Detritus 194



> I managed to pick up this 1966 Donca Matic drum machine on a local auction site for not too much!


Before Korg were called Korg, they existed as Keio – a bit of history from here: “….. when our descendents read the history of music technology, two names will appear prominently. The first is that of Tsutomu Katoh (pronounced ‘Car-toe’) and the second is that of his company, Keio Electronic, now renamed Korg. This is the story of the man, the company and, in particular, the products that have made them famous.

From Battles To Rhythm Boxes
Katoh’s background has been the subject of much speculation. Born in Japan and brought up in Nagoya, he trained during World War II to be a submariner in the Japanese Imperial Navy… a job with a terrifying attrition rate. It’s not clear whether Katoh saw action, but another apocryphal story attests that he saw the blast from the Hiroshima bomb. Given his long life and good health, one can assume that this was from a great distance!

After the war, aged just 20 or thereabouts, Katoh travelled to Tokyo, and began working for the Odakyu train company. It’s rumoured that he even spent a short period living in a boxcar circling Tokyo. Given the destruction all around him, this seems quite plausible.

Very little information exists about the next 15 years of Katoh’s life, but by 1960 he owned and ran a nightclub in Tokyo, as well as a discount store and a music store called Sound Box. These businesses were located in Shinjuku, an area famed for its nightlife. Keen to encourage live music, Katoh frequently arranged for leading performers, including top accordion player (and engineering graduate) Tadashi Osanai to play at his nightclub. Osanai performed using a Wurlitzer Sideman rhythm machine, but found this to be too limiting for his purposes. Convinced that he could improve upon the Wurlitzer, Osanai decided to build his own machine, and approached Katoh for financial backing. So, in 1962, Katoh leased a factory in central Tokyo, and Osanai and a team of four employees set to work there.

Keio: 1963-1966
The Chamberlin Rhythmate, released in 1949, was perhaps the first commercial drum machine. This used loops of quarter-inch tape, and reproduced the drum sounds on them using a series of tape heads. Physically, the Wurlitzer Sideman appeared similar, but it did not use tape. Instead, it had a rotating wheel that forced metal brushes to touch contacts that completed individual voice circuits. Designed by Keio employee Tadashi Osanai to replace his Sideman, the DA20 DoncaMatic used a similar rotating disc system to generate its rhythms.
Located alongside the Keio railway line, the new company was named Keio Gijutsu Kenkyujo Limited (although this was later changed to Keio Electronic Laboratories) and in 1963 the Keio Gijyutu Kenkyujo DA20 DoncaMatic Disk Rotary Electric Auto Rhythm Machine became its first product. Apocrypha suggests that the name was chosen because the sound it made went “donca… donca… donca”. Like Osanai’s abandoned Wurlitzer, this used a disc to trigger the various sounds it generated, but it was the first such machine produced in Japan, so it proved to be very successful. Consequently, Osanai and his growing team set about developing improved models for the domestic market.
In 1966, three more DoncaMatics appeared, some with built-in amplifiers and speakers, and some without. There was also a version in a smaller, metal case, probably designed for guitarists rather than organists. But it was the introduction of the DE20 and the MP5 and MP7 ‘Mini Pops’ drum machines that proved to be the year’s most significant launches, because these were perhaps the world’s first solid-state rhythm units.

You can hear it in this clip:

a track by infamous local band Headless Chickens from 1988

One Response to Detritus 194

  1. That Donca looks and sounds incredible.

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