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Buchla's Electronic Music Site

Welcome to the Web site of BUCHLA AND ASSOCIATES, creators of the spatial MIDI controller, LIGHTNING II.

On subsequent pages, you'll find a succinct description of LIGHTNING II, detailed technical specifications, flattering commentary from various users and reviewers of LIGHTNING II (as well as its predecessor, LIGHTNING I), snapshots of individual components and some pics of LIGHTNING in action. We've even attempted to answer frequently asked questions. And if you find it irresistible, we've included details on ordering. Happy browsing.

Lightning II Description

LIGHTNING II is a specialized MIDI controller that senses the position and movement of handheld wands and transforms this information to MIDI signals for expressive control of electronic musical instrumentation. In addition to functioning as a powerful MIDI controller, LIGHTNING II, with its self contained 32 voice synthesizer, comprises a complete, ready to play instrument.

[IMAGE] The bulk of LIGHTNING II's electronics is housed in a half rack cabinet.

[IMAGE] A remote head, designed to be mounted on a standard mike stand in front of a performer, contains optics and numeric displays.

[IMAGE] Based on principles of optical triangulation, LIGHTNING gathers its information by tracking tiny infrared transmitters that are built into baton-like wands. Unencumbered by wires, these wands provide complete freedom of movement within a performance space that can be as large as 12 feet high by 20 feet wide.

Basically, LIGHTNING II senses the horizontal and vertical position of each hand, for a total of four independent coordinates. From this information, LIGHTNING's digital signal processor computes instantaneous velocity and acceleration, and performs detailed analysis of gesture. An easily mastered, musically oriented interface language allows the user to define relationships between various gestures and potential musical responses.

In one sort of implementation, LIGHTNING's coordinates might be mapped to various MIDI controllers on multiple channels. Spatial pitch wheels, pan pots, level sliders and modulation wheels are easily defined and great fun to play. Performance gestures can be analyzed for direction and velocity and can be used to generate a variety of notes as well as other musical events. Multi-dimensional zoning capability can be used to create different musical responses in different regions. Everything you need to create the conceptual ensemble (an invisible, acoustic virtual reality).

User definable scale and tuning tables allow one to determine the range and selection of notes occurring along a horizontal or vertical axis. Pitches can be in any order, and the boundaries can be set where ever desired, facilitating the creation of spatial instruments and imaginary orchestras.

LIGHTNING II features a conducting facility that can analyze a conductor's gestures, display deviations from a preset tempo, and signal errors such as missed beats. Simultaneously, LIGHTNING can transmit a synchronous MIDI clock for controlling external sequencers and output programmed note data to accompany specific beats within a measure.

[IMAGE] Those tiny, postage stamp size boxes hanging out with Marilyn are memory cards for storing presets. As many as thirty presets can be stored on one card. An additional thirty presets can be stored in RAM, and yet another thirty ROM based presets are provided as tutorial examples (good places to begin the LIGHTNING experience).

To facilitate its use in conjunction with other controllers, LIGHTNING possesses intelligent MIDI merging capability. A complete system exclusive implementation enables LIGHTNING presets to be stored and edited via external computers and sequencers.

Technical Specifications


MIDI Interconnections: 1 Input, 1 Output, 1 Auxiliary Output. Foot Switch Inputs: 1/4 inch phone jacks for 2 foot switches. Memory Card Receptacle: accommodates LIGHTNING II memory card. Audio Outputs: standard 1/4 inch phone jacks.


Main Box: dimensions are 1.7 x 8.5 x 10 inches (h,w,d); weight is 3 pounds. Remote: dimensions are 1.5 x 6 x 8 inches (h,w,d); weight is 12 ounces. Wand transmitter: 11 inches long x .8 inches diameter; weight is 3 ounces. Memory Card: 1.1 x .8 x .3 inches (minuscule); weight is .2 ounce.


Receiver: 7.5 volts D.C. at 1 ampere, or 110 volts A.C. at .06 amperes, or 220 volts A.C. at .03 amperes (A.C. adapter is included) Wands: dual range, powered with a one AA cell; playing time to sixty hours.


Supervisory control and signal processing: TMS370 micro controller. Internal memory: 32K bytes of RAM; 130K bytes of PROM. Software: high level performance optimized user interface language. Displays: 48 character liquid crystal display, four numeric displays. Editing inputs: Six dedicated panel switches. Performance variables: horizontal and vertical position for each hand; momentary switches for each hand; software derived variables include velocity & directional "strike" gestures. Internal sound source: Thirty-two voice General MIDI sound card.

Specifications subject to change. For additional information, contact the manufacturer:

Buchla and Associates P. O. Box 10205 Berkeley, CA 94709

Tel: (510) 528-4446 Fax: (510) 526-1955 Email:

[IMAGE] Performer is Pamela Z. Photos by Susanne Kaspar

Lightning II Commentary

"Lightning is as musically intuitive as it is theatrically powerful. Buchla continues to roll back the frontiers of innovative real time control." Robert Moog Big Briar, Inc.

"Lightning inspires the expressive imagination. " Joseph Reilly Dept. of Music Therapy, Albert Einstein Medical Center

"As Don plays, virtual instruments magically appear." John Chowning Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics, Stanford University

"Lightning is expressive, immediate, deep and fun - in short, exactly what a musical instrument should be." Robert Rich Electronic Musician

"A technological marvel. Lightning is addictive, no doubt about it." Jim Aikin Keyboard

"Don is easily among the most advanced and imaginative of the instrument builders of the 20th century." Morton Subotnick Dept of Music, California Institute of the Arts

Lightning II Frequently Asked Questions

What are the differences between the original Lightning and Lightning II?

Quite a few features were added to Lightning II. Some of the more significant are: * The original Lightning housed the electronics and optics in the same box, requiring that the box be mounted on a stand. Lightning II remotes the optics, and houses the electronics in a separate half rack cabinet. This results in simpler editing, an unobtrusive optical pickup (the remote head), and easily viewed displays of zones and preset numbers (now contained in the remote). * Lightning II exhibits substantially increased operating range, through improvements in electronics, optics, and wand design. * Lightning II wands utilize replaceable batteries, and transmit for many more hours before requiring battery replacement (15 hours versus 2). The new wands are dual range - for patch design or relatively close playing, use the low range and your battery will go for around 60 hours. A blinking L.E.D provides ample advance warning that the battery is about to expire. * The number of internal, RAM based presets has been increased from 12 to 30. Fixed presets are increased from 3 to 30. * Lightning II accommodates a memory card, which can store an additional 30 presets per card. These cards make great backups, provide immediate access to an unlimited number of presets, and simplify the transmission of presets between users. * Lightning II contains a synthesizer, facilitating demos and augmenting the performance possibilities. We still regard Lightning as basically a controller, but that built-in synth does come in handy. * Numerous software improvements (too many to list) are incorporated into Lightning II.

Can Lightning I be upgraded to Lightning II? * Unfortunately not. The expense of implementing the required changes would approach the cost of a new Lightning II. The one exception is the improved Lightning II wands; these can be substituted for the original wands.

Where can I see a Lightning II? * That's a hard one. Musical instrument stores are reluctant to deal with alternative controllers (or alternatives to anything, for that matter), so a trip to your local guitar center probably won't pan out. * A few learn of Lightning from friends and associates that already have one, but for most, that's not too likely. * Others first see Lightning used on stage - musicians and dancers are often happy to show people the instrument - try checking out the stage after the show. * While not the same as a personal encounter, reviewers do try to provide reasonably accurate and unbiased assessments, and product reviews may provide useful third party input. The original Lightning was reviewed in the September, 1991 issue of Keyboard, and the October, 1991 issue of Electronic Musician; Lightning II reviews will likely show up in mid 1996.

What kind of Synth is built into Lightning II?

Lightning II's synthesizer utilizes the Kurzweil chip set, which has the following characteristics: * Uses the Kurzweil Multimedia Audio Sample-playback System (MASS) technology. * 16 MIDI channels with dynamic voice allocation and 32 voice polyphony. * A 6 megabyte wavetable memory contains 357 sound programs (but with some redundancy), including General MIDI, Roland MT-32, Roland LAPC-1, and Kurzweil Super-Orchestral patches. Additionally, there are a bunch of drum kits, containing a few hundred additional sounds. (Lightning II supports bank selection, even for individual channels.) * Digital sound effects processor provides global delays and reverb. * The audio converter is the 64x oversampled sigma-delta, 18 bit variety. Bandwidth is 20 kHz; the dynamic range is way up there; and it sounds clean (like the Kurzweil 2000).

If we haven't answered your questions, please give us a buzz.


Lightning II Ordering

LIGHTNING II may be purchased directly from Buchla and Associates. The price of $1995 includes two wands and a memory card. Additional cards cost $45. Shipping via two day air to anywhere in the continental U.S.A. is included Californians are requested to add local sales tax.

Parts and workmanship are of the highest quality. [IMAGE] Both are guaranteed for two years.

Prices and specs are subject to change.

Current delivery time (Dec, 1995) is somewhere around 4 weeks.

Address inquiries and orders to: