The Buchla 500 at CalArts

Barry Schrader, Morton SubotnickA little bit of Buchla synth history via Peter Grenader of Plan b. That giant modular in the background is the Buchla 500, the rarest of the rare in the modular synth world. It is possible there were only three ever in existence. “The following flckr stream [link] was from CalArts studio B-304 taken in the fall of 1976 featuring Barry Schrader, Morton Subotnick and John Payne and a whole lotta Buchla 500. John as you may remember came up a couple of months ago on Matrixsynth in the posting regarding Mort’s use of the 300 at Ircam [link]. He went on in later years to become the Assistant Dean of the CIA School of Music and founder of it’s Music Tech department. Photo b_304.2 has a good view of the entire studio, save the three other JBL’s which are out of frame (it was a quad studio – there was one in each corner).

There are two more 500’s that I know off – at Evergreen and another somewhere in Europe (pardon the senior moment, i don’t remember where exactly). This is not to say there aren’t others…I’m just not aware of any. The one in the photo here was the first – the development system Don constructed while on staff at CalArts. I do know the 500 was adondoned quickly and resurfaced as the 300 series which included direct routing of computer control the various modules (259 VCO and 292C Gate for example) -and- the digital VCOs.”

“The box screwed into the side of the main cabinet is a speaker selector which if I remember correctly wasn’t on line. Another bit of trivia – this was taken about the time of Mort’s Game Room project that Gary Chang, Jill Frazer, Darrell Johansen, Sue Harvey and I worked on. The room next to 304 (other side of the wall which is shown behind the Buchla) was 305. It had a large 100 system (three cabinets) and for the Game Room we cut a hole in the base of that wall to run audio cables out from the tape machines to play quad audio snippets into the game area. This also took signals directly from the game board in 305 where signals were decoded and sent to the various controllers (audio, film, Buchla-controlled OCR light dimmers, etc.).

Against the other wall – opposite the one behind the 500 – was studi oB-303, which was pretty much a duplicate of this one sans the computer control – so it was a 200 studio, not a 500 studio. It also had the huge JBL monitors which were hung form the ceiling on metal brackets made by Chas Smith (which are still in place today). There’s a photo of 303 at Barry’s Schrader’s website: link

Most people preferred working in 303, mainly because the 258’s were easier to get to. On the 500 system they were all on the top row, which was a pain for most. The upside – studio time was easy to book in 304 for this reason I spent a lot of the early mornings here – tarting usually at 4AM and going until classes began around 9.”

Click here for the rest of the shots. You can find more in the comments of this Matrixsynth post.

buchla 200e rock n roll

The above is a video of the new Buchla modular, the 200e.
The demo is by Alessandro Cortini of Nine Inch Nails.

ARP 2500

ARP 2500 Noodle

Click here for an mp3 of the ARP 2500, another of the rarest of the rare in the modular synth world. A little bit of trivia: the ARP 2500 was the synth used to communicate with the aliens in Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind. It was played in the movie by head ARP engineer Phillip Dodds.

The demo was sent my way via ben who had the following to say:

“I thought you might like to hear a little “ARP 2500 NOODLE” i did yesterday [actually its nearly 7 mins long]. It’s an arp going through an ibanez AD-80 delay pedal. It’s in mono. The arp is set up to play a simple sequence [notice it is 10 steps long] and I tweak the pitch etc as it goes. I also tweak the delay repeat/time/blend knobs. Note that this is an analog delay pedal from the 70s, using the amazing Panasonic MN3005 bucket brigade delay circuit”

ARP 2600 Repair

Ever wonder what it might look like at a techs office repairing a vintage analog synth? The above is a video of Fredrik Segerfalk’s ARP 2600 being repaired. “This is how a tech should do it. Fix the stuff and keep you amused. This is one of many videos I got from my tech when he fixed my ARP 2600”

Have a great weekend everyone!
For more daily synth-related content check out Matrixsynth.

  • Lost

    This video is priceless. Such dramatic repairs…

  • bliss

    Another great post, Matrix. Thanks! When I hear these modular synths I swear I feel like I'm transported back to my childhood and far into the future all at the same time. All those beautiful sounds from 70's sci fi shows buried deep in my memories. Thanks for the MP3 post, too! 🙂

  • RattyUK

    The 2600 demo appears to have a synth arrangement of "blue skies" playing in the background!!! How camp is that – synth arrangements of Irving Berlin! Fantastic!

  • Very cool Video.

    see you.

    Peter 🙂

  • You mean Evergreen State College? We had a Buchla series 200 there, not a 500…unless I'm not remembering correctly.

  • Mike Peake

    Another 500 system, as depicted on the Buchla site, was in the midwest, and is now owned by an individual who does not advertise his gearlist. And would likely never sell it, so don't email me to ask. Add that to the total.. And why not ask Don himself?

  • Pingback: Create Digital Music » This Week In Synths: ARP 2500, Wiard 300 Series, SCI’s “The Patch”, EMS VCS1, and Roxy Music()

  • Lynx Crowe

    Having been the programmer for most of Don's instruments, I can tell you that the first 500 went to Cal Arts, and used a Computer Automation PDC-216 minicomputer. The PDC-s16 was barely up to the task, so we switched to the Interdata Model 74 for the next two instruments. They went to the music studio at SUNY Stonybrook NY, and to the National Studio for Electronic Music in Oslo Norway. As I recall, SUNY got a second instrument, and I think IRCAM in France got one (maybe two). I believe I even still have the source code sitting in a box in storage somewhere. The order of the instruments Don and I did was: 500, 300, 400, 700. The 500 and 300 were hybrids, and the 400 and 700 were digital. I also did the software for Thunder, the prototype for Lightning, and the prototype for the Piano Bar (now produced by Moog). Later, while a contractor for Gibson, I wrote the voice card software for the Oberheim OB-Mx. If anyone has any questions about these instruments, you may contact me at: