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RCA Synthesizer Mark II

RCA Mark II Synthesizer

(16 Votes)
Mark Smart
1.7 (Updated 8 years ago)
December 15, 2012
Reaktor 5 or lower
Instrument Sequencer


This ensemble, which emulates the RCA Synthesizer Mark II used at the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center in the 60s and 70s, was built from the detailed description in the book "Electronic and Computer Music" by Peter Manning. It has 4 independent voices and can be used to generate music that sounds kind of like Milton Babbitt.

On the RCA Mark II, the circuits were controlled with binary-encoded punched paper rolls very much like the ones on player pianos. My Reaktor version emulates the paper rolls with Event Table modules, one for each bit. 1s and 0s can be drawn in with the mouse, or values can be recorded at the Play/Record pointer using the control panels to the right. A transport panel with keyboard short cuts can be used to navigate through the piece.

The Mark II used 2 synchonized punched paper rolls to control 4 completely separate monophonic synthesizer voices. I have recreated the behavior here the best I can from the information in Peter Manning's book. The Mark II was also connected to two synchronized phonographic disc lathes (and later tape decks) allowing multiple overdubs, which were often used to build up dense tone clusters in pieces created on the Mark II. I have added a Fixed Oscillator Bank to each voice allowing the creation of similar dense tone clusters within standalone Reaktor without overdubs. For that classic Columbia/Princeton sound!

Also included is a Tone Row Generator for creating and transforming serial tone rows and recording them into the synthesizer control tracks.

The example mp3 contains some tracks made with earlier versions of the ensemble, so the table data for those is not present in the ensemble I uploaded. But the synth is CAPABLE of making those sounds with the correct table data, so I included them in the mp3.

Serial music is part of this complete breakfast. Enjoy!

Mark Smart


John Fisher
7 years ago
wow, this is absolutely fascinating. I'm loving it.