Monday, July 30, 2012

Akai AX60 "Synth With A Split Personality" introductory ad, Keyboard 1986

Akai AX60 "Synth With A Split Personality" two-page introductory colour advertisement from page 14 and 15 in the January 1986 issue of  Keyboard Magazine.

Akai ads are just getting bigger and better, and this two-page full colour advertisement for the AX60 just knocks my socks off. It had a rather good ad-run too, appearing for a number of months between January and April, and then making a brief appearance again in September 1986.

But, be warned. My objectivity may have taken a vacation today. So, full disclosure - I own an AX60 and I **LOVE** it. Yes, four **asterix** worth of **LOVE**.

It was one of the first synthesizers I bought off the Internet - from a cool dude in the Analog Heaven email list. I can recall the excitement of the transaction, the anxiety of waiting for it to arrive, wrestling with shipping box when it finally did arrive, and sliding it out of the box to reveal this gorgeous beast for the first time.


The best thing about this ad is the fact that the front panel of the synth takes up the whole bottom half of the two pages. You can clearly read every control. It's magnificent and gives readers a good indication of EXACTLY what they are purchasing.

A close second best thing about this ad is the inclusion of the $795.00 price tag.

And a close third best thing is its association with the S612 sampler. Up until now, the poor S612 has spent most of its time in half-page ads, usually in the back-half of Keyboard.  But now at least it was getting a bit more air-time with its younger brother. These two peas in a pod even share similar markings, grays with a dash of pastel reds and blues. 

One thing I hardly noticed in this ad at first was what I thought was a lightning bolt down the center of the two pages. But then I realized its the "split" in the "split personality" aspect of the ad. Ha!

There are many reasons to like this advertisement, but there are just as many reasons to love the synthesizer itself. All the controls are located on the front panel, it has an arpeggiator, you can split the keyboard to create two different sounds, I could go on and on...

But for me, the coolest feature of this synthesizer is the VCO MOD control in the VCF section. It makes this synth scream and burble and gargle and gack. The AX60 manual has this to say about it:
"This unique feature produces musically useful timbre shifts when moved; the action is similar to tone control, but more sophisticated."
Yes, yes it truly does.

If you have not heard this sound, I've uploaded a simple arpeggiated saw wave demo to SoundCloud. Its a little distorted (caused by SoundCloud, not the VCO MOD function) so I've enabled the wave download button so you can download the original wave file (11 MB I think) if the audio gets to be too annoying.

Listening to the demo, you can really hear the harmonics/distortion added to the sound with this one simple slider interacting with the cut-off and resonance, and you can see why I used the VCO MOD *a lot* in angry songs I was created in the mid-late 90s. I would ride the slider up and down throughout some songs.  :D

Like the ad, the manual also spends a a fair bit of time talking up the AX60's connection to the S-612 sampler. Six of the 43 pages to be exact, running through the basics of set up, editing sampled sounds, stereo effects, and using the AX60's keyboard split function with the sampler.

But it is the final section - 11F: A Word to Creative Musicians... - that seals the deal for me, and makes me reach for the eBay app on my new NEXUS 7 Google tablet to buy one (nope, didn't get paid by eBay or Google to say that, just wanted to brag):
"The AX60/S612 combination is a powerful one. It will take you some time to master using the two devices together, but practice makes perfect. After you become familiar with the system (maybe even before!), you will be able to produce some absolutely marvelous sounds."
All this writing about the AX60 has me truly excited about this machine again. Now I gotta go play on it some more.

There goes the rest of my lovely afternoon.


Thursday, July 26, 2012

Akai S-612 "Finally Sampling Made Simple!" ad, Keyboard 1985

Akai S-612 sampler "Finally Sampling Made Simple!" 1/2-page colour advertisement from page 58 in the December 1985 issue of Keyboard Magazine.

After a five or six month run of their rather humorous 1/2-page black and white advertisement, Akai and/or distributor IMC decided to up their game a little bit.

For one, they decided to pay the big bucks and go CMYK on our @ss. Although, I think at the expense of a bit of readability. Actually, looking at this ad again right now, it kinda reminds me of an early 1990's rave pamphlet. It's like Akai already knew that sampling would play such a large role in electronic dance music of the future. Creepy good fun.

But, that rack sampler really does look purrrrdy in colour with its blue and red twiddlies and bitz. 

They also changed their primary message used in that earlier ad from one of cost ("less than a $1000!") to one based on ease of use. A message, I'm sure, that is a direct shot at the Ensoniq Mirage's rather more difficult sampling procedures:
"No longer do you need to be a computer whiz kid to unleash your sampling creativity. Now in just 8 seconds you can sample anything from a Model T to a Boeing 747..."
But it's this next part of the ad-copy that is really wonderful:
"...or permanently store your favorite sounds... from a C.D. to a $25,000 synthesizer!!"
Just to be clear, I'm pretty sure Loop Masters and Time+Space weren't around yet. :) Is Akai suggestingI use there S-612 to SAMPLE music CDs? Like, other people's music? Awesome.

But, like I said - colour at the expense of readability. It took me a while to find that low price of $995.00. And for some reason the designer put a really bright star right behind the price, making it even harder to see. Even if it isn't the main message, its still one of best features of this sampler.

After the introductory black and white advertisement ran from July to November 1985, this colour ad started running in December 1985, and actually continued to run pretty regularly through out the first half of 1986. But still, at a 1/2-page size, I think it continued to have trouble getting noticed over main competitor Ensoniq's full page colour ads for the Mirage. Complicated sampling and all.

But, the S-612 did a get a boost  in November 1985 just before this colour ad started to run in the form of a coveted Keyboard Review by Jim Aikin. After a brief introduction about the pros and cons of sampling in general, he zeros in on two of the S612's cost-cutting measures - no keyboard (played through MIDI), and the fact that you can only hold one sample in memory at a time.

Soon after (and much like this ad's message) Jim points out the obvious - this thing is easy to sample with. In his words:
"The S612 is simplicity itself to use".
After reading this, Akai should have immediately dropped all future marketing plans for the S612 and just put well-respected Aikin's quote above a photo of the S612.

Clap hands. Job done. :D

The review also points out one other feature of the S612 that isn't really mentioned elsewhere - storing sounds with the S612 on its own takes around EIGHT MINUTES BY CASSETTE. Do you know how long eight minutes is? Um... a long time.

But that's why Akai came out with the "optional" MD280 mini-disk drive module.  I put that "optional" in quotes, because it's really not all that optional. This module reduces the time it takes to store a sample from eight minutes down to eight seconds. Aaaaah. Much better.

Jim also rightly makes note of the suannoying 2.8" quick-disk format micro-floppies the unit used. Smaller than Mac's 3.5 inch disks. I hated them on my Roland S10 sampler too. But according to Jim, Akai's reason for choosing the format was because they could "hold exactly 64kb per side, which is what was needed to store one sampled sound and associated voicing information.  64kb? That seems low, no?

Jim also reviews other aspects of the machine, including factory sounds, voice parameters, truncating and looping functions and MIDI implementation (something of great importance in a rack sampler that relies on MIDI to be played).

In his conclusion, Jim once again points out the issue of saving to cassette, calling it "an exercise in frustration". He also brings back the awful memory of how expensive floppies were back in the day and comments "don't forget to budget a couple of hundred dollars for disks". LOL!

Before signing off, he makes one final observation about the future market for samplers:
"At the rate technology is advancing, we can expect to see more units like this one hitting the marketing in the near future, packed with bells and whistles to make them seem superior. But it's hard to see how the basic package found in the Akai could be improved upon."
It's hard to think of Akai as the underdog of sampling. But the company is catching up. Fast.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Akai S-612 "Would you like a sampler for less than $1000.00?" introductory ad, Keyboard 1985 - first ad

Akai S-612 sampler "Would you like a sampler for less than $1000.00?" 1/2-page black and white introductory advertisement from page 87 in the May 1985 issue of Keyboard Magazine.

Work is about to take over my life for the next two or three weeks, so I've decided to enjoy this gorgeous weekend as  much as possible and spend only a minimal amount of time indoors - cleaning, blogging, music, etc. And, in retrospect, it looks like Akai took the same minimal approach both in the design of its S-612 sampler as well as its introductory advertisement.

Right or wrong, much of the early life of the S-612 was probably spent being compared to another relatively new and cheap-ass sampler, and it's main competition - the Ensoniq Mirage. So, of course, I did the same when looking at when exactly each of these samplers started showing up in Keyboard magazine.

The S-612 Spec Sheet appearance looks to be the first sign of life for Akai's sampler in the May 1985 issue of Keyboard. For comparison, the Ensoniq Mirage sampling keyboard had already been showing off its chops for a good five or six months in the form of a full colour two-page introductory advertisement that began running during the December 1984 Xmas season. I would have hoped for a bit more meat in the Spec Sheet from a company trying to play catch-up to the competition:
"Akai's 6-voice polyphonic 612 Sampler is a 19" rack-mount device designed to operate with any MIDI-equipped keyboard. It features 12-bit resolution and can digitally sample up to eight seconds of any sound. Front panel controls enable the user to set a looping point for the sampled sound, set MIDI mode and channel, and externally trigger the device. An LFO and filter are built-in. Price is $999.00. Akai, dist. by IMC, Box 2344, Fort Worth, TX 76113."
Yeah, not a lot of info in that spec sheet... but then again, the Akai S-612 was a simple machine. There wasn't much more to it. Just your basic entry level sampling machine.  And what was probably a really bad case of "coin-ki-dink" (ah... coincidence), competitor Ensoniq managed to slide in a FULL PAGE COLOUR advertisement directly opposite Akai's Spec Sheet promo. And not the Mirage introductory ad - that one had already run for a while and was replace in this May issue of Keyboard with Ensoniq's second advertisement for the machine!

In the words of Martin Q. Blank from the movie Grosse Point Blank: "Dumb fucking luck".

So, I'm thinking. Okay, a slow start. But maybe there is earlier mention of Akai's sampler in Keyboard's semi-annual NAMM tradeshow round-up article. That February 1985 Winter NAMM show article turned out to be easy to find. It was in the same issue as Akai's Spec Sheet - May 1985. 

From the article:
"One of the games that was being played at this NAMM convention was spot the digital sampler, also known as how many sampling machines can you fit inside of one convention center. Kurzweil, Ensoniq, E-mu and Fairlight were all on hand to show off their instruments... ...And everyone was curious about the Ensoniq Mirage (which we'll be reviewing next month in Keyboard Report), the sampling keyboard with a list price under $2,000."
Ensoniq's timing was perfect. A Xmas launch, hitting NAMM at just the right time with a great price-point, and free earned media in this NAMM article with a mention and a photo!

And yet, no mention of Akai. Gah!

So, from a casual reader's perspective, Ensoniq's Mirage had already been on the market for quite a while, resulting in five or six month's exposure in advertisements and articles before Akai even gets their first break with their Spec Sheet promo. Until this advertisement came along, some readers may have thought that the only thing the Akai S-612 rack sampler had going for it was its under $1000 price tag compared to the Mirage's $1700 list price.

You'll probably agree that the S-612 needed to come out swinging with it's first advertisement to get in front of Ensoniq. But Akai or distributor IMC (or whoooooomever) looks like they made the unfortunate decision to make the S-612's introductory advertisement a 1/2-page black and white ad. ON PAGE 87!!!

Not really that confident, were we, Akai?

Or just playing it safe?

It's not all bad. For a half-pager, it is a nicely designed ad. Good layout with a large title, good photo and a very readable large-ish ad-copy font.

Akai knows they have the cheapest sampler on the planet - and use that fact to their advantage in the ad-title:
"Would you like a sampler(TM) for less than $1,000.00."
That "TM" symbol beside the word "sampler" makes me a little uneasy. Did Akai really trademark the term "sampler"? They give the word the "TM" treatment through the ad-copy. I did a quick search and I wasn't the only that noticed this. The Microscopics blog made note of this back in 2009. Interesting.

Also, I just gotta point out the crazy sense of humor in the ad-copy . Underneath the ad-title about wanting a sampler for less than a grand is:
"So would 348,000 other synthesizer players". 
Huh? What? Where does that number come from? Did they just pull that number out of their ass? Or am I missing some in-joke?

Again - we get a little chuckle in the first sentence:
"Now the S-612 sampler(TM) by Akai enables thousands of synthesizer owners the freedom of sampling technology without mortgaging their wife and kids!"

Okay, between the time I started writing this post and the time I finished it, I've done a complete 180 degrees on my thoughts on Akai's first S612 advertisement, and their move into the professional instrument market.

I think Akai has a really shot at this "sampler (TM)" thing.   :D

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Akai AX80 "Simply... Awesome!" ad #2, Keyboard 1985

Akai AX80 "Simply... Awesome!" advertisement #2 from page 7 in the May 1985 issue of Keyboard Magazine.

Yup. Not a screw-up. This is a TOTALLY different advertisement than the AX80 "Simply...Awesome!" ad I posted last Monday.  I prefer to call this one "Simply... Awesomer!"

Let me remind you of that earlier ad.

So, I can hear your thoughts. Doesn't look too different from that first AX80 ad, does it?  Well, the difference is significant enough that it may have been the reason the ad was moved all the way up to page 7 in that issue of Keyboard. I'll let you take a bit of a closer look and ponder the significance of the difference between the two ads while reading the rest of the blog post.

And speaking of "significances", back in the 80s, it didn't take long for Keyboard Magazine to realize the significance of Akai breaking on to the synth scene, and Jim Aikin was selected (or volunteered... how would I know?!?!) to write the review of the AX80 in the January 1985 issue.

Side note: I'm not sure why, and please don't find this creepy Mr. Aikin, but for some reason your writer's photo that Keyboard Magazine used for your articles during this time period has never left my memory. When many of the other writers' faces were all looking right at the camera and smiling, you were kickin' the new wave "glow", looking cool as Kraftwerk. Seriously and sincerely. I dig that photo.

Jim starts the review with a sentence or two on the state of the polyphonic synth market - and reading it now gives one a good idea of the confusion keyboard players must have been facing when choosing a polysynth:
"Competition in the polyphonic synthesizer area seems to get tougher every month, with new, affordable, touch-sensitive instruments crawling out of the woodwork at an alarming rate. This is good news for keyboard players because it means prices are coming down, but it does make it tougher to evaluate all the reshuffled combinations of familiar features and figure out which instrument is right for you."
And, without knowing it at the time, Jim really does a kick-ass job at predicting the AX80's future in terms of pricing (that was a hint to the difference between the two ads - more on that later).

As usual Jim gives 100 per cent in detailing the keyboard, controllers, voice architecture, and programming and operations. An enjoyable read - or re-read in my case. And one that delayed me a little in finishing this post :).

In the end, Jim concludes that although he wasn't impressed with the preset patches, he notes the synth does have a "warm, full sound, and can deliver a full palette of musically useful tone colors".  He also predicts the future quite accurately again with his last statement.
"The AX80 is an excellent first entry into the keyboard market by a company that we're sure to be seeing more from."
Okay, before I end this post, I've just gotta say I've left the best for last (well, in my mind anyways   :)

You see, the advertisement actual ran for quite some time between the end of 1984 and well into 1985. So, whenever ads run for that long, I usually go to one of the later ad-runs and do a small comparison check, just to see if, on the off-chance, the company has made little tweaks along the way.

Well, in the case of this Akai AX80 ad, I was NOT disappointed. In fact, in my mind, I hit the jackpot! It seems that the ad change very subtly two times during its year long ride in Keyboard Magazine - and both times it is in reference to PRICE DROPS!

In May 1985, it looks like Akai added text to the ad to let readers know that they dropped the price of the AX80 down three hundred dollars - from $1,695 down to $1,395. That's a pretty sweet price drop - one that I think should have resulted in a bit more attention and promotion in the ad change. Not the small little text addition that they decided on.

Then in September 1985, the ad changed again to show that the price dropped a further FOUR HUNDRED DOLLARS - down to $995. WTF? But readers flipping casually through the magazine may not have even noticed. Again, just a small change.

If you haven't found it yet (and I don't blame you), the extra text appeared below the "Simply... Awesome!" promo ad-copy in small black letters. It's like they were trying to hide it or something.

May 1985 - price drop to $1395
September 1985 - price drop to $995

My jaw dropped when I first noticed this. Really? A company drops the price of their synth $700 dollars and then doesn't really give it much attention?!?!?

I'd say that's pretty significant. Heck - it's simply awesome!

Psst - was that ending too predictable?    :)

Monday, July 16, 2012

Akai AX80 "Simply... Awesome!" ad, Keyboard 1984

Akai AX80 "Simply... Awesome!" full page colour advertisement from page 44 in the November 1984 issue of Keyboard Magazine.

It's always a crap shoot when a company tries to break into a new market. It usually takes a lot of money and a lot of balls. I think its fair to say Akai had both in 1984 when they decided to start up their new electronic instruments division known fondly by many as Akai Professional.

Gordon Reid probably said it best in the introductory paragraph of his 1996 AX80 retrospective:
"When Akai turned up at the 1984 Frankfurt Music Fair, they had many people wondering what a hi-fi manufacturer was doing at a show aimed squarely at performing and recording musicians. A new range of speakers perhaps? Maybe an amplifier or two? What the world wasn't expecting was the 'Akai Music Studio System' - an early attempt at a complete MIDI studio that comprised a fully fledged polysynth, the AX80, the MG1212 combined 12-track mixer/recorder, the MR16 drum machine, and the MS08 sequencer. Of the four, it was the synth that garnered the most interest. It was sleek, black, beautifully designed, beautifully finished and, if looks could kill, was set to become The Terminator of its generation."
F*ck yeah! Excuse my language, but that's how you start a retrospective! Man, if I had written that paragraph, I would have just clapped my hands, ended the blog post right there and walked away from my computer. I love the look of the AX80 almost as much as Gordon Reid - even without any knobs.

But, I didn't write it, and now you have to read the rest of this meandering post. :D

Readers of Keyboard were first introduced to the AX80 through the magazine's Spec Sheet section in the September 1984 issue of Keyboard - a month or two before the ad started to appear. The promo provided readers a good little "tease" that included the basics of the machine. It actually shared promo space with the MG1212, basically an analog ADAT, so I've left that part out:
"Akai Synthesizer. The AX80 synthesizer features a 5-octave keyboard, pitch-bend and modulation wheels, and 8-voice polyphony. Each voice has two oscillators a VCF, an envelope generator, and a VCA. The instrument also has 32 preset sounds along with 64 user-programmable memory positions. MIDI in, out and thru connectors are provided. Panel functions are displayed on five fluorescent bar graphs. The rear panel is angled to make connecting cables easier. Distributed by IMC, Box 2344, Fort Worth, TX 76113."
I'm always a little disappointed when the Spec Sheet promo doesn't provide price information. Makes me pout a little bit actually.   But luckily we have the InterWebz today, and according to Wikipedia's incredibly well-written AX80 page, this synthesizer jumped onto the scene with a retail price of $1,695 US.

According to the page, the AX80 was Akai Professional "first venture", and part of what Gordon Reid described above as the "Akai Music Studio System" that included a sampler, drum machine, sequencer and even a multitrack tape recorder. The page provides a lot of great detail about the voice architecture and sound programming, and the knowledgable author(s) actually compare it roughly to Roland's JX3P. Interesting.

I am glad that the Spec Sheet did reference the fluorecent bar graphs. To me, that's the best thing about this beast.  MATRIXSYNTH has a good little photo of OSC 1's graph from a 2007 auction post. The AX80 must look gorgeous in the dark.

Tech writer David Hughes included his thoughts on the fluorescent graphs in a June 2002 Sound on Sound AX80  retrospective titled "The Return of the Axman":
"Akai's innovative solution to the nightmare of digital parameter access was a huge array of fluorescent bar graphs that run along the entire width of the instrument, and almost every available parameter is visible simultaneously. You really have to see an AX80 in the flesh to appreciate just how truly astonishing this looks, and these machines could easily be used to decorate Oxford Street at Christmas!"

There are a number of other good references on the Web that point out all that is good and bad about the AX80. Vintage Synth Explorer has a good little write up and compares its sound to the Chroma Polaris or Juno 106.

That Sound on Sound magazine I mentioned above also compared the AX80's sound to a number of other synths.
"It can sound like any number of synths of that era: the richness of the Prophet series, the depth and punch reminiscent of the Minimoog, the sterility of Roland's Juno series, and the digital 'wanginess' of the PPG family."
Poor thing - getting compared to all it's cousins. You think it would have developed some kind of psychological complex after all this time.  :D

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Aries Music Inc. Modular Synthesizer ad, Contemporary Keyboard 1978

Aries Music Inc. 1/4-page black and white modular synthesizer advertisement from page 38 in the February 1978 issue of Contemporary Keyboard.

I gotta say this Aries ad really starts to freak me out after a vodka cooler or two. Yes, vodka cooler. Don't judge.

The last Aries ad I posted didn't have any type of imagery included, and the ones before that, like this voltage controllable phase and flanger usually included a photo. I've included a few examples below.

But this latest one puts Aries ads on a whole new psychedelic level. My ex is a scientist, and those images look like phytoplankton or algae or whatever drawings she would create after peering into her microscope. No kidding.

I'm not saying I hate it - in fact I'm drawn to it. Like a moth to a flame.

Any ways, I think one of their best messages gets a little lost in this advertisement:
"We think musicians want performance over packaging".
 It's surrounded by all that talk of kits and choice and stuff. Those are good messages for sure - but not as snappy as "performance over packaging". Neat and tidy.

It makes me think back to those Pepsi Challenge taste tests, where Pepsi removed the packaging from both the Coke and Pepsi bottles and asked consumers to compare the taste. True performance over packaging. And no, I'm not getting paid by Pepsi. I think I actually prefer Coke most days. Been a long time since I've had either in a non-diet form.  :D

That second paragraph kind of gets back on message in terms of performance with the promotion of that Aries manual that the Boston School of Electronic Music created.  I wrote a bit about the manual in my last Aries blog post, but quickly got sidetracked by surfing around looking for more info on that electronic school in Boston as well hanging around Robert Leiner's most awesome Aries Web site's home page. That site just happens to have tons of information, scans of catalogs and stuff - and also a mention or two about the manual.

For example, Robert's site has transcribed certain parts of different catalogs and manuals, and the "introduction" link on the left navigation bar will take you to an Aries Music / Series AR-300 Systems Introduction page written by Aries President Bob Snowdale. Near the end of the intro is a good little piece of reference material about the evolution of the manual and what was to come.
"We offer software support for our instruments. We have expanded our Owner's Manual to 143 pages of information, patches, experiments and instruction in the use of the AR-300 Series modules. As we add more modules we add supplements to the manual including information on the new modules. Written by Ken Perrin, our manual is designed to offer basic understanding of and instruction in the use of our instruments.

We have additional manuals planned. One is a series of laboratory experiments in Fourier synthesis for college-level physics instruction. This manual was written by Jerry Lemay and is based on the use of the AR-332 phase-modulated sync VCO's included as part of the Aries Music "Physics" system. Mr. Lemay uses both the manual and the system in classes at Southeastern Massachusetts University. The manual will be available to our customers in the summer of 1979."
Nice! The manual has grown from the original 93 or so pages up to 143 pages - and was to continue to expand!  That introduction also provides some other great information about Aries' business model and customer service. A definite read.

But one of the coolest pieces of the Web I came across while doing a little bit of Googlin' on Aries and manuals was on There I found a modular synthesizer article PDF scan from the May 17, 1979 issue of Down Beat, with the rather witty title SynthesizeIt Yourself - Erector Sets for Grownups by John Balleras. Back in 1979, John had this to say about the manual:
"Aires, incidentally, distributes one of the best operating  manuals I've come across. Written by Kenneth L. Perrin and the staff of the Boston School of Electronic Music for use on the Aires 300 system, this text is both theoretically and practically adaptable to any modular synthesizer and to many prepatched ones as well."
The article also mentions other modular manufacturers including EML, Paia, Heathkit, Blacet as well as drops other familiar names and companies such as Craig Anderson, Moog and others.

Go read it.

NOW!  :)

Monday, July 9, 2012

Aries Music Inc. synthesizer manual ad, Contemporary Keyboard 1977

Aries Music Inc. 1/4-page black and white synthesizer manual advertisement from page 50 in the December 1977 issue of Contemporary Keyboard.

I can't believe it's been over two years since I posted my last Aries ad - on July 1, 2010 - Canada Day! It's odd to think that much time as gone by, but then again I knew it was just a matter of time before I was pulled back to that awesome 70's string-art-inspired logo. Yum.

The laws of Aries advertisements (in Contemporary Keyboard Magazine anyways) go something like this:

1. Must include cool logo.
2. Don't run any advertisement more than two or three times, tops.
3. Keep that blogger guy thirty-five years into the future guessing as to what we can advertise next.

This ad follows these rules to a T.  Cool logo? Check. Cool as a cucumber.  Keep ad-run to a minimum? Check. This one seems to have only ran once. And keep me guessing? F@&$ yeah! Will it be their modular? A new module? Kits? A manual... wait... what?

Yup! A manual. For $9.50. But this was apparently not your ordinary manual.

When you are a small company with a limited ad budget, you have to be creative and look for alternative sources of revenue. And if you've spent the time (or asked someone else to spend the time) creating a really good resource - why not pull in some extra cash. But from everything I've heard about Aries the company, I've no doubt that they were sincere in releasing this manual as a "real teaching tool, not a sales tool". Especially if it is coming from the Boston School of Electronic Music.

I did a quick search and although I couldn't find this owner's manual anywhere online, I did find reference to it on Google Books. Or, I'm assuming this is it. The author is listed as Kenneth L. Perrin - who's association with Aries is well known. He can be found in an Aries group photo on Robert Leiner's most awesome Aries Web site's home page.

Top row, far left.

Cool lookin' dude.

The publisher on the Google Books page is listed as The Boston School of Electronic Music - also referenced in association with Ken's name next to the photo on that Aries Web site.

So, what about this Boston School of Electronic Music? BSEM comes up often when I'm doing research on vintage synthesizers and turns out it was a electronic music school in the 70s founded by Jim Michmerhuizen. And speaking of manuals, Jim Michmerhuizen is best known to me as the guy who wrote the ARP 2600 manual. Still sells that on his site. Also on his site is his introduction to BSEM from their 1977 catalog. It's a good introduction of what exactly went on within the walls of the school.

A quick Google search provides more evidence of just how wide the connections between BSEM and vintage synths went. For example, Cynthia Webster, founder of Synapse magazine and creator of Cynthia modular synth modules went there. That same Google search will also bring up Flickr photos of the studio - nice. And although they have not existed for quite some time, they even have a Facebook page with three "likes"! :D

But, back to Kenneth Perrin for a second, because - surprise, surprise - it just so happens that not only was he a writer of manuals, he also wrote a nice little "inside perspective" article on the Boston School of Electronic Music for the March/April 1978 issue of Synapse magazine. Hello!

The article describes BSEM's role - starting out as "an outpost on the edge of a wilderness" to one where students "can learn factual information about electronic music instruments and in which they are exposed to professional standards".

At the time the article was written, the school offered 10 different courses in two semesters dealing with a number of topics including synthesis, music theory, composition and analysis, electronics and math - and was soon to grow to 19 courses over four semesters, including courses on computers (in 1978?!?!?).

There's a lot of other interesting historical pieces of info included in that article - which you can fortunately read online thanks to BSEM grad Cynthia Webster.  :)   And to keep all these connections going... the Aries ad below is printed on the opposite page of that article.

Small world!

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Serge Modular Music Systems brochure, 1981

Serge Modular Music Systems mailing brochure from approximately 1981.

I never really dove into Serge gear - maybe because I've never come across it in all my years of synth-ing. Moog and Roland modulars, and more recently Eurorack, were more accessible, and so received most of my attention. This also led me to put Serge on a pedestal somewhat. Or maybe that's not the right word. If I think of it, I'll add it in later.

The next best thing to getting my hands on an actual Serge modular, is to get my hands on Serge documents. Brochures, manuals, etc. And the one that I always came across on the Web - mostly on e-Bay, was this brochure. And I'm sure I was about a day or so away from hitting the relatively expensive "Buy it now" button more than a few times when I came upon this brochure quite by accident.

One of my readers actually contacted me and made a very generous offer to send me a wack of brochures, records, catalogs and sell sheets from the likes of Moog, Aries and Serge - including this beauty - just for shipping costs. After a few back-and-forth emails of me talking him out of it (what?!?!), we came to an agreement that allowed him to make some good money on some really well-kept documents, me winning a few items off eBay and still getting a good deal and a few freebies, and generally good karma all around.

Thanks Stanley! Appreciated!

Like I was saying, every time I saw one of these Serge brochures pop up on eBay I became more and more interested. My curiosity was building to the point that it was almost killing me. I'd seen scans of the brochure's front cover around the Web, and was really intrigued. Mostly, I just wanted to know what that paper felt like in my hand as I read it. It sure looked like it had "weight". Quality. Was it a heavy stock? I had to know.

And I figured if I had to know, others wanted to know too. So, scan it I did. :)

That's front image is actually a little deceiving. I'm so used to Moog-sized modules (even though I've been on a Eurorack streak lately), I always have it in my head that ALL modulars must be huge. But then the other photo with the hand brings it's real size into perspective and I see just how cute this thing is!

The brochure provides a nice overview of Serge Modular, but unfortunately there's no date on it! Luckily, with one quick Google search, I managed to find a transcribed version of parts of this brochure on this Serge Web site that includes the exact same photos. That Web page attached a 1981 date to it so figured I'd give this brochure a 1981 date as well.  That site has a lot of other great info as well including my favorites - history and price lists. Yum. Definitely check it out.

Carbon111 also has a Serge Modular Web page set up with some interesting info including a scan (Zip'd file of PDFs) of "The Original Serge Guidebook" that was apparently shipped with systems in the 70s and 80s. Wow. great stuff. also seems to have some good info and is a good jumping off point to Serge forums, music, and videos.

I'm sure a few more Google searches would allow me to dive quite a bit deeper into Serge, but its just too sunny and warm out at the moment. Time to enjoy a nice breakfast outside in the morning sun before starting my work day a little late.

Don't worry, I let my boss know I'd be a little late getting in today.

Just too dang nice out. 

Monday, July 2, 2012

Yamaha "But it's just the beginning" DX7 and KX5 ad, Keyboard 1985

Yamaha "...but it's just the beginning" DX7 synthesizer and KX5 MIDI controller full page colour advertisement from the back cover of the January 1985 issue of Keyboard Magazine.

Summer time! And I'm spending the majority of it outside in the extremely nice weather we are experiencing in my part of the world during this fine Canada Day long weekend. It's Sunday morning and the thermometer is already creeping into the mid-20s Celcius, the 70s for you Farenheit folks.

But before I start Celebrating Canada Day by sliding in to my thong speedo (not), slathering coconut oil all over this delicious body (not), and start drinking sugar-free mohito mix and rum (okay, that's a possibility), I thought I better get this rather interesting Yamaha DX7 and KX5 blog post ready to rock.

"Interesting", you ask? Sure, it's got a nice large photo of the two star performers taking up a good two-thirds of the page and an ad-title taking up another third, but that hardly counts as "interesting".

But, its actually the timing of this ad that's interesting. The more I researched into this advertisement, the more I started thinking it wasn't just an ad to promote Yamaha's new keytar, but really also a bit of a delay tactic.

Hear me out.

The first Yamaha FM ad (DX9 and DX7) started running in July 1983, only lasting two months. And it included that wonderful tagline:  "The performance is about to begin". Then, Yamaha pushed out their flagship, feature-rich, name-dropping madness of a 2-pager that kept that tagline going. That ad also lasted only two months appearing in the September and October 1983 issues.

Then, everything goes quiet for three months on the DX front until suddenly, out of the blue, that  awkward "Special Announcement" advertisement from Yamaha pops up in February 1984. Awkward, with a splash of pouting.

And after that one-off...DX DEAD SILENCE. For like, almost a year.

No kidding. 11 months of silence. And then finally this DX7/KX5 advertisement popped up in January 1985.

Looking back in my mind, I could have sworn that Keyboard Magazine as well as everyone else and their mothers were going bat-shit crazy for the DX7. I thought I recalled being flooded with advertisements and promotions and cheerleaders all bombarding me DX propaganda.

Researching it now though, I realize that there was almost a whole year in Keyboard Magazine WITHOUT a Yamaha DX advertisement. I'm shaking my head in disbelief. Was all that hype really just mid-80s viral marketing and buzz at its finest? Yamaha letting everyone else build up the DX line for them? I seem to recall my local synth store was talking the 7 and 9 up like a storm. But, apparently my recollection isn't cracked up to what I thought is was. :P

If that was the case - good work, Yamaha! Nothing like earned media and some great buzz.

Although I love keytars, I'm going to ignore that part of this ad's message and comment on the other, less noticeable (and maybe just in my mind) purpose of this advertisement. Delay, delay, delay.

Just read through the ad-title and ad-copy again and you will notice that only a 1/4 of this advertisement is actually about the new KX5. The rest is all about what's still to come:
"But it's just the beginning"

"But wait folks, this is just the first act. There's more coming for the DX7. A whole series of products that will make the most amazing synthesizer ever heard into the most amazing music system ever heard."

"In the meantime, why not visit your Yamaha dealer and check out the instrument that started it all - the DX7."
For me, as a reader of Keyboard, after such a long silence this January 1985 advertisement would start generating a whole new level of buzz - dangling the KX5 as an example of everything great that is still to come. I was probably walking into my Yamaha dealer on a weekly basis to be the first to look at the new gear.

But it wouldn't be there yet.

And then I probably saw this ad again in February and again ran down to my local store.


And then March...

And then May....

And then... September? WTF?

It's September and Yamaha is still telling me to hold onto my hat and wait for this next generation of Yamaha products.

Just to be clear let me repeat the timeline -  Yamaha introduces the DX7 in July 1983 and advertises it for four months until October 1983. Then, there isn't a DX ad (except that Special Announcement) until January 1985 that runs for TEN MONTHS telling me to wait a bit longer. That's October 1983 to October 1985.

Okay, I do realize I'm being a bit of a douche-bag to make my point. I'm betting that the first of those new products (spoiler alert - TX7 and QX7) were probably already in stores.

But if the TX and QX were already in stores, then replace this ten-month-old ad with *THAT* advertisement already.

And, don't forget that Yamaha had a lot of other products that also needed to get their advertising time in magazines such as Keyboard, so that could delay any new ads as well.

But, again, if that was the case, then why keep running this ad at all? 

I can't help that the conspiracist  in me wants to think that something was up and those two products (and others) were delayed a bit longer than expected.

I got no data to back that up.

Yet. :D

Well, the thermometer just hit 30 Celcuis in the sun - and it's only 11:15 am. Whoo whoo!

Time to slip on the thong speedo and start enjoying the day.

Hope you all had a happy Canada Day!