Meet the Dataton 3000. The creation of Sweden’s Björn Sandlund, it sports a unique, friendly modular designed for educational use – and at one point, was recommended to be used in every music school. That history was lost, but this teaching-friendly design might just have been ahead of its time.

Macumbista, aka Derek Holzer, has embarked on an extended research project studying the little-known Dataon series. And since none of us can really go check the original modules at the Royal College of Music (KMH) or in a Swedish private collection, Derek also gives us a tour of what these modules could do.

He explains:

The Dataton System 3000 was designed in the 1970’s by Björn Sandlund in Sweden. It was mainly intended for educational use, and an official report published in 1977 recommended that every music school in the country be provided with one. Unfortunately, a subsequent right wing government eliminated these plans, and Sandlund’s Dataton company instead moved into audiovisual presentation technology.

The System 3000 contains modules for sound synthesis, sound processing, mixing, and panning. In these video tutorials, I will briefly explain the modules at my disposal:

Power Supply 3320
Sub Mixer 3202
Master Mixer 3201
Quad Sound Generator 3002
Quad Input Amplifier 3001
Quad Envelope Shaper 3104
Ringmodulator 3105
Noise Generator 3004
Quad Universal Filter 3101

The modules in this collection belong to either the Royal College of Music (KMH) in Stockholm or the private collection of Daniel Araya. Historically, they have been used in the studios of KMH, by the composer Leo Nilsson, and/or at the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki. This video series was produced by Derek Holzer for a workshop entitled “Sounds of Futures Passed”, which is a part of his PhD studies at the Royal Institute of Technology (KTH) in Stockholm. His project is a cooperation between KTH, KMH, Statens Musikverket, and Elektronmusikstudion (EMS), with support from the Swedish Research Council/Vetenskapsrådet.

The System 3000 is described in much greater detail in Björn Sandlund’s book The Early Synth Days, published in 2019.

With thanks to Björn Sandlund, Daniel Araya, and Henrik Frisk for their support in making these videos.

See also this blog post:

Full playlist:

And a full description of his project:

Historically Informed Sound Synthesis

Dataton is still a working enterprise – they’re one of the major names in audiovisual tech today, and a pioneer in media servers with a legacy that also includes helping make multichannel media what it is now. (Put another way, that means they’re also one of the few modular makers of their original era that have remained – only the likes of Roland and Korg share that honor.) They’ve published a detailed history with their founder, too. This is a drool-worthy acquisition for any media archaeologist-at-heart. (And it won a award.)

Everything you ever wanted to know about Dataton’s earliest products. “The Early Synth Days” by Dataton’s founder, Björn Sandlund, is an unashamedly detailed account of those first products and the evolution of audio synthesizers in the 1970s. From technical specs, to manufacturing processes, to the full-on user guide for the Dataton System 3000 synth, “The Early Synth Days” is the book for anyone with a love of audio synth history!

But history aside, I think it’s telling to see how Dataton approached a starter kit to modular synthesis for educational purposes. The 1970s stuff often has a lucidity that we lack now, given the diversity of instruments around – or to look at it the other way around, we have some perspective on that value from our current time. Either way, the past is often a great source of inspiration for the future, with freshness rather than nostalgia.

Also, I just like those panel designs.

Bonus, someone posted an early ad for the system:

Thanks to Derek for this great inquiry. (Photo at top, also via Derek Holzer – see research page.)