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Don Buchla, inventor of electronic music instruments, dies at 79

SFGate Tuesday, 20 September 2016
Don Buchla, an innovative designer of electronic instruments who helped develop the first line of modular synthesizers around the same time as his East Coast counterpart Robert Moog, died on Wednesday, Sept. 14 at his home in Berkeley. While his name was not as familiar as Moog’s outside of music industry circles, Mr. Buchla created several groundbreaking electronic instruments, including the Buchla 100, which was commissioned by the San Francisco Tape Center in 1963; the Buchla Music Easel, an all-in-one, portable synthesizer; and the fully MIDI-enabled Buchla 700. The composer Morton Subotnick used his voltage-controlled Buchla Modular Electronic Music System (a predecessor of the commercial Series 100 synth) on the landmark 1968 recording, “Silver Apples of the Moon,” widely recognized as the first full-length album of electronic music produced for a record company. Mr. Buchla, who composed his own music as well, also played an integral part in the West Coast counterculture movement in the 1960s, working with audio engineer Owsley Stanley to build the Grateful Dead’s immense sound system while his instruments frequently provided the soundtrack for psychedelic-era happenings such as the Trips Festival in San Francisco in 1966 and the writer Ken Kesey’s Acid Tests. While the instruments designed by Moog, who died in 2005, found their way into the mainstream at the hands of ’70s musical rock icons like Yes, Tangerine Dream and Emerson, Lake and Palmer, Mr. Buchla’s creations had more subversive applications by design. Moog labeled his synthesizer modules with practical names such as oscillators to generate tones, filters to modify them; Mr. Buchla opted for more fantastical names like Multiple Arbitrary Function Generator, Quad Dynamics Manager and Source of Uncertainty. Mr. Buchla, who served as the technical director at the California Institute of the Arts, continued to design instruments through the 1970s and beyond, devising the first MIDI capable controller in 1987 and introducing his 200e modular system in 2004, which integrated his classic modular designs with digital technology. In 2012, while struggling with cancer, Mr. Buchla announced that his company had been acquired by a group of investors under the name Buchla Electronic Musical Instruments.
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