Thursday, May 30, 2013

Sequential Circuits Inc. Prophet-T8 "A Musician's Work Should Be All Play" ad, Keyboard 1984

Sequential Circuits Inc. Prophet-T8 "A Musician's Work Should Be All Play" full-page colour advertisement from page 13 in the February 1984 issue of Keyboard Magazine.

I admit it. I've been kind of avoiding the Prophet-T8. I just never knew what to make of it. I know it was wrong - it was such a HUGE beast of a synthesizer, it deserved more of my attention.

So when I flipped back to early 1984 issues of Keyboard Magazine to find this ad, I was a little surprised that the ad-space iwas shared with both the Prophet-600 and a Commodore-64.

I guess it kinda makes sense. The introductory Prophet-600 two-page advertisement had been running for months before this ad appeared. And SCI's MIDI interface/cartridge for the Commodore 64 had also just recently been announced. But the Prophet-T8 was SCI's new flagship synth - a $6000 MIDI-fied polyphonic powerhouse ready to take on the world. Yet it gets just a page of ad-space. And has to share it with two other products as well.

Even more odd though is that although the main photo in the ad includes both the 600 synth and Model 64 sequencer, neither is mentioned in the actual ad-copy. They are just props. Again - makes a bit of sense since they were both recently announced. But I still would have expected the Prophet-T8 to get some solo time before having to share space with others.

Also, interestingly, the month that this introductory T8 advertisement began it's three month run in the February 1984 issue, the magazine also began to run that two-page introductory advertisement for the Six-Trak, Drumtraks and Model 64. No kidding! All in the same issue.

So, why not just include the Six-Trak and Drumtraks in the T8/Prophet-600/Commodore photo as well since they were all available at the same time? Make a family occasion out of the whole thing?

I'm thinking that is because SCI was trying to promote the Six-Trak/Drumtraks/Model 64 as part of the "Traks Music System" - geared towards the musician that couldn't afford the Prophet-T8. Two totally different markets. Two totally different ads.

Even though the Prophet-T8 ad began appearing at the same time as the Six-Trak/Drumtrak/Model 64 ad, the T8 actually first appeared in Keyboard Magazine much earlier. In the timeline of things, the Prophet-T8 was actually the second SCI keyboard with MIDI to appear in Keyboard Magazine after the Prophet-600.

The Prophet-T8's first appearance in Keyboard was four months earlier in the Spec Sheet section of the October 1983 issue. It's one heck of a Spec Sheet too - because it's one heck of a machine! The promo focuses on the T8's best qualities - the keyboard itself and it's modulation section.
"SCI Synthesizer. The T-8 is a touch-sensitive 8-voice polyphonic synthesizer from Sequential Circuits. It has a 76-note keyboard (A to C) that is both velocity- and pressure-sensitive. the keyboard is built of wood and has a weighted action. Velocity sensitively is adjustable and has been incorporated in the ADSRs, which give you touch control of each parameter of teh ADSR. Release time can be controlled by the velocity that the key is let up with. A poly-mod section provides additional flexibility by routing the velocity-controlled envelopes to other destination such as the oscillator frequency or pulse width. Each key as an independent pressure sensor. This second touch can be used to control the frequency of oscillator banks A and B, the pulse width of oscillator banks A and B, the filter, amplifier, LFO amount, and LFO frequency. The unit's eight voices (two oscillators per voice) are assigned according to four different keyboard modes: single mode, which sounds eight voices across the entire keyboard; double mode, which blends two different programs into four voices; split mode, which divides the keyboard and allocates four voices to each side of the programmable split point; and unison/track, which combines up to eight voices on one note (these voices may be either the same pitch or arranged in a chord composed of up to eight voices). A built-in real-time sequencer is provided with a memory capacity of over 600 notes. The sequencer also remembers all velocity information. The unit also includes a new envelope mode called ADR that sets the sustain to zero for creating more natural percussive envelopes. Both ADSRs have two programmed release settings. the second release is selected with either the second release switch or the release footswitch. the mod wheel can be programmed for an initial setting with the initial amount control. The unit weighs less than 60lbs. Price is $5,995.00. Sequential Circuits, 3051N. First St., San Jose, CA 95134."
Wow - that was a mouthful!

One of the main reasons I like that Spec Sheet promo is that it explains the reason behind the ADR envelope mode - more realistic percussion. I like it anytime I can get insight into the "why" of an included function, not just what the function does.

Got more T8 stuff on the way. And its already 8:15 p.m. on a Thursday night. Been a busy week. Time to chillax a bit. Maybe play Skyrim  :)

Monday, May 27, 2013

Sequential Circuits Inc. Musicware "For the Working Musician" ad, Keyboard 1984

Sequential Circuits Inc. Musicware software including the Model 964 MIDI Sequencer, Model 910 Three Part Expansion Software for the Six-Trak Synthesizer, Model 931 Recorder/Editor/Composer, Model 932 Scorewriter and Model 933 Album Series "For the Working Musician" full-page colour advertisement from page 9 in the October 1984 issue of Keyboard Magazine.

I gotta say, I'm becoming more and more intrigued with retro music software. It's amazing how MIDI was catching on. By the end of 1984 many of the big manufacturers seemed to be offering some type of MIDI hardware and software to go with their synths.

In the October 1984 issue alone, Korg was promoting their Poly-800 alongside the KMS-30 MIDI/sync box and their own 4 Track Sequencer and Music Scoring programs, and Siel ads for the DK/EX600 synthesizer also included ad-copy for their own MIDI computer interface.

New companies specializing in software development were also popping up. The October issue included a full-page ad from a company called MusicData, promoting the fact that they were "the first-ever all-music software company", creating synth patches, drum programs and computer programs. And one of my early favorites, Dr. T's Music Software, was also already appearing in Keyboard, peppered amongst the other small 1/12th-page black and white ads pushing things like piano-tuning training packages and vocal-removal boxes. It was the wild west of Keyboard Magazine.

SCI was not only one of the first companies to get into the MIDI synth game with their Prophet 600 synthesizer, but they also got into the MIDI hardware/software peripheral game as well. Starting with their Model 64 sequencer that began appearing less that a year previously in the magazine, their line of MIDI hardware and software had quickly expanded to also include their Model 242 MIDI interface as well as their exciting new line of productivity software.

This new line of software initially included Five packages that appeared in this very rare "For the Working Musician" MusicWare advertisement:
  • Model 964 MIDI Sequencer featuring 8 tracks and 4000 note memory
  • Model 910 Three Part Expansion Software for the Six-Trak Synthesizer featuring programming, program storage and keyboard splitting
  • Model 931 Recorder/Editor/Composer - sequencing package for use with the Six-Trak and Max synthesizer
  • Model 932 Scorewriter - allow a composer to create and print out scores
  • Model 933 Album Series - MIDI songs (one package featured Christmas carols) that could be played back on the Six-Trak and Max synthesizers
Out of all of these packages, the one that intrigues me most is the Model 910 Expansion software for the Six-Trak. For one reason, and one reason only:

GAH!!! Look at that image from the ad! It's an early visual programming interface! From 1984! Would make a cute VST.  :)

SCI's first MIDI synth, the Prophet 600, had all it's programming available on the front panel. But not the Six-Trak - it was programmed through a control interface that included just one parameter button and one value knob. For that reason alone, if you owned a Six-Trak, this program would have been the best $99 you could have spent in 1984. Especially if this was your first synthesizer. And for many, it would have been.

If I was 1/10th more ass-crazy than I currently am, I'd get that tatoo'd across my back. Luckily I'm not.

One of the other reasons I like this advertisement is that it includes the first mention of Sequential's new MAX synthesizer. It would be another month before it would be introduced in Keyboard through the magazine's keyboard give-away contest, and another month before a proper MAX advertisement would pop up in the magazine. If the Internet had been around in 1984, SCI fan boys would have been going crazy on the forums if they had seen this mentioned before an ad-launch.

Oooooh... the good old days before the fast-paced digital online world took over.  When new analog synthesizers were introduced almost monthly... er... oh, wait... MS20 Mini, Minibrute, Elektron Analog Four, Moog Minitaur, Waldorf Pulse 2, Dave Smith Mopho/Tetra/Prophet08/Tempest...

Bah - nevermind.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Sequential Circuits Inc. Drumtraks self-titled ad, Keyboard 1984

Sequential Circuits Inc. Drumtraks drum machine self-titled full-page colour advertisement from page 55 in the June 1984 issue of Keyboard Magazine.

Not too many ads are self-titled. Usually there is some kind of cool or witty ad-title - or at least a subtitle.   Not this one. "Drumtraks". That's it. Says it all. And may be kinda ballsy if they did it on purpose.

But what I know is ballsy is the amount of power this drum machine had under its hood. 13 digitally recorded sounds with programmable pitch and volume. I don't know whys, but I love songs with pitched-down drum sounds. Pitched so far down they get gritty. Hand-claps especially. And SCI has a word for them - gorilla claps. How awesome is that! I'm gonna have to remember that one.

This Drumtraks advertisement appeared in Keyboard Magazine from June through December 1984.  What makes it unique is that it appeared opposite the SCI Six-Trak advertisement that also appeared during the same period. And even better - they were centerfold ads. Two totally separate and independent ads, in the centerfold. Again... ballsy.

So, as you might have guessed, it wasn't by mistake that the Six-Trak and Drumtraks ended up, more often than not, included in the same sentence. They were fraternal twins at the most basic level. Two eggs from the same father (Dave Smith!), fertilized at the beginning of the MIDI era.  Okay, that actually sounded a little creepy. I should have left Dave's name out of it. But the two wooden-sided synths look so good next to each other that they pretty much had to have popped out of SCI's birthing canal one right after the other.

And like many actual twins I knew and grew up with - Karen and Sharon, or Tim and Tom - SCI even kind of gave them similar names. Also like twins, SCI paraded them around the playground that is Keyboard Magazine, whether promoting them together in the same centrefold ad, or side-by-side as a pair of ads in the centrefold space.

So, it makes sense that Keyboard Magazine would wrap the two up into one large Keyboard Report in the May 1984 issue. And for all you 37+ year old ladies out there, yes, that was the issue with Duran Duran's Nick Rhodes on the cover.

The report, written by dashing Dominic Milano, runs about two and a half pages, with a shared introduction before separating into the two reviews - first focusing on the Six-Trak, and then the Drumtraks.  As far as keyboard reports go, all the basics for each piece of gear are covered.  And covered well. But, you won't be surprised to learn that I love this report mostly from reading it from an historical perspective.

For example, at the time this report was written it was still the early days of MIDI, and the introduction of the two-gear report focuses on two advantages of this rather new standard. With the Six-Trak and it's sequencer, and the Drumtraks in mind, it is easy to see why one of those advantages is the universal synchronization between pieces of gear. Dominic notes the "frustration of trying to synchronize" drum machines and sequencers with pre-MIDI 24,48 or 96 pulse sync, and how MIDI, available on these two machines, will simplify this process.

Dominic also touches on one other aspect of MIDI and drum programming that I'll admit was lost on me when I first got into MIDI - velocity sensitivity.  For some reason it took me a while to realize that I could program dynamics on my MIDI drum machines from a velocity-sensitive keyboard.  It saves *a lot* of time.

To understand just how amazing the Six-Trak was for its time, you just have to read Dominic's intro on the instrument, and in particular, its comparison to the higher-cost Oberheim polyphonic synthesizers.
"Instrument makers have long wrestled with the problem of providing players with a way of playing independent musical lines with different timbres. The Oberheim 4- and 8-voice modular polyphonic synthesizers were instruments that gave you that ability, but the problem was, and still is, how to get the instrument to know not to change timbres when you cross voices."
The Six-Trak solved a lot of the issues surrounding this problem, and at a fraction of the price. Sure, the Six-Trak is a much more basic synthesizer in terms of features when compared to Oberheim's delicious beasts, and programming through the Six-Trak's simplified interface is a bit of an annoyance when you are used to tons of knobs and sliders. But we are talking six monophonic synthesizers for $1095.00. Or, as Dominic put it, six monophonic synthesizers that are capable of "producing some pretty sounds" including a "good Micromoog-like bass". And a two-track 800-note sequencer thrown into the mix allows a programmer to get pretty experimental. Sweet.

The  Drumtraks review is even more enlightening to the state of drum machines for the time period. Just read it's short intro and you come to understand some of it's amazing features - features from 1984 that are taken for granted today:
"The search for the better digital drum box goes on and on. This month's entry in the race is from SCI. Their machine offers a few surprises including MIDI and the ability to record and store in memory the various tunings and volume levels of individual drum sounds within each rhythm pattern."
I've pointed out my surprise at the price different between the Six-Trak ($1095) and the DrumTraks ($1295) before. But I just have to say it again - I still find it hard to think of a drum machine with 13 digital sounds as being more expensive than a synthesizer. It boggles my mind. Put them together, and you get quite the package for under $2,500.

The Six-Trak and Drumtraks just sound good when sync'd together. Some people may want to punch me in the neck for saying this, but connecting the two pieces of gear together creates a similar synergy that I also feel when I connect my X0X gear together and hit the play button.

Yup. I said it.  :)

Monday, May 20, 2013

Sequential Circuits Inc. Six-trak "Lets your multi-talents shine through" ad, Keyboard 1984

Sequential Circuits Inc. Six-trak synthesizer "Lets your multi-talents shine through" full-page colour advertisement from page 54 in the June 1984 issue of Keyboard Magazine.

It's the Victoria Day long weekend here in Canada and I've run away to the family farm to hide out. Because I can't lug all my gear with me, its a wonderful opportunity to spend some time focusing on one or two pieces of software. So this time I just brought the studio laptop, the RME Babyface audio interface, and Reason. Just upgraded from 6.5 to 7 and although I've been noodling with Reason for a number of years, its been good to get a chance to really dig-in deep. The last time I did this sort of thing, I brought out my first-generation netbook with Ubuntu and ReNoise. And a whole lot of sample CDs. Just to push the limits of that small system. Good times... good times... I recommend trying this out for yourself - seclusion and a laptop (oh... and a half-bottle of wine.   :)

But, I did take some time out of my Reason-a-thon to get a blog post done. Here we have SCI's next phase in the promotion of their Six-Trak synthesizer. The company had spent the previous few months promoting the synth as part of the "Traks" system  - but the synth was in need of some good solo ad time. It deserves it.

This new advertisement ran considerably longer than the previous two-page centerfold ad - from June to December 1984, without missing an issue. That's a considerable feat, especially considering that SCI had a number of other instruments to promote at the time as well - Prophet 600, T8, etc...

Sequential Circuits could have taken the easy way out and reused the ad-copy from the original two-pager (it was great ad-copy!), but instead decided to shrink it all down considerably to make room for that one big honking photo with the ad-copy above it.  And for good reason - it was promoting the best (and most obvious) thing about the synth - six individual synths! Yummy.

The big text above the photo that focuses on the instrument tracks is almost too big. But I don't care because that diagram is worth a thousand words, and lets the rest of the ad-copy focus on the other three reasons to buy a Six-Trak - Sequencer, Arpeggiator, and Stack Mode.  They even include a small photo of the front panel buttons. Awesome. And adorable.

Interestingly, even though SCI does mention the other two products in what was originally referred to in the previous 2-page centerfold ad as the "Traks Music System", only one gets mentioned by name - the Drumtraks. The Model 64 cartridge is only referenced as expansion software. I'm beginning to think the 'Traks" system's day is pretty much done.

Oddly, although it is the Model 64 that gets the shaft in this advertisement, a few months before, the Six-Trak Spec Sheet promo gave the shaft to the DrumTraks, with just simple mention, while giving the Model 64 a few lines of its own promo space. The Model 64 got its own Spec Sheet a month or two previously, but I guess it still makes sense to push it a bit in this Spec Sheet since it does offer program storage and increased sequencer storage.

But don't you worry - the focus is on the specs of the synthesizer though - and deservedly so. Just typing out this Spec Sheet makes me wish I brought my Six-Trak with me to the farm - now that Reason 7 finally includes external MIDI support, the Six-Trak would have been the perfect multi-timbral with to use it with  :)
"SCI synthesizer. The Six-Trak is a multi-timbral polyphonic synthesizer that allows you to play six completely different instrument sounds at one time, either by layering up to six sounds on one key or by addressing those sounds with the on-board multi-track sequencer. Sequencer functions include record, playback, programmable playback speed, programmable track volume changes, variable resolution error-correction, track duplication, and over 800-note storage capacity. You can also combine live playing and multi-track sequencing. The synthesizer section of the instrument provides six voices, each with its own VCO and VCF. There are also three ADSRs per voice, for controlling oscillator frequency, filter cutoff frequency, and amplifier gain. Up to 100 programs can be stored in memory. Parameter values are edited with a single knob, parameter number and value being indicated by LED readout. Pitch and modulation wheels are supplied. The unit is also MIDI-equipped and can be linked to SCI's Model 64 MIDI sequencer and Drumtraks programmable drum machine. The Model 64 sequencer offers increased sequencer storage (4,000 notes), program storage on cassette or disk, sequence transposition, alternate keyboard modes, and forthcoming music display and editing functions. Sequential Circuits, 3051 N. First St., San Jose, CA 95134."
Poor Drumtraks - the most expensive of them all - and yet just the briefest of mentions.

It deserves some me-time as well. And it will get it in the next blog post!

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Sequential Circuits Inc. Model 610 Six-Trak, Model 400 Drumtraks and Model 64 "Your Personal Orchestra" ad, Keyboard 1984

Sequential Circuits Inc. Model 610 Six-Trak, Model 400 Drumtraks and Model 64 sequencer "Your Personal Orchestra" 2-page full colour advertisement from pages 50 and 51 in the February 1984 issue of Keyboard Magazine.

The Sequential Six-Trak (with a hyphen) and DrumTraks (without a hyphen) are both pieces of kit that played a huge role in the early music I was creating in the 90s. By that time, their prices had plummeted to all-time lows and could be found in pawn shops and on the used instruments shelves in my local synth shop. And I snatched up both as soon as I came across them.

I was already familiar with multi-timbral instruments thanks to my Casio CZ5000 and Yamaha TX81Z, but it was that purchase of my Six-Trak that really helped me learn subtractive synthesis. Even through that wee little programming display panel it was relatively easy to come up with deep bleepy analogue sounds. 

This two-page centerfold ad received a four-month run from February to May 1984. And was totally worth every inch of ad-space. Sequential Circuits was really pushing the "Traks Music System" during this time period, a system "tailored to fit your specific music needs one step at a time as you can afford it".

The layout of the ad itself is a feat of ingenious design - even with two pages to work with, the designer had to fit a wack of ad-copy around two feature-sized instruments as well as two smaller images. All while keeping the font size large enough for old people like myself from putting on their reading glasses.  The ad-copy for the Model 64 gets a little lost from the photo of the computer and interface, but I can live with that.

As good as the layout is, the ad-copy is even better. From the introductory questions that would be right at home coming out of a fast-talking host of a two-minute television gadget commercial, through the flow of text covering each piece of gear, the reader can actually take away a fair bit of information.

In particular, I love the section on the Six-Trak - the name drop of the more famous Prophet synthesizers right at the beginning, as well as the focus on it's features such as the sequencer, arpeggiator and stack mode (my favorite mode!).

But what I absolutely love best best best, is the fact they included retail prices. And with that, the fact that the Drumtraks drum machine was actually $200 more expensive than the Six-trak synthesizer. $1,295.00 compared to $1,095.00. A great example of the price musicians paid for "digitally recorded real drums" in 1984. Ouch. 

The Model 64 sequencer, which I blogged about early last week in it's featured ad, had already ended its ad-run by the time this ad appeared, but the little sequencer box got a bit of an extra push because it also got a Spec Sheet promo in this February issue. It's really interesting to look at from an historical perspective to see just how much we take sequencing technology for granted now. Back then, the tech was so new that this Spec Sheet promo became a lot longer just so it could all be explained properly. Truly amazing.
"SCI MIDI sequencer. the Model 64 MIDI sequencer is a cartridge that plugs into the memory expansion port of a Commodore 64 personal computer, taking advantage of that system's portability, memory capacity, cassette or disk storage, and video interface. The unit records whatever is played by storing the MIDI information sent from any MIDI-equipped instrument compatible with the rev 1.0 MIDI spec. Up to 400 notes can be recorded. The unit also stores velocity, pitch-bend, and modulation information if the synthesizer is so equipped. For playback, the sequencer sends MIDI information back to the synthesizer either as recorded in real-time or as auto-corrected for subtle timing errors. The playback tempo can be varied by using either the internal clock or an external clock from some device like a drum machine. The sequencer memory can be allocated to 8 independent variable-length sequences, each of which can have 5 tracks for over-dubbing. These are 8 timing error-correct values. Lowest resolution is a quarter note; highest is a sixty-fourth-note. A sequence can be transposed over a 6-octave range. A library of songs can be built by chaining sequences together and storing them on disk or cassette. The unit can be operated with or without a video monitor. LEDs on the cartridge identify up to four sequences and indicate record, play, overdub, and storage functions. Price is $195.00 for the cartridge and manual. Sequential Circuits, 3051 N. First St., San Jose, CA 95134."
Best thing I learned from this spec sheet - that you could actually use the sequencer WITHOUT a video monitor. I'm not too sure how easy that would have been - but just the fact that Keyboard made the point of including that in the Spec Sheet is bonkers-crazy cool!

I'll leave you with a cool video of the Model 64 sequencer controlling Moog's Animoog synth. Nice. 

Monday, May 13, 2013

Korg General Catalog, 1979

Korg 1979 (?) General Catalog featuring PS-3300, PS-3200PS-3100 and PS-3010 polyphonic synthesizers, PS-3040 dual foot controller, PS-3050 60p junction box, PS-3001 60p cord, PS-3060 programmer remote controller, MS-10, MS-20,MS-50, Korg Sigma, M-500SP, 800DV, and 770 monophonic synthesizers, SQ-10 analog sequencer, MS-03 signal processor, MS-02 interface, MS-01 foot controller, VC-10 vocoder, PE-2000 and PE-1000 polyphonic emsembles, KA-180 keyboard amplifier, V-C-F effects, Mr. Multi effects pedal, SE-500, SE-300 stage echos, EM-570 echo mixer, SP-2035 speaker system, SM-20 Doncamatic Stageman, Mini Pops 120W and 120P, Mini Pops7, Mini Pops45, Mini Pops35, Mini Pops Junior, Korg Quartz tuning fork, WT-10A and GT-6 guitar tuner, RT-10 rhythm trainer, FK-3 2-channel volume pedal, FK-1 VCF pedal, Type S foot swtich, Type J foot switch, cords, hard cases, soft cases and stands.

Well... that was a mouthful. 

I've posted a few vintage Korg general catalogs, including this one from 1984, and this cooler one from 1982, but the one I'm posting today is really really special. This little mini-catalog only measures about 4"x5", but it holds a big space in my heart. And it also holds a wack of juicy vintage Korg products. Unfortunately I couldn't find a print date, but based on the gear promoted (and more about what wasn't promoted) I came to the conclusion it was probably printed in early 1979.

For example, gear released by Korg in 1980 (according to Vintage Synth Explorer's interactive timeline) such as the Korg Trident and X-911 are not listed in the catalog. But the Korg Sigma, released around 1979, is included. Interestingly, other Korg gear released in 1979 like the Lambda and Delta are not included either. Which is why I considered an early 1979 print date for the catalog.

The catalog is tattered and worn - water-damaged to the point that the staples have left rust marks around the binding. But I still treasure it. And I knew that eventually an occasion worthy of such a celebratory posting would finally present itself.

So, what exactly am I celebrating, you ask?

The arrival of my Korg MS20 Mini!

Look over there (yay!) ----->

In fact, this catalog would be a great blue-print for Korg on all the gear they should reissue in their mini resurgence. Please, Korg? Pretty please?  :)

You might recall that I also celebrated when Korg first announced the perfectly replicated MS20 Mini last January at NAMM, when I posted a lovely (and in much better condition) Korg MS-10/MS-20/SQ-10 brochure. As time went on after that announcement, rumors of short supplies and slow pre-order deliveries only made me want one more. And made me think that an early possession date was probably not going to happen.

My wishing apparently paid off, because it was with great happiness and surprise that one happened to land in my lap last week. And luckily it fits very nicely on my lap because that is where it will continue to sit until I can find time to rearrange my studio to fit it in. It's small, but not that small.

First-world problems, right?

There are a lot of great things about this mini-catalog. First and foremost, it makes all the products in the catalog look... well... mini. Just like the adorable new Korg MS20 Mini (did I mention I already got mine?   :). And I can only hope that there are more Korg Mini products on the way.

Another reason this catalog is fantastic is that it is bilingual - English and what I'm gonna guess is Japanese. Very unique.

The products in the catalog are split up into logical sections, including my favorites - the poly synths, the mono synths (including the original MS20 of course!) and the rhythm machines sections.

It's that rhythm machine section that peaks my interest the most. I've had the opportunity to play on some of those Korg synths, but all of those Mini Pops rhythm machines have continued to elude me. My curiosity with drum machines in general is usually a good eight out of ten, and these Mini Pop machines push it to eleven.

The real problem is that older drum machines are like a drug - they are relatively cheap compared to vintage synths, and take up a lot less room in the studio. My growing drum machine collection is proof of my addiction.  No, its not anything near Moby-scale [yet!], but lets just say there has been more than few vintage drum machines popping up locally for very reasonable prices. Can't turn that down.

I honestly didn't even realize the Mini Pops series was so varied until I had finally come across this catalog. I thought there was maybe one or two different machines, tops. Not six. And many of the series are quite different from the others in looks (mmmm... wood panels) and sound.  The catalog, in particular, makes the Mini Pops45 sound intriguing: "Original circuitry for natural metallic percussion".

One day I'll finally get my hands on 'em.

But until them, I'll just keep this YouTube video bookmarked  :D

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Sequential Circuits Inc. Model 64 Sequencer "The $195.00 Sequencer" ad, Keyboard 1983

Sequential Circuits Inc. Model 64 Sequencer "The $195.00 Sequencer" full page black & white advertisement from page 13 in the November 1983 issue of Keyboard Magazine.

Not so long ago a friend came over with his Commodore 64. No, not for music-making, but for a night of Donkey Kong-ing and other retro-gaming. Good times... good times...

I do recall that one of the first MIDI systems I ever saw running was a Model 64 with a Commodore 64. I hardly remember anything about that system except the small dark brick sticking out of the computer with MIDI cords attached. It was cool, and I was definitely hooked as soon as I saw it.

My first computer sequencer was Master Tracks running on an Apple IIe - I had to borrow money from my parents to pay for it. Then, when I finally upgraded to a Mac IIci, I purchased MOTU Performer 3.61 which soon became 3.64.

Then at work I had to learn Twelve Tone System's CakeWalk Dos, and then an early Windows version. Since then, I've never really left CakeWalk and would probably be considered one of those outspoken Sonar users everybody hates to be in a room with. I will admit I also have licenses for ReNoise, Reason (just ordered 7!) and a few other sequencer packages, but I usually end up powering up Sonar for the heavy lifting. 

But lets get back to the Commodore 64. After playing those games that night, I knew I had to find a Commodore 64 of my own to play around on. I waited very patiently for a clean one to make it's way onto eBay Canada, and pounced as soon as one popped up. It came with A TON of software - cartridges and disks - including the way-cool GEO OS with it's graphic user interface. Think early Apple Mac. Just look at that drawing program screen shot if you don't believe me. Look over there   ----->

Alas, there was no MIDI software or hardware included in the box that showed up on my door step. And so I wait... and wait... and wait... for a reasonably-priced Model 64 or similar Commodore 64 sequencer to come my way.

I would even consider the original $195.00 price tag featured in the title of this advertisement a reasonable price to pay for the enjoyment of again seeing a Commodore 64 MIDI system in action. And I'm guessing that if you are musician that already had a Commodore 64 and a Prophet-600 synthesizer, $195.00 probably wasn't going to blow the bank account either.

BTW - not sure if you noticed it, but if you look under the Commodore 64 in the ad photo, what do you see? A Linn LM-1 drum machine! It's not often you see other company's products in an advertisement, but you can probably look at this as one of the earlier pairing of Roger Linn and Dave Smith. A partnership that would bear fruit years later.   :)

The ad-copy provides us with a great glimpse into the early history of one of the major forces behind the development of MIDI - Dave Smith and SCI. Even nine months after the SCI launched the first commercial MIDI synthesizer, the Prophet-600, the whole idea that there was now this one musical standard available called MIDI that *any* manufacturer could build into their products to connect directly to other manufacturer's products was still very alien.

So, what did an early computer-based sequencer get you?
  • 4000 note storage, including velocity, pitch bend and modulation amounts
  • storage of nine independent polyphonic, real-time sequences of variable length with up to five overdub tracts available per sequence
  • song composition: sequences may be linked together to build up to nine different songs of variable length
  • auto-correct, transpose, and playback features
  • save and load to tape
  • select clock pulse, up to eight settings available for optimum drum box interfacing
Not too shabby.

Although a rare beast in 1983, by 1987 the computer-based sequencer was firmly catching on, and a flourish of products had became available. For the Commodore 64 alone there was Moog's Song Producer that used the Moog Manybus MIDI interface, MIDI/8 Plus by Passport that used its own interface, Keyboard Controller Sequencer by Dr. T's Music software that used its own interface, and Studio One by Syntech Corp that used MIDI interfaces produced by Syntech themselves, as well as Dr. T's, Passport, Sequential or Yamaha.

But sequencers weren't the only MIDI programs available. A number of MIDI patch librarians for DX/TX and CZ synths by many of the companies already mentioned above became available by 1987. There was also algorithmic MIDI composers, MIDI echo/arpeggiators, MIDI filters/channel-reassigners, and even a mini-sampler called Sound Sampler by SFX Computer Software Commodore Business Machines Ltd. that included a microphone and 1.2 seconds of sampling.

And that's just for the Commodore 64. Hardware and software for the IBM PC and compatibles, Apple Macintosh (Performer - yay!), Apple II, Atari ST and even the TI 99/4a were also out of the gates and getting into the hands of computer musicians.

Why do I know this? Not because I saw all of these programs in action.  But because a long while back I was lucky enough to be given the 1987 book "The Complete Gudie to MIDI software" by Howard Massey and the staff of PASS (Public Access Synthesizer Studio) in New York. If you are into retro computer MIDI software, definitely search out a copy.

While I'm waiting for a vintage Commodore 64 sequencer (hardware and software) to come my way, I have to say I am quite curious about the more recent MSSIAH MIDI SID hardware/software from  It looks like it could keep me busy while I wait.

Yup. Gonna have to order it.

Right after I'm done with this post.  Which is now.

Yup.  :)

Monday, May 6, 2013

Roland MKB-1000, MKS-80 Super Jupiter, MKS-30 Planet S and MKS-10 Planet P "MIDI to the Max" ad, Keyboard 1984

Roland "MIDI to the Max" two page colour advertisement featuring the MKB-1000 MIDI Keyboard, MKS-80 Super Jupiter synthesizer, MPG-80 Super Jupiter Programmer, MKS-30 Planet S synthesizer and MKS-10 Planet P from page 6 and 7 in the December 1984 issue of Keyboard Magazine.

Five months before this ad began to run in Keyboard, Roland had officially announced their love of MIDI with an extended fold-out promo piece that appeared in the July 1984 issue of Keyboard. That piece unfortunately seemed to have made a one-time-only appearance.

Well, in the meantime, true to their tag-line, the company had definitely been continuing to "make it happen" when it comes to MIDI, and wanted readers of Keyboard to know. This time with a proper two-pager that began appearing in the December 1984 issue, and continuing on in 1985 from January to March, as well as the July issues.

Normally I try to scan the best version of the ad possible, but in this instance I decided to go with this version. Why? To make a point about the bad print job in that December 1984 issue. In all subsequent occurrences, this ad appeared as a centrefold that allows for one continuous 2-page print. So, for example, that long MKB-1000 keyboard that spans the two pages will look like... er... one continuous keyboard. But in that December issue, the ad appeared on pages 6 and 7, so those two pages end up being printed separately, and then only through the binding does it end up sitting next to each other. If the binding of the magazine doesn't line up (exactly what happened here), you end up with that big white line running down the middle. To make matters worse, that white line is emphasized due to that hip black background used in the design.

I'm guessing Roland made the conscious decision to move the ad to the centrefold spot after that first run because of this issue. Just a theory, but it makes sense.

So why is Roland all over MIDI? Well, with MIDI, the keyboard and front panel controls no longer need to sit in the same box as the guts of a synthesizer. Put them in separate boxes and let the consumer pick and choose. Already have a keyboard with MIDI like a Roland MKB-1000? Then just get the guts of your next synthesizer in a box. All with the added benefit of decreased cost to the consumer. And those little stackable 19 inch racks take up much less real estate in a studio.

Although this ad focuses on the MKB-1000 for the most part, it's those 19 inch rack mounts that got my attention. Those were and still are a dream come true for a bedroom computer musician such as myself. All that synthesis power in little boxes, controlled by my Apple IIe and Master Tracks. It was a whole new world.

Those poor racks can hardly be seen in the ad, but luckily readers could at least read up on all the juicy details in one of the longest Spec Sheet promos ever, that appeared in the same December 1984 issue. I can't even type it all in there is so much, so I'll give you the summary:
  • MKB-1000 ($2,195.00) and MKB-300 ($1,295.00) MIDI keyboard controllers feature 128 programs, keyboard split points with separately assignable MIDI channel, and transposition. 
  • MKS-30 Planet S synth module ($1,195.00) features 6 voices, 64 patches, memory cartridge, 32 synth parameters. Can get the external PG200 programmer.
  • MKS-10 Planet P rack electronic piano module ($1,195.00) features 16 voices, eight presets, stereo chorusing, flanging, and tremolo.
  • MKS-80 Super Jupiter synth module ($2,495.00) features 8 voice, 16-VCO, velocity and aftertouch, memory cartridge, 96 programs.
Hey - where's the MPG-80 programmer specs? Price? Booo. I'm feeling a little bajiggity without that info being included. It's just the way my brain is programmed. Its like that spec sheet isn't complete without it. Geeez.

The MKS-80 and MKB-1000 also managed to get a shared Keyboard Report in the February 1985 issue of Keyboard, and Dominic Milano begins the article with a great opening remark on how MIDI has begun to change the music and recording landscape:
"Who would have guessed that something as simple as MIDI could cause so many ripples in the way electronic musical instruments are designed? What was originally intended as nothing more than a system for playing one instrument from another's keyboard has stood the synthesizer world on its ear. We're seeing multi-track sequencers designed to mimic the function of multi-track tape recorders, sequencer programs for personal computers, synthesizers (sans keyboard) in a rack, and a plethora of MIDI-equipped controllers, some keyboard-oriented, some not."
The report also provides that missing piece of info on the MPG-80 programmer for the MKS-80.  The price: $495.00.

Aaaaah - finally. Bajiggity-ness is decreasing.

Now I just have to go back in time and get that price included in the Spec Sheet.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Roland "Enter the world of MIDI" three-page fold-out, Keyboard 1984


Roland "Enter the world of MIDI" three-page fold-out featuring the TR909 drum machine, Jupiter-6, Juno-106, and JX-3P synthesizers, MSQ-700 sequencer, MD-8 MIDI/DCB interface, MPU-101 computer interface, MM-4 MIDI through box, and GR-700 guitar synthesizer, attached between pages 18 and 19 in the July 1984 issue of Keyboard Magazine.

1984 was a good year. Two words - Sixteen Candles.

Another reason is that Roland officially announced it *hearts* MIDI with this promotion fold-out piece.

Really what else is there to say?

Okay - a lot actually.  :)

What a nice surprise to open up the July 1984 issue of Keyboard and find this tucked nicely between pages 18 and 19. Its a pull-out, but stuck so tightly in there that its more of a fold-out. So that's what I called it. Sure, Roland had a few ads before this featuring MIDI gear, but I think this really was Roland's defining moment - proprietary DCB is out and the MIDI standard is definitely in. So long, suckas!

I hope the scan makes sense. Basically, when you flipped to page 18, rather than viewing page 19 on the  opposite page, you would be presented with that first lovely front page with the inviting welcome message "Enter the World of MIDI". Flip the page and you really do enter that strange new world, greeted with  two and a half pages of inner-promo-goodness. Then, if you flipped that over, you could view the back-side page and a half fold-out.

This is Roland announcing to the world that it has embraced MIDI. And indeed it has. Just look at that list of gear Roland has pumped out since MIDI was introduced to the word - TR-909, Juno-106, Jupiter-6, JX-3P, MSQ-700, MD-8, GR-700, MM-4 and MPU-101. And, lets not forget a few walk-on appearances by none other than the grand-daddy of 'em all - the Jupiter-8, but also a Juno-60 and even an Apple II computer (and PC - both using special Roland software).

And if putting all that gear together in one place isn't enough, Roland tied it all together with a gorgeous bow by including an infographic - before the word "infographic" even existed.

Just look at the design. Gorgeous black background with a pre-Photoshop neon glow. It's so soothing. I want to just bathe in the glowing light.

And best of all - Roland includes not one, but two diagrams. I loooooove diagrams. The first includes imagery of each group of instruments, and the second is more of a classic diagram illustrating Roland gear used in a basic set-up, multi-keyboard set-up, guitar set-up and home computer set-up.

To make it easy on us readers, Roland colour-coded everything and included a legend on page three under the heading "Choose your weapon!".
  • MIDI keyboard - blue
  • MIDI guitars - purple
  • MIDI drums - green
  • MIDI computers - orange
  • MIDI keyboard interfaces - red
 Another nice touch.

 Roland - it doesn't get much better than this.