Buchla Lightning

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The Buchla Lightning is the original in a series of MIDI controllers developed by Don Buchla.[1] It consists of two controller wands and a box unit that enable a player to create sounds and to manipulate sound data spatially, by assigning different hand motions to MIDI events (sounds).[2]


The basic concept behind Buchla Lightning (1, 2 and 3) is that you assign certain MIDI events (sounds) to hand gestures. You then perform these gestures while holding the two wands. There is a separate box/unit that picks up the gestures you make with the wand and then the sound is produced.[2]

In technical terms. The two infrared wands emit and transmit location, acceleration, velocity, and direction to the photo-sensors of the box unit. The device then translates these actions into corresponding, pre-programmed system data (sound).[3]


The first Buchla Lightning was developed in 1991, the second 1996, and the third in 2008. With each succession the Buchla Lightning has improved on its ability to control these MIDI events. The Buchla Lightning II was a vast improvement on the first in technical terms (how the wands were made) and diversity (how they can be used). The Buchla Lightning II is said to lend itself mostly to percussive musical styles[2]

Lightning upgrades since Lightning I[edit]

The original Lightning housed the electronics and optics in the same box, requiring that the box be mounted on a stand while the Lightning II remotes the optics, and houses the electronics in a separate half rack cabinet. Lightning II exhibits substantially increased operating range, through improvements in electronics, optics, and wand design. Lightning II wands utilize replaceable batteries, and transmit for 15 hours compared to the Lightning's 2 hours before requiring battery replacement. The new wands are dual range for patch design or relatively close playing, use the low range and your battery will go for around 60 hours. The number of internal, RAM based presets has been increased from 12 to 30 in the Lightning two. Also, the fixed presets are increased from 3 to 30. Lightning II accommodates a memory card, which can store an additional 30 presets per card. Lightning II contains a synthesizer, facilitating demos and augmenting the performance possibilities.[4]

Featured Examples[edit]

Don Buchla[edit]

  • En Plein Vol (1991)
  • Trajectories (1992)

George E. Lewis[edit]

  • "Virtual Discourse" (1993)
  • " Crazy Quilt" (2002)

Andrew Schloss[edit]

  • "Virtual Iyesa" (1997)

Lê Quan Ninh[edit]

  • "Oscille" (1997)

External links[edit]

Projects using Buchla Lightning[edit]

Of Related Interest[edit]

  • Thunder, a tactile MIDI controller
  • Marimba Lumina, a specialized MIDI control device
  • The Theremin, original analog electronic musical instrument to incorporate spatial manipulation as a function of control.


  • Chadabe, Joel (1997). Electric Sound: The Past and Promise of Electronic Music. 
  • Hopkin, Bart (1996). Gravikords, Whirlies & Pyrophones: Experimental Musical Instruments. 
  1. ^ Oxford Online Music Dictionary
  2. ^ a b c Electronic Musician. Aug96, Vol. 12 Issue 8, Robert Rich, Buchla Lightning II
  3. ^ * Chadabe, Joel (1997). Electric Sound: The Past and Promise of Electronic Music.  * Hopkin, Bart (1996). Gravikords, Whirlies & Pyrophones: Experimental Musical Instruments. 
  4. ^ "Lightning II". Buchla and Associates. Retrieved 2013-09-24.