Serious synthesists certainly aren't strangers to the name Buchla. As a synthesiser pioneer, Donald Buchla has persistently come up with some of the more innovative ideas and systems in the world of electronic music.
The latest project to bear Buchla's name seems to have been an ambitious one indeed. The result is the Buchla 400, which Buchla and Associates describe as "a multifunctional electronic musical instrument suited to composition for traditional as well as electronic musical instruments, sound track and theatrical composition, media output, music education and, of course, performance".
Actually, the instrument seems to have really been designed with the composer in mind. One feature that should really help the composer with his chores is a musically sophisticated score editor that functions in real time. Six orchestrally differentiated voices can simultaneously be displayed, auditioned and edited, and a high resolution graphic display uses linear-time notation to visually present musical data. According to Buchla, this method makes possible the presentation of quite a bit of data - much more than could be presented with conventional symbolic notation.
Instrument definitions, dynamics, tempi, registration and tunings are all completely programmable, and an efficient cursor control combines with menu-driven displays to provide efficient interactive editing capabilities. The 400 can also decode, display, and track a SMPTE time code signal, making it easier for composers of film and videomusic to get their work done.
Performers haven't been neglected either, since the instrument boasts a tunable touch-sensitive keyboard, pressure sensitive joysticks, control voltage interconnections, and analogue modifiers.
The Buchla 400 uses three computers to accomplish all this. The first is a host computer, which can reside in or out of the instrument. It takes charge of user communication, data handling and executive control. A second processor is responsible for processing temporal parametric data, and a third processor applies digital pipelined techniques to the generation of sound.
The 400's operation language - called MIDAS - is programmed in musicFORTH, a high-level language which, according to Buchla, is "distinguished by its transportability, operational efficiency and ease of user access". The language incorporates subroutines specifically dedicated to musical functions, making it easier to implement and extend interactive musical languages.
The Buchla 400 is just now being made available. Prices range from $3,000 for the bare bones system to $12,000 for a full-scale development system.
Buchla is not the only innovator with something new this month. Emmett Chapman, noted inventor of the Chapman Stick, has entered the sound modification market with a device called 'Patch of Shades', suitable for use with guitar, bass, keyboards and, of course, the Stick.
What does it do? Well, the device is basically a wah-wah effect that substitutes a pad for the usual pedal. The musician can press his toe on the pad to gradually 'shade' into the bass end of a smooth and noiseless wah. By shifting his weight, the musician can then move through all the wah frequencies.
This pressure pad simultaneously operates a volume output for shading in echo, flange, etc. into a second amplifier or channel. An added bonus is the fact that the player can use the unit's send/return loop to operate his old effects in a new way, shading them with the built-in wah. 'Patch of Shades' carries a retail price of $275.
Another new item for foot-happy musicians is the ECV (Echo-Chorus-Vibrato) from Morley. This device gives the musician instant control over a wide range of delay times, letting him select from a short delay of 15 milliseconds all the way up to 300. With a continual movement of the foot, the player can create a wide variety of sounds, and the unit's repeat and mixture controls offer further possibilities for sonic experimentation.
When the device is put in its 'Chorus Vibrato' mode, the user can choose among rates ranging from eight cycles per second down to the chorus rate of one cycle every 20 seconds, and the entire range is continuously variable by pedal position during play, the intensity or frequency excursion of the Chorus Vibrato effects are controlled by the device's depth control, while the mixture control blends in the desired amount of modulated signal with the direct signal. Monaural and stereo outputs are provided for both Echo and Chorus Vibrato modes. LEDs indicate the functioning mode and rate of Chorus Vibrato. Noise-free performance is assured by the units' state-of-the-art noise reduction circuitry, a compander, three 18dB per octave filters and a regulated power supply.
One of the more innovative companies involved with signal processing is the Massachusetts-based dbx, Inc. And, at a recent meeting of the Audio Engineering Society, the company impressed the participants with the introduction of a functional new compressor/limiter - the Model 160X. Basically, an improved version of dbx's Model 160, the 160X features switchable 'Over Easy' and hard-knee operation regardless of compression ratio selected. It also has an exclusive precision dual-display system with an expanded range for continuous monitoring of gain reduction as well as input or output levels.
The rack-mountable unit's true RMS display system incorporates a 19-LED display, which monitors input or output signal level over a 60 dB range, and a 12-LED display to indicate the amount of gain reduction over a 40 dB range. Other features include both input and output connectors via convenient tip/ring/sleeve phone jacks, as well as a barrier strip connector for economy, reliability and ease of use. The 160X's continuously variable compression ratio provides selection of the precise ratio needed for any situation. An independently accessible detector input allows compression pre-emphasis or deemphasis, anticipated compression and other effects. '
Another new product from dbx is the Model 180 Type I noise reduction system, which provides two channels of encode electronics and two channels of decode electronics. It's intended for use with professional two-track tape machines.
According to Lance Korthals, dbx's director of marketing and sales for professional products, "the new noise reduction system will produce a stereo master tape which fully preserves the dynamic range of live music and is completely free of audible tape hiss as well as distortion due to tape saturation".
The Model 180 is designed for installation between the console of mic mixer and the line level inputs to the tape machine. It's compact and light in weight and can be easily taken into the field on remotes or on location jobs. The separate encode and decode electronics permit decoded monitoring off tap of the signal being tested. Additional features include: active balanced high level inputs; +24 dBm output drive capability with provision for output balancing transformers; more than 40 dB additional dynamic range, and true RMS level detection for perfect encode/decode tracking.
dbx also used the Fall 1981 Audio Engineering Society meeting to launch its new F-900U frame, an unpowered version of the dbx F-900 frame. It will accommodate up to eight active 900 Series signal processing modules, with storage for a single unpowered module. No soldering or special interconnections are necessary. Suggested retail price is $400.
A new monaural reverberation system - the Master Room XL-121 - comes from MICMIX Audio Products, an electronics firm in Texas. According to the company, this new unit eliminates the unwanted sounds that seem to go with most spring-type reverbs - you know, that "boing" that occurs whenever you kick your guitar amp. MICMIX is quick to add, however, that the elimination of these noises is accomplished without internal limiting or any other form of signal processing intended to compensate for reverb deficiencies.
The XL-121 has a preamp gain control that lets the unit accept a low-level musical instrument output such as a guitar, or higher level signals associated with recording and sound reinforcement consoles. The output level control permits further flexibility in interfacing with other signal processing equipment. The front panel output mix control allows blending of the direct and reverberated signals, giving the user a chance to get some really interesting sound shadings. This flexibility is further enhanced by the unit's equalisation section, which includes a low, mid and high control, all with 12 dB of boost and cut. Suggested retail price is $450.
For those in the market for a public address speaker system, the Shure 711 may be worth considering. It's designed with the needs of small to medium-sized performing groups in mind, but it's also suitable for sound reinforcement applications in schools, churches and auditoriums.
Each system consists of the new Shure-designed, 15-inch, die-cast frame woofer, in a front-ported bass reflex cabinet, and a Shure high frequency horn and driver combination. Both woofer and horn are front mounted for easy field servicing. The power handling capacity is 150 watts of continuous programme material. The 711 has an impedance of eight ohms and produces 101 dB SPL at one meter with only a one-watt input.
One of the 711's unusual features is the VARAD variable sound dispersion control. Its operation simply involves adjusting two sliding controls for one of four sound dispersion patterns: 60 or 90 degrees left, 90 degrees right, or 120 degrees. The 60 degree setting is used where narrow, long throw coverage is desirable. The 90 degree settings are for medium range coverage or for odd shaped rooms, and the 120 degree setting is for wide area coverage in short throw applications. The 711's cabinet is constructed of durable, lightweight plywood. It also boasts an acoustically transparent metal grille and convenient built-in carrying handles.
Names and addresses of companies mentioned:
Buchla & Associates, (Contact Details)
Stick Enterprises, Inc., (Contact Details)
Morley, Rosetti (EMI) Ltd, (Contact Details)
dbx, Inc., (Contact Details)
MICMIX Audio Products, (Contact Details)
Shure Brothers Inc., (Contact Details)