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Donald Buchla founded his own company Buchla and Associates in Berkeley, California, becoming a pioneer of American synth making. Modern BEMI is located in Grants Pass, Oregon, United States, where the whole production process takes place and even the majority of the components are purchased not far from the assembling center. Buchla Electronic Musical Instruments enjoy being all-American.
His first voltage controlled synthesizer Don designed in 1963 which was followed by many other technically and conceptually innovative instruments – Bob Moog considered them to be some kind of an inspirational standard for his own projects.

Such companies as CBS, Kimball Piano, Zeta Music, Yamaha International, Gibson Guitars and E-Mu Systems used to be happy to have Donald as a consultant. He’s got several patents in optics and musical instruments. He was a technical director of California Institute of the Arts and of Electric Symphony, received grants from Veterans Administration, Guggenheim Foundation and National Endowment for the Arts. Don was honored with the prestigious SEAMUS Lifetime Achievement Award recognizing his merits as one of the synth pioneers, for his contribution into art and electroacoustic music.

His career began with a 100 modular series which actually appeared thanks to Ramon Sender and Morton Subotnick as well as Rockefeller Foundation grant. Don was triggered with the idea of electroacoustic music simplification – with so-called musique concrete. He created synthesizer in order it could generate, distort and alter noises and sounds organizing them into music sequences. The waveforms of his instruments formed more sophisticated shapes than classic sawtooth, sine and square. The series was quite peculiar due to the keyboard: individually adjustable capacitance-sensitive touch-plates instead of traditional keys. Programming as well as the playback of any sequence or any more or less tuned sound would puzzle an unprepared upstart willing to press a button and hear a music box lullaby – while other synthesizers may seem intuitive this unit requires you to be instructed. Even analog oscillators of Buchla 100 needed to be systematically fixed up.

In 1970s 200 Electric Music Box series came to replace the predecessor. That’s when the patch cord system revealing all the routing manipulation was introduced. There was that typical Buchla keyboard again. System 101 is the smallest one in the series – a compact polyphonic synthesizer comprising such modules as: 212 Dodecamodule, 258 Dual Oscillator and 237 (is already a classic keyboard instead of the plates).

Sili-Con Cello included 5 modules of the 200 series: 281 Quad Function Generator, 292C Quad Lowpass Gate, 266 Source of Uncertainty, 259 Complex Wave Generator and preamp 270. The synthesizer was interactive owing to a nice feature: with the help of the microphone put through the preamp and envelope generator CV/Gate signals could be generated out of acoustic sounds; Sili-Con Cello could be integrated with acoustic instruments.

Music Easel (1972-1973) synthesizer 203-8 casing incorporated 208 module (which already featured an oscillator, filters, amplitude modulation, analog ASD envelope generator, pulsator, random voltage generator, headphones jack, mixer and reverb outputs) and brought back the touch-plates. Considering small dimensions Music Easel comprised a 5-step sequencer, 22 sliders and 25 patch points. Buchla devised unprecedented program cards storing patches. There were 6 cards and you had to see into and sort out resistors yourself for each of them but it did mean that the synthesizer offered 6 patch-memory programs.

In 1971 when computers became more or less affordable Buchla invented the first hybrid – 500 series digitally controlled analog synthesizer. It’s quite a rare series in modular world. At least one such construction was delivered to be kept at B-304 studio of the California Institute of the Arts, another one – to Evergreen College and the third one is located somewhere in Europe. Almost at the same time 300 series came out which used 200 series modules together with the computer system based on Intel 8080 (8-bit processor) with a discrete drive, video monitor and IV patch designed specially for the system.

In 1978 he developed Touché. An 8-voice polyphony, 24 digital oscillators (3 per voice), synthesizer with 61 classic keyboard keys was based on the 16-bit processor. Touché was a hybrid analog circuitry of which was operating together with the computer control implementation. The synthesizer was programmed by its own code FOIL, information could be entered via front panel but you needed to switch on the monitor in order to track your alterations. 32 patches allowed playback of any 2 of them simultaneously. Velocity sensitive controller was responsible for such parameters as pitch and modulation. Unique programming possibilities let you record sequences and patterns playing them back the way you like in real time. The synth cost about $8500 which was more expensive than Prophet 5 or Oberheim OBX and the interface wasn’t as intuitive as it was necessary to get a place among the most commercially successful synthesizers though it featured a revolutionary technology. As a result only 4 units were released.

It’s obvious that Buchla kept on literally fighting the market ignoring his entrepreneurial flop in the late 1970s. It could be proved by his foolhardy Buchla 400 comprising 3 CPUs: the first one controlled user interface, the second one – sound generator, the third one was into sound generating itself (and was taken from Touché). All of them were under “MIDAS” code control. In order to follow the graphic process of editing and sequencer functioning you had to connect it to the computer monitor. The unit was released as with plates as with a traditional keyboard (Buchla 406).

Buchla 700 replaced its predecessor in 1987. This time it featured a more powerful set of 4 CPU, the extra one was responsible for input and output analog and digital data including MIDI.

Buchla went through the MIDI boom of the 1980s and created two controllers Thunder and Lightning (1990-1991). In 1996 an elaborated Lightning II was launched. In the early 2000s Marimba Lumina (3.5, 2.5) series followed.

In 2004 Don upgraded his the only one popular and commercially profitable 200 series and released it as a 200e series. 200e series is above definition – it’s an analog-digital hybrid modular system with analog interface and another avant-garde electronic system inside. 200e produces both analog and digital signal. Almost all the analog signals were controlled by digital components in order to ensure steady and quality sound as well as patch storing (you could store all the settings except for routing).

Buchla devised his instruments first of all for the sake of improvisation and creation of something new. Buchla’s instruments might seem to be made not for musicians – touch plates just prove it. The complex waveform oscillators are unique as well (the complexity is not so much about the operating but the actual sound generating manner) and the nomenclature of the components (instead of the oscillators, filters, amplifier and etc. we see descriptive names like: Source of Uncertainty, Fluctuating Random Voltage section and others). Anyway his designs appeared to be original and manifested a strong position – not even once Buchla had his way turned back or going along the competitor’s one and that’s what intrigued musicians so much every time they heard his name.