Thursday, May 23, 2019

For years, an urban legend circulated online and in documentaries purporting how part of a groundbreaking musical instrument — versions which are stored at a Bay Area university and other institutions — was dipped in LSD.

Now this supposed myth may turn out to be a reality.  A long, strange trip, if you will.
Late last year, KPIX Television, Broadcast Operations Manager Eliot Curtis volunteered to fix a vintage “analog music modular instrument” owned by the music department at Cal State University East Bay.
The instrument — commonly known today as a synthesizer — was commissioned by two leading avant-garde musicians who taught in the music department in the ’60s. Cal State East Bay was then known as Cal State Hayward. The men who secured the funding were Professors Glenn Glasow and Robert Basart, two men were at the forefront of the burgeoning Bay Area modern music scene.

But the modular analog synthesizer device eventually fell out of favor, into disrepair and was stored in a cool, dark place for decades.
“It was in a closet in the corner of a classroom, which was a little sad because it was like a shipwreck,” remarked music composer and retired professor William R. Shannon, who remembers composing on the device when he was a student.
At one point, the device was likely augmented with additional modules, including a red-colored module on the top row. During his repair work, Curtis opened the module and saw something stuck under a knob.
“There was like a residue … a crust or a crystalline residue on it,” said Curtis.
He sprayed a cleaning solvent on it and started to push the dissolving crystal with his finger as he attempted to dislodge the residue and clean the area.
About 45 minutes later, Curtis began to feel a little strange. He described it as a weird, tingling sensation. He discovered this was the feeling of the beginnings of an LSD experience or trip.
The sensation lasted roughly nine hours.
Three individual chemical tests identified the substance as LSD. A well-known LSD researcher and expert who asked to remain anonymous told KPIX that LSD can remain potent for decades if kept in a cool, dark place.
It turns out this machine has deep roots to the west coast counterculture. It’s called a Buchla Model 100, and it was created by the late Don Buchla of Berkeley.
In 1966, some Buchla modules ended up on an old school bus purchased by LSD advocate Ken Kesey and his followers known as the Merry Pranksters.
During the last of Kesey’s acid tests — LSD-fueled parties — at Winterland on Halloween in 1966, electronic sounds, possibly from the Buchla, appeared to interrupt an interview of Kesey.
Buchla used LSD and was friends with Owsley Stanley, the genius behind the Grateful Dead’s sound system. Stanley, also known as Bear, was a masterful sound engineer and legendary hero of the counterculture. He was also famous for making the purest LSD to ever hit the street and kept such a low profile that not many photos of him exist.
After his strange trip, Curtis — wearing gloves — finished repairing the vintage Buchla. The instrument is now back at Cal State East Bay and ready for music students to explore.
The device has no keyboard. You play it by turning knobs and patching cords. It can move sound around a room. The students on hand were mesmerized. Some told us that they were blown away by its design and craftsmanship .
“This will open your mind, you know?” said CSUEB student Adam Hughes, laughing. “Sometimes I think the LSD will open your mind too.”
One final note: there will be no more trips with this Buchla. The instrument has been thoroughly cleaned of all LSD.

I guess you could call this whole experience a flashback!  Groovy!


  1. Owsley died in Australia a few years back.

  2. Speaking of such: :)

  3. Horseshit. LSD breaks down and becomes ineffective within months, if not weeks.