The Millioniser 2000 MIDI Harmonica, (In-Depth Tutorial And History)

Remember the awesomely bizarre vintage MIDI harmonica, the Millioniser 2000, that we featured last week?

Millioniser’s Rock Erickson saw the post and followed up with more info and more videos.

Here’s what he had to say:

Thank you for your posting to your site and for your interest in Millioniser. You have inspired me and I produced a tutorial and hope this will give those of interest a more in depth understanding about the Millioniser – for starters anyway.

 will be updating the site in the near future. For now may I submit these new youtube video links and also some inside history of the Millioniser in text form you may find interesting. You have a great outreach and provide a wealth of information on your site.

Thank you for sharing Millioniser with the synth community.

Erickson sent along the show Millioniser Jam promo above and, even cooler, an in-depth look at the Millioniser 2000 controller and synthesizer, embedded below.

Finally, Erickson included a history of the Millioniser, written by Millioniser Engineer Ronald Schlemme.

The History of the Millioniser

The Millioniser is a harmonica wind synthesizer, invented by Walt Miller (Walter Müller).

From the idea to the Millioniser

The Milloniser was developed in a period of 5 years before it hit the market as the “Millioniser 2000”.

In 1979, Walter Miller together with Harald Blobel and Urs-Peter Studer developed a prototype which could control a Roland Promars analogue synthesizer. The first control unit was still quite bulky, but its functions were working exactly as expected. With this unit, the two records “Xmas and you” and “Perfidia” were produced.

In succession, a new control unit was developed by Urs-Peter Studer. This control unit was beautiful and elegant. It was intended for the use as a controller for a Promar Synthesizer. Unfortunately, the production was very expensive and complex. Because of this, Walter Miller was looking for a funding partner, which makes a redesign with its own synthesizer possible. At the same time he was looking for an engineer with experience in musical electronics.

In 1982, Ronald Schlimme of SM Elektronik AG joined the team. The first job was to implement a standardized interface to normal synthesizers. Further, different aspects of modulating the sound had to be explored. A Roland Modular System 100M, a Moog Prodigy and different additional devices like equalizer, exiter, hall, chorus and phaser were used for this. The results were truly striking. A violinist was baffled about the authenticity while listening to Walter Miller playing on the Millioniser prototype. Similarly amazed was a trumpet player who was working as an instrument maker for brass instruments. The Millioniser can control 8 octaves or in other words, from a tuba up to a piccolo trumpet.
In 1982/83, a polyphonic controller was developed, which could control a Roland Jupiter 4 synthesizer. The results were impressive.

Finally in September of 1983, the long awaited funding of the Millioniser company in London became a reality.

The Development of the Millioniser

In October 1983, the development of the new Millioniser 2000 started and everything was redesigned. The team: Alex Bärtschi, Peter Benz, Walter Müller, Wolfi Peccoraio, Marcel Rothen, Ronald Schlimme, Urs-Peter Studer, Felix Thommen

Design, casing construction for the control unit and synthesizer, electronics, software, test software, manual, presets (sounds), prototype and production documents.

The design phase started in October of 1983 and in April 1984, four working Millionisers were presented in the Sheraton in Zurich and Hilton in Basel. From the idea to the finished product in only 5 months. Housing plastic design and zinc injection die casting were not an easy task for Urs-Peter Studer and Injecta AG.

Enclosure design by Walt Miller and Conran from London. The brilliant idea was to bevel the edge of the control unit, which gave it a slimmer appearance.

The very first single chip microcontroller from Motorola with analogue inputs were used for the control unit. Motorola advertised these chips with the slogan: “We produce the processor; you play the music on it”. We then sent a letter to Motorola Europe in Geneva with the note “We would like to play music on the chip, but unfortunately, they are not available”. We then got plenty of support by Motorola in the form of sample chips and the head of the department for single chip processors and one of the developers showed their interest and support by visiting The Millioniser Team in Basel.

Alex Bärtschi was the developer of the control unit electronics and software. Alex couldn’t understand why his calculations for the optocouplers didn’t match the results he observed. Then we found out that they have a memory effect. We then inverted the logic and all of a sudden it worked like a charm. The application engineer of Telefunken (the supplier of the optocouplers) was baffled when we explained that inverting the logic works better when sampled at 3000 times a second.

Rock Erickson is the original Millioniser tester from USA and played the first control unit which was white in color.

Ronald Schlimme was project leader and responsible for the Millioniser software and synthesizer design and implementation. The test software was written by Peter Benz and Ronald Schlimme. Everything was written in Assembler because the timing was critical. The engineering was finished in March 1984. Early in April, two presentations in the Sheraton (in front of the Sheraton in Zurich) and in the Hilton in Basel were held.
We sent 800 invitations and expected around 100 visitors. To our surprise, over 400 came!
The hall was very crowded and everyone was eager to see that which they had never seen before.

In April, the manufacturing documents and a prototype were sent to the producer in Cardiff, Wales.

In Closing: This whole development of Millioniser 2000 which is more complex than the modern PC of today took only 6 months from paper to production. Note, the engineering was without CAD software support. It was before the invention of the IBM-PC and the first CAD system had just been released.

Thanks to Erickson for sharing this information. Check out the Millioniser site for more info on this unusual electronic instrument.

2 thoughts on “The Millioniser 2000 MIDI Harmonica, (In-Depth Tutorial And History)

  1. Man, this thing SHREDS. I’ve been dreaming about a synthesizer for vocalists for ages, and while this isn’t quite it (I’d prefer something that just converts pitch->midi with very little lag), I totally grasp what can be done with it and it’s *amazing.*

    Rock, thanks for sharing the info about this thing, but man it’s frustrating since obviously I’ll never be able to get my hands on one! Otherwise you’d have a milloniser brother man 😉

  2. It’s awesome that this exists, and Rock does a great job of demoing it.

    I’d love to see more demos for vintage rarifies as good as this.

    Not surprised that this didn’t make it big, though. There have to be 10 keyboardists for every harmonica player out there!

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