RIP: Don Buchla, a pioneering force in the world of synthesizers, has died at 79

There is word Friday afternoon that synthesizer Don Buchla has died. He was 79.

No official announcement of his death has been made. News of his passing was first posted to the Muffwiggler message board, where user ZenMusic reports Buchla was in hospice care for the past several months.

The California native founded his electronic music equipment company Buchla and Associates in 1962, created his first modular synthesizer a year later, and was considered a visionary in the world of electronic music who remained active until his passing. Some have called him the greatest modular synthesizer designer of all time.

Tributes began surfacing on social media Friday as word of his passing started to spread. “Just heard that Don Buchla has passed away,” tweeted Chris Carter. “A sad day…” Scanner cited his “true elegance and liquid beauty” in posting a live clip from 2010’s San Francisco Electronic Music Festival.

On the Buchla and Associates website, his bio reads:

“It occurred to Don one day to build an instrument actually intended for electronic music performance. He created the 100 series Modular Electronic Music System (1963). And a few years later (1970), the 200 series Electric Music Box. Minicomputers became affordable, and Don built the first hybrid (digitally controlled analog synthesizer) – the 500 series (1971). And along came microcomputers and the series 300 (using series 200 analog modules combined with 300 series digital modules). A hot little analog performance instrument, the Buchla Music Easel was introduced in 1972. Then four hybrid (digital/analog) instruments. For his keyboard playing friends Don conjured up the Touché (1978). Next was the Buchla 400, featuring an outrageous video display(1982). Along came MIDI, and he designed the Buchla 700 with MIDI up the wahzoo (1987). And for Oberheim (a Gibson subsidiary), Don designed the OB-Mx (1995). For your edification and amusement, we’ve collected data on some of these historic instruments. By the mid 80’s, MIDI was abundant. Just about every synth had MIDI inputs. But where were the controllers? Didn’t MIDI promise something beyond organ keyboards? Don shifted his attention to controllers and designed the Thunder (1990) and Lightning (1991). To be replaced in 1996 with the improved Lightning II. To finish off the millennium in style, Don built the gold edition of the Marimba Lumina. In 2000 and 2001, he added the silver Marimba Lumina 3.5 and the smaller Marimba Lumina 2.5. And in 2002, Don introduced the Piano Bar, now manufactured and distributed by Moog Music Inc. Now for an abrupt switch. In 2002, Don decided that the 200 series was due for improvement, and in 2004, introduced several new modules, calling these the 200e series. Check ‘em out. Wonder what’s next? So do we.”

We’ll post more information as it develops. Below is a Red Bull Music Academy interview from 2007:

One of Buchla’s final live performances came in 2013. Watch video of that below.