Monday, April 28, 2014

Moog Synthesizer 35 modular system six-page brochure, 1974

Moog Synthesizer 35 modular system six-page brochure from 1974.

As a communications guy, I'm always looking for that "hook" to use in a news release or promotion. For example, if you are planning a topical news item on the Internet, the lead-in or hook should no doubt be a story about a kitten (or eight kittens). And I would recommend including a video of those cute kittens if at all possible.

It's that little bit extra that is going to give the news item its legs and hopefully help push journalists and bloggers into being interested on whatever it is you want promoted. That little extra can also help keep the story alive longer than the news by itself may have been able to.

A great real-world example (and why I posted this delicious brochure!) is how Moog Music recently made a huge announcement last Friday at MoogFest - the 50th anniversary of the Moog Modular. This news on its own would have made the rounds of MoogFest and the Internet with some fanfare, but it was their hook that made the story come alive. 

The unveiling of the new Emerson Moog Modular System! Bam! 

From the news release:
"Over the last 3 years Moog Music has set out to research and build a faithful recreation of this highly complex, custom instrument. Using the original documentation as well as circuit board and art files for nearly every original Moog module, Moog Engineers have painstakingly recreated the original Emerson Modular System. The new Emerson Moog Modular System is comprised of handcrafted Moog modules built from the original circuit designs and are true recreations of the originals, utilizing the same hand assembly methods used in the Moog Music factory in Trumansburg, NY in 1969. The modules in the new Emerson Moog Modular System are built just as the originals were, by hand-stuffing and hand-soldering components to circuit boards, and using traditional wiring methods. Even the front panels are photo-etched aluminum (a rare process now), which is the classic and durable, look of vintage Moog modules."
Definitely check out that news release link above - it contains yummy photos of Keith Emerson and the beast of a modular itself. And his original system. Yum! :)

So, some may say that this Emerson Moog *was* the actual news - not the hook. But that news had already come out 24 days before when Moog originally announced the existence of the Keith Emerson Moog on April 1. Yup - April Fool's Day. The actual announcement was titled something like "The Synthesizer Genome Project: Moog Reverse Engineers the World's Most Famous Keyboard". Unfortunately the original link to the announcement that was included in the photo promo and link from Moog's Facebook Timeline no longer works:
(has it been taken down? Or just moved?). 

But as you can see from the comments underneath the Timeline photo, many took it as an April Fool's prank. A mighty good one at that!

The point is, Moog did a wonderful job setting up their April 25 announcement TWENTY FOUR DAYS EARLIER by first announcing the *almost* too-good-to-be-true Keith Emerson Moog on April Fools Day. A set-up that would become a great lead-in or hook to an already fantastic story for many of the online news sources and blog posts.

Now, not every April 25 article referenced the April 1 "pre-announcement". And some sites didn't even originally take it as an April Fools joke.  But as far as I'm concerned, the really good new stories did include the reference to the April Fools Day pre-announcement as a lead-in, and that little bit extra in the lead-in made the story that much more fun to read. For example:
  •  MATRIXSYNTH's lead-in -
    "Remember the April Fools post? Turns out the April Fools joke was that it's actually real."
  • The title and opener for Peter Kirn's article on Create Digital Music -
    "Moog Really Is Recreating Keith Emerson’s Modular, in Biggest Analog Relaunch Ever

    "April Fools’ Day seemed an appropriate time for Moog Music to announce they were recreating Keith Emerson’s legendary, room-sized modular rig.

    I mean – that’s be preposterous. You’d need an unprecedented engineering team working round-the-clock for years to execute such a project. To do it right, you’d have to go back to the original circuit boards and reprint them, find surplus, vintage parts, source new parts that fit the specs, and assemble the entire thing by hand..."
It was the perfect story vector and made the story that much more enjoyable for readers.

Well played Moog. Well played. :) should probably comment on the brochure itself before I end the post. If you read my blog regularly, you will know I'm lucky to have had a Moog Modular come home with me over 20 years ago and has been an integral part of my musical "therapy" over the years. Most recently I blogged about it when I took it to the doctor's office a short while ago, but have also posted a few other things about it, including a patch-sheet that includes Bob Moog's own handwriting. Lucky indeed.

It's the main reason I took so much interest in the announcement of the Emerson Moog and one of the main reasons Moog Modular brochures like this one are such a treat for me to read and share. was almost a year ago that I posted the Moog System 55 six-pager. They are very similar in design inside and out, but one of the first differences you will notice is the accent colour. The System 55 has a purple accent colour while this System 35 has an orangey-gold. Psst: the System 15 uses baby blue - but I'll save more on that one for a future post!  :)

The content on the inside three pages of each brochure are quite similar in style too, with similar headings:
  • The System XX is:
  • The System XX contains:
  • The System XX will:
In particular its the Instrument Complement under the "Will" section of each that rocks my socks the most. It contains a call-out box with a cool little photo of each type of module with a label key underneath. It's what I imagine a LittleBits promo kit would look like if they had gone with Moog instead of Korg. Truly awesome and may just become my Facebook image in the near future.  :)

The outside pages are nothing to sneeze at either. The one page contains sections called "General Specifications" and "Individual Module Features", and the other page is the same great photo of some of Moog's best instruments, along with Bob Moog sporting side burns the size of which would make Wolverine jealous.

The brochure has a print date of 1974, but I also have a reprint from 1976 that looks to be identical. Could the 1974 brochure also be a reprint from an even earlier version? The front of the brochure says "New state-of-the-art 921 series oscillators" - but according to sources on the Web like Synth Museum and Synth-Werks (PDF), those 921s and the System 15/25/55 became available as early as 1972.

If there are earlier System 15/35/55 brochures out there, then I must find them!  :)

Monday, April 21, 2014

Crumar "The Protagonists" family ad, International Musician and Recording World (US edition), 1978

Crumar "The Protagonists" full page colour advertisement including the Organizer-T2, Organizer-T1, Multiman-s, DS1 DIgital Synthesizer and DS2 Digital Synthesizer from page 29 in the February 1978 issue of International Musician and Recording World (US edition).

pro·tag·o·nist - noun
  • the leading character or one of the major characters in a drama, movie, novel, or other fictional text.
  • the main figure or one of the most prominent figures in a real situation.
  • an advocate or champion of a particular cause or idea.
 Well, there ya go - for all you cerebral types.  Good on Crumar not to dumb it down for a musician's magazine. :)

Over the last five and a half years that I've been blogging, I've spent exactly zero seconds talking about Crumar or their keyboards. Ziltch. Zip. Nada.  One hundred per cent of the reason has been because I've known absolutely NOTHING about them. And that's because Crumar synthesizers are very rare around these parts. Before last weekend, I had seen two in my entire life. Both DS2s. Both for only brief moments. And that was back in the early 2000s. Nothing since.

So it is with happy surprise that a DS2 just happened to come home with me last weekend. And, since they are notoriously flaky (according to Vintage Synth Explorer where they call it "a risky proposition") I'm happy to report that everything works perfectly on it. That's a photo of it right over there---->

Once I had one in my possession, I decided that I needed to do a bit of research on this beast and maybe get a little bit of history.

According to all things Wikipedia, Crumar was an Italian company, which explains why I haven't come across many of their synths in my part of the world. All the keyboards in this advertisement were first introduced in 1977 or 1978 and the DS2 was actually their first synthesizer to market. One of its main selling features was that it was one of the first synths to use digitally controlled oscillators, allowing it to stay in tune quite well - and something I noticed right away when I first turned it on and started noodling.

One of the coolest things about the DS2, in my opinion, is the amount of front panel real estate that is given to LFO control. Together it must make up about 40% of the front panel. Having two LFOs, and being able to choose which LFO controls OSC1, OSC2, VCF, VCA and pulse width - or both at the same time! - really adds another dimension to the machine.

The other crazy thing is that the DS2 also contains a basic string machine. And when I say basic - I mean basic. But it can be played at the same time as the rest of the synth, and runs through the VCF and VCA. Plus it has high and low pass filters/eq of its own. And its own LFO settings. Not too shabby.

As far as I can tell, this was one of the earliest ads for the DS2 - not just in International Musician, but in any magazine that I have in my collection. Keyboard didn't have a DS2 ad out until four months later in June 1978.

One of the first things I noticed in the ad is that the detailing of the DS2, and indeed many of the other keyboards in the ad's photo, is green. But, if you take a close look at the photo of my DS2, the detailing is in red. According to the DS2 page on (underneath the photo of a green DS2), "Crumar DS-2 as green version, mornal it is red". So, apparently the red is "normal", what ever that means.

But when did the colour change?

According to Studio Dragon's user review for the DS2 on, the synth was manufactured between 1978 and 1980, and since the green version is the one in the 1978 advertisement, I'm guessing that green detailing came before red.

A Crumar DS2 auction post on MATRIXSYNTH indicates that only about 500 were made, and the serial number on my DS2 is in the 500s, so I'm guessing mine came out later on in the manufacturing run. But I can't find a date anywhere on the outside of my DS-2 - I may try and open it up later and take a look on the inside. A date may help narrow down exactly when the colour made the switch.

Well, I've only had the synth for a couple of days, but one thing I've noticed is that the beast has a nice filter, although there is a very narrow margin between not-self-oscillating and self-oscillating. But when you find that sweet spot, it has a really nice quality to it. With the help of the noise (white and pink), it makes some nice percussive sounds too.  I've already sampled it quite a few times into my Korg ESX and begun incorporating its sound into a few things I've been working on.

Not too shabby for just one long weekend of creativity.  :)

Monday, April 7, 2014

Ensoniq Mirage "It makes $1695 sound like a lot more." ad, Keyboard, 1985

Ensoniq Mirage "It makes $1695 sound like a lot more." full page colour advertisement from page 53 in the July 1985 issue of Keyboard magazine.

Just a quick Monday blog post as a follow-up to last week's UK Mirage advertisement. After posting that ad, I thought it would be neat-o to do a comparison of sorts and see what Ensoniq was doing across the pond in North America. Sure enough there was an ad running in Keyboard the exact same month - July. what a difference can be found!

While Ensoniq was pushing a very minimalistic ad in Electronics and Music Maker (EMM), the company went in the complete opposite direction in Keyboard. In fact, they went full-on Chatty-Cathy.

Now, granted, this wasn't Ensoniq's first advertisement in Keyboard - this was actually their second ad in Keyboard that started appearing around May 1985.  There was the chance that the company introduced the Mirage to North America with equal minimalism in their earlier ad, but when I went back and checked, that was clearly not the case and that first ad was even more detailed than this one. Will post that one in the near future.

Let's face it, the Mirage's most unique, defining feature when it was introduced was price, and Ensoniq came out swinging against one of its biggest competitors without actually naming names. But the field was still so small at the time that everyone must have known exactly who they were talking about - the E-mu Emulator. Or at least that's who I think they were referring to. The ad compares the Mirage to a "$10,000" sampler, but the Emulator was actually around $8,000 for the regular model, and $10,000 for the "plus" with extra memory (according to Wikipedia).

What about the Fairlight, you ask? Well, it's probably not surprising that Ensoniq made no comparison to the Fairlight in this ad - they were biggest name in sampling with the biggest price tag. The Fairlight was *too* big and expensive and Ensoniq must have known their core market for the Mirage wasn't going to give the Fairlight a second thought (it was everyone's first thought  :). Point is, there was no need for Ensoniq to go there. At all.

On the other end of the cost spectrum was the Akai S-612. Coincidentally, the first Akai advertisement appeared during the spring/summer of 1985 in Keyboard as well - including the same issue as this Ensoniq ad. And it too included a price tag - $995.00. 

Side note: Also coincidentally, Kate Bush appeared on the cover of the July 1985 issue of Keyboard sitting next to a Fairlight in what can only be described as a Cosby sweater. To be clear - Kate is in the sweater... the Fairlight isn't. Back to the ad...

Anyways, after that initial swipe at the Emulator, the ad-copy then strategically breaks down the other features of the Mirage by playing to both the left and right half of readers' brains.

First it touches on the creative side of the instrument, listing off some key features - polyphonic, velocity-sensitive keyboard, and 77 parameters of sweet-ass editing goodness that includes filters, envelopes and modulation. And to top it off - a built in sequencer. Yum.

The the techie side takes over - because back in the 80s, if you were talking about samplers and sampling, it was hard NOT to bring technology into the conversation. In Ensoniq's case, floppy diskette storage, MIDI, and their customized "Q-Chip".

But, as I said near the beginning of this ad - it was the price that really differentiated the Mirage from other samplers at the time. In this case, the cost for a Mirage in the US in 1985 was $1695.

Now, compare that to the 1695 Pounds that the Mirage cost in the UK in 1985. According to one foreign exchange Web site, that US dollar was worth 1.3807 pounds in July 1985. So, if I've done my calculations correctly, UK buyers were paying approximately $2,340 US dollars for the Mirage in 1985.

Interesting stuff.

Time to go out and enjoy the nice weather! 


Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Ensoniq Mirage "This is a Mirage. This is not." ad, Electronics & Music Makers, 1985

Ensoniq Mirage "This is a Mirage. This is not." page and a half black and white advertisement from page 66 and 67 in the July 1985 issue of Electronics & Music Makers magazine.

No.  It's not an April Fools post. I'm just late. Was supposed to post yesterday and ended up having to work and the post never got finished.

Then, tonight when I got home (late... again...), I got on my stationary bike to blow off some stress from the day but found it had a flat tire. WTF?!?! How does that happen? But it was flat.

And then I remembered the post. So, I pulled up an Ultravox concert on YouTube, Chromecasted it to my TV, and decided to finish the post.

And so here it is...


While doing some background research on the Ensoniq Mirage for a different project, I was reading through the product review for this cute little sampler in the July 1985 issue of E&MM. But as I was flipping through the magazine to find the review, I was startled when this Mirage advertisement popped up further on in the magazine. I don't recall ever coming across it.

It's startling for a few reasons.

First - it's black and white. At a time when most of the ads appearing in E&MM were taking advantage of the magazine's glossy pages through the use of saturated bright colours and classic 80's designs, Ensoniq darted in the other direction with a very stark, black and white advertisement.  Ballsy? Or did they just not have the cash for a colour ad? Who cares... it stands out.

Second - Ensoniq took a page (knowingly or unknowingly) out of Moog's 1979 marketing playbook and kept the ad concept simple. Very very simple. If you don't recall those particular Moog advertisements, here's a refresher (click to view blog posts and larger versions of the ads):

Both of those Moog ads, and this Mirage advertisement that came six years later, don't even sport a logo.

But, what the Moog keyboard itself has that the Mirage doesn't is a distinctive design. Most readers of this magazine would immediately recognize a Minimoog. But, remove the logo from an Mirage keyboard and it looks a lot like the other digital keyboards that were around at the time.

Another company that got away with this type of advertisement is E-mu with its Emulator. It too, became a classic in my books (again... click on the link to view the blog post and a larger version of the ad):

The only reference to the name of the instrument in this E-mu advertisement is glued to the keyboard itself. But the Emulator was distinctive like the Minimoog, so they can get away with it. As quickly as the Ensoniq Mirage gained fame, it was too generic not to point out what the instrument actually was.

Aside: Ultravox concert from YouTube. The Thin Wall just started. Amazing. I had to stop writing and dance a little - no joke. Look it up - Ultravox Concert 2010 - Return to Eden Full Show. Okay - back to the blog post...

Third - although not really "startling", is the theme. Ensoniq used a nice little play on words to get across the best thing the "Mirage" had going for it - the price. But the "optical phenomenon" theme didn't end after the price tag in the bottom half of the ad. If you read the fine print, you get to "Rush to your nearest oasis before it's gone!" and then the ad directs the reader to the previous facing page.

There on that facing page, the reader will find another 1/2-page long list of dealers for the sampling keyboard. E&MM managed to sell the 1-1/2 page advertisement spot a fair bit, and it was very effective.

And that brings up to the forth thing - and definitely back into the range of "startling". Even on this page, the company logo is only in small print at the bottom of the column. This ad is all about the synth, not the company. Not sure why this is, but my best guess is that the distributor or dealers were paying for this ad. And it was the Mirage that was the darling of the show. Not Ensoniq. But that's just me thinking out load.

Anyways, if you ever get a chance to read that Mirage review from the same mag, don't pass it up. The review gives an amazing account not just of the instrument itself, but the history of sampling up to this point as well as Mirage's debut at the February 1984 Frankfurt music fair.
"One factor contributing to this chaos [of the music fair] was the presence of two stunning German girls giving out glossy brochures, but the main reason was superficially rather more mundane. Three extremely dull-looking electronic keyboards, similar in size to a DX-7 and obviously in a just-finished production state, wouldn't ordinarily command such universal attention.

But these instruments were different. Even withe the help(?) of an unflattering speaker system struggling to make its presence felt in the face of strong competition from some triffid-like potted plants, the keyboards sounded good. Lots of strings, brass and piano sounds being reproduced with uncanny accuracy by electronics were not, of course, a novelty. But when the girls told us the keyboard would be selling for under 2000 pounds, our mood changed from one of mild pleasure to one of uninhibited astonishment."
The review also explains how six months later, the orders were coming in so fast to America, that Ensoniq set up production in Italy where Mirages were made under license.

That's enough blogging for now. Time to get back to that Ultravox concert.