All photos by Marsha Vdovin for CDM. Click for full-sized, gear pr0n versions. Print large-format, hang above your bed.

CDM guest and photographer Marsha Vdovin joins us for a photo essay. Given free reign to choose what she wanted to do, she visits a Buchla module maker. Photos can speak volumes, and here the beauty of Don Buchla’s synth designs come through, a decades-long legacy of open-ended, eminently-musical sound possibilities. So, too, does the craft of the custom Eardrill modules. Disclosure: while we loved both, a number of us preferred the Buchla 100-series modular to the Moog modular we had, learning synthesis for the first time back at my alma mater Sarah Lawrence. I’d love to see a Buchla versus Moog patch-off at Moogfest this year. Oh, and while I cheekily add this to our “Create Analog Music” series, the 200e is in fact a hybrid system. Analog and digital come together. It’s fitting.

I recently visited my friend Chris Muir, a musician, engineer and all-around super-smart and fun person. Chris has a company called Eardrill and he handcrafts custom modules for Buchla 200 or 200e modular synths.

What was your first analog synth?

I learned on an ARP 2600, although the first one that I could call my own was an Oberheim SEM that I drilled out to bring out all the internal patch points. A band mate had a Minimoog in the dim, dark past, so I got to play with that quite a bit.

In college, I got introduced to the Buchla, and it was love at first sight. At the time, I couldn’t afford Buchla so I went with a Serge Modular, which at the time was known as the poor man’s Buchla.

I worked for Salamander Music Systems (SMS) in the late 1970s-1984, and really enjoyed working on making advanced synthesizers. I sold my Serge and got into a good-sized SMS system.

Why did you start making modules?

I worked in and out of the musical instrument industry for many years, then while waiting for a consulting gig to materialize, I thought it would be fun to get back into module making.

When I worked for Salamander, it was really fun seeing something go from an idea to reality. I love having a design on paper become three-dimensional “just” by working at it relentlessly. There’s something very satisfying about that.

Why do you use a Buchla 200?

To me, the Buchla represents the road not taken. The question “what is a synthesizer” was largely answered in the marketplace by something resembling a Minimoog. Buchla was there at the beginning, following his own vision of what electronic instruments should be. The Buchla instruments emphasize workflow, and put a lot of musically interesting controls under your fingers. Most parameters on a Buchla can be voltage- controlled, so large-scale control structures can be realized. I resonate with the ideas behind it.

Buchla Love

Some more Buchla love seems an appropriate way to close this story. -Ed.

Why is this musician smiling? Legendary synthesist Suzanne Ciani is posing next to her beloved 200 series; that’s why. From Contemporary Keyboard, June 1979. That’s Keyboard Magazine, to you; the mag has been in continuous publication since the 70s, but shortened its name. Thanks to Brandon Daniel for the scan, while we all dream of some massive archive catalog of KB coming out some day. (I’m a Contributing Editor at Keyboard, for those who don’t know, though only in its recent past. It’s great to flip through old issues.)

“Buchla is love,” CC-BY Flickr user roll_initiative/guiltyx. Dear person, whoever you are – I’d love to see a finished design and a t-shirt, please!
  • Jim Aikin

    Mmmm…. I'd love to own a good modular system. If only I had a musical idea of what I might do with it, I'd be on the phone to Don right now.

  • I'll be happy to go up against Moog patchsters – I did it at Moogfest 2007 (shown here with Jordan Rudess, Adam Holzman, and Thomas Dolby), and I'd do it again:….

  • And if you have a spare $10K-20K to spend too. I would love a good Buchla but have spent the cash on Eurorack. For me I would need a fairly full system and just can't afford it. Beautiful gear though…

  • Automageddon

    I had to go eurorack, but if I had the money I would have gone Buchla…

  • John

    Buchla's a beautiful thing indeed. For those with a computer there's Aalto VST…just got it the other day, and will be spending a long time on it. I'm not sure how it compares to the real deal; but wow what a sound.

  • Peter Kirn

    @Richard: Nice! There's one serious meeting of the minds!

  • Marsha, it's great Chris is getting a plug. Love your pics.

  • Thanks to Marsha for taking, and Peter for publishing, these lovely pictures. (and both of you for writing)

  • cray

    @John re: Aalto
    Owning a Buchla and Aalto I can see similarities but really its nothing at all like having the real deal/ Personally I find soft synths dull to play with. Norhing beats a modular!

  • In retrospect, I can't believe I didn't include a soundfile of the amazing sounds that emanate from this magnificent machine. I was so absorbed by its visual beauty.

  • Buchlas are great, Aalto is great.

    Peter's newest avatar on CDM/noisepages makes him look like David Cross.

  • There are quite a few example of my Buchla racket here:

  • Best synth shots of the week, hands down. 

    Gorgeous work, Marsha!

  • I had known Marsha for a long time before I found out what a good photographer she is. She has a photo blog that's worth checking out here:&nbsp ;

  • Really beautiful shot !
    i'm involved in eurorack and in the next autumn i'll go on a Serge panel (the Creature) but if i've almost 15000$ yes i'll go on Buchla.

  • Great post. I dream of owning a Buchla one day. Where is that Buchla Secret Society Tee shirt from???

  • Random Chance

    For people who want a nice modular synth with banana plugs have a look at the Bugbrand modular. You cannot compare the offering of modules to a Buchla system, but most of the time, I'd argue, you don't really need or want all the extra complexity.

    And, thanks you, Peter for an article that does not deal with tablets but instead with physical instruments (although not entirely digital ones). 😉

  • Ok…next Serge then please.

  • @Random Chance – with most of the Buchla modules, I don't see "extra complexity," I see extra capability. The 261e Waveform Generator is a good example. It's an undeniably dense module, but it is _so_ well thought out and well integrated that it doesn't come off as complex, it comes off as versatile.

    There are some 200e modules I got along less well with, such as the 249e MARF, and the 210e Signal Router. Both of these struck me as a little too fiddly to use, at least live, but these are the exceptions that prove the rule. In general the Buchla is the nicest system that I've ever had the pleasure to use.

  • Jesse Mejia

    @Peter I'm certainly on that list of folks who greatly preferred the buchla 100 series to the  moog modular at the 'ol alma mater!

  • And i'd go against Moog and Buchla patchsters with a Vermona…:-p

  • akrylik

    Does anyone have a favorite artist or album that makes heavy use of the Buchla that I can listen to?

  • Morton Subotnick has several great early recordings that are all Buchla –

    Alessandro Cortini (ex-NIN) has a bunch of good stuff up on YouTube –&nbsp ;

    Lyonel has some great stuff on Vimeo –&nbsp ;

    If you search for Buchla on YouTube or Vimeo you will find a lot of stuff, these days.
    Much of it is good, much of it might not be to your tastes.