EMS VCS 3
The VCS 3 (or VCS3; an initialism for Voltage Controlled Studio, version #3) is a portable analog synthesiser with a flexible semi-modular voice architecture, introduced by Electronic Music Studios (London) Limited (EMS) in 1969.[# 1]
EMS released the product under various names. Logos printed at the console's front left (see photos) say "V.C.S. 3" on the most widely sold version; "The Putney (VCS 3)" on the earlier version; and "The Synthi (VCS 3) II" on the later version (Synthi VCS 3 II).[# 2]
The VCS 3 was created in 1969 by Peter Zinovieff's EMS company. The electronics were designed largely by David Cockerell, and its distinctive appearance was the work of electronic composer Tristram Cary. It was one of the first portable commercially available synthesizers, in the sense that it was housed entirely in a small wooden case, unlike synths from American manufacturers such as Moog Music, ARP and Buchla, which had large cabinets and could take up entire rooms.
The VCS 3 cost just under £330 in 1969. Some people found it unsatisfactory as a melodic instrument due to its inherent tuning instability. This arose from the instrument's reliance on the then-current method of exponential conversion of voltage to oscillator frequency—an approach that other companies also implemented with fewer tuning issues. However, the VCS 3 was renowned as an extremely powerful generator of electronic effects and processor of external sounds for its cost[according to whom?].
The VCS 3 found popularity among artists seeking to create exotic synthesised sounds. As a result, remaining examples sell for far more than their original asking prices.[note 1]
The first album recorded using only the VCS 3 was The Unusual Classical Synthesizer on Westminster Gold.
The VCS3 was popular among progressive rock bands, and was used on recordings by The Alan Parsons Project, Jean-Michel Jarre, Todd Rundgren, Hawkwind, Curved Air, Brian Eno (with Roxy Music and as a solo artist or collaborator), King Crimson, The Who, Gong, and Pink Floyd, and many others. The VCS3-generated bass sound at the beginning of Pink Floyd's "Welcome to the Machine" forms the foundation of the song, with its other parts heard in response. The Who famously used a VCS3 on "Won't Get Fooled Again" from Who's Next, where Pete Townshend used it as an external sound processor by running the signal of a Lowrey organ through the VCS3's filter and low frequency oscillators. It was also notably used by John Paul Jones in the song "Four Sticks" on the untitled fourth album by Led Zeppelin.
The VCS3 has three oscillators (the first two normal; the third an LFO or Low Frequency Oscillator), a noise generator, two input amplifiers, a ring modulator, 24 dB/octave voltage-controlled low pass filter (VCF), a trapezoid envelope generator, a joystick controller, a voltage-controlled spring reverb unit, and two stereo output amplifiers. Unlike most modular synthesiser systems, which used cables to link components, the VCS 3 uses a distinctive patchboard matrix where pins are inserted to connect its components.
Although the VCS 3 is often used for generating sound effects due to lack of a built-in keyboard, external keyboard controllers were available for melodic play. The DK1, produced in 1969, is an early velocity-sensitive monophonic keyboard for VCS 3 with an extra VCO and VCA.[# 3] In 1972 it was extended for duophonic play as DK2.[# 4] Also in 1972, the Synthi AKS was released, as well as a digital sequencer with a touch-sensitive flat keyboard, the KS sequencer,[# 5] and its mechanical keyboard version, DKS.[# 6]
The VCS 3's basic design was reused by EMS in many other of their own products, most notably the EMS Synthi 100 (1971),[# 7] the Synthi A (1971),[# 8] and AKS (1972, essentially a VCS 3 in a plastic briefcase). The AKS also has a sequencer built into the keyboard's lid.[# 9]
A former agent of EMS in the United States, Ionic Industries in Morristown, New Jersey, released a portable-keyboard VCS 3 clone in 1973. The Ionic Performer, whose circuitry is based on the VCS 3's, replaced the patchboard matrix with over 100 push-buttons, and added a built-in keyboard and effects units.
The EMS Synthi A has the same electronics as the VCS 3, but was rehoused in a Spartanite briefcase. Instead of routing signals using patch cables, like Moog products, it uses a patch matrix with resistive pins. The 2700 ohm resistors soldered inside each pin vary in tolerance, indicated by different colours: red pins have 1% tolerance, white have 5%, and green pins are attenuating pins with a resistance of 68,000 ohms.
Perhaps its most prominent uses are in Pink Floyd's "On the Run" from their 1973 album The Dark Side of the Moon, and the introduction to The Alan Parsons Project's "I Robot." Along with Klaus Schulze and Tangerine Dream, other frequent users of the instrument include Tim Blake & Miquette Giraudy of Gong, Richard Pinhas of Heldon, Merzbow, Thomas Lehn, Cor Fuhler and Alva Noto.
The original VCS No.1 was a hand-built rack-mount unit with two oscillators, one filter and one envelope, designed by Cockerell before the formation of EMS. When a benefactor, Don Banks, asked Zinovieff for a synthesiser, Zinovieff and Cockerell decided to work together on an instrument that was small and portable but powerful and flexible.
In popular culture
A modified EMS VCS3 is presented as the "Harrington 1200" automatic song-writing machine in the "Music" episode of the comedy Look Around You.
- In August 2010, VCS3 reached £6700 in an eBay auction.
- Hinton, Graham (December 2002). "EMS: The Inside Story". Electronic Music Studios (Cornwall). Archived from the original on 2013-05-21. Retrieved 2011-09-30.
- Hinton, Graham (December 2002). "A Guide to the EMS Product Range - 1969 to 1979". Electronic Music Studios (Cornwall). Archived from the original on 2013-10-31.
- Reid, Gordon (November 2000). "All About EMS, Part 1". Sound on Sound (November 2000). Archived from the original on 2016-03-03.
- Reid, Gordon (2000). "All About EMS, Part 2". Sound on Sound (December 2000). Archived from the original on 2011-09-08.
- Reid Nov. 2000.
- "unusualstuff - krakatack". Sites.google.com. Retrieved 2020-04-12.
- Dennis Bathory-Kitsz. "Killer – My Ionic "Performer" Synth (from Ionic Industories, made by Alfred Mayer)".
- "Flood & Howie B: Producing U2's Pop". Sound On Sound. July 1997. Archived from the original on 7 June 2015.
- Todd Rundgren is pictured with a VCS3 on the inside of his bifold double album "Something/Anything?"
- "VCS3 (aka The Putney) – The Products". Electronic Music Studios (Cornwall). Archived from the original on 2013-10-31.
- "Synthi VCS3 II – The Products". Electronic Music Studios (Cornwall). Archived from the original on 2013-10-31.
- "DK1 (aka The Cricklewood) – The Products". Electronic Music Studios (Cornwall). Archived from the original on 2013-10-31.
- "DK2 – The Products". Electronic Music Studios (Cornwall). Archived from the original on 2013-10-31.
- "KS – The Products". Electronic Music Studios (Cornwall). Archived from the original on 2013-10-31.
- "DKS – The Products". Electronic Music Studios (Cornwall). Archived from the original on 2013-10-31.
- "Synthi 100 (formerly Digitana, aka the Delaware) – The Products". Electronic Music Studios (Cornwall).
- "Synthi A (formerly Portabella) – The Products". Electronic Music Studios (Cornwall). Archived from the original on 2013-10-31.
- "Synthi AKS – The Products". Electronic Music Studios (Cornwall). Archived from the original on 2013-10-31.
- "Retro: VCS3". Future Music. No. 63. Future Publishing. November 1997. p. 55. ISSN 0967-0378. OCLC 1032779031.
- "An advertisement for the company, "every nun needs a Synthi"". Electronic Music Studios (London), Ltd. Archived from the original on 2012-07-17.
- "EMS Home". EMS Rehberg (Germany).
modification and resources
- Graham Hinton. "A Guide to EMS VCS3 & Synthi A/AKS Modifications & Servicing". Hinton Instruments.
- "Information on the EMS synthi A, KS and VCS3".
- "XILS 3, 4 and Vocoder 5000". — A VST simulation of a VCS3/VCS4 with Synthi Sequencer, and Vocoder 5000 by XILS-lab
- "Synthi Avs Plug-In". EMS Rehberg. — A (commercial) VST simulation of a VCS3/Synthi A by EMS Rehberg
- "Cynthia". — A free VST based on the architecture of VCS3/Synthi A by Ninecows
- "iVCS3". — Official EMS iOS emulator by apeSoft, with preface by Peter Zinovieff (screen shot)
EMS Synthi A
- "EMS' homepage (last updated August 1998)". Cornwall: Electronic Music Studios. Archived from the original on 2013-11-25.
- "Every Nun Needs a Synthi" (ad). Archived from the original on 2012-07-17.
- "VCS3 & Synthi A Modifications". Hinton Instruments. (last updated 2013-12-14)
- "Synthi A-VS plugin". Germany: EMS Rehberg. — A commercial VST simulation of a Synthi A by German EMS
- A freeware VST simulation of a Synthi A
- The EMS SYNTHI BLOG