MUSYS 3 comments

The name MUSYS indicates a series of programs made by Peter Grogono and Peter Zinovieff in the early seventies at the Electronic Music Studios in London (EMS), born institutionalizing the private studio of Peter Zinovieff, aimed to the composition of electronic music.

To be accurate, the reference literature writes of MUSYS as a a group of software or as a system for the composition and the execution of electronic music. Beyond the questions of terminology, both true, it is certain that the MUSYS was a complex work that integrates sophisticated digital equipment – hardware and software – and analog, thus creating a versatile and powerful tool that has found application in some major compositions of contemporary music.

The Electronic Music Studios – The EMS in those years was equipped with unusual machines: two 12-bit minicomputer PDP-8, differentiated by the letters S and L, respectively, the initial of Sofka and Leo, from the names of the sons of Zinovieff. [Grogono, Peter].

A picture of a PDP-8.

A picture of a PDP-8.

The PDP-8L, faster than the PDP-8S, was purchased in 1969, a few months before the beginning of the collaboration of Peter Grogono with the EMS. He should have realized a program which had two characteristics: it had to be used even by those composers who were not very familiar with programming and should be operational for a new computer, which would have to work in collaboration with the PDP-8S, the which software would be made ​​by Zinovieff. From this early work was carried out the MUSYS/1, which was followed by a second version called MUSYS/2.

MUSYS/3 – Both first versions were not used for a long time, in fact, already in the first months of 1970 was completed MUSYS/3, in which converged experiences were scanned with both of the two previous software. Unlike earlier, the MUSYS/3 was made ​​entirely by Grogono, which then created the software for both the PDP. The heart of the software realized by Grogono was the use of macro blocks of programs through which you can get in a quick and easy whole functions more or less complex, without having to prepare every time a long and complex programming.

The first pieces of music made ​​with the help of MUSYS/3 were Medusa (1970) by Harrison Birtwistle and A Lollipop for Papa (1970) by Peter Zinovieff, a variation of a sonata by Joseph Haydn. [Author Unknown]

Compiler and execution – Other software were realized in the following months: the MUSYS/4, which allowed the control of a bank of filters, and the MUSYS/5 that he should facilitate the composition of more demanding works. Overall, the system MUSYS consisted of two main parts: one for filling and one for execution. The compilation was done by the PDP-8L, which prepared the data to send to the PDP-8S, with which you ran the execution through the devices interfaced to two computers and that made ​​up the total system MUSYS.

The structure – The set of devices interfaced to the two computers was without doubt a very important feature of this system adopted in London. The following figure illustrates schematically some of the devices that constituted the entire system MUSYS:


A summary that shows the position of the two PDP computers within the MUSYS system, and all the devices connected to them.

You may notice the presence of the two computers, two teletypewriter that allowed you to interface with the PDP, a control panel (Button panel) through which to manage the data sent to-and-from each of the devices constituting the MUSYS and a whole host of other music devices and not, strictly related to the use of the two computers. The system also included a section for editing, through which you can modify the data already stored on disk, allowing those musical solutions to much difficult to predict during the compile step. If the composer was not interested in the potential of the compiler, then the whole system could be used as a simple digital sequencer, without exploiting the potential of MUSYS/3.

Synthi 100 – By the previous scheme is not understood the presence of what was undoubtedly the most important device in the whole system: the Synthi 100, the EMS analog synthesizer made ​​in 1971 (see the EMS Synthi 100 topic).

In the picture below we have an overview of the entire system MUSYS and we can observe the placement of all the elements, including the two PDP-8 and the Synthi synthesizer:


A picture of the Electronic Music Studios in London, ca 1971. Via Peter Grogono.

Looking from left to right (from the phone for instance), we can see:

  • The keyboard for musical analysis, capable of sending data to computers;
  • A Synthi ASK synthesizer;
  • A KSR-33 teletype for the management of the computer (with the chair in front);
  • A first rack (top) with controls filter, an oscilloscope, two tape drives and the DEC PDP-8L;
  • A second rack with a high-frequency oscilloscope, filter checks, bank of potentiometers, frequency meter, a Wavetek oscillator and a 32kB hard drive;
  • A third rack with the controls of amplification, the PDP-8S, some audio devices, a main panel for connections;
  • A fourth rack with digital/analogue controller, including the button panel to interact with the MUSYS software, reverb units;
  • A display and a keyboard to interact with the computer (the one black spot on the top should be a Tannoy loudspeaker);
  • The Synthi 100;
  • A four tracks Ampex with a Dolby noise reduction on top;
  • Another four tracks Ampex without the Dolby noise reduction;
  • The main mixer;
  • A custom device for sound spatialization.

Legacy – In 1972, the MUSYS received an important recognition by the RAI in Milan as best music software. In 1978, however, was the last year of use of the MUSYS, although his legacy still comes down to our day, having been picked up by a new software called MOUSE.

Compositions – As I mentioned earlier, the MUSYS was used for a variety of compositions. In addition to Medusa and A Lollipop for Papa we remember Poems of Wallace Stevens (1970), Tesserae (1971) and Tetramorph (1972) by Justin Connolly, Tetrad (1971) and Dreamtime (1972) by David Rowland, Chronometer (1972) by Harrison Birtwistle and Violin Concerto (1972) by Hans Werner Henze.



Author unknown, An information brochure of the Synthi 100, EMS, 1971.

Douglas, Alan; Electronic Music Production, Tab Books, 1974.

Grogono, Peter; Musys: Software for an Electronic Music Studio in Software: Practice and Experience, Vol. 3, 1973, pp. 369 – 383.

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