It’s been fifty glorious years in the making, and the mastermind of Buchla & Associates, Don Buchla, is still hard at work. Hailing from Southern California, Donald Buchla released his first modular synthesizer in 1963, an invention of “multiple discovery” along with New York-based pioneer of synthetic noisemakers Robert Moog, who released his version of the synthesizer earlier that year on the opposite side of the United States. For fifty years now, Buchla has been hard at work releasing some of the most beautiful and technologically astounding synthesizers ever created. Recently, Amy was lucky enough to travel north to Vancouver, British Columbia for the 13th Annual New Forms Festival, and feast her eyes on some of Don Buchla’s masterful creations.
Berkley, California-based Buchla & Associates (now Buchla Electronic Musical Instruments) formed in 1963 with the help of commissioned work from composers Morton Subotnick and Ramon Sender, both of the San Francisco Tape Music Center, and a $500 grant from the Rockefeller Foundation. It was this particular grant that launched the first Buchla modular synthesizer in 1963, the Series 100 (as seen below on the left). The voltage-controlled system Buchla Modular 100, which he began selling in 1966, was sold to CBS in 1969 and dropped soon thereafter after less than ideal profits. In 1970 the Buchla 200 series Electric Music Box was released (as seen on the right) and was manufactured until 1985.
The 1970’s brought about a new wave of experimentation and technology, with the invention of computer controlled systems and digital designs. Always ahead of his time, Buchla created the Buchla Series 500 in 1971 (seen below), successfully configuring the first digitally controlled analog synthesizer.
In 1972 the revolutionary Music Easel became available to the public. The Music Easel was a compact synthesizer that was unique in the sense that it engaged complex oscillators using frequency modulation, amplitude modulation, and dynamic waveshaping to produce other forms of timbre modulation (gradual changes in tone color) and create a one-of-a-kind “Buchla” sound.
Buchla’s cutting edge creations experimented with various control interfaces, such as touch-sensitive plates, as seen below.
When the 90s rolled around, Buchla began designing alternative MIDI controllers, such as the now-famous Thunder, Lightning, and Marimba Lumina.
Buchla’s influence and lifelong contribution to the field of music has been profound and completely underrated. The entire genre of electronic music owes Donald Buchla a great debt, but it goes even deeper and wider than that. The technological advancements made by Buchla & Associates in their 50 year run is unparallelled in so many ways, and no one did it with as much style and grace as Don Buchla.