Exploring The First Buchla 100 Modular Synthesizer At Mills College

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Synthesizer Sarah Belle Reid shared a new video, which offers an in-depth look at synth pioneer Don Buchla’s very first modular synthesizer system, the Buchla 100 Modular Synthesizer at Mills College.

This video offers a historical, technical, and musical deep dive into the Buchla 100 Series Modular System at the Mills College Center for Contemporary Music. This instrument was the first voltage controllable modular synthesizer built by Don Buchla.

In the Spring of 2024, Reid spent a week at the Center for Contemporary Music at Mills College, where she worked closely with their original Buchla 100 modular synthesizer system. This significance of this instrument would be hard to overstate. It was one of the very first modular synthesizers ever, and played a pivotal role in the development of so-called ‘West-Coast Synthesis’. It has been used by Pauline Oliveros, Morton Subotnick, Suzanne Ciani, Warner Jepson, and many others.

The video begins with a brief historical overview of the Buchla 100 Series Modular System and the San Francisco Tape Music Center. Then, Reid unpacks everything that’s inside the instrument module by module, with sound demos and examples. Finally, she shares some of the unique quirks of the Mills Buchla 100 instrument, and patch examples of how the instrument can be used to create a wide range of music and sounds.

“It’s a rare opportunity to be able to work with a historical instrument like this one,” notes Reid. “I have always been super inspired by Buchla’s work in general, but like many people have had few opportunities to work with his original instruments. Instead, much of my experience has been through newer instruments inspired by his designs. Being able to work closely with this instrument was an incredibly inspiring and clarifying experience that allowed me to gain a deeper understanding of Buchla’s own creative and technical development, as well as the multitude of music, modern modules, and instruments that have been inspired by his work.”

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