals/music traders took for granted. For example, in the article on MIDI, the opening paragraph includes a quote by Rupert Hine about his first use of MIDI while recording Howard Jone's first album:
"There are certain very rare moments in the recording studio when you realise that a series of barriers you've been used to living with have just dropped."
You have no idea how happy it makes me when I come across quotes like that. Howard Jones still rocks.

Another article features the UMI-2B computer MIDI sequencing system that ran on the BBC B Micro computer. Again - you have no idea how many times I've read articles on Vince Clarke that mention this machine and sequencer. And to finally be able to read about it in detail seriously rocked. And, of course, the article included that soon-to-become classic photo of Vince Clarke and Eric Radcliffe posing with the computer and a rack of CZ101s.

Under the photo is a small quote by Vince, that includes:
"If you are looking for something to sequence, say, a bank of eight Casio CZ101s, then UMI-2B is the answer."
Bank of CZ101s - Drool.

Speaking of CZ101s, I had forgotten just how much coverage that little multi-timbral beast was actually getting when it first launched - and this magazine was no exception. The 101 also gets mentioned in a Casio SZ-1 review as "a leap forward in music technology" and the Midge Ure article mentions it was used to record three instrumental tracks on "The Gift".

After finding this Akai ad, I really did end up reading this issue cover to cover again after all these years, and Sound On Sound obviously wanted to make sure it was written for serious musicians (and technicians). But, in case you thought the magazine was taking itself too seriously, flip to the second last page and you find this:

It was so out of place that it took me a few seconds to process it. The Pee-wee Herman Wikipage tells me that the movie Pee-wee's Big Adventure came out in 1985, so I guess it makes sense that if you were going to be pushing underpants, now was the time.

You can view a list of all the articles found in that issue... where else?... on the Sound On Sound Web site.

Another reason it is such a great mag. :D

End note: Nope. Didn't get paid to promote SOS. Never gotten paid for anything written in this blog (unless you count my Google ads that bring in enough for about two Slurpees* a month). Probably never will get paid (or at least not until my grammar and spelling get *a lot* better).

* Nope. Didn't get paid for mentioning Slurpees either. And, BTW, we are talking Canadian Slurpees, not those ones found in other countries that are foamy and stuff - although I do enjoy those too).

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Bob Moog's basic patch sheet diagram for customized P1 Modular Moog, 1976 or earlier

Bob Moog's basic patch sheet diagram for customized P1 Modular Moog from approximately 1976 or earlier.

It just hit me (again) - why sounds on synths are often called patches. Probably because the first ever sounds had to be patched together with cables. I'm sure I knew this fact in my past, but I had totally forgotten it. One of the best things about getting old is being happily surprised by facts that you had forgotten you already knew.

Patch sheets used to be big business. I ordered quite a few in my day, especially for my CZs and DXs.  You could find tons of small ads for them in Keyboard. Then came RAM and ROM cartridges, data cassettes, diskettes and patch editing software.

But here might be the grand-daddy of  all patch sheets. :)

This patch sheet was one of many that were found among the catalogs and other papers included with my Modular Moog. The patch looks to have been drawn and provided by Bob Moog for the new owner to try out after initially setting up the modular. The "Bob" on the first page lines up rather perfectly with other signatures I've seen from him online.

There was actually a pile of used an unused patch sheets included. A few of the filled-in patch sheets may have also been designed by Bob Moog with patch names like "Bubbles" and"'Copter Blades", while others are clearly dated and in another person's handwriting entirely (the previous owner no doubt) - "Clavinet (Oct 81)", "Rhodes Sound (Mar/82)", "Oboe (Jan/83)",  "Bass Dr. (Jan/85). To this day I continue to use photocopies of the unused patch sheet to create 'back-ups' of my own patches.

I've dated the patch sheet with 1976 based on the fact that this dated modular and module price sheet was also included in that pile of papers, but it could have been that the price sheet was acquired by the original owner at a later date. Plus, considering that the Moog catalog included with the machine was the 1967 short form catalog, it's possible that the machine was bought much earlier.Or, it could also be that the 1967 catalog was still relevant and in circulation years later.

I've often been asked what "model" this modular is and based on the modular information I've found on, I concluded that it was a slightly customized 1P (without the optional 960/961 sequencer - DANG!). Customizations included an extra 901B Oscillator, 902 VCA, and 911 Envelope Generator (three of each instead of the standard two). Plus this modular has a 903A Random Signal Generator that replaced the 903 White Noise module in Moog Modulars around 1969 -suggesting that this modular was built after 1969 (thanks to "CZ rider" from the Vintage Synth Explorer forums for that little nugget of info!). If you are interested in knowing what other modules came with the unit, you can see all the module #s in the patch sheet.

I originally posted these scans in the Vintage Synth Explorer forums after one member posted the simple question: "What was your first Moog?"

Normally I don't contribute much to forums - I'm more of a forum lurker type - but I just couldn't resist telling my Modular Moog story. I included the patch sheet scan because I thought it added to the story and would be of general interest to boot. The scans received some positive feedback so I thought readers of the blog might be interested in seeing them as well.

Interestingly, as part of the deal of buying the modular, I also had to take an almost complete set of Scientific American's. That's a lot of magazines. And I quickly found out that it wasn't just synth ads I was addicted to.

Mid-century cigarette and car ads are crazy awesome sauce.

Monday, September 19, 2011

The ARP Family of Synthesizer Demo Record, 1973

The ARP Family of Synthesizer Demo Record from 1973.

 Ever since I first used my USB record player to record that ARP Proportional Pitch Control sound sheet, I've been recording my old records. And now I've finally gotten around to using it again to record another older ARP demo record.

The first side of the record is all about demo'ing a few different  excerpts of music created by synth owners - with a voice over introducing each piece. The second side includes four discreet songs created with ARP synths. No voice-over here.

The ARP Family of Synthesizers - Side 1 - 1973 by Retro Synth Ads

The ARP Family of Synthesizers - Side 2 - 1973 by Retro Synth Ads
It is that first side of the record that interests me most as a marketing person. Although the music created by ARP synths do the final sell-job, it is the voice-over that steers the listener with that one-sided conversation.

And ARP is in fine form - really pushing their synthesizers in every industry - TV, film, education, on stage, on tour, and in recording studios. And they also give a big nod to all the amateur musicians across the country that were starting to buy synthesizers as prices started to drop (or at least ARP figured they would be).

ARP is also in fine form on the name-dropping. Just a tad over a minute in to side one, the announcer drops Pete Townsend's name. Bam! And the next thing you know, you are listening to a bit of Teenage Wasteland - I bet you can guess which part. :)

But it is about three and a half minutes in that really starts me smiling. ARP makes a good effort to get it's synthesizers in the schools by suggesting that their synthesizers possess "tonal resources beyond that of even a symphony orchestra". Good work.

ARP includes two musical excerpts to promote the use of synths in educational facilities. The first is a short "interesting interpretation" of a romanian folk dance by a student on an ARP Odyssey. Meh. And the second is a very short example of students creating their own compositions "using sounds of their own invention". Starts around the 5:00 minute mark. Not long enough. :D

Side two is made up of four songs by two musicians.

Roger Powell has been creating "retro-future music since 1973". He was the keyboardist for Utopia back in the day. Check out his Web site and MySpace page for his latest work.

I'm not as familiar with Dave Fredricks, and am assuming this is his Web page. Definitely got some chops  :)

My short summary of each song:
  • Song 1: Dave Fredericks doing his thing. Ends strongly.
  • Song 2 (starts at 2:23): Roger Powell piano-like piece. A nice long ending with a few odd things going on.
  • Song 3 (starts at 3:57): Roger Powell is outta control! I kid!  Obviously a lot of effort went into this - just not my thing.
  • Song 4 (starts at 5:27): Great song to end on. Dave Fredricks sounds like a new-wave Lawrence Welk. 
One of my big peeves when documenting ads and promotions is when there is no date printed anywhere - and that includes records. Unfortunately there was no date printed or etched anywhere on this record, so I decided to do a bit of search.

Obviously, one of the first places I looked for clues was in the recording. Side one contains all the jibber-jabber, so I focused my attention there and came up with these clues.

Clue 1: Four synthesizers are mentioned:
  • Soloist
  • 2500 - "the elegant concert grand of synthesizers"
  • 2600
  • Odyssey  
Wikipedia's ARP page includes a sequential listing of the introduction dates for all their synthesizers - and since no other synths are mentioned, I thought there was a good chance that it must have come out sometime between 1972 (after the Odyssey came out) and 1974 (before the String Ensemble made it's debute).

Clue 2. The first excerpt of music on side one is Pete Townsend's recognizable use of his "three ARP synthesizers" on the album "Who's Next".  The voice-over mentions that it had just been recently released - which was 1971. So, that help narrowed it down to roughly the same time period.

Scanning through the ARP ads that I've posted using my very own handy-dandy Advertising Timeline Tool (shameless plug), I quickly came across this ARP dealer ad-sheet, which includes all four of the synths mentioned on the record. This dealer sheet, like the record, is also pushing that education-angle, especially for the Odyssey. In my blog post I speculated that ad-sheet came out around 1973 or 1974.

So then I started looking at older ARP ads that I haven't posted yet - as well as started a Google Images search. I decided to contentrate on that classic Pete Townsend image of him leaning against his ARP, since I knew he was being heavily promoted by ARP at the time. The images that popped up quickly lead me to the "Thats Alright Mama blog - a blog dedicated to "custom records pressed by Rite Records of Cincinnati". And before you know it, I come screen-to-face with this.Yup. And cool - this record was pressed in Cincinnati. And best of all, the blogger includes a recording date - 1973!

Shortly thereafter I also came across this page. And this. . Doh!

Mystery solved!

The Internet is my friend.    :)

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Wasatch Music Systems Sequencer 1020A, Contemporary Keyboard 1976

Wasatch Music Systems Sequencer 1020A 1/4-page advertisements from page 37 in the July/August issue (found on bottom left corner of page), and page 24 in the September/October issue (found on top left corner of page) of Contemporary Keyboard 1976. Also found in the May/June 1977 issue of Synapse.

What a gorgeous set of ads. They are so much a like that doing two different blog posts would prolly be overkill. Plus, I tend to lean towards laziness.

The first ad scan on the right only made the one appearance in the July/August issue of CK, and then Wasatch switched out the ad for the new version seen on the left. That second ad only ran two or three times between September 1976 and October 1977 in CK, but the ad also seems to have made an appearance or two in other magazines such as Synapse.

Although I initially only found a few minor design changes in the ad, I finally did notice the rather BIG difference in the actual piece of gear photographed. On the left-hand side of the 1020A is an extra chunk of front panel that is labeled "power module", including an on/off switch. That first photo must be an earlier model or prototype.  Excellent!

Contemporary Keyboard's SPEC SHEET description is annoying short, and seems to be taken almost directly from the advertisement. But, we do get some basic info, along with historical pricing and company location information.  Won't complain about that!
" WMS Sequencer: Compatible with most major brand synthesizers, the WMS 1020A Sequencer features two outputs per channel (one ascending, one descending), a VCC (voltage-controlled clock), and either 1-10 two-note control voltage outputs or 1-20 one-note control voltage outputs. The signal output can be carried to other sequencers to create larger sequence patterns. The unit can be used to control filters, play automatic bass lines, create various waveform patterns, and so on. Step and reset buttons are provided for manual operation. Price is $449.95, cabinet and power supply included. Wasatch Music Systems, Box 9175, Salt Lake City, UT 84109."
There isn't a lot of information online about Wasatch Music Systems or the 1020A Sequencer. But after my large team of researchers finished scouring the InterWebz for information, we came to a few important conclusions.

1. The company was probably named after Wasatch county in Utah, or, according to Wikipedia, "the Ute Indian word meaning mountain pass or low place in the high mountains".

2.  This thing has the freakin' coolest plastic fake wooden side panels. Seriously. Freakin'. Cool.

You can kind of get an idea of what they look like from that first ad scan above. And although I prefer the more art-deco-y design of the second ad, that angled shot of the 1020A in the first ad is more pleasing to my eyes. I bet those side panels add significantly to the value of these things on the second-hand market.

If this March 2011 ebay auction is any indication, a 1020A sequencer *without* the cool fake side panels goes for around $676.66. That's really not that high when you look at the eBay prices for old ARP sequencers and the like (I know - not an totally apple-to-apple comparison).  Unfortunately the photos for that auction are no longer available - but here comes MATRIXSYNTH to the rescue!

The seller of that auction actually pulls some great historical and functional information from a July 2006 1020A auction that is unfortunately no longer available.  But again we have MATRIXSYNTH to the rescue. The description of the 1020A in that auction post is just as good as the Spec Sheet plus you get the added bonus of a bit of a comparison with ARP's sequencer!

And most importantly... you get a REALLY GOOD LOOK at those awesome fake wood plastic side panels.Gorgeous!

What are the chances I can get furniture made out of that stuff! :D

Monday, September 12, 2011

Sound Master STIX Programma ST-305, Keyboard 1983

Sound Master STIX Programma ST-305 1-page advertisement from page 75 in Keyboard Magazine May 1983. The exact same ad began showing up in the North American version of the May 1983 issue of International Musician and Recording World (page 12).

After that dog's breakfast of an ad for the Memory Rhythm SR-88 came out (nerp... wasn't a fan...) Sound Master, or more likely their American distributor JTG of Nashville, really did a much better job at pulling together this STIX advertisement. There is just no comparison. 

This ad has more of what I like to see in ads - the three "C"s: Clean, Clear, and Concise (well, more concise than that last ad of theirs). Unlike that SR-88 ad, this ad provides a lot of good information and many of the specifications about the STIX Programma - all the way down to the detail of the "SQ" output.

You may also recall that in that SR-88 ad, there seemed to be a lot going on when it tried to explain who actually was involved in the manufacture and distribution of the machine:
"Another innovative product from The Rhythm Section by Sound Master Distributed exclusively by JTG of Nashville. "
This time around, Sound Master has the good sense to leave "The Rhythm Section" out of the picture, removing one level of bureaucracy from the reader's mind to make room for more important information - like what a musician can actually accomplish with their product. Or maybe The Rhythm Section just wasn't involved in this distribution deal.

Even the layout of this ad is pretty good, although why JTG needed to have the word STIX in large pink letters written three times across the page is a little confusing to me. Designers would tell you "it's a design element", which usually means there is no reason. I'm sure if the designer had spent an additional hour on problem solving, he/she would have found a better way to add colour and balance to the bottom half of the page.  

But, one of the biggest surprises in this ad-copy is in the last paragraph, where the word "rhythmer" pops it's ugly head back up. Back in March I posted a Korg KPR-77 ad that used the word "rhythmer" in the ad title, and I mentioned how this word was new to me - and even a little bit creepy. Farfisa had slapped the word right on to one of their early drum machines, and now we have Sound Master dropping it into their ad. Gah!

vout - a blog reader who recently emailed me some great info about his SIX different rhythm units, also commented on the STIX, but I conveniently left it out of that blog post to save for this one:
"Another machine of interest is the Sound Master ST-305, which has more sounds and individual outs, it seems to be Sound Masters answer to the TR-606, but is based on the SR-88."'s STIX page slots it somewhere between the DR-55 and the TR-606, almost like the missing link. And reading around the net, I also found that the STIX was often compared more to Roland's TR-606 and Korg's KPR-77, rather than to it's sibling the SR-88, or even it's cousins like the EDC SR-99, Amdek RMK-100, and Boss DR-55.

Poor thing was really just an SR-88 with extra sounds, an accent feature (already available on the DR-55 and RMK-100) and separate outs/levels, no?

The full specs for both the STIX and the SR-88 appeared in the SPEC SHEET section of the July 1983 issue of Keyboard, and actually includes a bit of a comparison between the two. Great historical information.
"JTG Rhythm Machines. The new Sound Master SR-88 and Stix are user-programmable rhythm machines. The SR-88 has been redesigned to accommodate new features. Sounds included are bass drum, snare drum, hi-hat, and cymbal. There are six 16-step memory positions and two 12-step memory positions. The unit also has the capability to record fills after every bar or every 4, 8, or 16 bars. There are tempo, tone, and volume controls, as well as an AC adaptor. There is a trigger output to sync to external synthesizers. An LED indicator flashes at the downbeat of each bar, and a footswitch jack allows for remote starting and stopping. The Stix features eight different sounds - bass drum, snare high and low toms, hi-hat (open and closed), cymbal, and accent. The cymbal is designed to give a punchier sound than the SR-88's, having been modeled after a crash cymbal where the SR-88's cymbal was designed after a ride cymbal. An individual slider control is provided to adjust the volume of each drum. A clear button erases unwanted rhythm patterns and a trigger output is provided for syncing purposes. Price of the SR-88 is $179.95; the Stix is $299.95. Distributed by JTG, 1024C 18th Ave. S., Nashville TN 37212."
I've found a few good videos on the STIX in action. Here's a YouTube video (uploaded August 8!) I found through (who else :) MATRIXSYNTH. Give's a good indication of what the machine can do.

 I also came across this video of a comparison between the STIX and the SR-88. Nice!

In the description of this second video, the author mentions that "both of them resemble the Boss DR-55 internally". Interesting stuff - but I promised myself after that Clef Master Rhythm post that I was done fixating on these little rhythm units.

I've think also now come to terms with the word "Rhythmer", but I sure hope "Programma" doesn't take off as a word to use on drum machines.

(Actually - secretly I do  :)

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Clef Products (Electronics) Limited aka Clef Electronic Music ad including Clef Master Rhythm, Band-Box, Microsynth, Electronics & Music Maker, 1982

Clef Products (Electronics) Limited aka Clef Electronic Music1/2-page advertisement including Clef Master Rhythm, Band-Box and  Microsynth from page 15 in Electronics & Music Maker October 1982.

I got a few emails after my last few blog posts on the Sound Master Memory Rhythm SR-88 and Eletro Dynamics Corporation DM-1000 Super Drum Machine. In those blog posts, I had found a number of rhythm machines that seemed to share a common ancestor - the SR-88, the Boss DR-55, EDC SR-99, Amdek RMK-100 and, also, the Clef Master Rhythm. I also asked if anyone had more information.

One reader - "vout" - sent in a great email that included a photo of his SIX different rhythm machines -including the Clef Master Rhythm, along with a great explanation of how they were programmed. With vout's permission, I've also included the photo he sent (DROOL!):

"All these drum machines are linked by the fact that they use a simple step-time programming system that basically just uses two buttons - once you get your head round how it works it's a great way of programming beats, often with a bit of randomness thrown in. Roland developed this idea more than anyone else by using it in both the CR-78 and the CR-8000 drum machines, these are probably the most complex machines that use only this method of programming."
vout also provided a lot of information on the individual machines - including ones that I hadn't even heard of like the Movement Sequence Memory Rhythm and the Kay Memory Rhythm. He concludes his descriptions with a big nod to the Clef Master Rhythm, calling it one of the best of the bunch:
"The Sound Master SR-88 is only one of many variants of the same design. The Kay Memory Rhythm is another, as is the rare Movement Sequence Memory Rhythm (Movement were a UK company better known for the large and very rare Movement Drum Computer, famously used by the Eurhythmics). It seems that an (unknown) Japanese company licenced its design to many distributors in the early 80's. The Sound Master machines, Kay and Movement machines are all variants of this design and all sound identical, though the casings and control layout were sometimes different, they all have the same circuit design inside.

The Electro Dynamic Corporation EDC-99 is a very interesting variant, it is far more complex on the programming side, having a microcontroller (some sort of PROM I think) and far more extensive programming, you can actually program songs, not just patterns on it, but the sounds are identical to the SR-88.

The Boss DR-55 was Rolands own design and though it is similar (the control circuit is almost but not quite the same) the voice circuitry and sounds are very different. Because of Roland/Boss market penetration this is the machine that everyone thinks is the original that everybody else copied, but I don't think this is the case.

The Amdek machine was also designed by Roland (Amdek were a Canadian subsidiary of Roland who distributed many type of effects pedals and the Amdek drum machine, all available only in kit form). The design is not the same as the  DR-55 - the voices in particular are more sophisticated, more like the TR-606 in fact.

There also exists the Sound Master Latin Percussion, a very interesting non-programmable version of the SR-88 with more voices and a 'Latin' theme. I'm still looking for one of those!

Finally, the Clef Master Rhythm was a totally independant design from a UK company who specialised in Musical Instrument kits and effects units in the 1970's. This machine is more complex than any of the others (with the possible exception of the EDC-99), with more sounds and program memories - it's actually the best machine here IMHO and arguably predates the other designs."
It was this final bit about the Clef Master Rhythm's superiority that made me dig a bit deeper in some UK magazines to see if it had done any advertising. Sure enough, I managed to find one in Electronics & Music Makers.

The ad doesn't disappoint either. It not only backs up vout's excellent comments about the machine (not that I had any doubt!), but also provides a lot more information about some of the other kits and products Clef offered lucky UK readers. Don't forget to read the fine print in the ad scan to learn more about these products!

Two really cool MATRIXSYNTH posts popped up during a Google search that provide some great historical info. The first is actually a December 2008 auction post for the Clef Microsynth, including a low res version of this ad. But, what's also cool is that in the comments section, someone who worked at Clef says that the Microsynth was the only product not designed in-house. Varifying that the Master Rhythm was designed in-house (and also backing up what vout said earlier about it being an independent design).

The second search result is an August 2008 auction post that I linked to in that earlier SR-88 blog write-up. If you didn't check it out then, check it out now. It includes some good close-up photos, a programming demo video, and some sound examples. Excellent stuff.

My quick scan through  E&MM provided a bit more info. I've found out that the Clef Master Rhythm was still available until at least July 1985, as it was included in E&MM's check list series of drum machines that month:
"Clef: Master Rhythm - 129 Pounds. 13-voice analogue drum machine, 24 programmable patterns, mono output; 2 cymbals, rimshot, brushes, claves, snare, 4 toms, 2 bongos, conga, bass drum.
+ Wide range of voices for the money;
- doesn't sound as good as FR110, and isn't as easy to use
- if the voices are the ones you want, there's simply no alternative"
 But, unfortunately, by the January 1986 drum machine checklist installment it had stopped being included.

Thanks to vout, I think I can now stop fixating on these addictive little rhythm units.

And, if anyone has a Sound Master Latin Percussion unit he would like to give vout, contact me and I'll send on the info!  :D

Monday, September 5, 2011

Farfisa Super-Syntaccordion, Contemporary Keyboard 1980

Farfisa Super-Syntaccordion 1/2-page advertisement on page 20 in Contemporary Keyboard Magazine April 1980. 

Well, it's the Labour Day long weekend in Canada, as well as in a few other countries around the world so I thought I would just post a little something before getting back to my two main activities this weekend.

1. My relatively new hobby of chainsawing at the family farm in south central Saskatchewan. Fun stuff.
2. Playing around with the stems from Tara Busch's The Rocket Wife remix contest. I'm still not sure I'll actually submit anything, but I never turn down the chance to listen to other people's stems. I learn a lot.

You may recall that in my last blog post on the EDC DM-1000 Super Drum Machine, I spent a little bit of time explaining my beef with companies that slap the word "super" on their products. I've found that there is just too high a failure rate based on my expectations. But, it made me wonder about other "super" products that I may be able to find in Contemporary Keyboard.

The result - this 1/2 page advertisement for the Super-Syntaccordion. Not only has Farfisa managed to attach the word "super" to this product's name, but it looks like they have also tried to tack on the word "synth" as well. Nice work.

Now, knowing nothing about accordions or accordion culture, it could be that "synta" means something else entirely - and the accordionists amongst you are all shaking your heads right now.  But the fact the ad highlights that this accordion includes a synthesizer with mono and "poli" presets is a big clue to me. That, and the fact that Farfisa had the balls to advertise this accordion in a magazine that by 1980 had become more and more recognized for their synthesizer advertisements.

A quick Google search brought up a few interesting and entertaining links, many that include musicians quite proud of their Super-Syntaccordions:

Peter L. Mckee, who is available for weddings, dinners, retirement and informal parties.
"I use two of the finest instruments in the world, the first being an acoustic Excelsior Accordion, and the second being a world class Farfisa Super Syntaccordion which is accredited as being the ultimate electronic instrument of it's class ever produced."
Facebook page for Hoppy and the Gophers, who play everything from Zydeco, to polkas, to country, to rock and roll. In fact, "if you want to hear what Led Zepelin sounds like on an accordion, come out and see us!"
"Today Hoppy plays a modified Farfisa Super-Syntaccordion. The old electronics have been replaced with a midi system which is smaller than a shoebox and requires electronics in the accordion about the size of a sheet of paper."
And, of course, Youtube videos of musicians playing their Super-Syntaccordions

That second guy was even called "bass-ass" in an official post. And, the beat is coming from a Roland CR-8000. That is f*ckin' bass-ass!

I never did find out just how "synthy" the Super-Syntaccordion is. To my untrained ear, I couldn't hear anything different from other accordions. But, based on the comments and performances I've found on the Web, I'm going to give this "Super" product two thumbs up. Probably more fun than the Superball and Super-soaker.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Electro Dynamics Corporation DM-1000 Super Drum Machine, Keyboard 1983

Electro Dynamics Corporation DM-1000 Super Drum Machine 1-page advertisement from page 17 in Keyboard Magazine November 1983.

After my last long rambling blog post comparing the Sound Master SR-88, Boss DR-55, Electro Dynamics Corporation SR-99 and Amdek RMK-100, I became a little obsessed with one of the companies in particular - Electro Dynamics Corporation (EDC). Which, BTW, is a great name for a band.

I decided I needed to do a quick scan through old issues of Keyboard to see if EDC had pushed the SR-99 or any other gear. Nothing on the SR-99 came up, but this ad definitely caught my attention.

And just wow. Oh wow. Where do I begin...

To start with, I have a bit of an infatuation with any piece of gear that has the word "super" slapped on it - as can be seen in the photo of the DM-1000. Ironically, about half the time you will find the word "super" printed in BIG letters on rather small items to try and make up for some type of perceived deficiency. Kinda like those four-foot-three guys that get into body-building in a big way. Some of my friends may put products like Korg's DDM Super Drums and Super Percussion into this category (but they would most definitely be wrong. :)

The other half of the time, the word "super" is found on crazy-stupid fun products from glue to water pistols on steroids.

But the problem is that since about the mid-80s, enough companies had deployed the strategy of including the word "super" on bad products that seeing a "super" product in a store immediately fires off the "DON'T BUY" neurons in my brain. I am instantly skeptical. That is, unless, you are talking about kid products - Super Soaker, Super Ball, Super Mario, Super Friends, Super Scrabble...). Quite the opposite then.

Unfortunately, the heretofore unknown Japan-based Electro Dynamics Corporation seems to have taken on this strategy. But I think that was only the first of many problems EDC probably encountered as a company.

The second problem had to do with timing. As far as I can tell, this ad only appeared once in the November 1983 issue of Keyboard, and that is nowhere near long enough to accomplish this ad's dual purposes. The first purpose being to introduce readers to this new drum machine, and the second to entice exclusive agents in other countries to distribute EDC products. I hope this wasn't their only communications channel with potential buyers and agents.

Finally, the third problem deals with translation. Apparently Japan-based EDC thought it unnecessary to hire a professional translator/copy-writer.

We've all seen badly translated synth and drum machine manuals. And I bet you there are just as many people in non-English-speaking countries scratching their heads at manuals that have been butchered by US, UK and other English-speaking companies during translation. Worse probably.

But manuals are post-purchase. We've already bought the instrument. No big whoop.

Compare that with pre-purchase promotion and advertising, and my opinion changes entirely. Although translation services can be expensive (my company spends hundreds of thousands of dollars in translation costs each year), you just have to convince your boss that proper translation is important. Remember when we all learned that you can't let your boss hire his 17 year old nephew who has a pirated copy of Photoshop do your advertising layout? Apply the same rule to translation.

An ad title of "You Can Find High Technology In This Machine" is just a little uncomfortably confusing to a reader. But then to follow it up with "The Ultimately Functioned Drum Machine DM-1000" kills off any confidence in the company that a reader may have remaining after seeing the word "super" on the photo. The rest of the ad-copy is equally frightening.

Those problems aside, I'm still drawn to the DM-1000. I *need* to find one. I think it is the combo of the knobs, pads and outputs. Yup. Definitely the knobs, pads and outputs. And what look like buttons.

When I first came across this company while researching Sound Masters SR-88, I found it exciting because I had never heard of Electro Dynamics Corporation. And the logo was even kinda cool in a simplistic sort of way. I thought Google would clear everything up, but there is surprising little about the company and nothing about this machine online.

As mentioned in my last blog post, there was a recent E-bay listing for Sound Master SR-88 Memory Rhythm and EDC SR-99 Programmable Rhythm - and the SR-99 included the EDC logo!

I had suggested that there was definitely a connection between Sound Master and EDC, but the fact that both companies had been independently advertising in Keyboard in late 1983 made it unlikely that one company had changed its name to another.

In reply to my last blog post, Twitter follower @ahmedje1 (Joe Ahmed) tweeted his agreement that the two companies were probably connected:
"@RetroSynthAds I own 4 of those drum machines.The 88 & 99 sound pretty similar & I suspect from the same company.The Amdek came after."
Excellent! At least I know its not just me making things up in my brain.

I'll keep researching - and in fact, just a received an email with some great info. Keep it coming, and stay tuned!