Sunday, October 23, 2016

Passport Designs Soundchaser "Bring your computer to your senses..." ad, Keyboard 1981

Passport Designs Soundchaser "Bring your computer to your senses..." 1/4 page black and white advertisement from the bottom left side of page 13 in the August 1981 issue of Keyboard Magazine.

This ad may be small, but its deadly. It represents a key turning point in technology that spelled out the slow beginning of the end of the Fairlight era.This is one of the earliest, if not *the* earliest, Soundchaser ad to appear in Keyboard magazine.  Every new company has to start somewhere and this one started with a 1/4 page black and white ad with some of the smallest text around. I had to take out my reading glasses to get a good look.

If you follow me on Twitter,  you may know that I'm a bit infatuated with older computers and software sequencers. Atari 520/1040 ST and Commodore 64 in particular, and Amiga hardware and software have also been floating my boat a little bit.

When curiosity took over and I decided to take a look back in the magazines and get a better idea of what was happening at the beginning of the home computer-studio revolution, I suddenly found myself deep in pre-MIDI-land. What became interesting to me was the time period when systems that used relatively cheaper home computers started to steal turf from larger systems that used proprietary hardware.

Sure, keyboards that piggybacked on home computers still cost a lot back in 1981 - you did need to buy the home computer as well - but, they were still way under those larger systems that relied on what I presume was custom hardware.

According to Roger Powell's July 1982 Keyboard article "Practical Synthesis - A Quick Tour of Digital Synthesizers, prices for larger custom systems were in the $15,000-50,000 price range. That includes systems like the Fairlight ($27,750), Prism ($49,000), Con Brio ADS 200 ($28,500) and Synclavier II ($13,750).

Now, compare that to home computer -ased systems and you begin to see my point.

This included set ups such as the Casheab Music System based around an S-100 computer ($6,000). That thing came with dual 5" drives, 5-octave keyboard and sequencing software. Already got the computer? No problem - you could get the two-board hardware for $1,095.

Side note: Yeah, I'd never heard of the S-100 computer either. According to the Web site "these computers were the first home computers people used before IBM-PC, Apple etc. computers existed." And about 20 manufacturers made these things by the thousands, including kits. Interesting stuff. 

Probably more familiar that the Casheab system is the Alpha Syntauri that was based around an Apple II home computer. The computer, with disk drives and CRT monitor cost $3,020. And then the keyboard, including interface card and eight-track software would run between $750 - $1495. The system used Mountain Computer's Apple II sound card (I think they ran about $350-400) to give the system a whopping 16-note polyphony.

And then of course, there was the Soundchaser system by Passport Designs - the subject of this ad. If you've been around long enough you might be familiar with Passport Designs. My first Apple IIe MIDI sequencer was Passport Design's Master Tracks Pro.  But one of their earliest products promoted in Keyboard Magazine was Soundchaser.

Like the Alpha Syntauri system, the Soundchaser system used an Apple II computer and according to this ad,included a 4 track sequencer. There was also Note-writing and education software packages available. The ad also gives us pricing - a single 3-voice card went for $1000, and their 6-voice (two cards?) for $1350.  The ad also states they created a Soundchaser package for the mountain computer sound card that I already mentioned above. Nice!

More on these systems in future posts!

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Moog "The finest new Moogs you've ever seen" family ad, Keyboard 1982

Moog "The finest new Moogs you've ever seen" black & white advertisement including Memorymoog, Taurus II and DSC (Digital Sequential Controller) from page 55 in the January 1982 issue of Keyboard Magazine.

Just in the process of filling in a few embarrassing holes in my early 80s Moog ads - and this is a big hole. 

It all started when I woke up the other morning and was reading the Synthesizer Freaks Facebook group. Someone had posted this Moog advertisement and I got excited to add my 2 cents because I recalled that it was actually the first in a pair of ads - the second "reveal" ad appearing in the following February issue. I went to the blog and found the second ad, but oddly, that post didn't reference the first ad. When I went too find this first ad it became apparent that I NEVER POSTED IT!!! What the heck?!?!

Well, fixed that! And glad I did. I enjoy this short series of ads a lot.

First, looking at the both side by side you can see they have that Wizard of Oz thing going on - first ad in black & white - second ad in colour. Like Moog has just dropped their new products onto the Wicked Witch of the West.

Next - the descriptions for the three hidden items make me drool as much now as it probably did when I read the ad the first time. Especially the low-cost pedal synthesizer with DETACHABLE electronics. Yum.

Also, the reference librarian in me likes any advertisement that specifically references other events occurring around the time the ad is published. In this case - Winter NAMM show, Booth #409, February 5-7. 

Well, happy to tie off that loose end!

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Sequential Circuits Inc. Ear-Force enamel pin, approximately 1982

Sequential Circuits Inc. Ear-Force enamel pin from approximately 1982.

Okay - its been a while. And may be a while before I post again. Life is in progress. :)

But when I came across this pin I knew I just had to write a small post about it.

The pin is one of many Ear-Force promotional items that came about from the popularity of a series of ads that were designed by John Mattos, including the following (click on the images to read the corresponding blog posts and view larger version of the ads):


The design of the pin comes directly from the Ear-Force logo found in those ads - or two of them anyways. Of course, they had a much more limited pallet for the pin, so they went for a solid green, gold, and blue within the triangle imagery. I've put the two side by side below.

Although the Ear-Force ads ran mostly in 1981, I've dated the pin at approximately 1982. This is because the promotional items that followed the ads were promoted a bit later - like this one (see right) from the end of 1982. I've included a photo of the belt buckle in this post as well just for kicks. I'm guessing the pin was a promotional item given out at trade shows. Just a hunch.

I've never seen the posters in person, but have seen them lots online, mostly behind old and new photos of Sequential Circuits' founder Dave Smith. He is apparently more of a fan of John Mattos' SCI artwork than even I am.   :)

Monday, April 27, 2015

Aries Music Inc. AR-328 Stereo Reverb and Output module "Make some space for your sounds!" ad, Contemporary Keyboard 1978

Aries Music Inc. AR-328 Stereo Reverb and Output module "Make some space for your sounds" 1/4-page black and white advertisement from page 46 in the March 1978 issue of Contemporary Keyboard.

It's been almost three years since I've blogged about Aries and their ads. Too long.... too long...

As I've mentioned in the past, Aries ads fell into two main categories - general ads about Aries instruments and ads dedicated to the promotion of individual modules. Aries AR-328 reverb module is the second individual module from Aries to be promoted in Contemporary Keyboard magazine. The first module showed up in the magazine four months earlier in November 1977 and interestingly was also an effects module, labeled "a first of its kind" - a voltage-controllable phase/flange module. (see image right --->)

That first module-specific ad didn't really have too much to say, but this second AR-328 reverb module ad is another story - the ad copy, over time, has become historically interesting for a few reasons.

The first is that it directly mentions the designer of the module - Ron Rivera. According to several sources on the Web including former Aries employee Mark Styles in a "tell me more about Aries modulars" thread on Muff Wigglers, Ron "started doing modifications, and then went on to design some modules" for Aries.

Ken Perrin, commenting on an August 2006 MATRIXSYNTH auction post thread for what can only be described as a mutant ARP/Aries modular monster built by Rivera, said that "Ron Rivera worked at Arp and designed many of the later modules for the Aries Synthesizer. Ron's company was called Rivera Music Services (RMS) and in addition to designing the Aries modules Ron designed a series of modifications and enhancements to the Arp 2600 and the mini-Moog". Indeed, a few RMS ads popped up in Keyboard magazine in the early eighties.

So, that's kinda cool.

Another historical reference in the ad is for a company called O. C. Electronics. "2 Cascade spring delays by O. C. Electronics are included -- giving this the cleanest and most realistic reverb we have found anywhere." A quick Google search brought up some great info on the company.

Accu-Bell Sound Inc's Web site includes a highly information "History of Spring Reverberation" page that includes some great information on the formation of O.C. Electronics from the previously Hammond-owned Gibbs Manufacturing in Jansville, Wisconsin in 1971. When Hammond moved their reverb production to another facility [called Accutronics] "employees at Gibbs decided to start their own reverb manufacturing company called O.C. Electronics, giving Accutronics major competition in the reverb market."

According to the site, O.C. Electronics was known by many service technicians because "of the popular sticker attached to each of their units stating: Made by Beautiful Woman in Janesville, Wisconsin."

Sure enough, another quick Google search brings up this slightly uncomfortable label image from an discussion thread:

Apparently there are "beautiful girls" in Milton, Wisconsin too.

Its hard to make out the actual 238 module in the ad photo. So comes to the rescue with some great hi-res photos of theAR-328 module itself, including side views with the circuit board. The site's general Aries page is also very informative.

Interestingly, the O. C. Electronics label on the reverb unit itself  does NOT have the "beautiful girls" sticker.

Maybe someone finally figured that one out.

End note: Effects modules make fun modulars.

You'd think I would have figured that out sooner considering I've had my Moog Modular with its lovely spring reverb module for a few decades or more. But honestly, in the early days I hardly ever hooked the reverb up. I was young... naive... I usually just pulled the audio into my mixer dry and sent the signal off to an effects rack. 

What can I say - I was set in my ways.

But now with my Eurorack modular (27U and growing strong!) I've started appreciating the large number of effects modules out there and how they can fit into the signal and control flow of a patch. The Moog Modular reverb module has just two jacks - input and output. But today's units are so much more controllable and I find there is something satisfying about controlling effects using control voltages.

Time to get back to the modular. 

Monday, April 20, 2015

Roland Synthesizer System 100 Model 102/103/104/109 "Let's you start your own Synthesizer studio" brochure, 1976

Roland Synthesizer System 100 Model 102/103/104/109 "Let's you start your own Synthesizer studio" six page brochure from January 1976.

Sure. Call it hopping on the bandwagon. I don't mind.

I've made it no secret that I love the Roland gear - old and new.  So when Peter Kirn wrote of the rumor of Roland's return to modular with a small post that included the history of Roland's modular systems starting with the System 100 on, I just had to pull this gorgeous brochure from the shelf to share. I think I can say with certainty that no one expected just how deep down the modular hole Roland was going to go. As a Roland AIRA fan, I'm happy. As a modular owner, I'm even more happy. Wallet - not so happy. :)

Back to the brochure....

It has definitely seen better days - but it just adds to the character. I can imagine the original owner flipping through it, dreaming about what it would be like to own a whole synthesizer system in such a compact format. If you want to get a little more intimate with the different parts of the semi-modular System 100, this is still a good reference piece. Interestingly, this doesn't have a lot of information on the basic Model 101 unit itself. This brochure was really created to focus on the other pieces of the "synthesizer studio" - specifically:
  • Expander Model 102
  • Mixer Model 103
  • Sequencer Model 104
  • Monitor Speaker Model 109
Remember - the best way to view the hi-res scans is to right-click and select "show image" or whatever the equivalent in your browser might be. in October 2009 I blogged about Roland's "Build your own synthesizer studio" ad for the System 100 that appeared in Keyboard Magazine in 1977 and mentioned that there was also a write-up that appeared much earlier in the Spec Sheet section of the May/June 1976 issue (yes, there was a time when Keyboard magazine was only published every two months!). Although just a small write-up, it still gives a great overview:

"The System 100 synthesizer is composed of separate component banks: the Model 104 sequencer; the Model 102 expander; the Model 103 mixer; two Model 109 monitor speakers, and the basic Model 101. The basic unit itself includes a VCO, a VCF, an LFO, and an ADSR envelope generator. Other features are a noise generator, a high-pass filter, an audio mixer, and a test oscillator. A 37-note keyboard is standard. The Model 102 expander supplies the performer with a sample/hold circuit, an envelope generator, an LFO, and a VCA. The 104 module is a 2-channel, 12-step analog sequencer (both channels may be linked together for 24-step sequences). List price for the System 100 is $1,950. "

List price $1,950. Not bad at all for everything you got.

Until recently, the only time I had ever played on a System 100 was in a friend's basement a long, long time ago. He had the whole package. And it was a beauty. I remember being fascinated at both the look and the sound.

I say until recently, because just a few months ago I managed to find a System 100 Model 101 unit in my home town. You bet I jumped on the chance. It's in wonderful condition too.And the sound is exactly how I remember it. I've now started the long journey of tracking down the other pieces.

Until then, I can't wait to hook it up to the new Roland modular gear. Yeah... I'm already deep into Eurorack. So you can bet I'm jumping on the Roland modular bandwagon too. :)