Don Buchla isn't exactly a household name, but that's changing, slowly but surely. Buchla, who was born outside Los Angeles and spent the majority of his life in Berkeley until his death in September 2016, was an engineer and inventor whose pioneering synthesizer designs and electronic instruments made an indelible mark on contemporary music-making, the extent and depth of which we're only beginning to understand fully.
To celebrate his life and legacy, the longstanding San Francisco-based audio research organization Recombinant Media Labs (aka RML) joins forces with Obscura Digital, the Associates of Don Buchla, and local nonprofit Gray Area to host the Don Buchla Memorial Concerts on Saturday, April 22 and Sunday, April 23. The two days and nights of electronic and synthesizer music, performed at Gray Area's theater in San Francisco, will be helmed by none other than grandfather of Buchla-based electronic music himself, Morton Subotnick.
Subotnick and Buchla are inextricable; in fact, it was at Subotnick's behest during the early days of the San Francisco Tape Music Center (which Subotnick co-founded) that Buchla designed his first synthesizer, the Buchla 100 series, which Subotnick used to record his first electronic composition, Silver Apples of the Moon.
Unlike Moog synthesizers, developed contemporaneously with Buchla's on the opposite end of the country, Buchla's instruments were designed to be obtuse — they lacked a keyboard, notably. Recounts Subotnick: "[Buchla] wanted to make a musical instrument. I said, 'This is not a musical instrument. This is, at best, an instrument to make instruments. It's to paint.' … I didn't want to reproduce the old way to make music, which was pitch-based orientation. I wanted it to be gesturally based."