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Design Montreal RCA:
The sixties and the seventies

The MOEB’s current exhibition is all about Modernism

Text courtesy of Musée des ondes Emile Berliner

With Expo ’67, industrial design in Canada was in full swing. Many Canadians were among the designers who blossomed during the summer of Man and his World. Now, 50 years later, the Musée des ondes Emile Berliner (MOEB) celebrates a comeback of this era, rich in dashing creations.

With Expo ’67, industrial design in Canada was in full swing. Many Canadians were among the designers who blossomed during the summer of Man and his World.

From that moment on, stereo systems featured a futuristic vibe. In Canada, there were renowned talents such as Hugh Spencer, who worked in Toronto on the creation of the Project G for Clairtone, and Gordon Duern and Keith McQuarrie, who created the Apollo series for Electrohome in Kitchener. Here in Montreal, Andre Morin with his Forma design catapulted RCA Victor into the space age. These objects of Canadian design are a beautiful contribution to the world heritage of the 20th century.

Musée des Ondes Emile Berliner – Left to right: RCA, Stereo Sound System, Model Forma 70 SFA 1094, design André Morin, 1969 RCA, Stereo Sound System, Model Forma 70 Cubiform II SFA 1095, design André Morin, 1972 RCA, Stereo Sound System, Model Forma 70 SFA 1091, design André Morin, 1969 RCA, Stereo Sound System, Model Forma 70 Cubiform IV SFA 1093, design André Morin, 1972 – WestmountMag.ca

André Morin prototype designs – left: RCA, Loudspeakers (1972); center: RCA, Stereo Sound System, Model Forma Obelisk 2000 (1972); right: RCA, Stereo Sound System, Model Sphere (1972)

In the 1960s, Modernism was heavily influenced by space-technology. The launch of Canada’s first satellite, the Alouette 1, on September 29, 1962, had won Canada global recognition in this sphere and became an inspiration to creative minds worldwide.

Musée des Ondes Emile Berliner – Clairtone, Stereo Sound System, Model G3 2050, design Hugh Spencer, 1965 – WestmountMag.ca

Clairtone, Stereo Sound System, Model G3 2050, design Hugh Spencer (1965)

In the early 1960s, Canada observed another phenomenon: Montreal’s remarkable transformation to a city of the 21st century. Place Ville Marie by I. M. Pei and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s apartment buildings on Nun’s Island, or his later Westmount Square project, were based on ideas spread by the famous Bauhaus School. The fusion of these two inspirations – space technology and Bauhaus – led to a unique Canadian modernist style.

In 1963, Clairtone’s Project G, with the futuristic design of its sphere-shaped speakers by Hugh Spencer, was featured in Time Magazine and won a silver medal for design at the Triennale di Milano in 1964. Shortly after, Electrohome’s design director, Gordon Duern, responded to Clairtone’s popularity with the creation of the round shaped Circa 75 stereo.

The big stereo-systems by Clairtone and Electrohome were targeted mostly at the rich and famous, whereas the world’s largest consumer-electronics producer of that time, RCA Victor, created an affordable modernist line, Forma, designed by Montreal born André Morin. His colourful and playful creations appealed to the growing, young hippie generation.

Musée des Ondes Emile Berliner – Electrohome, Stereo Sound System, Model Circa 701C, design Gordon Duern, 1967 – WestmountMag.ca

Electrohome, Stereo Sound System, Model Circa 701C, design Gordon Duern (1967)

The museum started collecting pieces by local designers from the modern period over the last two decades. Most of the exhibited pieces are in working condition and selected stereos will be played to visitors during opening hours. The Musée des ondes has one of the most complete collections of André Morin’s stereo designs worldwide, including unique prototypes, which were donated to the museum by the designer himself.

In the early 1960s, Canada observed another phenomenon: Montreal’s remarkable transformation to a city of the 21st century.

André Morin spoke at length at the show opening about the struggles of a young designer working for RCA. He discussed how he managed to get a new product line into stores. When he joined the Design department of RCA he looked at the product line and saw that the audio units were all large, heavy and styled in ‘classic’ designs – Colonial Spanish or Rococo decor.

Musée des Ondes Emile Berliner – Left to right: RCA, Stereo Sound System, Model Forma 70 SFA 1094, design André Morin, 1969 RCA, Stereo Sound System, Model Forma 70 Cubiform II SFA 1095, design André Morin, 1972 RCA, Stereo Sound System, Model Forma 70 SFA 1091, design André Morin, 1969 RCA, Stereo Sound System, Model Forma 70 Cubiform IV SFA 1093, design André Morin, 1972 – WestmountMag.ca

RCA, Stereo Sound System – André Morin, designer (left to right) Forma 70 SFA 1094 (1969); Forma 70 Cubiform II SFA 1095 (1972); Forma 70 SFA 1091 (1969); Forma 70 Cubiform IV SFA 1093 (1972)

He wanted to create smaller units with a modern ‘clean’ look, contrasting the RCA classics. When he proposed his vision of the Forma line to the company executive he ran up against a standard problem. The marketing department hesitated because they first wanted to know how to sell the new line. André Morin spoke to one of the heads of RCA about this issue and was told that the best way to get his designs accepted would be to sell them to the stores.

Musée des Ondes Emile Berliner – RCA, Stereo Sound System, Model Forma SFD 1073, design André Morin, 1972 – WestmountMag.ca

RCA, Stereo Sound System, Model Forma SFD 1073, design André Morin (1972)

He therefore approached Eaton’s, one of RCA’s major clients, with a simple request: Could he set up a small display featuring one of the new modern designed sound systems? The store agreed on a trial period. After the trial period was over, André Morin contacted Eaton’s to ask how the sound system was received by the clientele of the store. Eaton’s answered that the display was a big hit and they would like to order 1,000 units. André Morning returned to RCA with the purchase order. The Forma line became RCA’s best-selling line in the company’s history.

With the World Summit of Design in Montreal this year, the Musée des ondes wishes to contribute in showcasing the modern design trend shaped by Canadian and Quebec designers, which had a global influence. The curator of the show is art historian Jean Belisle, the museum’s founder and expert in industrial heritage. The exhibition opened to the public on Friday, April 14 and will run until March 18, 2018.

The Forma line became RCA’s best-selling line in the company’s history.

For those interested in learning more about Canadian industrial design of the modern age, the Musée des ondes is presenting a series of four lectures in September and October 2017. The dates are September 20 and 27, October 4 and 11, at 7 pm at the MOEB. Industrial designer André Morin will be one of the selected speakers.Bouton S'inscrire à l'infolettre – WestmountMag.caThe Musée des ondes Emile Berliner is open Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 2 pm to 5 pm, at 1001 Lenoir, suite E-206, Montreal. The Place Saint-Henri metro station is just 5 minutes away and parking is available on weekends. More information is available online at moeb.ca

Images: courtesy of Musée des Ondes Emile Berliner

Read also: How recorded sound came to Montreal


Emile Berliner Musée des OndesWestmountMag.ca

Founded in 1992, the Musée des Ondes Emile Berliner is a private non-profit corporation administered by a board of directors. As a permanent institution, the Museum’s mission is to collect, preserve, curate, research, depict, and exhibit audio artifacts, interpreting their significance – scientific and technical, social and cultural, historic and economic – to Quebec, Canada and the world i.e. made available to the widest possible public. The aim is to educate and inspire the public interested in audio and recording.

The museum is situated in the RCA Building at 1001 Lenoir, room E-206, Montreal.
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