Sweet Dreams are Made of This

Today was a (fairly rare) “day off” for both my eldest son (Michael) and I.  Sharon was off babysitting a friend’s children.  Matthew was also here and the three of us were indulging in a nostalgic binge of 1980’s popular music on YouTube.  Eventually, we came upon the 1983 hit by the New-Wave group Eurythmics, “Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This).” The song is considered a “signature piece” for the Eurythmics and the music video (directed by Chris Ashbrook) is a definitive clip for the early period of MTV.

I’d seen the video before — probably hundreds of times in the last 34 years — and always admired the computer used by David Stewart in the film.  Today, one of the boys asked me “What kind of computer is that?”  I honestly didn’t know — I guess I always wrote it off as either a simple stage prop or a homebrew system from the early 1980’s.  A bit of research on the interwebs found at least one loser that positively identified it as an “Apple I.”  I supposed that was plausible, but with an air date of January 1983, I didn’t think it was likely given the six years that had passed since the introduction of the Apple II and the various trade-in / trade-up programs offered by Apple and various retailers.  Further, it appeared that there were too many dials, buttons, and switches for the average Apple I.  Yes, it has the typical 9″ Monochrome Composite Monitor (as did many systems in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s), a wooden case, and a fairly generic looking ASCII keyboard, but the fit and finish is pretty good for a homebrew system of the period.

Screenshot from 2017-07-20 13:09:06
The mystery machine — 9″ monitor, wooden case, ASCII Keyboard, and a bunch of knobs and switches…

The layout of the knobs suggests an audio mixer of some kind with around 14 individual input channels and perhaps a stereo left/right master volume on the far left… Each channel appears to be neatly labeled as to function, but the resolution of the video is insufficient to read any of them.  There is a symbol of some sort and writing to the left of the keyboard, but again it’s impossible to read in the video.  The knob to the right of the keyboard appears to be a selector switch of some sort, with lines leading to slider switches below it.

Screenshot from 2017-07-20 13:12:38
Computing in the Cow Pasture with the Eurythmics

Given that the machine was being operated (at least in the video) by a musician known for playing synthesizers who was an early adopter of direct digital synthesis, a subsequent Google search came up with several hits for the Movement Systems Drum Computer — Mark I Prototype.  Wikipedia has a short article on the subject, as does the website www.vintagesynth.com.

I’ve been unable to find out many technical details about the system, other than there were very few produced (perhaps 30), it premiered in 1981, the Mark II was introduced in 1983, and a MIDI interface was added sometime in 1984.  The system originally sold for around £2,000.  Other than the Eurythmics, bands using the MCS Drum Computer included Phil Collins, The Thompson Twins, Human League, Thomas Dolby, Kajagoogoo, Japan, Willian Orbit, Chemical Brothers and Vince Clarke.

Screenshot from 2017-07-20 13:08:43
Back in the Board Room – A final Look at the Movement MCS Percussion Computer

Links:

  • http://www.vintagesynth.com/misc/mcs_drumcomputer.php
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Movement_Systems_Drum_Computer
  • https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qeMFqkcPYcg
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sweet_Dreams_(Are_Made_of_This)