Picture by Mark Verbos

Picture by Rick403

The Buchla Music Easel is probably the cleverest compact electronic instrument ever produced. I am very interested in these self-contained systems, so I have been doing some trawling and have come up with the following information

Here is what Buchla say about the Music Easel, from their historical website

“The Music Easel is a highly evolved electronic musical instrument. It maintains many of the design philosophies and functional characteristics of its predecessors, the 100 series Modular Electronic Music System and the 200 series Electric Music Box. The Music Easel introduces some substantial innovations in electronic instrument design – innovations that make it a truly expressive real-time instrument for composition and performance

The Music Easel contains many of the elements commonly used to generate and process sound: a keyboard, sequencer, pulser, preamplifier, envelope detector and balanced modulator; oscillators, gates, envelope generators and filters; facilities for mixing, monitoring and reverberating. Many of these elements possess an unusual degree of sophistication. The keyboard is solid state, with touch sensitive, chromatically organized keys, accurate and reproducible pressure output, tactile feedback, octave shifting, and voltage controlled portamento. A complex oscillator, developed through computer aided simulation studies, is a rich source of complex audio spectra. featuring voltage control of pitch, timbre and waveform, this oscillator provides the Music Easel with a timbral range unapproached by other musical instruments

The connectives are as important as the elements to be connected. Interconnection within the Music Easel is accomplished with a combination of switching and patching, a system which is flexible, expedient, and open ended. Logical, compact organization and color coded graphic feedback facilitate rapid and effective interaction. Multiple correlations between a performer’s actions and the Music Easel’s responses are readily implemented, enabling a degree of expressive articulation heretofore impossible with electronic instrumentation

With its extended timbral resources, unusual expressive capability, and its facility for storage and recall of instrument definitions, the Music Easel opens new horizons to the composer and performer. To appreciate its potential as a new musical instrument the Music Easel must be seen, heard and played”

There is a user manual here along with many scans of Buchla schematics. The cover of the manual looks like this:

The picture below is of a prototype Easle made in 1973. This picture was taken by Mark Verbos during his recent renovation of it

Here is a marvellous video of Charles Cohen performing on his Easel:


So rare and desirable are these objects that some people have even cloned and built their own versions, and here is a fascinating account of David Leith’s amazing work