Classic Serge

In the early 70's Serge Tcherepnin began to design and build synthesizers while teaching at California Institute of the Arts. Before long, other professors, students, and musicians became interested in these new synthesizers. Serge set up an odd manufacturing arrangement where interested people paid $700 up front for parts, then worked for him building modules. When done, they were rewarded with a six-panel system of their own.

A few different methods of panel marking were tried, and the one settled on for some of these early units was to print (photocopy?) the panel markings onto a piece of paper, one per module. These were then stuck on the 17" x 7" aluminium panels that were pre-drilled with a grid of 1" spaced holes, irrespective of whether all holes would be needed. The top edge of these pieces of paper folded over on to the back of the panel, and contained brief markings to help wiring the jacks of the module in question to its circuit board. All of the pieces of paper were then covered over with a single piece of adhesive mylar or "Contact" type book covering film.

The Serge synthesizer I have been examining is indeed an early one, dated 1973. From my observations, I conclude that there were not as many module designs to choose from at this point as there were later, as there is significant repetition on this unit, and some "standard" modules are conspicuous by their absence. Another feature of this synthesizer that separates it from most Serge synthesizers is that this one does not use banana jacks, instead being equipped with 1/8" jacks. Also, as is typical of these early Serges, this one is "cased" in a simple frame of wood. In fact, when I first received it, the panels were held into the frames by washers clamped under screws - a most unsatisfactory arrangement, as at least one panel was no longer secure.

panel 1 panel 2 panel 3 panel 4 panel 5 panel 6
Above is a photo of the Serge looked like after a clean and addition of wood strips to hold the panels in place. Click on the panels for further details.

This Serge was assembled by Warren Burt, originally for the Center for Music Experiment at the University of California, San Diego, and was imported into Australia to be used at the Clifton Hill Community Music Centre. It was later acquired by Rainer Linz, and used in a number of performances of Stelarcs.

The 1/8 inch jacks were used because Roger Reynolds at CME felt that banana plugs would be too flimsy and prone to bad connections. I have heard of certain brands of banana connectors failing with time, so perhaps that decision was justified, but I will add that by the time I received this instrument, barely any of the 1/8 inch jacks were still operational due to bending of their contacts, and corrosion build-up. Being open-frame jacks, they were repairable.

Serge kit instructions.

Page design copyright 1999 by Ken Stone

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