The Electric Music Box – Series 200
The Electric Music Box is the 2nd modular analog electronic instrument designed by Donald Buchla. Intended to replace of the 100 Series System from the mid 1960s, the 200 was unveiled by Buchla & Associates in February 1971 and in that same year installed in its first home, the newly constructed studios of the California Institute of the Arts in Valenica, California.
Described as a comprehensive collection of precision electronic modules for generating and processing sound, in Buchlas 1971 catalogue of components. The Electric Music Box featured extended dynamic range, voltage control of almost every parameter and added the newly available light emitting diodes along with incandescent lamps for visual feedback of system status and activity.
An early proponent of quadrophonic audio spacialization, Buchla included facilities for 4-channel audio mixing and signal output distribution to the 200 series. Other unusual components explored concepts of uncertainty and polyphony and expanded on previous experiments in complex parameter automation (or sequencing) along with more sophisticated touch plate controllers.
Despite several cabinet design changes, module additions were infrequent during the 200 Series 12 year lifespan. Most notable updates were in the mid 70’s with the addition of 2 new touch plate controllers, a new quadrophonic output console and the Model 248 Multiple Arbitrary Function Generator. The 248 or “MARF” is a complex device that can be used as a sequencer, control voltage processor or as a multi-stage envelope generator and can be configured with 16 or 32 stages and 2, 6 or 10 output channels. In the later 70s, the Model 259 Programmable Complex Waveform Generator and 296 Programmable Spectral Processor, both featuring options to be used in the digitally controlled 300 Series instruments were also offered but could be ordered as stand alone 200 Series analog modules for those without the required computer systems.
Although most 200 Series systems were built around specific performance or studio requirements of the customer, in the fall of 1971 two portable keyboard equipped systems were specified by Buchla. The 10 panel unit 200-101 featured the new Model 237 Keyboard, a 3 octave black and white chromatic keyboard with an unusual degree of response for its time including 3 voice polyphony, key velocity and monophonic pressure. Signal generation and processing were achieved by the now standard 258 Dual Oscillator and its companion the 212 Dodeccamodule; a compact collection of assorted 200 series facilities. The larger 200-151 extended the features of the 101 by adding an additional dual oscillator along with comb filter and sequencer modules.
Considered one of the pinnacles of modular instrument design and with unparalleled voltage control implementation, the 200 has not only inspired a new generation of electronic musicians and instrument engineers but Buchla himself for his 200e Series line of components. Although popular amongst academics and musicians The Electric Music Box did not sell in large quantities making it an extremely desirable instrument for composers and instrument collectors alike.
– Photographs and text courtesy of The Buchla Archives.