Rare Synth Showcase Part 8: PPG Sonic Carrier 1003

Remembering Wolfgang Palm's digital experimentations
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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.

PPG SONIC CARRIER 1003

Fig. 8

Fig. 8

In 1976, prolific German synth designer Wolfgang Palm unveiled the Sonic Carrier 1003, one of the first synths with a digitally controlled filter, amplifier, envelopes, and oscillators (see Fig. 8). Along with Oberheim’s OB-1, it was also one of the first two synths that could store every parameter that a user programmed from the front panel. (Two earlier programmable synths used punch cards.) The 1003 is a duophonic instrument with 50 memory locations but no knobs on the front panel. Users enter parameter values one at a time using buttons. Though programming can be tedious, that technique became commonplace in the 1980s. Palm says he sold only 16 of them, but it had two influential owners: Klaus Schulze and Edgar Froese of Tangerine Dream.