Frequently Asked Questions
What is Instrument Designer?
Instrument Designer is a software synthesizer inspired by the Buchla 700.
Ok, what is the Buchla 700?
The Buchla 700 is a 12 voice 4 operator FM synth released in 1987 and designed by Don Buchla. There are several main ways the 700 differentiates itself from the other FM synths common in the industry at that time:
- Each algorithm outputs through two independant waveshapers. This allows a single instrument defintion to output two different audio signals without requiring a separate stacked voice. This also increases the sonic palette by allowing a user to easily create non-sinusoid waveforms.
- The waveshapers are cousins to the ones use in the Buchla Touche, Buchla 400 and the Buchla 259e. They are quite unique and use some interesting waveshaping techniques.
- Each voice has 13 complex envelopes which control almost every aspect of the sound algorithm. The envelopes have a unique exponential display, are programmable with an arbitrary number of breakpoints, and include programmable features such as looping.
- Programming was simplified with the help of a graphical user interface and an external monitor.
What does it sound like?
There weren't a lot of these produced so there's not that much out there, but what is out there is quite interesting:
So what happened to it?
The instrument never became very popular and today is one of the rarer of Don Buchla's instruments (which says a lot). The software itself was never finished, and the video card which connected up the external display was unreliable and eventually end-of-lifed by Intel. Probably 15-20 of these were made - I personally know of 3, of which only 1 currently works.
Why hasn't anyone made a reissue?
Good question. The design is quite complicated and includes 4 separate computers as well as a large membrane input surface. It would certainly be possible to build but it wouldn't be a cheap endevor, and unlike other recent reissues it probably wouldn't be a big seller - it's likely the most difficult instrument of Don's to use.
So why are you bothering?
I love the sound of Don's wavetable synths (specifically the 259e) and I've spent a lot of time implementing and reimplenting various related algorithms. I had the opportunity to play around with a 700 a few years back and the idea was hatched there.
Are you using the original source code?
No. This entire project was implemented using a scan of the original 700 manual as the spec (which was the usual Don way of doing things). You can view the original source code here, which is interesting because it seemingly contains code used for a NASA project as well:
Set ON_B700 non-zero to get a Buchla 700 PROM, or zero to get a NASA 3D Helmet Display PROM.
That source dump from Lynx Crowe is unfortunately incomplete but there is a project that's managed to get it to boot. Unfortunately the source code only includes some of the controller code and none of the DSP code so currently there's no sound generation.
Where can I learn more about the Buchla 700?