The Alan Sondheim Mail Archive

December 26, 2011

Ending of an era

This is an image of the analog synthesizer Gregert Johnson and I
assembled in the late 1960s; we used it in a number of concerts.
Later it was used by Denise de la Cerda and me, as Damaged Life.
It was heavy, built into an old telephone equipment rack, but it
lasted until this past October, when our parents' house had an
estate sale. I assume it was destroyed at that point. When it was
new, it ran off two +/- 12 V Heathkit power supplies. The modules
were built from scratch, and included voltage-controlled amplifiers
and oscillators, as well as active integrators, sub-harmonic gen-
erators, and so forth. External signals could be sent into it at
any number of points; the cords were color-coded. There were a
small number of independent modules built around the same time,
and I still have these; they include two VCOs. It was possible to
over-drive the VCOs, which sent them into harmonic oscillations,
an effect difficult to duplicate. This picture was taken this past
September; I hadn't used the synthesizer in a long time. Its real
heyday was probably in the 1980s. Building it, following Greg's
designs with him, gave me insight into systems organization; the
synthesizer seemed almost alive. Digital epistemology imitates
analog ontology, or some such - at least it seems on the surface,
before one probes into the subatomic. The world smears out; the
synthesizer (which remained nameless) is gone, earth and memory
sutured over yet another wound or byproduct of human organization.
What's lost never returns; information may not disappear in the
universe, but it becomes irretrievable. I remember plugging-in; I
still plug in; it is the same. I'm not writing this here.

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