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!