Source: Bandcamp Daily.
The history of modular synthesis is so long and tangled that it’s difficult to pinpoint any one creator. But any realistic history of the instrument must include Don Buchla. Buchla’s electronic instruments never achieved the market penetration of widely available models from Moog or Roland. Just take a look at the Buchla 100, the model he built on commission for the San Francisco Tape Music Center with a $500 grant from the Rockefeller Foundation in 1963. A hefty silver cabinet studded with cryptic dials, multi-colored sockets, touch-sensitive panels—and, shockingly, no keyboard—it resembled something you’d find on the deck of the Starship Enterprise rather than what you’d find on stage or in a recording studio.
To understand Buchla synths, you need to know about Don himself. A former NASA engineer and a peer of west coast hippie icons like The Grateful Dead and their sound tech Owsley “King of LSD” Stanley, Buchla was at the center of a burgeoning California counterculture dedicated to breaking down boundaries. Whereas the instruments that Robert Moog was simultaneously creating on the east coast were streamlined and user-friendly, made with commercial imperatives in mind, Buchla’s inventions were open-ended and unpredictable—bewildering to the amateur, but opened up a universe of possibilities to those willing to tune into its wavelength. “Anything is possible,” he told Keyboard magazine in 1982. “We’re not limited by technology, we’re not limited by the computer. We’re limited only by our mind-sets.”
Buchla never sold out. His equipment remained boutique rather than mass-market, and he was still designing and refining ideas up until his death in 2016. But the instruments he made—such as the Buchla Music Easel, a gorgeously designed performance synth launched in 1973—remain highly prized, having been discovered by a new generation of musicians including Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith, Alessandro Cortini, Kali Malone, and more.