Putney Attack

Putney Attack

Story

In the summer of 1992 I responded to an add in the Buy and Sell newspaper in southern Ontario placed by a guy in Oshawa who was selling a VCS3—fondly known as the “Putney”. It turned out that he had already sold his VCS3 but had heard about another one that was for sale in Montreal and offered to go on a road trip to check it out.
Thinking back on it I can’t believe I agreed to this but those were different times and I was rabidly acquiring gear. So off we went on a six hour trip to Montreal.
The VCS3 was far from in original condition as the seller had rearranged the various panels on the original battleship resembling Putney to a single panel.
I remember thinking that the price of $1000 seemed a lot for a monosynth that was far from original condition but I’d been reading lots about it being Brian Eno’s secret weapon and was intrigued by the joystick and the mini patchbay. AND it was very hard to resist a synth with a dedicated ATTACK button.

I ended up buying it and have been forever glad of that decision—using it as a glorified guitar pedal on tour and now as my go to machine to mess with sounds. While I’ve mostly used it for processing other sound sources, I thought sampling it on its own might be a good place to start to learn about sampling and making KONTAKT instruments.
It’s an unwieldy synth that never sounds the way you left it and has many delightful gremlins. No release or velocity samples on this one…just a bunch of random loops it gave me in an afternoon. My favourite part of the Putney is the TRAPEZOID which I’m still not sure I understand but love the stereo effect it brings. I was going to include some RX noise reduced samples but was afraid there wouldn’t be much of its noisy charm left.

I’ve included a little demo making use of the Putney Attack, a Fender Bass piano as well as two of my favourite pianobook instruments—the German Jubilate Harmonium and Wine glass toolkit.


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A veritable treasure chest of weirdness

4.0 rating
June 7, 2021

I was familiar with the VCS3 synth from 1970s recordings by prog rock bands such as Strawbs but only recently discovered the instrument was also affectionately known as the ‘Putney’, which also happens to be a part of London I once practised in, at a band rehearsal room punningly named Albert Haul [sic]. Needless to say, I felt drawn to Ken’s samples. What might at first noodle seem like a limited palette of sounds turns out to be – with the creative addition of echo, delays, saturation and other effects – a remarkable tool for adding atmosphere and mystery to a track. Thanks, Ken; this appeals to the weirdo in me.

Chris Bell (wordsSHIFTminds)

Description

Brian Eno’s secret weapon, the EMS VCS 3 semi-modular synth

4
4.0 rating
4 out of 5 stars (based on 1 review)
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