Wednesday, June 2, 2021

Novation Super Bass Station brochure, 1997


Novation Super Bass Station four page colour brochure from 1997.

Sure, the BassStation was (is) cool. So what could be cooler? The SUPER Bass Station.

Want to know what is not cool though. For the follow-up, Novation decided to make BassStation two words. Super. Bass. Station. 

Grrrr....

Okay - with that out of the way. The first thing I need to point out is that I love Novation's consistency (except for that whole name thing). This looks amazingly similar to the Drum Station brochure I posted previously. Same design inside and out. 

Just look... two peas in a pod.

Front page: Same "floating gear on black reflective texture" look to it. 

But, unlike the Drum Station, this Super Bass Station brochure has not one, but TWO awards. The Future Music Platinum Award and The Mix Editor's Choice Award. Both from 1997, which is how I dated the brochure. 

The inside pages are also follow the exact same format too. Large image. Diagram and text. But I find the blue theme in this SBS brochure much more appealing. 

Even the back page has the specs in the same type of box as the Drum Station brochure. 

So, what made the Super Bass Station... so... er... super? 

Well, according to Wikipedia... 
"Super BassStation (1997) added an arpeggiator, noise source, ring modulator, an additional LFO bringing the complement to two, a sub-oscillator (an octave below Oscillator 1), analogue chorus and distortion effects, keyboard filter tracking, stereo outputs and panning, enhanced memory, analogue trigger signal output and more to the original design."
First, even Wikipedia wants to make BassStation one word. You are wise, Wiki... you are wise. 

Second... 

"and more...?" 

Okay, make me do some work. 

Looking at the specs from both the BassStation (one word) and Super Bass Station (three words), one other thing jumps out at me almost immediately...  

The envelope times have been increased quite a bit!

BassStation (one word)
Attack time: 1 ms to 5 sec
Decay Time: 3 ms to 10 secs
Release Time: 3 ms to 10 secs.

Super Bass Station (three words): 
Attack time: 500 us to 20 secs
Decay time: 1 ms - 20 secs
Release 1 ms - 20 secs. 

Nice.

There is one other thing that stood out - the Super Bass Station (three words) lost their CV and Gate inputs. There are only outputs now! But, I guess to make up for it, Novation added that Clock Out to sync that lovely new arpeggiator they added in. Fair trade I guess.  

Interesting comment about the arpeggiator. Novation specifically markets it inside the brochure as: 
"over 100 Arpeggiator patterns  - TB-303 types with slides through to 9/8 and shuffle." 
Okay, I get why they want to keep promoting this as a TB-303 sounding device. But really? 

REALLY?

:)

Thursday, May 13, 2021

Novation Drum Station brochure, 1996



Novation Drum Station four page colour brochure from approximately 1996.

So, it's looking like May could become Novation month. Well, the last half of May any way. I've been drilling down into their brochures and I'm really liking what I'm seeing. But first, a little house-keeping....

I haven't posted anything for almost a month a half. And that last post was my April Fools number - its been about two months since my last real post about the BassStation (one word).  I know I've had droughts before but this time I actually have a reason. I got a job. No really... a REAL job. Digital marketing of course. But this time with a dash of business development involved too.  Anywhooos, point being that time is becoming a little more limiting. Let's hope I can keep this going. Probably means keeping 'em short and sweet. 

Now back to this lovely brochure. 

After Novation's mind-blowing launch of the BassStation (one word) around 1993, it was hard to think they could follow it up with something that, personally, I found even more mind-blowing. Mind-melting even. That product - the Drum Station (two words). 

Novation called their sound creation system A.S.M. - short for Analogue Sound Modelling, and state in the brochure that the technology "re-created with stunning realism the original character and flexibility of the TR-808 and TR-909 drum sounds". Weirdly, although the acronym A.S.M. is peppered about the first half of the brochure, it isn't until halfway down the second page that we actually learn what it stands for. 

Instead of spending time on needless definitions, Novation decided to go straight to the jugular of P.C.M.-based systems on page one, explaining just how crappy and un-variable sampled sounds are. 

"Yesterday's analogue drum machines, while not as authentic sounding as today's digitally-sampled equivalents, have the character and warmth which PCM-based systems just can't seem to replace. What's more, a sampled version of an analogue drum sound loses all the variability of the original as the sound is "frozen" in just one of the myriad combinations of the editable parameters which the original machines offered." 

Bam! That's how you hit 'em where it hurts. 

The intro goes on to explain that this is why there has been a resurgence of analogue drum sounds (true) and that the TR-808 and TR-909 are the much sought after "dream machines" (also true). 

And with full control over parameters, these sounds could be as varied as the originals. 

So how did it sound...? Unlike the BassStation (one word), which I'm already on record saying it doesn't sound much like a TB-303, this thing was a dream machine. Sure, no sequencer - it had to be controlled through MIDI (and most likely a computer sequencer). But who cares. It cost a lot less than a TR-808 and TR-808 - even at 1995 prices. 

So yeah. Love it. 

The brochure itself is lovely too. A gorgeous front page that has the Drum Station (two words) floating over top a black reflective texture of some sort. Very reminiscent of Roland textures from their "We design the future" period of the 80s. Inside we have a really large photo spread of the front face, a cool block diagram and lots of juicy info. Back page - the specs in a black font in a large light yellow box with rounded corners. 

I mention the colour and shape of that box because I have an older version of this brochure that is slightly different. On the back page that box is square and black, with a white font. Exact same info in the exact same order. Just a different colour theme.

And that's not the only difference. This version of the brochure has that cool "Future Music Platinum Award" logo and blurb on the front page with a July 1996 date. The other version of the brochure doesn't have that award info, suggesting it probably came out earlier - maybe even 1995 when the machine was first released. 

If you can find one of these (the machine, not the brochure) for a decent price. Definitely worth picking up. Great sounds. Rack mountable. Lots of tweaking. 

Yum!

Thursday, April 1, 2021

MMC-202 "Understanding Technology Series" advertisement, Sequencers! Sequencers! Sequencers! Magazine 1983


MMC-202 "Understanding Technology Series" full page colour advertisement from page 263 of the 1983 Third Quarter issue of Sequencers! Sequencers! Sequencers! magazine.

Okay - what's not to love? The much loved MC-202 upgraded to MIDI?  

It was hardly a secret that just before the launch of MIDI, Roland was already nearing production of their MPU-401 Midi Processing Unit interface and breakout box for many brands of personal computers including Apple, Commodore, IBM/PC and AT... even the MSX and Sharp X1. But Roland's accompanying family of MSQ series hardware sequencers were still months away from production and they needed something out there fast. 

I can imagine the board meeting... 

Executive one: "We got all these MC-202 spare parts lying around!"

Executive two: "Remove the synth to make room to retrofit in some MPU-401 guts!"

Executive three: "Slap an extra "M" on to the name". 

Well... job well done, dammit!

Design-wise, this MCC-202 advertisement follows along the evolutionary path of many of Roland's other "Understanding Technology Series" advertisements, appearing shortly after the TR-808 and TB-303/TS-404 ads from the same time period. 

   

Sadly, this MMC ad was the last in the series to appear in print - a fitting end and big F-U to CV/Gate and a big hello to MIDI. 

Sure, the MSQ series, and in particular the MSQ-700 is always getting the spotlight when it comes to early Roland hardware MIDI sequencers, so not to many people choose to remember that when Roland founder Ikutaro Kakehashi and Sequential bossman Dave Smith unveiled the MIDI standard in 1983, it was Kakehashi who whipped out the new MMC-202 MIDI sequencer from his backpack the following day to a boothful of surprised music journalists and musicians. Walking over to the Sequential booth with MMC in hand, he connected it to the Sequential Circuits Prophet-600 and Roland Jupiter 6 that had just been connected and showed what MIDI could do. 

Kakehashi was soon touring with the MMC-202 where ever he was invited, demonstrating the little sequencer along with some of Japan's most notorious DJs.  It was no surprise that these demos led to over two years worth of huge sales  throughout Belgium as well as the Long and McQuade in Regina, Saskatchewan.

Cute little ergonomic buttons. Easy to program. What's not to love. <3

Friday, March 19, 2021

Novation BassStation "Analogue for the 90s" brochure, 1994

 


 

  


Novation BassStation "Analogue for the 90s" six page full colour brochure from 1994.

So... I decided to just randomly pull out a brochure. When I reached my hand in, all I knew was that I was in the "Kawai" - "Oberheim" section of the shelves, but that was it. 

The result? 

Novation BassStation! 

Not Bass Station. Not Bassstation. 

BassStation. 

Now, before I get into a bit of history, I thought I'd explain my scan placements above. This is one of those (technically termed) crazy-fold brochures. So, the top scan is the front page. When you open up that front page to the right, you see the two pages I've put up next. Then, what happens is you flip that second page out to the right (again), revealing two more inside pages - so I've got the second page again, but this time it's shown with pages 4 and 5 as it would if laid out in front of you. And finally the back page.

Get it? Good. 

I remember when this sweet machine came on the scene in 1993 - is was around the time that "Big Synth" was starting to dig the vintage stylez again. For example, in 1991 Roland rolled out the JD-800 with its distinctly analog-style interface. Used analog synth prices were also starting to rise (we complained back then!). 

And all of a sudden... Boom. Novation, outta what seemed like nowhere, pulls the covers off their BassStation. 

To hear Novation tell the story...

"When creating Bass Station, synthesiser developer Chris Huggett took the outer shell of MM10 and added the same Filter and VCA as his now legendary Wasp synthesiser to develop an instrument with it’s own unique sound and instant pedigree."

Nice. Wasp guts are cool. 

But what's not so nice? Novation's own use of  the two-word "Bass Station" in that online article ON THEIR OWN SITE. Wussup with that? I want consistency, dammit!

Anywho - it wasn't the Wasp guts that me and so many others were drooling over... it was the idea that this thing could sound like a 303!

More from the article 

"It was particularly celebrated for its ability to mimic the Roland TB303: a synthesiser that played a crucial role in the development of contemporary electronic dance music and helped define house music as we know it today." 

And those 303s were really starting to rise in price. An analogue MIDI synth that could sound like a 303 brought stars to my eyes.

But did it really sound like a 303? 

REALLY?

Look, I have two TB-303s, and a wack of clones. And when people ask me about my views on the clones I'm usually pretty generous with my compliments. "They are close enough" sums up most of my remarks.  

So... the BassStation? 

Close enough.  ;)

Wednesday, March 3, 2021

Roland "Roland Rhythm Machines & Sequencers Vol. 1" catalog, 1985


 

 

 

Roland "Roland Rhythm Machines & Sequencers Vol. 1" eight page full colour catalog from March 1985.

Happy 303 day! The most happiest of happiest days! 

I'm gonna try and get a little 303 video ditty created before March 3 (I did - and posted!), but figured I'd scan something a little bigger than the normal one page advert or four page brochure and yap a little bit less about it. 

So here we have Volume 1 of the "Roland Rhythm Machines & Sequencers" catalog, containing not just the lovely TB-303, but also the TR-707, TR-909, TR-606, CR-8000 & CR-5000, SBX-80, MSQ-100 & MSQ-700, and JSQ-60. Say all that in one breath. 

One of the most interesting things about this brochure is the date - 1985. Roland was well on their way pushing the new MIDI standard, but they still had a few of their DCB and DIN devices on display.

But even more interesting is the inclusion of the TB-303. Most online resources would tell you that 303 production stopped, and the rest of the stock was sold off cheaply in 1984... so to see it pop up in a 1985 brochure makes me more than a little happy. Someone in a 1985 boardroom was saying "This MIDI thing is really taking off... but... just... in... case... we still have a few more of those 303s kicking around out there, let's put it in a catalog one more time. 

Enough yapping. Back to 303'ing. :)

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

ARP "WonderArp" ad, Down Beat Magazine 1973

 

ARP "WonderArp" half-page black and white advertisement from page 25 in the June 21, 1973 issue of Down Beat Magazine.

To date, I've posted three of the many many ARP ads that were popping up in Downbeat magazine during the 1970s. Each one very unique, but yet they all go together like peas in a pod.

These include a '74 Jimmy Page as well as '75 Carpenters and Pete Townshend ads. Aren't they gorgeous?



Now here's a forth, much earlier 1973 ad featuring Stevie Wonder and the ARP 2600. It's much simpler in design and although it still has the 'call to action' mail-in portion, its not that distinctive circular design with the ARP logo bullseye we see in later ads. 

More interesting that the design is what's available in those mail-in sections. In the WonderARP ad we get checkboxes for:

  • send me everything you've got on all the ARP synthesizers, including free demo record
  • $6.00 for the 2600 manual
  • $1.00 for Odyssey manual
  • $9.95 (regularly $14.95) for a 45-minute cassette course on playing the Odyssey live
In the Carpenters and Jimmy Page ads, we get three choices
  • $9.95 cassette (as above)
  • free demo record
  • free full colour catalog. 
And finally, in the Pete Townshend ad we still get three choices, but they include a new item!
  • 213 page "learning music with synthesizers" for $7.50 plus 50 cents postage and handling
  • $3.00  "Who's ARP" silkscreened poster
  • free ARP demo record and catalog
From a collector's point of view, this is a treasure trove of information on what's floating around out there - and I'm always on the look out (for a half-decent price).

Demo records and manuals I got... but those other items... woooooo-weeee! I want 'em all.

First, there's that cassette on learning to play the Odyssey live. Never seen it in real life... but someone's gone to the trouble of taking what I believe is the cassette tape created by Roger Powell and published by ARP in 1973 and added pics from an ARP booklet to create a video. They've plopped it up on Vimeo - you can click on what I believe is the cassette cover below to hear the cassette.



The second item of interest is that "Who's ARP" poster. I've only seen one or two pop up in online auctions, like this photo I found online. 


The third document that catches my interest and I've never been able to get my hands on is that 213-page "Learning music with synthesizers" book. And even if I had it in my collection - fat chance of me scanning it. I can't sit still long enough to scan 213 pages! Go talk to mu:zines... patience of a saint, that one... (shout out!)

Luckily for all of you, if you had done a quick search online chances are you would have found a scanned copy like I did over at thesnowfields.com (PDF). Not the best quality, but a fun read if you are into that sort of thing. :)

Here's an image of the front cover of the second edition from 1974. 


Written by David Friend, Alan R. Pearlman and Thomas D. Piggott, the book is based on programming the ARP Odyssey but, as said in the preface by Mr. Friend, "the theory and techniques can generally be applied to any synthesizer". And he's not wrong. Filled with tons of diagrams and drawings, the book is broken up into three parts - Theory, Operation and Applications. Like I said... a good read. 

Now that I've got those out of my system... back to scanning...

And I've scanned one page. That's enough for today.

Friday, February 12, 2021

ARP / Mu-tron price lists, 1980



ARP / Mu-tron price lists from January 1, 1980.

Given that I'm a HUGE fan of price lists, you'd think that I would have pushed this out the door a lot sooner, but I just never got around to it.  Even more surprising, I'm not gonna focus on the prices at all*.

* I reserve the right to change my mind

Instead, when I looked back at these scans I became more curious to the relationship between Musitronics and ARP, and quickly found that the history isn't remotely close to being as bright and rosy as I had wanted it to be. 

TO summarize... according to Wikipedia, Mu-tron, short for Musitronics, was a musical effects company founded by Mike Beigel and Aaron Newman in 1972. Beigel was an engineer who had been working on a synth project at Guild Guitar Company when the president of the company was killed in an accident. The new president wasn't as interesting in synths (what the heck?!?!) so Beigel and another former engineer new Newman from GGC, pulled the envelope filter outta that synth and called it the Mu-Tron III. 

By 1979 Musitronics had 35 employees and was churning out a number of effects units out of a retrofitted chicken coop. Eventually, they decided to sell to ARP Instruments on a royalty basis, but unfortunately ARP folded in 1980, before they could collect any money. 

Okay, I summarized a lot. 

But even if my severely summarized ditty isn't bumming you out enough already, Musitronics tried to keep going as Gizmo Incorporated, but it ended when Aaron Newman suffered a heart attack.

FACK.

I hate everything about this story. But the connect between these two companies is important history, the details of which we don't hear much about. So, here are two scans to help keep those companies connected just a little bit longer.

Okay - let's end this on a happy note - LOOK AT THOSE ARP SYNTHS.

There - much better. 

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Roland "We design the future" MC-202 Microcomposer brochure, 1983











Roland "We design the future" MC-202 Microcomposer 8-page colour brochure from 1983.

Happy 2/02 day! And I got a doozy for ya. Behold the magnificent MC-202 "We design the future" brochure.

Over the last couple of weeks, we've heard a lot of about hedging. In particular, GameStop's share price skyrocketing, messing with hedge funds that poured huge amounts of cheddar into shorting Gamestop's stock. And then those hedge funds having to hedge those shorts by buying stock at an ever increasing price, making the stock go even higher. Or, at least that's how I understood it. Don't @ me if I'm wrong.

Point is... Hedge. And I'm thinking this MC-202 brochure is kinda symbolic of Roland's hedge against MIDI. I'm not saying Roland was against MIDI - NOT AT ALL! They were definitely on the forefront of the technology. I just think, like any good company would and should, they were hedging their bets. 

More on that in a bit. But first, for some background info (and because its simply amazing!), we need to flip through the brochure.

Like most of the "We design the future" brochures, we get that classic front page - a large red title, large artistic image, that lovely logo top left. Flip to page 2 and 3, and we continue Roland's classic brochure format with a large image of the featured piece of gear and some great marketing info. Yum!

But then something weird happens. We turn the page to what should be the back of the brochure.

WHAT THE? 

More info? That's right - no back page here. Instead we get two more pages on how to use the MC-202 specifically. So awesome. Lot's of diagrams. Lot's of info. Read through that an you are pretty much an expert on programming the MC-202. 

*throws manual in garbage* Thank you very much. 

Okay...  NOW let's flip the page and take a look at what's on that back page...

SHUT THE FRONT DOOR! EVEN MORE INFO!

First a page titled "Play Bach" that puts those programming chops we just memorized on the previous two pages to work to actually churn out some Bach on the MC-202. No kidding.   And across the street we get a page devoted to the "Expandability of the MC-202" which includes a Who's Who list of kick-butt Roland products while describing what's going on on the back panel of the 202.  

Wicked. 

Then. FINALLY. We turn the page and get the classic brochure back page that Roland is known for. Info on Roland's TB-303, TR-606 and SH-101. 

Interestingly, all these devices on that page have one thing in common (besides being Roland gear):  

No MIDI. 

MIDI was just around the corner and by 1983 Roland, who was a big developer of MIDI technology, had already started on the design of Roland's first MIDI interface - the MPU-401. But what if MIDI didn't take off? What if it was a dud? 

I believe Roland spent significantly more resources, print ink and page real estate on this MC-202 brochure to hedge that MIDI bet. I realize, in the grand scheme of things, the cost of this brochure would pale in comparison to the cost of the development of that MPU-401 interface. It's really more of a symbolic hedge after spending significantly more money on developing Roland's next gen non-MIDI gear - the TB-303, TR-606 and SH-101. 

Yeah, sure, I have no data to back any of this up. It's just a hunch. 

But I did just hedge my comment by saying I have no data to back any of this up. :)


Aaaaah. Hedging.

Thursday, January 28, 2021

Roland MKS-50 Polyphonic Synthesizer Module "The newest Juno synthesizer..." brochure, 1987





Roland MKS-50 Polyphonic Synthesizer Module  "The newest Juno synthesizer..." four page colour brochure from 1987.

Oh man - first post of 2021 - and what a way to start! The MKS-50!

Like the Alpha Juno 1/2 brochure that came out the previous year, and that I blogged about back in September 2019, this little feller follows Roland's classic (and consistent) "We design the future"... eeeer... design. My favourite part being a lovely front page that includes a large title and creatively placed featured piece of gear.

In this case the MKS-50 is floating above what looks to be silvery sheets of paper of some sort. This ties back nicely with the photograph used on that Alpha Juno brochure where the two synths are sitting on top of a similar type of paper.  

Okay - let's talk about the elephant in the room. That huge burn mark that starts on the front page, and actually makes it's way to the second and third page as well. It was sent to me this way. Honest. I don't even smoke. Now, usually I would do a little photoshop magic to remove these types of blemishes, but in this case I kept it in. Sure, that's partly laziness on my part, but also because its indicative of how many brochures are sent to me in this type of condition and, well, I kinda cool in its own way. This brochure has seen some dark times. It encapsulates 2020.  Poor thing. 

Thinking back, I'm pretty sure the MKS-50 was my first Roland module. I had a a few Roland keyboard synths including an Alpha Juno 2 at the time, but as space started getting slim, I began to actively hunt down rack version of synths that I already had and then would dump the keyboard version when I found it's rack equivalent. And it was when I stumbled across what eventually became my MKS-50 that I first came in contact with another most incredible piece of gear - the PG-300 Programmer (it's in the brochure, too!). 

I cannot stress enough how important Roland programmers were to me and many of my friends. You gotta understand that many synths from this time period replaced the visual feedback that came with one-control per function operation for some type of small display - the DX-7, Sequential Six-Trak, Korg DW synths, Kawai K's... the list goes on.  The Alpha at least had the giant alpha wheel to help quickly dial in the specific parameter you were looking for, but it was still annoying as heck.   

Having that PG-300 gave me the immediate visual feedback I'd been missing with the Alpha Juno - and I was hooked! And it's built like the MKS-50 - like a tank! I started tracking down other programmers for my other synths, managing to grab the PG-800 for my MKS-70 as well as the PG-1000 for my D-550 before the secret was out of the bag and prices of the programmers started to skyrocket. Never managed to grab an MPG-80 programmer for my MKS-80 and now that prices are hovering around the $2000 mark, chances are slim I'm ever gonna get one. 

I don't even think there are any hardware alternatives. I've read that the Virus TI can be programmed to pump out the right sysex to program an MKS-80, but like I've already stated above... I'm lazy. 

And don't even start on software editors. Ugh.