In 1973, Buchla & Associates introduced a smaller, more portable 200 series instrument which has become not only the best selling of Buchlas designs but arguably one of the most iconic electronic instruments of the past century, The Music Easel.
Employing computer simulation to model and optimize the heart of this new design, the Music Easel introduced the “complex oscillator” a standard component of all subsequent Buchla instruments. Best described as a set of voltage controlled oscillators featuring a combining network inserted between them for expedient patching of amplitude and frequency modulation. A voltage controlled waveshaper was included on the principal oscillators signal output for generation of unusually complex timbres.
Another major innovation of the Model 208 Programmable Sound Source was the inclusion of a multi pin connector on the panel, which with the addition of a small circuit board and resistors allowed the operator to program fader and switch positions for use later in performance. This same receptacle could be used to connect the Easel to a computer system to augment control and store or recall programs digitally. Other main functions of the 208 include a 5 stage sequencer with pulse and voltage outputs, dual Lopass Gates, ASR and AR envelope generators and a spring reverb. A new logic scheme was implemented with the use of color coded banana jacks and fader caps to help differentiate functions across the extremely compact control panel.
There were 2 production runs the Music Easel in the 1970s, the first being in the fall of 1973. The original model, known as the 200-10 (also 200-080) were packaged in silver “camera equipment” cases and featured the 214 power supply and a Model 218 Touch Controlled Voltage Source “keyboard”. In 1975, minor updates were made to the 208 circuitry, a new power supply introduced and the case was changed to a more rugged blue epoxy option provided by Halliburton, this configuration was known as the 200-081. “Digital Easels” sold after 1977 were paired with the Model 221 Kinesthetic Input Port, a keyboard featuring controls for the programming of 300 series digital systems and a minicomputer loaded with specially designed software.
All Easels featured the option to be powered by a car battery and shipped with a set of program cards, patch cords and a comprehensive manual “PROGRAMING AND META-PROGRAMING IN THE ELECTRO ORGANISM “ written by Allen Strange, featuring the artwork of Jim Phillips.
In 2012, under direction by the principals of the newly formed Buchla Electronic Musical Instruments, a new Easel was rushed into production to capitalize on interest on the now 40 year old design. The new BEMI model boasts functional similarities to the original however includes some updates, specifically MIDI, an arpeggiator, a new power supply and a lighter weight plastic case.