Rare Synth Showcase Part 1: BUCHLA SILI-CON CELLO

This unsual West Coast synth has been largely forgotten
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Housed within an unassuming 30,000-square-foot building just outside Philadelphia is a massive collection of historically significant music gear. Under 25-foot ceilings, an extraordinary stockpile of vintage synthesizers sits alongside other keyboards, amplifiers, stompboxes, and recording equipment from years gone by. The climate-controlled building and all its contents belong to the Electronic Music Education and Preservation Project. EMEAPP is a non-profit organization devoted to collecting and preserving outstanding parcels of rock ’n’ roll and electronic music history for future generations.


Fig 1

Fig 1

Seminal inventor Don Buchla began building his 200-series synth modules in 1970, installing them in an instrument called the Electric Music Box and its various offshoots. One of those offshoots was the Sili-Con Cello, a one-off synthesizer he custom-built for his performances with Bay Area mathematician and cellist Ami Radunskaya in 1978 and 1979. It comprises six 200-series modules — a 281 Quad Function Generator, 292C Quad Lowpass Gate, 266 Source of Uncertainty, 259 Complex Wave Generator, 270 Preamplifier, and the one-of-a-kind 299 Sili Binary Counter on a prototyping breadboard — enclosed in a portable case with a power supply (see Fig. 1). Using a microphone connected to the unit’s preamp, the 299 module translated acoustic signals from Radunskaya’s cello (and any other source) into control voltages and gates that generate a response from the other modules.