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Friday, September 16, 2016

Don Buchla Has Passed Away

It has come to my attention that Don Buchla passed away on Wednesday, September 14, at the age of 79. Anyone coming to this site should be well aware of who he is; who he was to the world of synthesizers. For those that aren't, he was by all means one of the fathers of the modern day synthesizer. Credit usually goes to Bob Moog, mainly for two reasons. One, Bob Moog chose the standard keyboard as the main interface for his synthesizers as they were more accessible to musicians. Two, Bob Moog's approach focused mainly on reproducing the sounds of acoustic instruments. Wendy Carlos' Switch on Bach and Keith Emerson's use of the Moog Modular brought Moog synthesizers to the mainstream.

Don Buchla's instruments, however, focused mainly on the exploration of sound. Artists attracted to his instrument fell more into the realm of what was known as musique concrete. Musique concrete mainly focused on the manipulation of sound, initially composed with electro-acoustic instruments recorded and manipulated on analog tape.

via wikipedia: "Buchla formed his electronic music equipment company, Buchla and Associates, in 1962 in Berkeley, California. Buchla was commissioned by avant garde music composers Morton Subotnick and Ramon Sender, both of the San Francisco Tape Music Center, to create an electronic instrument for live performance. Under a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation Buchla completed his first modular synthesizer in 1963." On the other hand (also via wikipedia): "Moog created the first voltage-controlled subtractive synthesizer to utilize a keyboard as a controller and demonstrated it at the AES convention in 1964." Update: Wikipedia appears to be incorrect on Buchla.  Don Buchla started working on instruments in 1963, and the 100 was his first VC system completed in 1965. It was then sold in 66/67. The first name of the company was Buchla Associates in 66/67 followed by Buchla & Associates in 70/71. This New York times obituary has a good write-up on Don Buchla's work beyond just synthesizers. It also has 1965 as the date for the completion of his first synth.

Please note, this post isn't about who came first. In my opinion they both did and they both had different approaches. Most of you will be familiar with the terms East and West Coast synthesis. They pertain to these two different approaches with Buchla on the West and Moog on the East.

Don Buchla's passing is bittersweet. On the one hand his creations have finally gained popularity and respect in the modern day synthesizer community - a decade ago the focus was primarily on Bob Moog. On the other hand, he passed away not being able to do what he himself wanted to do in the end. He sold the rights to the Buchla name to BEMI, only to later take them to court. The case was settled, but I have been told it was far short from the initial agreement. It is also my understanding that Don Buchla was discouraged from working on creating new instruments.

One thing to consider is that although there were/are many Buchla clones out there that paid tribute to Don's work, it is my understanding that Don wasn't paid licensing for them and that Don wasn't necessarily thrilled by them. Think about it for a bit. One, people cloned his work, two, he did not get paid for his original creations, and three, people buying clones were putting their budgets towards clones vs. his new creations, for example, the 258 clone vs the new 261e. I was told from a reliable resource, that Don never had any interest in re-hashing old products. In a sense, they were more works of art, and he was always interested in creating something new, rather than re-hashing the old. However, I was told he was fine with people creating clones for personal use, just not for sale.

Writing this post is extremely difficult. I didn't know Don personally, but I did meet him a few times at NAMM. The first time I met him was a bit awkward because he doesn't talk fluff. His answers were very short, and he just kind of stood there as if implying, "are we done yet". I then realized, he wasn't implying that at all, he was just hanging out. The second time I met him, I said hello and didn't elaborate much. He then engaged in conversation with me. It was a simple thing, but something I will never forget. The video below with Don Buchla being interviewed by Mark Vail, captures the way I felt perfectly. If you were ever fortunate to meet him in person you will know what I mean. I'm going to miss him greatly, and will always wish I got to know him better.

And a message from Moog Music:

"Dear Don,

There are no words that can accurately portray the profound impact you have had on our lives. We are deeply inspired by your artistry, and your ground-breaking achievements will always inform the work we hold most closely to our hearts. You and Bob, through your distinctive styles, collaboration and friendship, have laid the foundation for our future. Your influence endures in our minds, hearts and hands as we craft tools that give rise to joyful experimentations. We will never truly capture the elegance and beauty that you and Bob achieved, but we promise to never stop trying.

From everyone at Moog, thank you for inspiring us and giving meaning to our life's work.

Your Friends At Moog"

Published on Aug 27, 2015 Redaktion Megasynth

And a rare performance of Don playing live with his instruments and Alessandro Cortini of Nine Inch Nails (NIN):

Everything Ends Here

Uploaded on Nov 18, 2011 Alessandro Cortini

"San Francisco Electronic Music Festival 2010

Alessandro Cortini + Don Buchla, performing the piece "everything ends here", from Blindoldfreak's 1st EP, 1."


  1. Your post reflect a negative perspective (with incorrect information) against the clones

    Don wasn't paid licensing because he refused,few people offered him to be paid!

    He wasn't thrilled with the clones but he liked some like the 208r that Rick Smith (friend of Don and cloner himself) showed him.

    Also the 281 and famous 292 lopass gates clones kits where done with his permission.

  2. I spoke to Don about it at NAMM. He was not crazy about the clones, and Rick Smith did not do the 208r. You might be mixing him up with someone else. I was told he was OK with people making clones for themselves, but not for sale/profit. Based on what Don told me at NAMM I have no reason to doubt that.

  3. Rick Smith showed the 208r to Don,First hand info from Roman.

    (Rick Smith is ant-cloning everywhere on the net but built clones himself,you have no clue what is going on behind the scene..)

    The 281 and 292 kit projects where made to be sold,Don gave permission for these.
    they sold on electro-music.com forum and other places

  4. I am Rick Smith.. you are mistaken, I have never cloned anything. I suspect you are confusing me with someone else. Also, ask Roman again. I emailed him after reading this, he never told anyone that i showed Don a 208r because guess what? I didn't. Don was fine with the circuits being sold but not the panels and certainly not built modules or systems. I don't believe this is the time or place for this discussion but felt the need to correct your statement. Maybe ask me before jumping to conclusions. I am not hard to track down.

  5. Well,then its Roman that confused you with someone else,there is simply no other explanation!

    Anyway leaving out that 208r part,the content of this article contains bashing against the cloning in general and try to turn out Don as a victim.

  6. Ryan, Tobb, Steve.. whatever you are calling yourself today. Dons designs were used without his permission. all legal bullshit aside, taking something that belongs to other people is wrong. It would be extremely opportunistic to sell clones given recent events but i expect this is what will happen. please message me directly and show some respect to Buchla.