Buchla's first modular electronic music system was the result of a San Francisco Tape Music Center commission by composers Ramon Sender and Morton Subotnick in 1963, who later allotted $500 from a Rockefeller Foundation grant to Buchla in 1964. Subotnick envisioned a voltage-controlled instrument that would allow musicians and composers to create sounds suited to their own specifications. Previously, one had to use either discrete audio generators, such as test oscillators—or musique concrète, manually composed and edited magnetic-tape source recordings of other musical, spoken word, or other audio. Buchla designed the synthesizer in a modular fashion, combining separate components that each generated or modified a music event. Each box served a specific function: envelope generators, oscillators, filters, voltage controlled amplifiers, and analog sequencer modules. Using the different modules, a composer could affect the pitch, timbre, amplitude, and spatial location of the sound. The instrument was controlled and played via an array of touch and pressure-sensitive surfaces.
Buchla 100 at NYU
The instrument was named the "Buchla 100 series Modular Electronic Music System," and was installed at the San Francisco Tape Music Center in 1965 and moved to Mills College in 1966. Subotnick completed his first major electronic work, Silver Apples Of The Moon, with another unit that Buchla had built and shipped to New York. This same unit was also used on Buffy Sainte Marie's influential 1969 album, Illuminations. Along with Robert Moog's Moog synthesizer, it helped revolutionize the way electronic music and sounds are made