Archive for June, 2009

Behold the ARP Omni II


OK, I don’t need a new project this summer, but I’ve recklessly put another one on my plate. I found the ARP Omni II pictured above on Craigslist for a pretty good price due to a couple issues I’ll mention in a minute. So why bother buying an ARP Omni II you might ask? Good question! The Omni II was a popular “string synth” from the late ’70s to early ’80s and was used by bands as diverse as Joy Division and Supertramp. The whole string synth fad came about in the early ’70s as an alternative to the Melotron, which was an expensive and cumbersome tape-based proto-sampler keyboard. The idea behind the first string synth, the Eminent, was synthesize string sounds rather than play back tape recorded strings like the Melotron. The Eminent lead to the Solina which lead to the ARP Omni I/II, which I guess used the basic design of the Solina, but added a couple of additional features. Pretty much every synth manufacture offered some kind of string synth back in the day (probably thanks to disco) including Roland, Yamaha, and Korg. The key to any of these old string synths is the built in analog chorus/phase effects — without it, a string synth just sounds kind of bland.

The Omni II is a bit of an odd beast even by ARP standards. It is basically three analog synths in one box sharing a common keyboard. It’s neither monophonic (meaning it plays one note at a time) or polyphonic (meaning it plays chords) but paraphonic which means that it is capable of playing all the notes on the keyboard using something called divide down technology. Polyphonic synths were quite rare in the ’70s. On of the few was the the Prophet 5, but it was also quite expensive. These string synths used the same technology as transistor based organs used allowing for chords but cost far less than standard polyphonic synths.

So what does my Omni need in the way of repairs? Well for one, all the ‘E’ notes sustain when I play the string sounds, which means there is probably a blown capacitor on one of the circuit boards. This is a pretty common issue with a lot of ARP synths from the ’70s. I guess the Omni was the product that kept company executives in cocaine and champagne, but to maximize profits, I think they cut corners wherever they could — like using cheap capacitors prone to failure. I’m also gonna need to either clean or replace all the sliders. I think someone tried to clean them with WD40 or similar, so now they’re pretty much shot. Right now I’m leaning toward replacing, since pretty much all the parts used on the Omni are still being made. Below are some links for other Omni owners to use when sourcing parts.

ARP Sliders

Arp Omni II Switches

Arp Omni II Chorus Phaser Chip

Arp Omni II Synth and Bass Voice Chip

Arp Omni II Voicing Circuit Chip

Arp String Ensemble Bass Section OP Amp

Arp String Ensemble Knobs

ARP Omni II Problems

Parts List

Hear the Omni II in action on one of the best songs ever…

Love Will Tear Us Apart - Joy Division

8 comments June 30th, 2009

Architecture in NW Portland


When weather allows, I’ve been wandering Northwest Portland and observing the diverse built environment. While Northwest is largely affluent, there are still pockets of light industry, so the mix of architectural styles is fascinating. While my tastes in residential architecture skew to the more modernist end of the spectrum, I’ve also come to appreciate fine examples of older style homes that can’t be found elsewhere in the city. Northwest is also an enjoyable place to stroll around because of all the hidden urban treasures, like obscure public stairs sandwiched between hillside houses. This area is also probably one of the oldest sections of Portland. Many streets are named after early settlers (Lovejoy, Quimby, Flanders, et al) and a few rehabbed structures still remain from the turn-of-the-century era illustrating creative adaptive reuse.


Trolley Lofts
I would have never guessed this structure use to serve as a trolley barn if I hadn’t found a weathered placard on the other side of the block. Signs of old trolley tracks are all over this area – probably due to the usual chronically deferred street repair. I don’t know if this happened in other cities, but it looks like Portland wiped out its old trolley lineds by simply paving over the tracks. But back to the trolley lofts. A couple of these units are for sale, like a lot of condo buildings here in town, so I’ve had a chance to read the sales flyers. I even had a chance to tour one, but I declined due to lack of time. It would have also seemed weird touring a 700K loft I would never be able to afford. But the lofts seem really nice from the sales pictures I’ve seen. And the square footage is around 2,000+ which is quite generous for this area.

West Hills
This is where Portland’s old money lives and the stale architectural reflect this. Not much in the way a mid-century modern, but there are a few ’70s homes that have been renovated nicely. I know there is a Skylab designed residence in the area (from the movie Twlight?), but I just haven’t run into it yet. The West Hills are a wonderful place to take a relaxing walk (or difficult run) since it’s such a peaceful area, but I often feel uncomfortable walking amongst all the million dollar homes. I mean, you never see anyone out working in the yard or playing with children, even though every driveway has at least two cars in it.


Portland Fire Station #17
At first I thought this little firehouse was still in use, but then I went to the Portland Fire Bureau website and it wasn’t listed as an active station. I suppose it’s too small to actually accommodate emergency vehicles, but I guess I thought that maybe it’s still used for administrative purpose. Not quite sure what the building houses today.


Thurman Street Lofts
Look, I like this recent trend toward using wood cladding. The Randy Rapaport/Holst Architecture condo on Belmont is a great example of this. But this (Holst?) building just got it all wrong. There should be a balance here, some kind of contrast to the color and texture provide by the vertical slats. This building makes about as much sense as Segway polo. And if the overuse of wood slats wasn’t bad enough, it’s compounded by the fact it’s not even being well maintained. Would it kill the HOA to power wash the exterior once a year and either water seal or stain it? UPDATE: I’ve found some images of the original Holst design and it has different types of siding and it looks far better than the finished product. What happened?

Add comment June 23rd, 2009

Oregon’s Cold War Mystery

Readers of this blog might remember a series of posts from ‘06 about Oregon’s lost Cold War infrastructure…you know, those missives about abandon bomb shelters and radar stations dotting the state. Well someone responded in the comments section about a lost Continuation of Government (COG) and/or Presidential Emergency Facility (PEF) near Bend and possibly called CPIC/West or CIA-ISTAC. I’ve been meaning to investigate this mystery further, but I just haven’t had the time to do more than a cursory query of the inter-webs. So here is what I know so far: The site is supposedly located at 23861 Dodds Road just east of Bend. I haven’t actually driven out there to confirm, but Google maps clearly shows some infrastructure in the area. Those who have looked into the site report that it’s owned by the Army and operated by the Oregon National Guard. Currently, the Guard is running something called the Oregon National Guard Youth ChalleNGe Program (ONGYCP) at the location. There was an article in something called The Source in July of 1998 about the facility and it possibly mentioned the bunker portion had been dismantled and/or sealed. It’s also possible there is a companion site at the Redmond Municipal Airport, which is just to the north. Cursorily, I don’t see anything that looks like COGesque, like a microwave communication tower or satellite dish farm or helipad. Of course those could have been dismantled some time ago, so I don’t know if that’s worth mentioning or not. There is a rather extensive microwave site in Bend, but I don’t know how close it is to CPIC/West.

It’s unclear when the site was developed or how extensive the bunkers were, but it was originally called a “night vision device testing & evaluation facility” by the Army. This may have been a cover story to shield the real COG role of the site. Still, it’s unclear as to what the usefulness of the site would have been in the event of some kind of national emergency. Looking at the Redmond airport, it doesn’t look like it could handle the current 747 variant of Air Force One. But I have seen pictures of civilian 767s at the airport. And I do know that the Regan administration went on a massive COG spending spree in the mid ’80s, so this site might have been part of that infrastructure program that also included converting former SAGE sites into COG sites. But I’m confused why Bend would have been chosen as a COG or PEF site. I would have picked Klamath Falls since Kingsley Field has an airfield worthy of large aircraft. Of course K-Falls would have been a secondary nuclear target during the Cold War, so maybe Bend would have made a safe haven in the event of an all out nuclear holocaust.

COG as it stands today is kind of a mess from what I gather. On 9/11, the Vice President was quietly whisked away to “an undisclosed location” (which was really just a bunker below the Naval Observatory), but many top Federal officials were left scratching their heads regarding what they were suppose to do. Even the securing of the president seemed half-assed. I remember seeing news footage of him at all these SAC airbases, which seem like the last place you would want to go during a national emergency since they would be natural targets for evil-doers. My understanding was the COG system had moved way from harden facilities after the introduction of precise atomic warheads in the late ’70s to mobile command units run by FEMA. 9/11 suggested this system either no longer exists or was never effectively implemented. Of course there have always been rumors concerning some kind of secret COG subway system in DC, but the only “evidence” of this are ghost spurs off the current Metro system. Personally, I like the idea of mobile command posts utilizing our fine national park system. To me that seems like an effective and cheap solution to our COG problem. It probably won’t hurt to have plan that could be shared with government officials and employees in the event of a national emergency either.

Finally, there is another mystery closer to home. I’ve heard about an electronic listening station built off of NE Halsey around 148th avenue sometime in 1941. Apparently this was a WWII and Cold War listening post that was replaced in 1971 by the sprawling NSA complex in Yakima. The PDX site might have also captured a Japanese transmission regarding the attach of Pearl Harbor. Probably an interesting story there!

10 comments June 6th, 2009


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