I almost killed Bob Moog

The 1989 International Computer Music Conference was a standout event in my career that almost turned into a disaster. My name was on three papers, CNMAT was beginning to function well, I met two of my childhood heroes there, Bob Moog and Wendy Carlos, and I was demonstrating an ambitious product in the trade show, the Reson8 DSP multiprocessor designed and built by myself and Marie-Dominique Baudot.

There wasn’t a lot of software running at that time on the Reson8 - mostly real-time resonance synthesis so I was in the habit of showing off the physical design innovation that made the multiprocessor relatively affordable and compact enough to travel easily with. The Reson8 was a stack of boards each with a Motorola 56000 DSP chip and multiple channel digital I/O connector. Each processor was connected to a port of a dual port RAM. The top processor was special: it was connected to the other port of all processors dual port rams, linked together on a bus that interconnected the boards.

Most of the trade show visitors didn’t appreciate the benefits of this architecture and that we had managed to pull it off with cheap, double sided PCBs. The memorable exception was Bob Moog, who was very excited - so excited he wanted to take a closer look.

I was demonstrating the Reson8 in it’s black aluminium box, taking the lid off to show the stack of processors, and the interconnecting bus. What Bob Moog didn’t know is that another design innovation was to integrate a compact power supply into the same box to avoid the dreaded “wall wart” common in audio equipment of the time. This was a simple linear regulator design with a step-down power transformer. The primary of the transformer was connected to a fused socket in the case for an appliance cord.

Bob followed a natural reflex when excited by a new piece of equipment and reached into the box. I reflexively intercepted his hands and yelled NO, because the connections to the primary of the transformers were exposed and uninsulated. It was an awkward moment as our collective adrenaline rushes kicked in, but he took it in good humor.

Needless to say the later, production Reson8’s were shipped with properly engineered wiring harnesses and insulation.