Friday, August 1, 2008

ElectroComp 101

Electronic Music Laboratories, builder of the ElectroComp Synthesizer Model 101 (or just the EML synthesizer, pictured), started business in 1968, building some simple modular synthesizers the purpose of which was educational: to teach schoolchildren about electronic music. According to Mark Vail’s book Vintage Synthesizers, the first machines—referred to at the time as “black monsters” because they had to have a 200-pound weight requirement in order to discourage students from stealing them—were sponsored by the Department of Education of the State of Connecticut. After undertaking the synth-building venture, however,

The EML founders soon discovered who they were competing with. “Moog was one step ahead of us,” says Murray. “We were following closely at Moog’s heels, but using different techniques. Most of Bob Moog’s early equipment used discrete transistors, which tended to drift. You had to continuously tune the components. We used a slightly different approach: Linear integrated circuits called op amps were becoming feasible for consumer-type equipment at about the time we got involved with this business, so we relied heavily on those to get better performance from our circuitry. We earned a reputation of making equipment that was rock-solid and dependable.” (136)

Apparently the EML synthesizers were quite dependable. According to Allen Ravenstine of Pere Ubu, interviewed by Michael Jarrett,

[The educational synth] had to have certain properties. It had to be very simple, and it had to be virtually indestructible. It also was designed in such a way that, while it had various elements of a synthesizer in it (oscillators that made sine waves, triangle waves, and square waves; filters, high-pass and low-pass; and an enveloper to change timbre), all of these elements had to be in the box—the same box—but none of them should be connected internally.... One of the synthesizers I bought has a serial number of one hundred and something. Whenever I had a question, I’d talk to the guy who built it. I was the first guy that ever tried to use these things in a rock ‘n’ roll environment. I never played the keyboard like a keyboard. I can’t play a tune on a keyboard. I used the keys as triggers. (107)

Some Artists Who Have Used the EML Model 101:
Brian Kehew and Roger Manning, The Moog Cookbook
Tommy Mars and Peter Wolf, with Frank Zappa
Allen Ravenstine, Pere Ubu

Some Representative Recordings:
Pere Ubu:
The Modern Dance (1978)
Dub Housing (1978)
New Picnic Time (1979)
The Art of Walking (1980)
390° of Simulated Stereo (1981)

The Moog Cookbook:
The Moog Cookbook (1996)
Ye Olde Space Band (1997)

Frank Zappa:
Joe's Garage, Acts I, II, & III (1979)

1 comment:

Wolfram Klug said...

Tommy Mars played the Electrocomp for many years in Frank Zappas band.
Listen to him play it and other vintage synths on my album:
see him here :

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