The Unofficial


Hello and welcome to unofficial PRISM Homepage. Here you will find what is probably the only Internet site devoted to the 80's megasynth, Kinetic Sound's PRISM. The former president of Kinetic Sound Corporation, Mr. Jim Stephenson, has graciously allowed me to create this page, and has even verified the facts for me. I guess you could call this the "Official" Unofficial PRISM Website.

These pages are laid out thus: (You can jump to any page or section by clicking on the link.)
Page 1: Background, History, & Specifications.
Page 2: Design & Operations.
Page 3: Layout & Functions.
Page 4: Options, Electronics Enclosure, & Rear Panel.

OK. First things first: here's what the baby looked like:

Quite the beast, eh? Well that's only the start, because that's just the keyboard/programming section of the instrument. There was also the Electronics Enclosure section, (see page 4) and it was the size of a small refrigerator, turned on its side, and stuffed in an Anvil case. On top of THAT, there were remote keyboards (see page 4) if the user so desired.

In the 80's (and still today) I was the biggest synth junkie one could imagine. I gleaned anything and everything I could on new equipment coming out, and started to hear rumblings of a digital megasynth called the PRISM. Information was hard to find, but because I was in a regional touring band, I met a lot of people in the industry. One knew of the PRISM, and spoke to me about it, telling me that it looked somewhat similar to my Sequential Circuits Prophet-10, but that was where the similarities ended. He himself didn't know much more, and now my appetite was truly whetted.

Sequential Circuits Prophet-10. There ARE visual similarities,
But comparing the two would be like comparing a crop duster to a fighter plane.

Finally, I found a blurb in Sound and Equipment Review, and at last, the name of the manufacturer: Kinetic Sound Corporation. I had somewhere to start. I spoke to all my friends in the music industry, and finally found out that the company was in Lockport, Illinois. A call to directory assistance, and I had a number and address. I called and found out that yes, indeed they were the right company, and yes, they would send me a brochure. COOL! I was on my way.

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Kinetic Sound Corporation was an outgrowth of KineticSystemsCorporation, which  designs, produces and markets high-performance data acquisition and control systems to a broad range of customers in aerospace, defense, automotive, scientific and other industrial markets. Jim Stephenson, then President of KineticSystems, is a musician himself, and was frustrated with the limits of synthesis. He writes:

"The design philosophy focused (1) on being able to create any sound one could imagine and (2) being a musician-friendly real-time musical instrument.  As a keyboard player, I had encountered far too many keyboard and organs that were definitely musician unfriendly in those days."

He had the company, the resources, and the ability, and went to work. The obvious idea here was to make an instrument that happened to be electronic. The PRISM was the realization of that idea. I quote from the promotional brochure:

"Play the PRISM. Notice, first, how easy it is to play. here is a musical instrument designed to perform - Just waiting for your professional touch to bring it alive. Explore the PRISM. You don't have to be a computer programmer to build beautiful crystalline sound. Because the PRISM is organized by levels of creative depth, it only take a few minutes to invent some relatively simple and surprising new sounds. If creating sounds is your artistic forte, the PRISM is your palette. Mix, blend, and experiment to your heart's content You can spend hours, days, years expanding the PRISM's limitless capabilities."

Sounds like quite the instrument, doesn't it? So what happened? I quote from an e-mail from Mr. Stephenson to me:

"We were definitely considering sampling options.  We made the hard decision to abandon further development of the PRISM because we had spent a lot of money developing the synth and when we were ready to take it to market all we got was: can it do sampling, can it do MIDI, and does it respond to keyboard velocity?  Actually, with fairly minimal additional engineering, it could have done any one these three, but we had already spent too much."

Only 2 and 2/3 units were ever produced. What that means is that 3 were actually made, but one was still awaiting final testing when the decision was made to abandon the project.

So where is it today? Again, I quote from an e-mail from Mr. Stephenson to me:

"I would like nothing better than to reintroduce the Prism with (today's) cheaper technology.  I think the PRISM had (has) some basic ideas that are still untapped today.  Will I ever get around to it?  I don't know.  The first step is to get them working reliably again.  From time-to-time in the last several years I have experimented with using a laptop to communicate with the PRISM via VB. (Visual Basic -Ed.)  This allows access to all parameters from the laptop (monitoring and changing) while using the computer screen to display icons as well as data that represent the current instantaneous status of the parameters.  The actual hardware that cost so much twenty years ago would be cheaper and more powerful today.  Also, the PRISM needed 5 multibus computer cards to pull off the computations needed for 40 voices.  Today, a single PC could easily handle the task (and then some)."

Thus, another fantastic idea whose impact was diminished by the technological upheaval of the 80's.

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Finally, let's get the technical stuff out of the way:

The PRISM came with:
Main Console with folding legs and travel case.
Electronics Enclosure with travel case.
All Interconnecting cables.
Preprogrammed Sound Library.
24 Voice Polyphony.
Volume Pedal.
Sound Cutoff Footswitch.
Joystick Hand Control Module. (More on the module innovations later.)
Thumbwheel Hand Control Module.
Slider Hand Control Module.
Programmable Footswitch.
Three Programmable Foot Pedals.

PRISM Optional Accessories:
Remote Keyboard.
Remote 13-Note Pedal Board.
Additional Foot Switches.
Additional Foot Pedals.
Joystick Hand Control Module.
Thumbwheel Hand Control Module.
Slider Hand Control Module.
Travel Cases for remote keyboard.
Remote Keyboard Stand with folding legs.
Accessory Case
Additional Voices (polyphony) in increments of Two.

Price: A 40-Voice PRISM (The max polyphony possible) was $40,000.00. Now, that sounds like a fair amount of gelt, but remember, we're talking about a contemporary of the Fairlight III ($65,000.00), The PPG 2.3/Waveterm ($32,000.00), and the NED Synclavier ($35,000.00 - $500,000.00.) When you're in the megasynth world, what's another 10 grand here and there? Plus, 40-voice polyphony was UNHEARD of at the time: Fairlight III's were 16-voice, PPG's were 8 voice or 16-voice with optional add-ons, etc. Finally, the 24-voice PRISM was less expensive.

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PRISM Design & Operations. (Page 2)

Page 1: Background, History, & Specifications.
Page 2: Design & Operations.
Page 3: Layout & Functions.
Page 4: Options, Electronics Enclosure, & Rear Panel.

E-mail me. I welcome the chance to  correspond with people about the PRISM.