Transaudio Procase 6 by TransaudioMelbourne Electronic Sound Studio
Transaudio was a short-lived electronic music instrument manufacturer based in Melbourne, Australia. Between the years of 1972 - 1976, Transaudio produced several unique handmade synthesis systems, examples of which live in the MESS Studio. Each of these machines was produced in extremely limited quantities and as such are incredibly rare examples of early Australian design and manufacture of electronic sound instruments.
In the 1970s electronic music was emerging from the academies and institutions, and infiltrating the popular consciousness. Synthesisers, once colossus machines that graced the hallways of academia, were making their way into peoples homes and musicians' studios.
Manufacturers like Moog, Roland, Korg, Serge and Buchla among others were making great progress with everything from wall-sized modulars to more portable and affordable devices. EMS in London had a particularly big impact on the development of electronic music in Australia due to various confluences that you can read about in the story of the VCS1.
Transaudio's attempt to design electronic instruments in Australia at this time coincided with Trevor Marshall’s design and commercialisation of the ETI 3800 and 4600 machines, and Tony Furse’s design of the QASAR 1 in Canberra. In this sense, Bryan and Marshall and Furse were pioneers in Australian synthesiser manufacture and design.
Started in Melbourne by electronics enthusiast and businessman Bruce Bryan in 1973, with technical and design assistance from Jim Sosnin, Transaudio produced just a handful of machines from 1973-76. The company was a short-lived attempt to start a uniquely bespoke Australian brand of patchable analogue instruments made to order for Australian artists and institutions. In this three year period the company manufactured two flagship 6 oscillator matrix pin bay systems; the Pro Case 6 and the System 6.
The Transaudio Procase 6, one of only two 6 oscillator systems that the company built. This one was restored in 2013 by the original sequencer designer, Jim Sosnin. It is in great working order and available for public use at MESS.
Transaudio Procase 6 by TransaudioMelbourne Electronic Sound Studio
The Pro-Case 6 was a comprehensive machine for its time. Putting aside its rarity, it remains an impressive instrument by contemporary standards for those artists working with subtractive synthesisers. Let's look in some more detail at its features.
The machine derives its name from the 6 core oscillators you can see here. Each module produces a wide frequency range, from very low rates found in LFOs (Low-Frequency Oscillators) to above 20kHz, which is beyond human hearing. Each module could also produce basic sine, triangle and square waves, which could be further manipulated via the shape control.
4 filter modules are the heart of this subtractive system. Each filter is switchable between low-pass and high-pass, a feature not found on EMS's comparable machines, such as the EMS VCS-3.
3 envelope generators allow for further modulation of the sound. Each generator can function in a single or looped mode and may be triggered by the built-in sequencer, the envelope follower, or randomly.
4 output amplifiers provide the final mixing stage for all sound before heading to the instruments audio outputs. Also included are send and return lines for external effects such as a delay or reverb device.
A distinctive feature of this machine is the large matrix patch bay. Rather than using audio cables to interconnect modules in the device, this patch bay does the same thing by inserting a pin at the junction between two connections.
Here the yellow pin is connecting the output of oscillator 1 (VCO, horizontal row A) to the input of filter 1 (verticle column 11). Rows are generally outputs, and columns are inputs. NB: It is hard to tell how many battleships you may or may not sink using this method.
Unlike the EMS VCS-3 machines, the Transaudio ProCase had a built-in 10 step sequencer to create repeating musical phrases or rhythmic patterns. Its signals can be sent to any other part of the machine.
The machine also has a collection of utility modules that can variously generate useful sounds and/or shape control voltages and display information. These can add further depth and complexity to the sounds the instrument can generate.
Lastly, we have a series of additional controls for some of the machine's functions. There are also controls for input signal amplifiers and a pitch to voltage converter, which attempts to detect any signal's incoming pitch and turn this into a voltage.
Each of the Pro-Case series were powerful machines made to order and comprised similar components.
Robin Fox demonstrates how to create a basic patch on the Pro-Case 6.
Robin demonstrates how to use the Pro-Case 6 with a Roland TR-909 drum machine.
There is an example of an extended improvisation on this machine at the end of this story.
David TolleyMelbourne Electronic Sound Studio
The Procase 6 (pictured) was commissioned by David Tolley, a musician and sculptor who played a vital role in the experimental music community in Melbourne for decades.
The instrument featured extensively in many of his live electronic music performances from 1976 well into the early 1980s. Purchased by MESS director Robin Fox in 2013, the instrument was restored by Jim Sosnin and is now available for public use at MESS.
3 Oscillator Modules
A set of three 3 oscillator modular synths were designed and built by Jim Sosnin as teaching tools for the newly established LaTrobe Music Department - a radical department established by composer Keith Humble in 1975.
Swappable System by TransaudioMelbourne Electronic Sound Studio
These machines were designed as teaching aids, but are powerful machines in their own right. They are very similar in functionality to the EMS VCS-3 synthesisers. Only 3 units were produced, all by hand as custom builds.
Here we can see the 2 machines that live in the MESS collection. All 3 machines were discarded in a dumpster when the Latrobe music school was closed in 1999. They were rescued by Melbourne artist and music librarian Michael Munson.
These two Low Pass filters are used to subtract frequencies from the oscillators. The sound of filters particularly filters moving across the sound (aka sweeping) is one of the most recognisable sounds in electronic music.
In the centre, we have a meter for reading voltages (both DC and AC, hence a switch to select), as well as the power switch and power LED. We also have a noise generator that produced a range of random voltages.
The system uses scientific style banana plugs to interconnect the various modules of the machine. On this machine, each cable needs a resistor built into it, so the cables have to be customised for use.
We are very fortunate to have these two machines in the MESS collection given that these important pieces of sonic history were almost lost to us. The machines have been restored and are in good working order.
The company formed when Bruce Bryan met Jim Sosnin in 1972-1973. Jim had been Keith Humble’s chief technician at Melbourne University from 1971 and was responsible for installing the Synthi 100 (alongside Tristram Carey of EMS). During that installation process, Bryan had been keenly interested in what was going on. In an interview with Sosnin, he describes a situation where ‘Bruce seemed to be around a lot, I’m not sure why, but he was definitely interested in what was going on and was asking a lot of detailed questions about the Synthi 100.’
Another Transaudio machine turned up in late 2017 after spending decades under someone's stairs. This machine was a complete one-off. It is the only machine of its kind to exist. One of the first systems Transaudio built, the system was called the ‘swappable’ and was also commissioned for the fledgling LaTrobe university electronic music studio.
Transaudio 3 Oscillator Box Transaudio 3 Oscillator Box by TransaudioMelbourne Electronic Sound Studio
As with vintage Moog modular machines and contemporary Eurorack systems, this instrument was designed so that modules could be replaced and substituted for custom configurations.
Here we have the two oscillator units with each offering slightly different functionality as can be seen by the control dials and signal outputs.
These two filter modules while looking similar offer different yet complementary functions. One is a low pass filter (VCF-LP) and the other is a high pass filter (VCF-HP).
Here we have two envelope generators, used for time-based waveform functions. Typically these would be connected to an amplifier to control how the volume of sound behaves over time.
An additional pair of oscillators, similar to those in the case directly above.
Noise & Metering
This module generates random waveforms (noise) and also has a meter that is used as a utility for measuring and observing voltage behaviours.
Twin channel VCA
Here we have two twin channel voltage-controlled amplifier modules (VCA). These are a very basic yet essential part of any synthesiser or other electronic sound generator/processor.
Lastly, we have voltage-controlled slew limiters. These modules can apply a ramp to a sudden change in voltage. These are often used to generate gliding and sliding voltages, used in pitch and filter sweeps.
There are another 4 modules spare with this system that are not in a case. 2 oscillators, an amplifier and a slew limiter.
Sadly, the company had a limited window of operation due to their failure to deliver the custom instruments in a timely manner. He describes driving out to Mooroolbark (an outer suburb of Melbourne) and basically meeting Bryan in a spare bedroom of his house to discuss the desired design.
As time went by Duffield kept paying incrementally for modules that didn’t arrive after having already paid a hefty deposit. Finally, Bryan stopped answering the phone and when Duffield drove out again to check on the progress of his dream synth, Bryan was gone. Given how much money had been invested Duffield launched an investigation and legal proceedings in 1976. Bryan was located and came to Melbourne to finally deliver the instrument.
Unfortunately, it was incomplete and was not delivered with a sufficient number of pins to be useful. Disappointed and annoyed, Duffield describes how the machine became a doorstop in his studio.
Despite the challenges faced by the fledgling company the machines are still working and sounding pretty wild!
MESS co-director Robin Fox performs an improvisation on the Transaudio Pro-Case 6.
With thanks to Jim Sosnin and Andrew Duffield for their contributions to this story.
This MESS project is supported by the Victorian Government through Creative Victoria.
Photographs by Kristoffer Paulsen.