Don Buchla and Buchla 200e
(2006 NAMM Show)
April 17, 1937|
South Gate, California
|Electronic musical instrumental inventor|
Donald "Don" Buchla (April 17, 1937 - September 14, 2016) was an American pioneer in the field of sound synthesizers, releasing his first units shortly after Robert Moog's first synthesizers. However, his instrument was arguably designed before Moog's.
Buchla was born in South Gate, California on April 17, 1937, and grew up in California and New Jersey. He studied physics, physiology, and music at UC Berkeley, graduating in 1959 as a physics major.
Buchla formed his electronic music equipment company, Buchla and Associates, in 1962 in Berkeley, California. He was commissioned by composers Morton Subotnick and Ramon Sender, both of the San Francisco Tape Music Center, to create an electronic instrument for live performance. Buchla began designing his first modules for the Tape Music Center in 1963.
With partial funding from a Rockefeller Foundation grant made to the Tape Music Center, Buchla assembled his modules into the Buchla Modular Electronic Music System (later known as the Series 100), which he began selling commercially in 1966. Buchla's synthesizers experimented in control interfaces, such as touch-sensitive plates. In 1969 the Series 100 was briefly sold to CBS Musical Instruments, who soon after dropped the line, not seeing the synthesizer market as a profitable area.
1970 saw the release of the Buchla 200 series Electric Music Box, which was manufactured until 1985. Buchla created the Buchla Series 500, the first digitally controlled analog synthesizer, in 1971.
Shortly after, the Buchla Series 300 was released, which combined the Series 200 with microprocessors. The Music Easel, a small, portable, all-in-one synthesizer was released in 1972. The Buchla 400, with a video display, was released in 1982. In 1987, Buchla released the fully MIDI enabled Buchla 700.
Beginning in the 1990s, Buchla began designing alternative MIDI controllers, such as the Thunder, Lightning, and Marimba Lumina. With the recent resurgence of interest in analog synthesizers Buchla has released a revamped 200 series called the 200e.
In 2005, NIME-05 (5th International Conference on New Interfaces for Musical Expression), in Vancouver, Canada, featured a keynote lecture by Don Buchla. There was also a sizable exhibition of many of the instruments he and his team have created over the years.
In 2012, Buchla's intellectual property was acquired by an Australian holding company, Audio Supermarket, which started a new brand called Buchla Electronic Musical Instruments (BEMI). Mr. Buchla was retained as Chief Technology Officer.
In 2015, it was reported that Don Buchla had taken the owners of BEMI to court, citing health problems due in part to unpaid consulting fees and asserting a claim to his original intellectual property. The lawsuit alleged breach of contract and "bad-faith conduct" on the part of BEMI's owners and sought $500,000 in compensation.
Legal documents filed with the state of California indicate that the court ordered the case to be settled by arbitration in July 2015. In August 2016, the court dismissed the case in light of the fact that the parties had reached an out-of-court settlement.
Analog sequencers (bottom) on Buchla 100 (1963/1966)
Buchla Music Easel (ca.1973) 
Oberheim OB-Mx (1994) designed by Don Buchla