What came before the Fairlight?

All the way back in 1972, Tony Furse managed to get funding to build a polyphonic digital/analog synth. That was the Qasar.

He built precisely two prototypes–the finished machine would have been far too costly for the era, so no investors came forward. Tony persisted, though, and developed it into a primitive sampling machine with dual 6800 microprocessors (brand-new on the market) in 1978. That machine, the Qasar M8, eventually was commercialized as the Fairlight CMI. (More history here.)

The Canadian Synth maker we should all know…

May I introduce, Hugh LeCaine.

Hugh LeCaine at the Electronic Sackbut
Hugh LeCaine at the Electronic Sackbut

First, watch this awesome video on the legendary Electronic Sackbut :

Electronic Sackbut Video

(sorry don’t know how to embed video here…)

As I troll around for Hammond Solavoxes and Novachords for my own projects, I must state here that THE ELECTRONIC SACKBUT WAS THE FIRST VOLTAGE CONTROLLED SYNTHESIZER, not some univox organ a dude is selling on ebay, despite what the ebay page claims. Although the novachord, clavioline, ondioline, trautonium, are all beautiful, LeCaine made a synthesizer with voltage control of things like filters, VCAs and pitch before 1950!!!

This technical touch of voltage control allowed the integration of all sorts of nuanced control of the instrument without the need to discretely switch components in the circuit or contrive complicated mechanical variable capacitors and inductors (as used on some other instruments of the time ie, martenot’s string).

Gotta love the look, too.

Visit http://www.hughlecaine.com/en/ to see the many more interesting and trippy sound machines invented by this nuclear physicist.

Like the “Spectrogram”, which often controlled the “Oscillator Bank”. Here’s a picture of a spectrogram tape that LeCaine used to synthesize bird chirps:

Bird Chirp to be read by LeCaine "Spectrogram" and played by "Oscillator Bank"

And, yes, this was all done with tubes – what would you use in 1945?

a few assorted obscurities

First, Russian DIYer Dmitry Morozov, better known as vtol, has a website full of his colorful instruments. Nice panel art! He apparently makes limited issues of some of them for sale.

Then, Flickr user “jugger-naut” built a tube synthesizer in plug-in module form.

And Joe Paradiso built a hybrid synthesizer into a CAMAC crate, to be controlled by a PDP-11 minicomputer, in December 1979. Don’t throw it away, Joe, it’s a priceless historical artifact!