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Sound Instruments Sonica

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Frank Eventoff and the HISTORY ofThe SONICA!

After Mattel had used the concept, Frank developed a more precise keyboard and incorporated it into this new instrument, which he called The Sonica. In 1979, the first Sonicas were produced, a collaboration with Larry Heller. There were 650 eventually built, but very few are seen nowadays. Serge Tcherepnin of Serge synthesizers (analog modular) did the oscillator design, and the oscillator inside the Sonica is indeed a Serge oscillator! The bodies have an interesting gourd/phallic shape, and were carved wood. The neck is incredibly comfortable, and easily fits into the hand, facilitating the sliding action used for playing the Sonica.

Frank's neighbor in Silverlake was a modelmaker and carved the bodies that were made 24 at a time. The instrument's body is constructed of mahogany. The top plate is brass. It is held like a Mandolin, and is played by simply touching the pads on the neck of the Instrument to produce a nice simple tone corresponding in pitch with the area or "fret" which is touched. The sound of the Sonica can best be described as somewhere between a theremin, sitar and violin. When run through a simple delay, an amazing array of soundscapes are derived. The front panel features a Key/Pitch Knob, and an On/Off Volume Knob. It boasts 15 keys with additional half step notes.

The top panel includes a Key/Pitch Knob, an On/Off Volume Knob and three buttons which control a tremolo effect, a boost, and another which raises the note by an octave. It is powered by a 9V battery. It does have a built-in speaker, but could probably be best used by running a line out (1/8") to an board or amplifier and effects setup.


Technical Specifications
Type: Analog
Synthesis: Oscillator(s)
Oscillators: 1
Osc Modulation: Keyboard, Ribbon
Filters: 1
Filter Notes:
+ Tone adjustments
Polyphony & Tuning
Polyphony: 1
Timbrality: 1
Tuning: Standard
Modes: Mono
Case: Desktop
Case Details: 15 keys
Keyboard: Touch Plates, Plastic
Controls: Buttons, Knobs
Audio Output Connections: 1/8" Phone Jack, Mono Out
Audio Output Count: 1
Power: 9V Battery
Year Released: 1979
Units Made: 650
Used By
Donna Summer, Eric Clapton
Design Notes:

Designed by Frank Eventoff and Larry Heller.
Oscillator designed by Serge Tcherepnin

Frank Eventoff - inventor of the Sonica - has a long history of creating musical instruments. In an interview for this website - he happily discussed the history around the Sonica:

The " Rainmaker " was the first instrument he built in the 1970's - it was created and named for his daughter Rain. It was similar to the Sonica idea, a single note - diatonic instrument. However, the Rainmaker used a single string over frets; there were resistors under the frets to create the scale notes as they string was pressed down.

The key to the Sonica and Frank's other instruments:FSR

To further develop the Rainmaker's concept, Frank invented and patented the "force-sensing resistor" - abbreviated FSR - in 1977. The force-sensing resistor is a simple electronic circuit where finger pressure is applied to a surface, and the circuit changes resistance, depending on the amount of pressure applied. Not only is this useful as a "control" surface, but the smooth top surface (or membrane) keeps dirt and finger oils away from the electronics inside. The Force-sensing resistor is used all over the world today in numerous applications, and has been part of thousands of musical instruments. The famous Prophet V synthesizer was the first musical product to feature FSR in its aftertouch sensor? FSR technology was also used in Oberhiem synthesizers, Simmons drums, Kat drum triggers and pads, Linndrum, and Hot Spot drum triggers.

Frank used the FSR to create a touch-keyboard, and made a battery-operated instrument that played single notes and had a small amplifier and speaker. He licensed the idea to Mattel, and it became known as the " Magical Music Thing ". A very successful toy which sold in the thousands, they are the direct predecessor to ...

Donna Summer bought one of the runs of 24 and created a Sonica Orchestra !!! They performed live in Hawaii, with all the musicians in her band equipped with Sonicas at some point in the show!

Later, Frank made a showing of his newer instruments to Mattel, but they were only interested in one component, a sensor. So he took his ideas elsewhere (Later, Mattel's Synsonic drums infringed on some of his ideas, but nothing legal happened)

Frank and his partner went to Hasbro Toys, Mattel's competition. The Hasbro team asked "Can you do something new, that's never before even been seen on the planet?"

So he worked with Serge again, and Tyrone Christiansen. Mark Lensner did digital programming (just before he went to Apple and developed the program called QuickTime). They used four Casio computers and one Apple II to run the system. Their development was the Electronic Orchestra , a sound-maker and music system - much like the multitimbral MIDI sound modules that would be common later. Unfortunately, the Toy industry crashed, and only the prototype was built.

Frank retreated to the beautiful state of Washington and started Fifer - a new company to design and build innovative musical instruments.

He designed THE KEY - a much more sophisticated version of The Sonica - a similar keyboard, but easier to get chromatic notes. Also had six short "strings" at the bottom, which could be strummed. This makes the Key familiar to guitarists. There was a Korg synthesizer inside to generate sounds. A lot of money was spent on R&D.

A New York firm marketed it, with a Chinese manufacturer as partner. Finally ready in 1995 - it took longer than they thought. It was originally just a 'consumer' device - so that someone at home could play along with MTV! But the marketing guy kept adding ideas to make it more professional, and the $250 intended price went up to $500. NY firm went defunct - supposedly after 10,000 were made!

Later, Frank redesigned it and made it into a computer peripheral device. His new company is Sensortronics : still designing and building new things... to be shown here soon!

Product Links
Company Product Sites:
[+] www.alsrecordsandtapes.com
Used Price: $500 - $3,500 - convert
References & Sources

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