Pellegrino's Apple IIe Based Electronic Arts Synthesizer

Listed on eBay (7/29-8/5)/2010

This auction is for an Apple IIe based electronic arts synthesizer. It's a one-of-a kind, first-of-a kind sonic/visual music synthesizer from the studios of electronic arts pioneer, Ron Pellegrino (http://www.ronpellegrinoselectronicartsproductions.org/). One owner, one user.

This description includes 14 photos of what's included in the complete package .

I spent over 3 hours per day over an 11 day stretch checking out every card and every function. The entire system is in perfect working order. I did some cleaning and lubricating of electrical contacts and set a number of multi-pin chips (know that all the electronics on the systems 9 cards were in the early 1980s put in place by SF Bay Area electronic artists (not workers in Chinese factories) and if you're properly grounded those chips welcome your touch). But I must admit that I was amazed that the system I assembled some 25-27 years ago was completely intact and just as seductive as it was in earlier days. In fact, despite my efforts to be disciplined and to work only to test functionality, at one point I had to stop testing to set up my Sony Digital Walkman to record material that was just too good and too crazy to leave behind.

An electronic arts synthesizer is a system for generating and integrating electronic sound and light. I've been designing such systems since the late 1960s when I started creating studios that used analog music synthesizers, oscilloscopes, and 16 mm film cameras and projectors both in studio and live performance settings. Early in the 1970s, after a research stint at the National Center for Experiments in Television in San Francisco, I added video systems to the mix. By 1974 I added optical scanners and lasers. I started looking into plugging digital computers in my systems from day one but what I discovered via all my programming classes and computer music seminars was that I found main frames with their punched cards and mini computers with their paper tape to be infinitely clumsy and boring even after research visits to the powerhouses of the day—Bell Labs and the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.

It was early in the 1980s when the Apple micros had gained sufficient sophistication and traction to lure the most creative of the SF Bay Area artist/engineers to create special purpose electronic arts modules to fit on add-on cards. By that time it was clear to me that the field was ripe for building an electronic arts synthesizer around the Apple micro and the IIe was to be the heart and brains of it all.

This system was designed over a 3 year period from 1983 to 1986 using hardware/software pieces I collected from all over the SF Bay Area while I was traveling around for info exchanges with other artists. In the facilities of Electronic Arts Productions the system was used as a research tool, as a composition studio, and as a live performance studio and concert instrument until the late 1980s when an integrated combination of a Macintosh, an Amiga, and associated software were phased in to replace it. I also used the alphaSyntauri/IIe system to drive a laser animator but early in 2010 the laser animator was sold along with a Synthi AKS I also used to drive it.

This system embodies the tenor of the times during the early to mid 1980s, a period when Silicon Valley from Berkeley/San Francisco to Santa Cruz was awash in artist/engineers with eyes aglow from ideas born of the coupling of technology and the arts along with all of its promises. You can be certain that Yamaha and its oriental pals had reverse engineered the alphaSyntauri for the conceptual structure of their new synthesizers, the DX7 and its offshoots. Yamaha actually did license the FM research of John Chowning at Stanford for the DX7 but that sort of gentlemanly behavior had a short lifespan; it was much easier and less expensive for the orientals to spy on the SF Bay Area scene and rip at will. The alphaSyntauri system set the conceptual stage for what was to follow for decades in the the synthesizer world but today it still doesn't get the recognition it deserves. The Decillionix sound sampling system is another case in point. It was the first affordable digital sampling system on the scene. Like so much of what was happening in the electronic arts in the SF Bay Area at that time it was created by artists for the play of other artists. The same can be said of most of the graphics programs that make up this system.

Electronic artists of that time, including hardware and software designers, came together for shows and gatherings because they were high on their visions of the future of the medium and wanted to share their enthusiasm and their ideas; but, like most artists, their business sense was not their strong suit and that made their work easy prey for corporations. Some people, such as music synthesizer designers Don Buchla and Serge Tcherepnin, were more adept at the business end, but most artist/engineers just scattered their seed on the field, free-love style, so their ideas and implementations were easy pickings for corporate spies.

This system's hardware includes: 1) an Apple IIe with 128K of RAM, 2), 2 disk drives and their controller card, 3) 2 Apple game paddles and a joystick, 4) a Sider 10 MB hard drive (the largest available at that time), 5) the alphaSyntauri 5-octave keyboard and 2 Mountain Music cards, 6) a Decillionix Sound Sampling Card and Feedback Pot, 7) a Rapid Systems 4 channel Digital Oscilloscope, 8) a Micro Illustrator Touch Tablet, 9), a Syntech MIDI Interface, 10) System Saver (cooling fan/surge suppressor). The IIe has 8 card slots and this system comes with 9 cards so some swapping is necessary if everything is to be used. All the original instruction manuals plus all the software disks and numerous copies of them are included for the hardware listed in this paragraph. Also included are extras such as 1) Wildcard (facilitates copying any disk protected or not), 2) Synthestra (MIDI sequencing software), 3) Passport MIDI voice librarians (for the Yamaha FB01 and any Casio synth), 4) The Visible Computer: 6502 (Machine Language Teaching System), and PRODOS (manuals included).

The graphics programs include: 1) The Graphics Magician, 2) Take 1(animation), 3) Fantavision (animation), 4) Blazing Paddles (painting), 5) Pixit (painting), 6) Dazzle Draw (painting), and 7) Ceemac (animation). During the 1980s the animation programs were featured on scores of public shows I did at universities and museums to give folks an idea of what could be done in the electronic arts with just a microcomputer. The entire set made up teaching material I used in 1983-85 when I taught the earliest university microcomputer graphics classes for non-techies, but in addition to artists in my classes I had people from computer science, physics, music, education, as well as engineers from Hewlett-Packard and other North Bay Telecommunications Valley companies.

The alphaSyntauri is what I'd call a sweet synth compared to its ballsy oriental cousins born just after it. It has more in common with digital music systems that came before it than those that came after it. Its sound cannot be very well replicated by sampling systems because its voice is more like a human voice in the sense that it changes subtly from play to play. Music examples created with this system are available at http://www.ronpellegrinoselectronicartsproductions.org/Pages/EmrgntMusNVisMusCD4/EmrgntMusNVisMusCD4.html on Track 3 - alphaPoints, Track 5 - alphaGlasssongs, and Track 7 - alphaSpring.

A video example is available at http://www.ronpellegrinoselectronicartsproductions.org/Pages/OhNineVideo/Pellegrino_sNewVideos.html in the form of an Excerpt from Study 3 - Cynthia's Dream. Eleven additional video examples from a related Apple IIe based system are available on Volumes 1 and 2 of Part 2: The DVDs of Emergent Music And Visual Music: Inside Studies (http://www.ronpellegrinoselectronicartsproductions.org/Pages/OhNineSiteExtension/Introduction.html).

The Amdek monitor (purchased with the IIe in 1983 is free for the asking but the buyer must pay shipping. It is not necessary to use this specific monitor because any monitor with an NTSC video input will do the job; so I suggest that picking one up locally might be less expensive and of better quality than having the Amdek shipped; but it's the buyer's decision.

The system will be shipped in multiple boxes. One for the Apple IIe. One for the Sider harddisk. One for the alphaSyntauri. One for all the small hardware items and disks. One for the many manuals. And one for the Amdek if the buyer requests it. The listed shipping cost via UPS Ground is for the first five boxes. If the Amdek monitor is requested, an additional shipping cost will be added.