This is a video of my tribute piece for Tristram Cary. Aside from being one of the co-founders of EMS, and one of the co-designers of the VCS 3, he was in his later years, my composition tutor, and a highly valued colleague and mentor. I produced this piece using only my VCS 3
Modular synthesis in a highly distinctive box. "Modular?!" people shout in disbelief. "It doesn't occupy half a room, it doesn't have cable spaghetti everywhere!" Correct, but that's what the pin matrix is for. When you notice that the modules on the front panels are clearly labelled, and that those labels are duplicated along the left column and top row of the matrix, it's a simple case of placing a pin at the meeting point et voila, you have just connected one module to another - without a patch cable. So, now that's out of the way, we have ourselves a rather unique member of the vintage synth fraternity. The brainchild of Peter Zinovieff, Tristram Cary, and David Cockerell (the founders of EMS) produced a conveniently-sized powerhouse with both the VCS3 Mk I (nicknamed the 'Putney') and the Mk II (the 'Synthi'). The photo here is a Mk II. The principal difference between the Mk I and Mk II was that the Mk I allowed individual patching of each VCO waveform on the matrix board, whereas the Mk II dispensed with this and allowed for more input/output routings. 3 VCOs (each VCO has a vernier dial for frequency, and two waveforms with dedicated level controls); VCO 1 has sine and sawtooth (sine can be skewed), VCO 2 has square and triangle (both of which can be skewed), VCO 3 is the same as VCO 2 but produces much lower frequencies and so can double as an LFO. A resonant filter; a Ring mod; white/pink noise; spring reverb; one of the more unique envelopes in analogue synthesis, with its curious Trapezoid (basically allowing for a variable +/- polarity of the envelope signal). Among the criticisms levelled against the VCS3 were lack of a keyboard (although two were produced - DK 1 and DK 2 - exclusively for use for use with either the Putney or the Synthi), and the instability of the oscillator tuning. The matrix board was also unbuffered which meant that every time you put a new pin into the matrix, something else went awry. For the more creative users however, this was a significant part of its strength and character. There is also the joystick, the X and Y axes of which are independently patchable to every part of the VCS3 making it the most immediate means of control if you're not fortunate enough to have the DK-1 or DK-2. Aside from the fact that it can produce a stunning array of sounds, one thing I've always admired about the VCS3 is that it ably reflects the character of its creators - inventive and eccentric British boffins!