Putney Attack

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

The 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.

Reviews for Putney Attack

  • Sound
  • Character
  • Playability
  • Inspiration
  • GUI

Leave a review to let others know what you thought of the instrument!

  • Super nice retro SFX

    This patch offers a very wide variety of synth, glitchy electronic sound effects that can be used in tons of ways. My only issue is that some sound slightly noisy, so a little noise reduction treatment would make this even better. Gotta admit I tried to interract with the "ATTACK" knob in the GUI for quite a while. Then I realised it's in the name of the instrument, hehe.

    Alex Raptakis31 October 2021
  • Synth heads will love this

    I personally don't use these glitchy, bright and angular sounds in my music so i personally dont like them but from an objective standpoint i think alot of people who are into modular synthesis will absolutely love this. The sounds definitely have that vintage analog synthesis quality to them. They are very in your face, glitchy and jarring which i personally dont like but i think is well suited for alot of more in your face electronic genres. I think alot of people will really like this one.

    septemberwalk06 November 2021
  • Bonkers

    A bizarre collection of noises. Not sure where I'd use it but very different. More of a sound design tool really.

    Jim Sanger17 October 2021
  • Modular synth noises

    There are some interesting modular synth noises here, turned into short loops. I'm not exactly sure where or how one might go about using these in a composition, but I suppose it could be accomplished if that's your thing. While these have a lot of character, I'm just not finding them particularly playable or useful. Even as someone who's pretty heavily into modular synthesis, this just isn't my cup of tea.

    Sam Ecoff28 October 2021