Monday, January 25, 2010

What is all this stuff about the Motorola Scalatron?

A couple of days back, the obscure Motorola Scalatron came to my messed mind. I wanted a more deep knowledge than the usual "Motorola Scalatron Synthesizer" misterious words I often see in the usual sites I visit. So, let's do a little bit Googling...

Well... the first to came was the post on Matrixsynth about one Motorola Scalatron monitor on eBay, I already read this one. Microtonal in the comments said: "The Motorola Scalatron was a dual rank keyboard based upon organ divide down technology, built into home organ type packaging, and invented by George Secor in the early 1970s. It had a cassette interface. I am not aware of a video interface, but it is possible it was added later. This auction is just for the monitor, not the keyboard, which would be a real find as less than 20 Scalatrons were ever made. Some versions of the keyboard used a hexagonal array rather than the standard piano style keyboard."; but also points to the patents, is very hard to read this pictures, but seems something here is wrong, the pedal patent related seems nothing to do with the Scalatron. But patents... is a good starting point to look.

Second link visited, an article by Douglas Keislar "History and Principles of Microtonal Keyboards", a picture shows "Fig. 11. The Motorola Scalatron with a generalized keyboard (1975)", I saw a "chiclet" keyboard as Microtonal said on Matrixsynth.
Then came a link to a pdf  "Sound Forms for Piano" by Charles Hamm, I read: "The piano used for the Ben Johnston composition was tuned microtonally using the Scalatron Tuner and Pitch Monitor. This equipment can establish any pitch progression both aurally and visually with extreme accuracy. We wish to extend our thanks to Richard J. Harasek and Motorola Scalatron, Inc. for their help and equipment for the microtonal tuning." Hmmm, Scalatron was a company, was an instrument... and was Tuner? this in part is in concordance with the KenL comment in Matrixsynth, he states: "The TV monitor was part of a piano tuning device, which was different from the synthesizer keyboard. It worked like a Conn strobotuner. It had a split screen, with fixed bars on the left side, representing true pitch, and vertically moving bars on the right side corresponding to the pitch of the instrument being tuned. You would tune the piano until the bars were stationary. There must have been another box connected to the TV monitor."

As Charles Hamm was thanking to Richard Harasek and Motorola Scalatron Inc. I realized what would happen if I google this boths names... nothing good... but if I follow the same way that Microtonal with the patents? Aha! the USPTO gives me the patent 3.939.751 "Tunable Electrical Musical Instrument". Going further I seek the references cited, then: 3.821.460 "Electronic Musical Instrument", 4.085.645 "Instantly Retunable Tone Generator for an Electronic Musical Instrument" and 4.256.008 "Musical Instrument Tuner with Incremental Scale Shift" uffff too much to read in one day... but I am on the right track.

More Googling (time after): I guess this time is an excellent source because are two papers by George Secor this one, and this other one. He write the following: "Earlier that year (ed.1974) I had attended a demonstration of the Scalatron (digitally retunable electronic organ) prototype, and recognizing that conventional keyboards were not the best way to perform music with more than 12 tones in the octave, I unwittingly proceeded to re-invent the Bosanquet generalized keyboard and subsequently approached the Motorola Scalatron company with the proposal of employing it on their instrument."... "Around that time several members of the xenharmonic movement had gotten in touch with Scalatron president Richard Harasek and sent him copies of the first two issues of Xenharmonik├┤n, which he passed on to me and which I promptly read. The second issue included Erv Wilson’s diagrams of a modification of Bosanquet’s keyboard, with hexagonal keys, at which point it became clear that my keyboard proposal was not new."... "For the remainder of the year I was heavily involved in the generalized (Bosanquet) keyboard Scalatron project and, after that, in using it to explore new tunings. In effect, the keyboard that I had discovered was destined to be overshadowed by the one that I had rediscovered."
All Secor had written seems clarify very well the the thing about Scalatron, and adding this Motorola Anual Report from 1975 is enough clear, at least to me.

Conclusions (in order, for an easy understanding):
  • Motorola Scalatron was a brand and a division of Motorola Inc.
  • From the name and the patents is easy to see that the main objectives was related with automatic tunable instruments and devices for tuning instruments.
  • The Motorola Scalatron was a 'Tuner and Pitch Monitor' used to compare two tones acoustically and visually in a split TV screen; for a perfect pitch one must match the reference fixed bars on left half of the monitor with the moving bars on the right half representing the input of the signal for the instrument to be tuned; and this makes me think that possibly the monitor that was in eBay was complete because in the back it have two inputs maked as MIC and REF. As the reference is injected externally, any imaginable scale tunning is possible.
  • The Motorola Scalatron was (also) an electronic musical instrument with automatic tunning capability. In the texts referenced here nobody said nothing about synthetic sounds, it seems it was a plain electronic organ and also seems that the sounding engine was not so important as the 'digitally retunable' property was.
  • As by George Secor itself recognize, the Motorola Scalatron (musical instrument) existed before he entered the game, is more possible the invention falls on R. Harasek, D. Ryon and F. Maynard (the guys in the patents). Secor did in fact, a "rediscovering" of the Bosanquet keyboard and helped to people in Motorola to develop a second version of the Motorola Scalatron digitally retunable electronic organ with a generalized keyboard. Possibly this was the starting point that help to develop the "Miracle Temperament" and "Decimal" Secor's own keyboards.
  • The Motorola Scalatron division seems had a short life (about 1970 to 1975) as R&D; and the products left behind was more demos or prototypes than commercial products. From 1975 merged with other Motorola units to persue the emerging data communications market.
Usually, I don't do searches by 'theme' but suddenly I used the 'images' option and found this image of a normal Motorola Scalatron Microtonal Organ at the Warren Burt website, he also say that Herman Pedtke is one of the inventors, he knows him and if he say that I believe it, but I still cannot found any documented reference.

I think with all this stuff, I have now a wide vision about the Motorola Scalatron thing, I can go to bed serenely... at least for today.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

I like the old Blacet kits. Introducing: the SYN-BOW.

I like the way Blacet put his ads in Synapse and Polyphony magazines the fabulous kits they was selling. Of course I like the kits more than the ads, but is almost impossible to get today one of this little wonders.

Here is the Syn-Bow, this is a very rare instrument, you could find until 20 Hammond Novachords out there but tell me how much Syn-Bows you'll able to locate?

Recently one Syn-Bow was on the VEMIA auctions and the price reached as high like 1.000 USD! Not so time back, John Blacet was asking to people in the forums if anybody have one Syn-Bow or at least the manual because he have lost the information he had. I don't think this instrument will be considered so expensive like a Stradivarius and paying this amount makes me think the possibility that was the same John Blacet that was trying to take back home one of his babies.

The picture on VEMIA is not very clear, but seems is in good shape, and this came with an original promotional brochure. The brochure reveals more information that the included in the magazine ads. But one day I found several pictures of a very nice Syn-Bow on Flickr. This one, seems to be a "second generation" or at least a repaired one because the chip adapter, the Syn-Bow is from about 1978/79 and the adapter appeared about 1995 when the wide-body SN chip was everytime more difficult to obtain. I remember the adaptor was mainly offered as a replacement for the Dark-Star Chaos, it's a pity the Wayback Machine doesn't go back than 1998 for Blacet but I'm fairly sure of that.

Looking the good pictures on Flickr, the controls on the Syn-Bow and the schematic of the Percussive Noise Voice that Blacet published in Polyphony it seems that the Dark-Star Chaos and the Syn-Bow are very very similar machines (Note: the Percussive Noise Voice could be considered as a first version of the Dark-Star Chaos). Of course, there is a pressure pad! Because that, and the handle the Syn-Bow is a instrument, not a module.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Erase, rewind... and pushing record again

This blog has left his previous life (in spanish) with most of my personal activities.
Now will be stuffed with the many things passing by my head; not the more twisted (if you came here looking for these things, sorry) but the many things related electronic arts.
As I have the others blogs, I will try any interference between blogs.