Recorded on September 20th, 2016
Don Buchla died last week. The preview video above is from a documentary-in-progress from Clarity Films. His electronic instruments were similar to Moog and other modular synthesizers only in the fact that you patched things together. To look at the controls on a Buchla (which I’ve never done in real life) is to feel like you’ve never looked at a synthesizer before. I’m used to Moog-flavored subtractive synthesis, where I know what a four-pole voltage-controlled low-pass filter will do to a sawtooth waveform before I even reach for a knob. As wonderful as Moogs are, you just sort of know what ballpark you might end up in before you start experimenting.
Buchlas reflect the totally different approach of their creator. When I would read Keyboard magazine in the 80s and 90s, Buchla never got nearly the amount of space that Moog did. Hardly any of the musicians interviewed listed Buchla equipment in their arsenal, and when there was a historical mention of his instruments, they were usually presented as academic, hard to program, and “weird”. They were all that, and they were also like a continent waiting to be explored. After you listen to enough proficient players who use the 200e or the Music Easel, you understand the complexity and detail that his circuits could summon. And they thrived on not being bound to traditional equal-tempered keyboards.