Synthesizer as Live instrument – January 1980

This article was published in the German edition of International Musician, january 1980. It covers the proceedings of the synthesizer as live instrument and discusses some new technologies at that time. Interesting to read about new digital systems such as the Fairlight and Crumar GDS. Please note: all (c) International Musician and author Steve Ruggere. The text is a google translated version of an OCR scan of the article.

“The technological level of mankind has always been reflected in their musical instruments.”This saying comes from Harold G. Alles (of the Bell Research Laboratory) and rarely has so much been expressed in so few words. The Neanderthal bored holes in long cane plants or stretched the skin of some killed animal over hollowed tree stumps . He had to work with the tools. at his disposal: a sharp stone and the sticky stuff. that you get. when milking a pig. The manufacturers of today ‘s instruments no longer work with axes ( but they still ca n’t do without glue ). but they are still evolving according to the general technological level of this world . And we now live in the computer age . The shape and construction of a musical instrument has always had something to do with science . If, however, the sound of an instrument is no longer a vibration produced by a human hand (or foot) . but based on controllable electronic impulses. then the “science” becomes the basis of this instrument and the musician must consequently now learn two things : music and computer science. Certainly there’s a lot in common and given the ever increasing importance of synthesizers in today’s (and tomorrow ‘s ) music it would be appropriate for the synthesizer player to do so at the same time as listening training. Theory and the other proven things. that musicians have always studied . take a course in computer programming. After last month we followed the development of the synthesizer over the last fifteen years . Now let ‘s discuss several companies in this article. who are currently designing and manufacturing the first generation of computer controlled digital synthesizers . This may help. that lli!r gets an idea. what to expect on stage and in the window of music stores in about two years Before we go into detail and introduce the individual models . I would like to point this out. that the price of the current offers ranges from about DM 25,000 to DM 55,000. However , I can guarantee. that they really aren’t toys and and as long as you live. they certainly wo n’t become obsolete (and neither will your children ). The synthesizers. which I will discuss here are actually complete technical centers independent research and development departments. Stage instrument and digital recording studio, all in one 1 Because it is possible. the information for the sound possibilities. that are in these instruments . to ban in programs . they can be changed continuously . brought up to date or changed at will . as new insights and breakthroughs come in , so it will never be a problem . to get up to date and what you used before is just put aside . wealthy musicians. Electronic music schools and current recording studios – these groups form the main clientele – can also count on some of these models to keep their accounts, spitting out a spreadsheet with the plan for the upcoming tour including departure times, hotel reservations, stage size and so on in short , it may be a real multi-purpose computer. These devices are suitable for the average consumer mainly. because they will eventually produce smaller systems. containing a limited (yet comprehensive) number of possible sounds and effects. Now as I did some research for this section of the overview. I saw a keyboard instrument (which will be on the market soon ) with my own eyes . which boasts sixteen voices and a built-in “four track recording studio”. And as for the price, it ‘s no more than the one high-end polyphonic synthesizer with preset facilities. Given the fact that the synthesizer industry is full of rival competitors and research must be kept secret, the manufacturer (Crumar) was unable to give us any further details about the instrument and its capabilities. The official statement reads : “This new instrument will be the first of many portable synthesizers to emerge from the General Development System . This Crumar General Development System is an all-digital music synthesizer manufactured by Digital Keyboards. Inc. (105 Fifth Avenue . Garden City Park. New York 11 040. After much work on research and applications , there is now a sizable ” library” of programs for vocals and everything to do with live performance – so -called “floppy discs” that store sound patterns and encoded modulations. The connection between the musician and this system is a keyboard that responds to speed . With the help of which the response value of the programmed noise can be varied . Example: a light touch triggers the synthesizer in this way .that “sound A” appears.when played hard it you hold “sound B”. Or if that’s what you ‘re after . To capture acoustic nuances, the trigger speed can convert woodwinds or piano strings into dynamics, for example. according to the different levels of pressure. It ‘s that keyboard . that distinguishes GDS from other systems on the market . In addition to timbre and volume change. it also allows for varying the pitch and number of musical modulations – whatever the voice – such as tremolos and reverb spacing. The instrument contains 32 digital oscillators and an 8-track digital recording sequencer (that records in real-time . vs. mechanical consequence: If you “record ” a D7 chord , then go eat and then resolve to G and then play it back, the distance becomes between the two events correspond to the time difference at the time of recording to within a thousandth of a second ). Other features in the GDS include a programming capability. in which every new note or chord played switches to a completely different voice , “voice-leading”. “keyboard splittin” (a sound or a sound combination for the upper half of the manual and a sound (or several) for the lower half). delayed and/ or indefinite vibrato. three pedals – sustain, sustenato and one. that can be programmed and then controls all sorts of functions and stuff. which the manufacturer calls “intelligent portamento” . The latter allows it. going from one note to the next in two different directions at the same time . from chord to chord and through a constant tone. held somewhere between the starting point and the ending point . As well as recording and playing back tempo changes and nuances. the recording sequencer can also change entire sequences. increase or decrease the overall speed. without changing the pitch. the timing and the nuances of it will be affected . The musician / programmer can erase any incorrect notes. use the right ones and finally he can make a quick and 100 % mix – a microwave oven for musicians. When he starts with raw sine waves and modified triangle waves. the musician can build sound patterns and store and retrieve them on 8″ double-density “floppy discs” . A video screen is attached to the computer and the whole process can be followed visually on it . When the system is set up to play , you need two platters – one for sound patterns and one for process information . The GDS , by its nature , ” . never belong to the scrap heap”, as the manufacturer so nicely puts it. All functional devices are controlled by interchangeable programs that can always be updated . You should definitely keep an eye on the Crumar General Development System and the devices based on it . A few hundred miles northeast of the GDS facility is another ” Frankenstein lab ” where production of a similar system is currently in progress.New England Digital is based in Norwich, Vermont Manufacture Synclavier (NE Digital Corp. Main Street. Norwich . Vermont 05055) Two designers, Sidney Alonso (computer assemblies) and Cameron Jones (programming part) designed the concept of the Synclavier and they are also recognized musicians (Alonso plays violin and Cameron bass) and this is also reflected in the fact that the instrument is very consumer-specific well constructed – you can see this above all in this. that the controls are geared more towards the musician than the computer expert. Each Synclavier model has a keyboard section with parameter controls. a minicomputer and programs. The differences between the individual versions lie in the number of voices or oscillators: an 8-voice is offered. a 16 voice. a 24-voice and the most popular model. the 32 voice. Unlike most other manufacturers . who work in the music market. New England Digital puts just as much energy into designing and selling “scientific research computers”. something. which no longer has much to do with scales and waveforms . BradNaples . the ► 85 managing director and an expert in his field says : Since we focus here on specific computers – scientific research and music synthesizers – we do not see ourselves as mass-producing manufacturers. aimed at a general consumer market. We make extremely high quality synthesizers for musicians of the same calibre. And we wo n’t change either .” The Synclavier is housed in an African mahogany cabinet and uses the XPL programming language (an evolution of the PL-1 language developed at Stanford University ). The information is stored on “floppy discs”. On the back is a facility to connect the unit to a CRT display if desired. The keyboard is the same for all four versions – it is not responsive to velocity. however, the manufacturer declares . that such a device will be available as an option from the beginning of ’81 , and for this some minor changes will have to be made to the computer assemblies and the program-technical part. And a device for stereo will also be available shortly . The computer. used to control the Synclavier system. is an extremely powerful minicomputer built by New England (it fits in a case only 50cm on a side). which can handle a sampling frequency of up to 64kHz . The cables that connect the computer and keyboard . are lines with multi-pin connectors. who don’t mind a little tug here and there and. under normal conditions they should last quite a while . The manual itself has a range of five octaves (61 keys). that can be continuously expanded and “split” to ten octaves and weighs about 25 pounds. A stage stand (about 80cm high – similar to the Fender Rhodes ) is included with the unit and has a slot under the front edge for a floppy disc case for easy access when you need to change quickly . The program for the Synclavier contains over 64 pre – programmed sounds that can be called up with individual switches – and more than 36 of them are “real instruments” and more than 24 effects and sounds. A nice touch of this system is the fact that all parameter controls are located on the keyboard section – or below : two pedals and six footswitches – making it extremely easy to use during live performances . The recording sequencer method. used by the Synclaviers is unique . every vote. or oscillator, represents both a ” track” and something. which is called ” partial timbre” . It works like this: if you record a sequence and you take a simple sound (vibraphone or organ) then each note can be represented by a partial timbre or, more simply put, a timbre. be generated by an oscillator . For example, if you have the 8- voice model, you can record eight different tracks. However, if you want a more complex sound ( strings, for example), you need three or four oscillators or parts of the sound that are not 100% in tune – to get a realistic result for a note. Now four voices are used for one note and therefore you can only record two tracks on the same 8-voice model. If you want the sound you want . compiles , the number of sound parts used appears in a small window on the left side of the keyboard. And when programming a sequence, the default limit of 2000 notes can be extended to 15,000 . New England Digital is an elite company , and it ‘s a good thing. To quote Brad Naples again : “Our synthesizers are extremely specialized and aimed squarely at an exclusive market. With our Synclavier and our research computers (Able 40 and Able 60) , we want a limited market with the best products there are for it there is nothing else we plan to do . And I have to point out that the prices will certainly not fall in the near future . Since we only use extremely high-quality components . Admittedly. the electronics boom is currently making some computer parts a bit cheaper, but we ” We don’t work with average quality parts. It will take at least another five years before we will be able to justify a price of around DM 10,000 to DM 15,000 . We address ourselves to musicians of the highest quality and we offer them Instruments of the highest quality.” “Con Brio Digital Music Synthesizer” in California (975 San Pasqual St. Suite 313, Pasadena. CA 91 106) is coming up. to produce a revised version of their computer-controlled synthesizer known as the AOS 200 . The whole consists of two manuals, five microprocessors, a video screen and a succinct parameter knob above the manual called the “Digital Command Console”, all as a standalone device. Tim Ryan of Con Brio: “Since the ADS 200 is designed for stereo and can also be expanded to quadraphonic, it is clearly a killer for recording – a studio in itself, so to speak. The most important thing in the design of this instrument was for us however, to make the ADS 200 a viable live instrument Since all components are housed in one console , reprogramming and mohitoring can be done as easily as it gets Two keyboards act on 64 digital oscillators, 128 extended envelope generaiors and several types of synthesis such as Ad( iitive Synihesis: Phase and Frequency Modulation. N~sted Phase and Frequency Mociulat(or uhd any possible combination of these Typeri . Pas,;agen. “of any length” can be recorded and then played back while the musician can record new songs and play over the stored tracks.The ADS 200 is built to accommodate new developments and changes n. Dad’s device comes with 200 pre-programmed voices.’ The company also has 300 others, and you can order them as you wish .. What is also available as an option is a speed-responsive keyboard. circuit’. ‘cards’ can also be attached and this brings the maximum number of votes to 256. . The operation of other synthesizers – or the ADS by other synthesizers – can be done without problems by using several voltage -controlled gates . The unit can also produce polyphonic intervals ( Intervalikcipp : lungs) , meaning the musician can trigger a programmed chord with the simple press of a single key . The sounds available offer everything you can imagine . The oscillators can produce the following waveforms – sine, triangle, sawtooth, square, pulse and noise. About ADS 200 is a . Powerful and cleverly constructed instrument. If all the available possibilities are exploited, any synthesist, no matter what level they play at, should be satisfied . Two similar devices are currently manufactured outside the United States: the Sony DMS-320 in Japan and the Fairlight CMI in Sydney, Australia. The Sony contains 32 “vibration generators” and just as .many . Envelope generators, a manual with 76 keys and a “Key Scale” controller. with which to change the registers two octaves up or one octave down , a 88 rate switchable device for the keyboard to get a “dip sensing” effect , various types of vibrato and chorus effects, devices for coupling and then there is the built -in minicomputer. The Fairlight CMI is available in several different versions , depending on how much money you have available and how risky you are. Currently played by Stevie Wonder and other musicians in the studio and on stage , the Fairlight consists of a two-manual keyboard. both manuals can be set to respond to speed , a microprocessor with a CRT screen ( allowing corrections when ” slight pot” is on and using “light pen” , an alphanumeric readout when the CRT screen is not is used and the most extraordinary thing about the device is probably a clear sampling circuit, through which one connects the analytical circuits of the computer to a microphone or a tape recorder, picks up the sound , “digitizes” and then enters it into the “waveform memory” of a “Voice Module” . to get a very realistic synthetic duplicate . The tape cassette that comes with the promotional literature contains several examples of the performance of this circuit. While the Fairlight CMI is undoubtedly a musical instrument , its strength lies in the accuracy with which it he generates synthetic noises and abstract effects The exact address of the company that manufactures it ellt is Fairlight Instruments Pty Limited, 15 Boundary $treet. Rushcutters Bay, Sydney, Australia 2011. As well as being excellent for the studio and the stage, the instrument’s nature also makes it ideal for scoring films and the like. The more you familiarize yourself with this relatively new area – at first you feel completely overwhelmed by the sheer volume of new things – the more you realize that this is only a very small start. The possibilities that these . new technology opened up cannot possibly be enumerated here. You need a whole book for that . Not only. that these machines , even in their current state, represent an important step forward for the serious synthesizer player . As a result , some manufacturers, such as Crumar, will use these and future developments to design and build portable professional synthesizers : which are sure to outperform some of their predecessors . However, none of the manufacturers is aiming exclusively at the music market : Just as much energy is used on it . Breakthrough of these instruments for TV and film and above all for electronic music academies – there are no doubts . that they are incredibly effective teaching tools (even for computer science programs). The further steps. clie· to be aimed for at the moment . involve the development of various types of speech synthesizers and cost-saving methods. how to analyze natural sounds and then ~synthesize them The business world has been and continues to be the largest consumer of computer technology. There they developed some little tricks . which are even more stunning in the music world . than in the offices. where is actually from. Take for example a rich musician who prefers it. to shoot in different locations – say Los Angeles and New York – depending on what he feels like. He now owns two full computer controlled digital synthesizers – one in his favorite New York studio. one in LA – he could actually call up a computer over the phone and, with a simple operation requiring only a few commands , he could automatically enter his steering information from one machine to the other . (“I left my ‘ Screaming Chicken’ in California . Can someone hand me the phone ?”) If you ‘d like to know . where all this is supposed to lead . do n’t worry. you are undoubtedly in the majority. One can certainly assume that at some point one will probably be much sooner. than you think – a small “floppy disc” can buy . which has a few backing vocal parts programmed to your liking (“I’ll try two Supremes, maybe two more from the Pointer Sisters , and why not a Temptation while we’re at it.”) Maybe someone is intending to. a concert for harpsichord and fire truck – do n’t give up. it will certainly be possible soon . These are some possibilities. maybe painted a little brightly. But one thing is certain: the most beautiful. that can be said about the current technology of computer -controlled digital synthesizers . is the fact. that all this is just the beginning . Steve Ruggere

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