Don Buchla

"How Complicated Could a Metronome Be?"

Date 3/10/14

Affiliation Composer and Designer, Berkeley


The contraption I'd like to show is part of a modular electronic musical instrument, called the 200e. This particular module, called the Polyphonic Rhythm Generator, when used in conjunction with some sound generating modules, forms a ridiculously sophisticated metronome that finds application in odd meter music such as commonly found in Eastern Europe and Africa, but has only occurred in Western music in the last century or so.

We shall attempt to explain various details of the device, and will demonstrate its application in various musical settings. I'll be assisted by virtuoso Rumen Sali Shopov, who will show you several complex rhythms from Eastern Europe, by my wife, Nannick, who is adding a piano bar to Rumanian music that traditionally eschews keyboard instruments, and by my associate, Joel Davel, who, if he is sufficiently mobile, will demonstrate some of those complex cross rhythms that I tried to learn, but could not come to grips with in a finite period of time.


Educated in physics, physiology, music, and astronomy, Don Buchla's multi-faceted creativity has been applied to fields as diverse as space biophysics research, musical instrument design, and multi-media composition. Much of his work has centered on the refinement of communication channels between man and machine, notably the invention of mobility aids for the visually handicapped, the development of instrumentation for bio-feedback and physiological telemetry, and the design of interactive electronic musical instruments and performance-oriented music languages.

Don founded the alternative band, Fried Suck, was a founding member of the 15 piece Arch Ensemble, and co-founded the Electric Weasel Ensemble, the Muse and the Fuse, and the Artist’s Research Collective. He served as technical director of the California Institute of the Arts, the San Francisco Tape Music Center, the Electric Circus, and the Electric Symphony. He has collaborated with such luminaries as Ami Radunskaya, David Rosenboom, Anthony Braxton, David Wessel, Morton Subotnick, Peter Apfelbaum, Suzanne Ciani, George Lewis, Nannick Bonnel, and his son, Ezra. He has developed several exotic controllers that provide expressive alternatives to traditional musical input devices; recent inventions include Thunder, Lightning III, Wind, Rain, 50 Fireflies, the Piano Bar, and the Marimba Lumina. He is currently completing a major redesign of the 200 series modular synthesizer (called the 200e) and contemplating his next project.

“. . . . . . cranking up the Buchla electronic music machine until it maneuvers itself into the most incalculable sonic corner, the last turn in the soldered circuit maze, and lets out a pure topologically measured scream. Ultima-time with heavy-duty wiring, the works . . .The music suddenly submerges the room from a million speakers . . . . . . . a soprano tornado of it . . . all-electric, the Buchla screaming like a logical lunatic . . . ”

Tom Wolfe

The Electric Kool-aid Acid Test

-- As of 3/10/14