Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Synthony Music's "Have a synthsational holiday! (Santa will)" ad, Keyboard 1983

Synthony Music's "Have a synthsational holiday! (Santa will)" quarter page black and white advertisement from page 20 in the December 1983 issue of Keyboard Magazine.

Taking a break from the rum and eggnog to bring you this piece of lovely history.

You know how much I love hand drawn artwork in my retro synthesizer advertisements! And this one pretty much sums up this holiday season! And I really am hoping that this is what Santa is doing on December 26 (look for the calendar date in the ad) - rocking out on Keyboards now that he's played (and wrecked) his toy train set while his rain deer peer through the window in obvious wonder and delight. :)

 Its a great piece of artwork and goes well with some of the artwork I've posted in the past. You can just check out the label "artwork" on the blog. Like many of those others, this one belongs on a t-shirt. Or if anyone can knit me a Christmas sweater with this image I would be very grateful.  :)

A quick Google search brought up the Synthony Music Web site, or what has now become "Synthony Music's Synth & MIDI Museum". On that home page was link to a letter from the founder of the company - Bill Cone (or as he called himself... the Zoo Keeper).

The company originally started 1982 with the goal to "provide the best products available, technical assistance, guidance, and a forum for those brave enough to embrace the then new technology in music." Unfortunately, they closed their doors in early 2004 after nearly 22 years in the business. The online museum does provide some good info, but was last updated back in 2010 according to the museum's home page. Still a great resource.

Time to get back to the rum and eggnog.

Merry Christmas and happy holidays to everyone.


Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Army Brat biofeedback headband MIDI interface ad, Keyboard 1985

Army Brat Biofeedback Headband MIDI interface 1/6-page black and white advertisement from page 116 in the July 1985 issue of Keyboard Magazine.

There isn't much that could have pulled me out of my blogging semi-sabbatical, especially during this cold, cold December. But this little gem managed to get me out of the studio and into the office where the lonely scanner sits.

One word... or three, depending on how you look at it.


From the beginning of the ad:
Only an Army Brat with access to certain sensitive files, would be crazy enough to do this."
And lets not stop there... the ad continues...
"In 1969 a Special Army Intelligence Group in collaboration with the C.I.A spent 15 years and millions of dollars developing a project based on para-kinetic theories. Even though they did succeed in the design of a device capable of linking a man, with electrodes taped to his temples, to an instrument instantly sampling his impulse and converting waveforms to voltage, some Senate sub-committee labeled the whole project "Questionable", and it ended up on a defense scrap heap."
Even with all the questionable use of capitalization and commas, I tend to believe this young army brat. :)

Remember - this was 1985. MIDI had only been around for a short period, but the technology was moving fast. The smaller ads at the back of Keyboard that were historically promoting perfect-pitch, piano-tuning and vocal-eliminator boxes were slowly being overrun by a new wave of start-ups pushing MIDI software, patches and RAM cartridges for synths like the DX-7.

But this biofeedback system must be a one-of-a-kind for the time period - in Keyboard Magazine anyways.

Just look at the drawing of the dude with the headband and headphones (not included according to the ad), as well as the "black box" with what looks to be an antenna sticking out of it.

 (Note to self - make that my Facebook profile pic.)

I did some really quick Web research and found a reference to another MIDI-biofeedback system from the late 80s called BioMuse in an online article titled "A Brief History of Biosignal-Driven Art" by Miguel Ortiz:
"Towards the end of the 1980s, the advent of digital signal processing systems and the wide availability of powerful personal computer systems made it possible for researchers to further develop the existing techniques for biosignal analysis in real-time applications. In 1988, California-based scientists Benjamin Knapp and Hugh Lusted introduced the BioMuse system (Knapp and Lusted 1988), which consisted of a signal-capturing unit that sampled eight channels of biosignals, which were then amplified, conditioned and translated to midi messages. The sensors were implemented as simple limb-worn velcro bands that were able to capture EMG, EEG, EOG, ECG and GSR signals. The BioMuse system, facilitated not only the analysis of the signals, but also the ability to use the results of the analysis to control other electronics in a precise and reproducible manner that had not been previously possible (Knapp and Lusted 1990)."
So, I'm guessing the only logical conclusion I can come up with is that Knapp and Lusted were obviously avid readers of the back half of Keyboard and must have come across this advertisement by Army Brat. How else could they have created their BioMuse system without the help from the CIA and Army Intelligence?

And its even more surprising considering that Army Brat was trying to keep the whole thing on the down-low.

From the end of the ad:
"We're trying to keep as low a profile as possible, but don't know how long we'll go undetected. GET IT NOW!!!"
Talk about high-pressure sales tactics.   :)

Thursday, August 29, 2013

I Dream of Wires [Hardcore Edition] PLUS's batteryACID eurorack module

Okay - yeah. Still on vacation. But this just came in the mail today and I just had to share!

The I Dream of Wires modular synth documentary [Hardcore Edition] PLUS's batteryACID eurorack module. Yum.

Monday, August 5, 2013

On vacation...


Taking a break to work on some music. Or something. Be back soon-ish.

But since you are here, why not click on one of the links under the "Best. Blogs. Ever." section on the left side of this Web page. Some cool stuff there.

Or, if you are interested in reading some older posts from Retro Synth Ads, check out some of my favorite and most popular blog posts:

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Roland JD-800 "What does 'programmable' really mean?" brochure, 1991

Roland JD-800 "What does 'programmable' really mean?" six page brochure from June 1991.

If you recall my previous blog post, you will know this brochure was not the first for the JD-800. More than a few months before, Roland had released a black and white teaser to get the buzz started on this beautiful beast.  But I think we can all agree that the JD-800 deserved so much more.

And Roland knew that too, coming out with this full colour six pager. Actually, two of the six are only about 5/6 of the width of the other four, but details, shmeetails. It was a Roland "thing" to have that one fold slightly smaller than the rest, as you will see in future blog posts of other Roland brochures.

The problem with scanning brochures larger than four pages is that Google puts size restrictions on images (not KB size, but pixel size). So, if you scan them altogether and try and upload, Google will automatically size them down. Because of this 'feature' of Google, I've included every page above as separate images, even though the photo of the JD-800 on the inside of the brochure spans two pages. But, I've included merged versions below (they just NOT as high in resolution). 

 The front cover of this brochure is gorgeous and really shows off those front panel controls. But that inside two-page spread of the front panel is what really does it for me. It gives the reader a good sense of the actual size of this beast. And it is a beast. Just compare the front panel depth to the size of the keyboard itself.

The content of the brochure expands on what we had already learned from the teaser brochure. We even get a list of waveforms and the internal patches.

Gonna keep this one short. I'm thinking of taking the month of August off from blogging and this JD-800 brochure is a nice way to jump ship for a while and take a bit of a holiday for myself to recharge the batteries and figure out where to take Retro Synth Ads next.

Maybe a musical based on the blog? I kid... I kid...

See you in a month, or sooner if I can't stay away. :)

Monday, July 29, 2013

Roland JD-800 "1991 Roland New Product News" brochure, 1990

Roland JD-800 "1991 Roland New Product News" four page black and white brochure from December 1990.

Let me start this blog post by saying I'm extremely biased. How biased? I'm gonna lay it out on the table - I like my Roland JD-800 more than my Juno-106. I find it more fun to play. More fun to program. There. I said it.

Everything you read about this synthesizer is true. It's big. It's heavy. It's gorgeous. And it sounds absolutely fabulous. When you sit down in front of the JD-800, you are drawn to those sliders and you can't help but start to experiment with it's sound. I liked mine so much that I spent a good part of the next two or three years searching high and low for the JD-990. And when I finally found one used in my local music store, I was lucky enough to have found one with the vintage expansion, FTW!

This was one of the earliest, if not the earliest, JD-800 brochure. It was actually more of a sell sheet, put out at the end of 1990 to announce the beast. The actual brochure would be printed later in 1991 (next post!). It actually contains a fair bit of info. Definitely worth the read.

The best thing about the JD-800, and this sell sheet in particular, is how Roland was selling knobs and sliders again. "A radical departure from conventional digital synths". It's fun to see Roland, one of the major companies responsible for the removal of all those knobs and sliders from the front panels of synths in the first place, was now pooping all over those synths. Including their own JX, Alpha and D series synths. But, Roland does deserve some credit, because even during those awful years of trying to program a Alpha Juno 2 or JX8P through a small LCD and a few buttons, at least Roland usually built a programmer module to go along with most of their hard-to-program synths. So, they didn't so much get rid of the sliders, more that they just put the sliders and knobs in a separate box and make you pay extra for the privaledge. A great marketing strategy for sure.

But launching a synthesizer with all those sliders and knobs added back into it was an even better marketing strategy. And helped keep Roland front of mind during a period in synthesizer history that had also recently seen the launch of competitors products such as Korg's innovative Wavestation, Waldorf's angry-sounding analog Microwave, and Yamaha's kick-ass sample+FM synthesis SY-77 monster.

I'll take a look through old Keyboard mags to see if this thing showed up at NAMM before being released, but as far as I can remember, this thing came out of nowhere, ready to satisfy all of those frustrated Roland synthesizer programmers that had been sulking ever since the company dropped their last easily programmable synth from their roster back in the mid-80s - the Jupiter-6 I think?!?!. So, when the JD-800 showed up in magazine ads and in music stores, everyone looked at it in awe and shock. We all drooled over the thing.

I was jealous as heck when a friend picked up one of the few that ever made it into my city.

But  I was all smiles when he finally sold it to me more than 15 years later. Have had it ever since.  :)

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Boss HC-2 Hand Clapper / PC-2 Percussion Synthesizer "A sound innovator" brochure, 1984

Boss HC-2 Hand Clapper / PC-2 Percussion Synthesizer "A sound innovator" two-page colour brochure from February 1984.

If there is one thing I do a lot of, it's clap. I clap when drinks come to the table. I clap when my dog does a funny trick. I clap pretty much anytime I want to.  And its usually accompanied with me bobbing up and down in a chair. If that HC-2 Clapper had its own speaker, I'd definitely be using it to clap with.

I've never owned either of these. But have *always* been infatuated with them. They just look so adorable - especially in that front cover photo sitting on that particularly 80s background. And the orange on the always-adorable Boss knobs really pop.

That front cover photo is really the only thing remotely "design-y" about this brochure. The back cover is just your standard specs layout found on many of the Roland/Boss brochures from the time period. But that spec section does contain some good reference info, so I'm not gonna complain. Plus, like many of these brochures, we not only get the year it was printed, but also the month. I will never complain about that.

This brochure is part of Boss's "A sound innovator" series that included the DR-110 brochure I blogged about last Monday. But this time Boss has kept the brochure to two pages - there just isn't enough info to justify another two pages of content. But that's the point - they are simple enough to use. No need for bulky instructions.  :)

You can find quite a bit of information on line on both units. Vintage Synth Explorer has pages for both the Hand Clapper and the Percussion Synthesizer, where you will find a ratings of three and four stars respectively for each piece of gear from the site itself, and three and (a disappointingly) 2.36 stars from users. Both pages provide some great information - like the little nugget that the HC-2 was a particularly useful addition to the hand-clapperless DR-55 and TR-606 drum machines.

One thing I first noticed on this brochure, and then went back to the DR-110 brochure and found it there too, is how Boss is referenced in relation to Roland. You will find it on the back of both sheets under the logo:

Sounds like someone pointing out an animal pack in the woods. Like a group of moose. 

Anyways, I found a great little video on YouTube from someone that was selling both units in an auction. Provides a nice little demo to end the post with. So here it is... the end.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Boss DR-110 Dr. Rhythm Graphic drum machine "A sound Innovator" brochure, 1983

Boss DR-110 Dr. Rhythm Graphic drum machine "A sound Innovator" four-page colour brochure from December 1983.

I hadn't turned on my Boss DR-110 for about a month or so. And just this morning when I plugged it in and flipped the power switch,  I immediately noticed the smell of burnt electronics. Doh.

Let me take a few steps back...

I've been building up my Eurorack modular synth lately. And whenever I get new modules, I like to hook 'em into the system as quickly as possible and do a few tests to make sure everything is working properly. This usually involves setting up a short sequence on the Doepfer A-155 Analog/Trigger sequencer and setting up an increasing complicated patch that will try to involve all the in's and out's of any new modules.

This time, the new modules included the lovely Phonogene and DPO from Make Noise and Micro Hadron Collider and Geiger Counter from WMD.  Shazaam!

The Photogene and Geiger Counter were just aching for an external sound source such as a drum machine that I could also trigger the sequencer with to get everything sync'd together. Usually that responsibility is given to my Boss DR-220E (the electronic drums version of the 220). The 220E uses the cowbell as the trigger out, so I just set up a normal drum pattern with the cowbell hitting on every beat and hit the START button.

But, since I knew I was blogging about the DR-110, I thought I would try using that drum machine so I would have something to blog about. Nothing like killing two birds with one stone. And that's when I turned it on only to have that burnt electronic smell fill the air. Thankfully I hadn't turned on the modular yet, so I knew that it was the relatively cheaper DR-110 that was the source on the odour.  So, instead of blogging about triggering my modular with a DR-110, I guess I got to blog about the exact opposite.

Ouch. Will have to open that thing up at some point and look at the damage.

The brochure itself takes its design cues directly from similar brochures/sell sheets that were being designed for parent company Roland - like this one at right for the Roland TR808/606/303. Lovely covers. Really.

Like that front cover for the TR808/606/303, the front cover for the DR-110 brochure is great because it includes such a juicy photo. And not only that of the drum machine, but the drum machine's sister product that was also being advertisement at the time - the Play Bus HA-5.

I am a little disappointed that Boss's "comic book" advertisement theme from both the DR-110 and HA-5 didn't make it into the brochure for the DR-110 at all.Those were truly gorgeous.  Quite the disconnect.

Now, open up the brochure and you will find that Boss decided to take the opportunity to provide readers with some pretty detailed instructions on the DR-110's operational procedures for step writing, tap writing and song writing. They even included all the little button symbols. Nice.

The back of the brochure includes the obligatory specs and accessories sections, including that HA-5 Play Bus headphone amp and RH-11M stereo headphones with microphone. Nothing really new here. Just some nice info.

Well - it's time to get out the screwdriver and see what kind of damage I'll find inside my DR-110.

Wish me luck...

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Wersi Digital Multi-Sound System (DMS) System "The Impossible No. 3" ad, Keyboard 1985

Wersi Digital Multi-Sound (DMS) System  "The Impossible No. 3" full page colour advertisement from page 13 in the January 1985 issue of Keyboard Magazine.

Been going through a bout of insomnia. Not fun when it happens, but I do tend to get a lot more done. Unfortunately, lately "a lot more" more often refers to Skyrim adventuring and noodling on my ever-growing modular. Less often does it mean getting more actual work done.

Point is, my schedule and routines gets a little messed up.  So, rather than writing this blog post on a Sunday or a week night like I usually do, I'm writing this early in the morning, outside, sitting on my deck. I'm hoping the sun will help change my mood and help me get started with my day.

I was just starting into my Wersi kick when I was distracted for a few posts by Vako/TRI and Viking/Voyager advertisements. But I knew I'd get back to this new Wersi advertisment soon.

If you recall from the last Wersi blog post on the DMS Condor, I went on a little too long about it's design relationship with punk and scrapbooking. Yeah... scrapbooking. This design is just as "80s" as that previous one, but in a more contemporary way.

The strong blue and close-cropping have been kept, but gone is the black backgrounds that were used to separate out the different elements of the ad.  It's been replaced with horizontal blue lines that run from the top to the bottom of the ad, gradually getting thicker along the way. The only angles to be found in this new ad is the cut-out portion that readers can use to send in for more information.

As much as I love the design of this new ad, the ad-copy leaves a bit to be desired. For a number of reasons.

The first issue is how crowded that ad-copy is. The designer obviously wanted the three thin columns of text to fit *exactly* within the same number of lines, and was willing to sacrifice readability to do it. But it went a little too far.

Another issue is the title "The Impossible No. 3". I'm not going to get into how crazy-annoyed I feel about the "P" and "O" touching each other (again - the designer wanted to squish text together). I'm more confused about what exactly the title means.  The only reference to "three" in the ad-copy is just that there are three columns of text. Then I thought that maybe that the "3" had to do with the keyboard itself. But when I zoomed into the photo, the keyboard is the "Beta DX400". No three there.

I don't know enough about the history of the DMS series, but if the series was released in the order they appear on this page of DMS keyboards, then the Beta was the third in the series, after the Condor (DX100) and Alpha (DX 300 and 350).  So maybe that's it.

And that brings me to my last little issue with the ad - the name of the Wersi keyboard being advertised actually doesn't appear anywhere in the ad-copy. Only in really small letters on the instrument photo itself. Maybe Wersi were promoting all the DMS line in this one ad, but that wouldn't explain why the ad-copy always seems to reference just one keyboard - not the whole line. Or the reason why they only included a photo of one keyboard.

Bah. Obviously still grumpy. Best to stop here and convince myself its time to go to work.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Technical Research Institute Inc. Orchestron "Your Instrument of the Future" 2nd ad, Synapse 1978

Technical Research Institute Inc. Orchestron "Your Instrument of the Future" half-page black & white advertisement from page 30 in the January/February 1978 issue of  Synapse Magazine.

I've always said there was an art to shrinking down advertisements. Whether you are going from a two-page spread down to one page, or, as happened here, one page down to a half. And in this case doing it twice since they had to shrink down the previous full page Viking Keyboard Systems advertisement as well.

Those two full page advertisements appeared side by side Keyboard Magazine, but that wasn't always the case with the half-pagers. In the November/December 1977 issue, the two ads appeared opposite each other on page 12 and 13, each on the far sides of the page, with CD reviews running down the other halves. But then, in the January/February 1978 and May/June 1978 issues, the two ads appeared on the same page.

The designer did a great job of shrinking down the ads. In fact, there is more white space now than there ever had been before!

In comparison to the previous Orchestron advertisement, only three pieces of content were left out. The first, rather insignificant piece was the last sentence of the ad-copy - "It is our desire to serve you.". Don't need it.

The second, more significant deletion was that of the price - "From under $2,500.00". But, considering that in an even more previous ad from 1976, that price point had been "From under $2,000.00", it may have been better to remove it all together since it seems that price was increasing considerably over time rather than decreasing like technology usually does.

The final piece of information removed was the call-out box from the top-right corner of the ad that explained who Dave Van Koevering was. This is what humanized the TRI/Orchestron brand - especially since Dave worked as a VP for Moog. They took out some good name recognition when they did that. But I agree, it did have to go to fit in the new, smaller space. 

As far as I can tell, this is the first Orchestron advertisement to appear in Synapse Magazine, although the previous company - Vako Synthesizer Inc. - had begun appearing much earlier in the "Listings" section of the mag under "Synthesizer Manufacturing". In fact, it continued to appear as Vako in this listing for quite a while, even though Dave Van Koevering had changed the name of the company to TRI quite a while earlier. Someone wasn't keeping up with the times at Synapse.

And speaking of confusing name changes, the first time these two ads appeared in the Nov/Dec77 issue, the companion ad for keyboard cases was stilled named Viking Keyboard Systems. There was even an Orchestron give-a-way contest in that issue under the Viking name. It was in the Jan/Feb78 issue that Dave Van Koevering changed the name of that company to Voyager Keyboard Systems and dumped the viking ship logo. 

And...and...  speaking of contests, by fluke I came across an earlier Contemporary Keyboard giveaway contest (#15) for an Orchestron from page 22 in the July 1977 issue. What is really cool about this giveaway is that CK does a great job at explaining more of the technology behind the Orchestron. More than I've seen elsewhere:
"The Orchestron operates on the principle of modulated light measured by photoelectric cells. A variable-area sound track is cut by a high-energy laser on a thin translucent disc. As the disc is rotated, a beam of light is modulated by the laser-cut soundtrack. This modulated light is converted into electrical impulses by photocells. These laser-cut recordings can be made of virtually any instrument and are played on the Orchestron's 37-note keyboard. This unit is supplied with five memory discs: violin, pipe organ, 'cello, flute and vocal choir. The pitch of the instrument is voltage-controlled and separate bass and treble boost circuitry is provided. High-impedance and balanced-line outputs are included. The duration of the laser-recorded sound is infinite, and the optical memory discs can be interchanged in seconds."
That info is GOLD! Someone needs to get that info in the Wikipedia page.   :)

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Technical Research Institute Inc. Orchestron "Your Instrument of the Future" ad, Contemporary Keyboard 1977

Technical Research Institute Inc. Orchestron "Your Instrument of the Future" full page black & white advertisement from page 34 and 35 in the July 1977 issue of Contemporary Keyboard.

Although this is the third advertisement for the Orchestron, it has been more than a year since the last one appeared. And there's been quite a few changes during that time period.

The most obvious change is the company name. Technical Research Institute Inc. is now the company "committed to the development of a keyboard musical instrument that produces the sound of all acoustic & electronic instruments".

Sometime between the launch of the Model "C" series and the Model "D" series, the company either changed its name, was bought out or something. the fact that Vako has been wiped from the ad, but Dave Van Koevering's name still exists in the top right call-out box means that he must someone still be involved.

Some confusion must exist, because the Wikipedia page for the Orchestron has the Model "D" built under the company name "Viking Keyboard Systems" (apparently the new name of Dave VK's company) in 1975, and yet we know that Contemporary Keyboard's May/June 1976 advertisement for the Model "C" was still being sold under the Vako brand name.

But even if the company name had changed by then, this new advertisement clearly states that it's Technical Research Institute Inc. that is selling this instrument - not Viking.

There is obviously is a connection, because not only is "Viking Keyboard Instruments" mentioned in this new Orchestron ad, but this Orchestron ad is part of the centerfold spread, sharing it with none other than a Vikings ad (also scanned!). They even share the same address. But I'm a stickler for details... and just want to know how these companies were connected. I've sent an email off to Dave Van Koevering for an answer. Hopefully he will get back to me soon!

Other than the name change and some ad-copy changes, the two ads look very similar from a design point of view. But there is one thing that make me love this advertisement more than the last - THE WHITE SPACE! Just as I had hoped in my last blog post, continental drift had started to take effect, and you can see that as the different elements of the advertisement spread across the entire page, they also added in a wee bit more white space around the main title "Your Instrument of the Future". But it makes all the different from a readability perspective.

And, I love it!

End note: So, who exactly is Dave Van Koevering? He worked for Moog?

Yup. That call-out box in the top right-hand corner of the ad drops Moog's name and if you are at all familiar with Moog history, you will know his association. I found a good bio for Dave on the Moog Foundation's Web site, under 2012 MoogFest's "Moog is Now: Album Art"exhibit info:
"David Van Koevering is a lifelong colleague and friend of Bob Moog. He began working with R.A. Moog, Co. shortly before the Minimoog was first developed. When the Minimoog was released, and met with initial mild success, VanKoevering pioneered the sale of the instrument, opening the market from a few hundred instruments to several thousand. His marketing saavy, legendary within the industry, has led him to be referred to as the man who brought the Minimoog to the world.  The title of the event originates from a slogan that VanKoevering used in his marketing effort for the Minimoog in the 1970s."

Monday, July 8, 2013

Vako Synthesizers Inc. Orchestron "Your instrument of the future" ad, Contemporary Keyboard 1976

Vako Synthesizers Inc. Orchestron "Your instrument of the future" full page black and white advertisement from the inside back cover of the May/June 1976 issue of Contemporary Keyboard.

This is the second, and much more well-known advertisement by Vako for the Orchestron. It's not without its own issues, but in my opinion a good deal better in terms of design when compared to the previous two-page ad.

First - the bad. Well... everything is a little squished together. Especially the top half. I purposely scanned the ad with all the room around the border to make the point that it really didn't have to be. It reminds me of that photo you would see in your junior high school science book with all the continents pushed together. And like that single land mass, I just keep hoping the different elements of this advertisement will follow the theory of continental drift and float their way across the rest of the page to create some killer white space.

'Cause if we got some white space added in there, we would definitely start to see Vako's new personality begin to emerge in the design. A high contrast look, big chubby black letters in the ad-title and highlighted text that mimicks the font used in the name of the instrument,  and... hey... wait a minute...

(flips through the magazine... ).

Look familiar? Here's an Oberheim Four-Voice advertisement from the FRONT inside cover of the SAME issue of Contemporary Keyboard.  The title font has a few more edges, but there are definitely some familiarities to be found when comparing the two ads.

When designing the look of a company's ads, it's important to find a personality that is unique and then keep it up in order to start building that familiarity between the reader and the brand. Rule of thumb is that if you can cover the logo and the name of the company in an ad, and people can still recognize the company the ad is for, you've done your job.

I'm not suggesting that one company stole the ad design from the other. I just find it interesting to see simlar ad designs develop early on in both Vako's and Oberheim's lifetimes. And from an historical perspective, following it through to see which company won this brand battle (ahem... Oberheim).

But, I have to go back to my original thought - everything is pushed together too tightly, and it keep's Vako's personality from properly executing. I think part of the problem was that call-out box in the top right corner. It kind of looks like it was an after-thought, slapped on to the page outside of the ad to help highlight it, but unfortunately resulting in the rest of the ad getting pushed together in order to fit within the confines of the page.

Don't get me wrong, that call-out box serves a good purpose, playing a pivotal role to help personalize and familiarize the company with readers by including a bit of history on Dave Vankoevering, the owner of the company. It actually contains some really nice behind-the-scenes info about his previous work in the distribution and marketing of synthesizers and his time with none other than Moog!

Speaking of which, I didn't want to spend the whole blog post talking about design, because the technology behind the Orchestron is kind of interesting. I had already taken a look at the Orchestron's Wikipedia page but there wasn't much there on the technology behind the machine. So I pulled out my tattered copy of Mark Vail's Vintage Synthesizers book to see what he knew about the company. There I found three or so paragraphs on the Orchestron in the chapter titled "It Came from the Music Industry" under the section "The Reign of the Proto-Sampler".

According to Mark, both the Orchestron and another instrument called the Birotron, were both instruments "designed to exploit the market [the Mellotron] created". The Birotron was created by Dave Biro, funded by Rick Wakeman, and used eight-track tapes to play back sound. It apparently never made it out of beta testing and only about 35 machines were ever created.

The Orchestron, in comparison, used "laser-optical encoding technology, somewhat like an analog CD" with sounds optically recorded that could then be read by a beam of light. Reading the ad I always got confused about how the heck digital laser CD technology could have made it into an instrument way back in 1976. But back then it was still analog.  LOL.

Anyways,  The sound disks were $110 bucks a piece, the size of phonograph records, and according to the Orchestron Wikipedia page, the highest fidelity came from the outside rings (maybe because the outer edge is spinning faster than the inside?).  A remote scanning unit to read the disks were apparently quite large, and they even designed multiple disk readers to allow for the layering of sounds!

Well, I gotta stop there and enjoy the sun for a bit. More on the Orchestron soon!

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Vako Synthesizers Inc. Orchestron "The Instrument of the Future..." ad, Contemporary Keyboard 1976

Vako Synthesizers Inc. Orchestron "The Instrument of the Future..." two page black & white advertisement from page 32 and 33 in the January/February 1976 issue of Contemporary Keyboard.

Like the Wersi Condor I blogged about last Monday, I don't really know much about the Vako Orchestron either. And when that happens, I immediately focus on design.

If anything, this advertisement's design is the *exact opposite* on the Condor.  And although "The Future" is literally written all over this advertisement, the design also seems the exact opposite of the future too. This was only the second or third issue of Contemporary Keyboard magazine, and Vako had chosen to come out of the gates swinging with a two-page advertisement with ad-copy focused on the future of technology. And what do they do, they slap the pictures of the instrument on what looks like pre-clipart of a scroll.

Don't get me wrong - I do get it. The ad-copy is all "It shall have..." and "Its name shall be..." - as if reading off a scroll from the ancient Roman times. But the design for such an advanced instrument just could have been so much more.

The best part of the design of this ad has to be the logo. Vako in that futuristic "V" symbol is great. As is the font used for Orchestron. Futuristic in a 70s sci-fi-kinda way. And, as we can see, Orchestron wasn't just the name of the instrument, it was the name of a division (however small) within the company. Interesting stuff.

After picking apart the design in my head a bit, I decided to find out a bit more about the company. Googling actually brought up a lot more than I thought. And with so much to choose from, I of course immediately focused on artists that used the instrument.

Not surprisingly, one of the most common artist reference is to Kraftwerk. According to many sources, including the Orchestron Wikipedia page:
"Florian Schneider bought an Orchestron Model A during their Autobahn tour in the USA in 1975. On the unofficial live album Concert Classics, recorded during their 1975 tour, the instrument can be heard. Kraftwerk have used the instrument on the albums Radio-Activity, Trans-Europe Express and The Man-Machine."
I found one photo of Kraftwerk performing in Zurich in 1976 on the Wikipedia page for Trans -Europe Express that pretty clearly shows Ralf Hütter (far left) playing an Orchestron (click on the photo to be taken to a larger one on Wikipedia). You can tell its an Orchestron by the distinctively-shaped side panel with the carrying handle. KVRaudio's forum has another photo where they point it out - but its partially obscured by what seems to be another keyboard.  Neat stuff.

There's even a YouTube video of someone playing some Kraftwerk on an Orchestron.

But the most common reference to an artist that used the Orchestron is Patrick Moraz from the band Yes, probably because his custom three manual Orchestron is featured  prominently in the advertisement. Again, according to the Orchestron's Wikipedia page, the image is that of "Model X" - a prototype specifically built for Patrick. According to the page, this keyboard was used on Yes's Relayer album (another Wikipedia link), and  the instrument broke and disappeared after being sent in for repairs. Huh.

I'll leave with this YouTube video of the full Yes album below.

Take a listen if its your cup of tea.

I'm on my second time through while I write this blog post.  :)

Monday, July 1, 2013

Wersi Condor DX 100 digital multi-sound keyboard "Go for more - go for multi" ad, Keyboard 1984

Wersi Condor DX 100 digital multi-sound keyboard "Go for more - go for multi" full page colour advertisement from page 83 in the August 1984 issue of Keyboard Magazine.

It's been about six months since I last blogged about Wersi - and in particular the Alpha DX 300, the first of their new line of digital  organ/synthesizer hybrids.  Or at least that is what I kinda feel these keyboards are trying to be, based on the photos and the ad-copy.

The Condor DX 100 was the second instrument to get an advertisement in Keyboard, running monthly from August to December 1984.

Because I know so little about Wersi, I've kinda tried to ignore this whole line of keyboards. I'm just uncomfortable writing about them. But as I was flipping through the Thomson Twins/Tom Bailey-filled August 1984 issue of Keyboard, as I often do, the design of this advertisement made me stop in my tracks.

First - all that luscious blue. With full-colour ads slowly taking over the historically black-and-white back-half of the magazine, this one stands out with its punch of solid blue, along with the white text on black.

Second - the angles. When I'm short on time (or just feeling dang lazy), scanning an advertisement that's already on an angle means I don't have to be as vigilant to try to straighten it out. And then I realized that  there was good chance that the guy laying out the ad in the magazine was thinking this too, because if you look at the top right side of the ad, you can see some measurement markings - as if the ad hadn't been lined up properly.

They aren't your standard crop and bleed markings you would normally include in today's ads, but then again, I wasn't creating ads back in the early 80s, so who knows what kind of markings they used.  Plus, this ad is so far ahead of its time design-wise that I wouldn't be surprised if the designer did that on purpose.

And that brings me to my third and most important reason that the design of this ad is crazy-stupid good. I'm talking pure 80s punk rock/new wave-influenced goodness, unlike anything else appearing in the magazine at the time.

Not convinced? Hear me out.

Let's start with the black background behind the text - in particular in that title. Whether on purpose or not, I find the design of the title reminiscent of the text produced from a Dymo-style label maker. You know, the machine that would punch out white text on a black or dark coloured background.

Machines like it were big in the 80s with anal retentive office workers. But they were also commonly used by bands when creating distinctive angry-looking DYI flyers and posters.

Those flyers would also often use cut-out photos as well as text/letters from various magazines, pasting all these pieces together into what I found to be artwork masterpieces.

This style of design was so distinctive that its almost a prerequisite for any of today's alternative 80's compilation CDs to somehow reference all these design elements when creating the artwork for their covers.See example at right.  :)

To me, it looks like this design style evolved along with the music, over time slowly removing the clutter and creating cleaner lines. Kraftwerk and New Order come to mind as good examples. And it became even cleaner once desktop publishing became common place and the word "font" became a household name. Glue and photocopies were replaced with cut and paste commands and laser printers.

So, to me, the cropped-out image of the DX 100 instrument and the two boxes of ad-copy (unequal in length), together with the label-maker-like title, not-so-quietly scream new-waves 80s. It's exactly what I would expect from a Kraftwerk-influenced designer who was creating an ad for a German company from the time period.   :)

Interestingly, I'm finding this punky style is making a bit of a comeback in some surprising circles. The first, probably unrelated but still kinda cool to point out, is with  the HTML code for highlighting text .  I've seen a few good Web designers put this to great punky-label-maker-looking effect in some modern Web sites.

But, for me, the more surprising place I've spot this punk-rock DYI influence is with the evolution of design in scrapbooking. Maybe its just the punk-rock girls growing up and getting into scrapbooking. Who knows. But I see it everywhere.

Seriously - scrapbooking has become hardcore. If you don't believe me, I'll just end this blog post with this little comparison  :)

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Yamaha Portasound Retailers "Here's your chance..." ad, Keyboard 1982

Yamaha Portasound Retailers "Here's your chance..." full page colour advertisement from page 41 in the February 1982 issue of Keyboard Magazine.

Yamaha were always a little unusual in those early days. Almost as unusual as the Keyboard Magazine that this advertisement first appeared in.  I've blogged about it before, but will always take the opportunity to point it out again whenever I get the chance.

The February 1982 issue of Keyboard was incorrectly dated February 1981 on the cover. It's a rare thing when a magazine makes this mistake, and I think it makes this issue of Keyboard just that much more interesting and rare.

Where was I ... oh yeah - Yamaha. Unusual.

Like when the company suddenly cut into their famous DX-line of advertising with this warning for DX-7 and DX-9 purchasers on the dangers of buying grey-market synths from Japan rather than from authorized US retailers.

And here we have Yamaha doing it just a little bit differently again.

Back in the 70s and 80s, it wasn't unusual for smaller companies to use their generally small advertising space to also try and scope out new distributors. Smaller companies generally didn't already have distribution networks already in place.

And so when Yamaha spends some good full-page colour advertising dollars to find Portasound retailers, I tend to get curious. This wasn't just a one-time shot like that grey-market advertisement - this ad appeared in the February, March, April, July and October issues of Keyboard in 1982.

The advertisement actually contains some good historical information on the company. The ad-copy clearly states that Yamaha had created a new "Specialty Products Division"  for their new Protasound line of keyboards. At the time, this included the PS-1, PS-2 and PS-3 - all visible in the ad. It's a good historical marker that I'll file way for later.

Like... for right now.

I blogged a little about Yamaha's confusing early 80s organizational structure a short while ago and the possible effects it had on the consumer. Or, I should say I pointed out what Dominic Milano had already said back in his March 1983 Keyboard Report on three Yamaha offerings - the PC-100, MP-1 and the lovely CS01.
"Companies, as they get larger, tend to split themselves up into smaller divisions internally, for administrative reasons. This may make perfect sense for their own purposes, but it can be confusing for anybody from the outside who deals with them. Case in point: Yamaha International (which is itself a division of Nippon Gakki Co., Ltd.) has no less than three separate divisions selling keyboard instruments. Depending on what instrument you want to talk about, your phone call may be routed to either the Keyboard Division (pianos and organs), the Combo Division (rock and jazz keyboards), or the Special Products Division (portable battery-operated keyboards)."
 This rather new division - the Specialty Products Division-  included portable battery-operated keyboards. Except the CS-01 battery-operated keyboard. That belonged to the Combo Division. Confusing? Yerp!

It was quite normal for a company division to include a little tag line in an advertisement - a bit of an ego boost I suppose - but to actually have a particular division of a company calling themselves out publicly within the ad-copy itself is unusual indeed. And double-indeed that it can be unnecessary and confusing for the consumer. Especially in a consumer magazine such as Keyboard.

The advertisement is also an interesting read because it's doing the hard sell to retailers. Like, really hard.
  • "Pinch yourself and read those words again"
  • "Better act now"
  • "Three little keyboards that are going to add up to big sales"
  • "Put a lot of money in your pocket"
  • "Don't miss this opportunity"
And my favourite in the mail-in cut-out section:
  • "Yes! I'd like to get in on the ground floor..."
It's almost like I'm talking to my buddies who tried to get me in on pyramid schemes back in university. 

And if it wasn't for that lovely photo in the ad showing the current line of Portasound keyboards surrounded by styrofoam packing peanuts, you might be inclined to think it was a scheme to sell products that don't actually exist. But the Portasound line obviously did exist AND like the ad states, there were "many more new products to come".

And, I can tell you from a personal point of view - very FUN products. :)

And that statement is backed up by the cover of the PS 1, 2 and 3 Playing Guide (Yamaha has a PDF on their Web site).

Both the girl and guy on the cover are obviously really stoked, not only about their high-waisted pants, but also about their Portasound keyboards.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Garfield Electronics Nano Doc, MIDI Adapter and FSK Adapter "Introducing the Nano Series Ultra-low cost synchronization" ad, Keyboard 1985

Garfield Electronics Nano Doc syncronizer, MIDI Adapter and FSK Adapter "Introducing the Nano Series Ultra-low cost synchronization" full page black & white advertisement from page 93 in the November 1984 issue of Keyboard Magazine.

 If you had asked me more than a month ago what products would come to mind if someone had mentioned Garfield Electronics, that would have included Dr. Click... and... well... that's it.  I knew they made other sync products, but I couldn't have named them. Maybe the Dr. Click 2. Definitely not the Mini Doc.

And as far as those other products that turned up in that last post - Dr. Flick, Modulator etc... yeah... not those ones either. And I was *really* into interfacing old and new gear.  Funny how some gear just slips by without notice.

I have to say that the Nano Doc falls into that group too. Maybe I just blur'd all those other products into the Dr. Click. I probably just thought they were all the same product.

With respect to the ad itself, I have to say I'm a little disappointed that the Garfield ad-art has disappeared. Especially the artwork from that previous ad. Those drawings had legs (pun intended) and could have been easily expanded a long with Garfield's product line.

Without the funny graphics, the ad kinda falls flat. That's too bad because Garfield was pumping out some cool, cheaper products that were starting to incorporate MIDI. And due to the nature of the product, it made sense for Garfield to name-drop like crazy - Sequential Circuits Six Traks, Korg Poly 800, Linn LM-1 and Roland MPU-401 MIDI processor. Nice.

For whatever reason (I'm going to blame the lack of cool ad-art), the advertisement only showed up in Keyboard Magazine once or twice near the end of 1984. But the Nano Doc did benefit from a quick and dirty Spec Sheet promo in the February 1985 issue.
"Garfield Rhythm Controller. The Nano Doc rhythm controller provides synchronization of sequencers and drum machines by Roland, Oberheim, Sequential, Linn, Korg, Moog, E-mu, Simmons, and othes. the unit can also be used to sync sequencers and drum machines to take for multi-track recording. Price is $250.00. Garfield Electronics, Box 1941, Burbank, CA 91507."
Not really that specific. But luckily, almost 30 years later, someone was selling a Nano Doc on the InterWebz and took some great photos. And like other rack gear from Garfield Electronics, some good detailed instructions and functionality info can be found on the top of the device.

Just keep clicking on that first image and eventually it will be displayed large enough to read the information on the top of the rack.

Doctor Click. Mini Doc. Nano Doc. Dr. Flick... can't wait to see what interesting name Garfield comes up for the next big product...

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Garfield Electronics Doctor Flick, Clock Delay, Modulator and Timebase Meter "The Time Machines" ad, 1984

Garfield Electronics Doctor Flick, Clock Delay, Modulator and Timebase Meter "The Time Machines" full page black & white advertisement from page 21 in the July 1984 issue of Keyboard Magazine.

Hot on the heels of the last Garfield advertisement for the Mini Doc is this awesome ad for four new products from the company.
  • The Doctor Flick
  • The Clock Delay
  • The Modulator
  • The Timebase Meter
In the previous Garfield advertisement for the Mini Doc, the artwork was strictly decorative in nature. All readers got out of the artwork was basically a really nice illustration of a bunch of different gear looking angrily at each other. The artwork didn't even include the Mini Doc itself - a rarity in the synth-art work.  Its great stuff, don't get me wrong, it just didn't provide any other purpose than to give a single salt-shake of context to the ad.

But in this latest advertisement, the artwork not only includes imagery of each device, but the drawings also give readers the benefit of some clear indication as to the functionality of each device.

And that's a good thing too, because although the ad-copy tries its best to describe each device and its very specific purpose, unfortunately with only one page of ad-space readers are bound to be left a little confused. But that artwork does a pretty good job of filling in the gaps.
The imagery for the Doctor Flick shows the device dancing in unison with other gear. The device allows sequencers and drum machines all to simultaneously sync to click tracks.

The Clock Delay imagery details the device as a traffic cop, a good illustration for a device that helps "fine tune" the feel of the sync time between two pieces of gear by nudging the timing forward or backwards to create a laid-back or pushed feel.

The artist chose to illustrate the more complicated Modulator as an orchestra conductor. This more complicated device has a sync'd programmable trigger to control arpeggiators, gates and drum machine triggers as well as a triggered rhythm envelope to modulate synthesizer VCOs, VCFs and VCAs in sync with the timing of the music.

And finally, the drawing of the Timebase Meter has the device holding the sync cords of a number of other pieces of gear while looking at his watch. This device allows Dr. Flick to adjust to any time rate, and when used with the Clock Delay it indicates when two pieces of gear are perfectly aligned.

All four devices seem to be much more rare than the Doctor Click and Mini Doc devices - both in auctions and online in general. But I did manage to find a few good references. 

Although the Dr. Flick does seem to be a rare beast online, I did find one 2008 MATRIXSYNTH auction post for the device that provides a lot more detail. it even includes a photo of the top of the rack that includes some basic operating instructions and reference information on different devices clock rates. Nice.

The Clock Delay also appeared in a 2012 MATRIXSYNTH auction post that provides photos of the top of the rack with some basic operating instructions. And if that's not enough for you, it also appeared in the Spec Sheet section of the December 1984 issue of Keyboard. Both provide intimate details that could never have made it in to the limited space available in the ad-copy.
"Garfield Delay. The stereo Clock Delay provides a means to compensate for rhythmic offsets between various makes of sequencers, drum machines, arpeggiators, and synthesizers.  the offsets are typically due to the differing response times of various instruments to incoming clock signals, and cause the "feel" between instruments playing together to be "out of the groove". Each channel provides 24 milliseconds of delay, selectable in 2-millisecond steps with a continuously variable fine-tune control for adjusting the feel. The channels provide click, clock and trigger output pulses with rising or falling edge polarity to meet the clocking requirements of all instruments. The rising and falling edges are cascadable for delays of up to 48 milliseconds. The unit is designed to allow you to adjust the rhythmic feel so that it can be pushed, laid-back, or on top of the beat, as desired.  The clock Delay works as an accessory to synchronization systems base around Doctor Click, Mini Doc or Doctor Flick rhythm controllers.  Price is $495.00. Garfield Electronics, Box 1941, Burbank, CA 91507."
The Modulator seems to be more rare online, but luckily for readers of the blog the device appeared in the October 1984 issue of Keyboard. Its description really helps fill out some of the details that an illustration and a few sentences of ad-copy ever could:
"Garfield Rhythm Sequencer. The Modulator is a live-performance-oriented rhythm sequencer that features a programmable trigger, which can be used to control arpeggiators, gate external devices, and trigger external drum machines; and a rhythm envelope, which can be used to control VCAs, VCFs, and VCOs on external synthesizers in rhythms locked to the beat of the system. The trigger can be programmed in 3/4, 12/8 or 4/4 time, in one- or two-measure patterns. It can be synced to the clock or sync output of the sequencers and drum macines. The envelope features variable attach, decay, pulse-width and level controls, and can be triggered either from the programmable trigger or from an external source. When multiple synthesizer overdubs are made with the rhythm envelope, all modulation waveforms rhythmically mesh with each other and the tempo of the music. Price is $495.00. Garfield Electronics, Box 1941, Burbank, CA 91507."
Unfortunately a quick Google search for information on the Timebase Meter didn't bring up much. I'll dig a bit further and see if anything hits my radar. I'd really like to know more about that one. 

Before I end the post, I'd just like to point out one of the other reasons I love this advertisement - retail prices! Not all companies do it, especially as the prices start going above the two grand mark. But Garfield provides prices for all four: Dr. Flick - $1195.00; Click Delay: $495.00; Modulator: $495.00; Timebase Meter: $395.00.

I want them all.  :)

Monday, June 17, 2013

Garfield Electronics Mini Doc "When Your Automatic Drummer .... Isn't..." ad, 1984

Garfield Electronics Mini Doc "When Your Automatic Drummer .... Isn't / And Your Sequencer ...Won't." full page black & white advertisement from page 41 in the February 1984 issue of Keyboard Magazine.

I last blogged about Garfield Electronics back in 2010 when I featured their Dr. Click introductory advertisement as well as their more descriptive follow-up ad. Together, those two ads ran from December 1982 to January 1984 before this advertisement took over. And this advertisement would continue to show up monthly through to June 1984. Five months - not a bad run.

So, why the renewed interest? Well, about a week or so ago, I blogged about one of Garfield's rather unknown competitors - the Polysync Rhythm Controller by Byter Incorporated. And in that same issue was this advertisement for the Garfield Mini Doc. Next thing I know I'm digging through old Doctor Click posts to play catch-up.

I don't want to spend too much time on the specifics/differences of the Doctor Click with the Mini Doc - I just don't have the time to do the comparison. And Jon Sonnenberg through his Art of Travelogue blog has already taken care of that dirty business in a small but well-writing post from back in July 2012. Click on the "About" tab on his blog and you will learn his band has opened for The Human League, Pink Dots, Anything Box, Solvent and others. Nice resume! Go Jon!

Why didn't I have the time to compare the two? BECAUSE I'M TOO HYPNOTIZED BY THAT AWESOME ARTWORK.

You might not be aware, but I'm a sucker for great artwork in a synth advertisement. Just click on the label "artwork" at the end of this blog post to see some other great artwork featured in ads on the blog. Some of the more recent Retro Synth Ads blog posts that have included ads with great artwork include those from Boss and the Yamaha Producer Series.


Go further back and you will find great artwork companies big and small, such as ads for Sequential Circuits, Dennis Electronics, Oberheim, Korg, and Octave. All brilliant in their own way. And they all should have somehow found their way onto t-shirts.

This is the first time we see artwork from Garfield and I'm excited by it. What is interesting and different about the artwork for this Garfield Mini Doc ad is that it DOESN'T actually include the Mini Doc itself. In most if not all of those other company's advertisements, the gear for the most part plays centre stage in the artwork - on its own, being played by musicians or personified in some way. But not here. Garfield does include a photo of the Mini Doc, as well as it's flagship Doctor Click, but its rare indeed for a company to spend money on artwork that doesn't include their own gear.

And I love how all the gear in this advertisement are angry at each other - it's only a matter of time before a battle royal breaks out. I'm pretty sure the artist even seems to have used real instruments as models - I think I can make out a Roland TR606, Oberheim DX and a Drumulator (?) drum machine. I am a little disappointed that none of the keyboards look more like old synths with lots of knobs.

Unfortunately, as is often the case with advertising artwork, there is no artist's signature hidden away within the drawing.

Or at least my old (and grouchy) eyes couldn't find it.   Maybe the next ad...  :)