About Triangulum

Triangulum Research began as a project to rebuild an Aries System 300 based modular synthesizer.

The Aries System 300 was a modular synthesizer sold by Aries Music in Massachusetts in the mid 1970s. It was designed by Dennis Colin who designed many of the modules for the ARP 2500 and 2600, as well as the multimode filter in the Oberheim SEM (a personal favorite). It was sold both in kit and assembled form, and the schematics and build guide were included with the manual.

My Aries came from a dumpster behind the Cole Science building at Hampshire College, where it had been discarded along with an Altair, an old plotter, and a pile of graying tech viewed as obsolete as of the mid-90s.  I had used the Aries as function generator for testing amplifier and filter designs, while was working on my Div III (senior thesis) at Hampshire. I knew it was obsolete, but I loved the old knobs, switches, and patch cables. It felt like an analog computer from the 50s, and the sound palette was rich and expansive.

Unfortunately, the accompanying keyboard controller was not found in the same pile. It turned out that the Physical Plant personnel in charge of cleaning out the obsolete gear, had thrown out the keyboard controller on a previous trip. They had plugged it into an amp and it made no sounds, so they assumed it was dead and tossed it. I spent several days crawling through the dump where they said they had taken it, but I was unable to find it. A result of this is that I got used to generating melodies by patching signals through the Sample & Hold module, and to this day, I love generating “music” almost as much as I love playing.

As I learned how to use each of the modules, I discovered that some of them did not function, so I pulled them out and began to study them (I have never been shy about disassembling things) .

It turned out that only 7 of the modules were built from Aries kits. The rest were homemade, a mix of wire-wrap breadboards, and soldered breadboards. I studied the circuit design of each and sent away for datasheets for each of the chips, so I could figure out what they role each of them was supposed to play. It took the better part of a year to collect all of the info (this was before you could find everything on the internet).

I fixed the VCF, which had a capacitor that had visibly fallen apart, then the mixer module, whose 301 chips had all mysteriously failed.

And then I moved to San Francisco to try to find work.

The Aries stayed in boxes for the better part of a year while I got settled. It came out when I got a studio at a performance space called Cellspace (or maybe it was called The Cell back then. I don’t remember.).

Some of the modules did not survive the journey west, so I took the broken ones out and set them aside for repair.

People at Cell saw me working on these strange electronic modules, and started bringing me their electronic projects for advice or repair. Repairing things is a kind of meditation for me, similar to the way people enjoy activities such as puzzles, painting, or working on a car, so I never charged for the work. If I didn’t have too many projects competing for space and time, I would add it to the pile (queue). I almost always had at least three projects on the pile at the same time, because I often had to find parts, search for documentation, or just think about the problem for a while. I fixed many amplifiers, synths, drum machines, arcade games, speakers, computers, and even a few toasters and an electric kettle or two.  All of this helped me get a good sense of how electronics work, what parts tend to fail, how to source parts, how-NOT-to layout a PCB, and I got to see a good cross-section of real-world electronic design patterns.

Flash forward to the future… October 2016. I am living in Massachusetts. I am dissatisfied with my job due to some recent personnel changes. I am still repairing stuff as a hobby, and I’ve taken a renewed interest in my synthesizer; designing some new modules for it using an open-source PCB design program called Kicad. I have been putting aside money to spend on something fun. The market for Eurorack modules seems to be very active. Maybe now is the time to see if I can earn a living designing electronic instruments. Do I know enough, and can I learn the rest quickly enough to make it all work? I guess I’ll have to try and see.

The name Triangulum Research is a nod to the Aries synthesizer that got me started. The constellation Triangulum is adjacent to Aries in the night sky. Triangulum is latin for triangle. The triangle wave is one of the fundamental waveforms used in subtractive synthesis.  Research because I am researching whether I can figure all this out.





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