Digital is the word. If it's digital it must be new and it must be better. Digital processing has been applied to most areas of the music business, from mixing desks to effects units, and one day all instruments will be made this way. Synthesisers are still favourite for digitalisation (not an Americanism — it can be found in Collins) and recent additions include the Basyn Minstrel and the Voyetra series of synths.
The Basyn Minstrel from Gray Laboratories is a 5-octave, 4-voice polyphonic instrument with 32 preset sounds and facilities for programming a further 32 voices of your own choice. Thirty-two separate waveforms are available from the internal memory and more are accessible through a cassette. Other parameters controlled directly from the front panel include a transform filter (the digital equivalent of an analogue filter), transform filter mode and texture, digital envelope and four keyboard modes. Pitch-bend and modulation wheels are standard and a joystick is available from the factory. Price is around $3,995.00.
The Voyetra series of synthesiser modules from Octave-plateau Electronics Inc. includes a mono module which can be driven off an existing keyboard or their VPK-5 polyphonic keyboard controller. The Voyetra Eight module is an 8-voice polyphonic unit whose programs can be edited by the Voyetra One, a computer or cassette. Operation is by way of a calculator style keypad and it has been designed to make all functions and features as easy as possible. The modules fit a 19" rack system and the VPK-5 is pressure and velocity sensitive and houses a joystick. A Polyphonic sequencer, string unit, organ and piano modules are planned for the future.
Two keyboards from Crumar, unavailable in the U.K. as far as I know, are the Trilogy and the Stratus. Of similar design and operation, their grey fascia and black rotary dials and LED push-buttons form an attractive package. Both have single and multiple triggering which can be assigned to different voices so that different modes can be used at the same time. Both contain a 'cathedral organ' sound which can be varied using four square wave footage. Six separate 24dB lowpass filters, six independent 4-parameter envelope generators, and six high performance VCAs span the keyboard controlling the two independent oscillators. The Trilogy contains a preset section and one variable mode to allow you to create your own sounds. It also contains the famous Crumar string sound consisting of selectable 8 and 16 footages with variable timbre, attack and release controls. The Stratus is priced under $2000.00.
Performance Music Systems have launched their Syntar performance synth which is similar in design approach to the Moog Liberation. It weighs 14lb and has a neck like a guitar for the left hand to control pitch-bending, sustain, filter sweep and modulation etc. The keyboard spans three octaves.
Still with keyboards, Multivox have produced a drawbar organ called the FO-999 (I wonder what that stands for?) in competition, I would think, with the Korg CX-3 organ and the Roland VK-1. It weighs 17lbs and has the rotating-speaker sound. The bass can be split and has a separate volume control. There are full pitch and vibrato controls, expression pedal input, stereo output and percussion. It is priced at $899.00. Multivox are also promoting the Firstman 4-voice synthesiser. Each voice has its own 24dB/octave LP filter, envelope generator, variable rectangular and sawtooth waveform VCO, noise generator and LFO. An open-panel arrangement allows the user to pre-set sounds and pre-programmed electronic piano, brass, clav, woodwind and filter sweep sounds are supplied. A separate string section has 16', 8', 4' and 2' voicings, an independent mixer, tone controls and a variable trigger mode. A sensor bar is used for pitch-bend and filter sweeps. Price is $1895.00.
Ibanez have a new multi-effects unit called the UE405. It is a rack-mounting unit containing four effects: a compressor/limiter, a stereo chorus, a parametric equaliser and an analogue delay. You can connect an external effect which is treated as a fifth effect unit. The patching sequence can be altered with a 5-position 'insta-patch' selector switch, while remote FET switching controls individual effects and the master in/out. LEDs indicate the status of the unit and a separate output is provided for the stereo chorus. The UE405 is AC powered and the effects work from a regulated DC supply. Available from local Ibanez stockists.
Running along the lines of the auto features found on organs and now incorporated in many small keyboards such as those by Yamaha and Casio, Microtune of Boston has developed the Micro Tune IV which is a small (9½" x 5½" x 2½") instrument capable of producing chord progressions and simple tunes of arbitrary tonality and temperament. There are three fixed-scale temperaments and one user-programmable range, all quartz crystal controlled insuring accurate frequencies. Chords of up to four notes may be played at durations from 50 milliseconds to one second and tunes of up to 16 chords may be programmed. All programmed notes, chords and tunes are stored in a non-volatile memory. Sixteen tunes can be stored and the memory displays the tunes in bright 7-segment characters. The unit contains a loudspeaker and runs from rechargeable batteries. A battery charger is included. At a price of $950.00 it may be of interest to many experimental electro-musicians and is an alternative to look at in the range of autofeature instruments.
Just to confuse the buyers (that's you and me), there appears to be two Time Machines on the market. One, simply called the Time Machine from Blacet Music Research, allows voltage control of all major functions. This includes delay, cancel, LFO rate, LFO RST, modulation depth and regeneration. It also contains an envelope follower, Curtis VCAs, Bi-Fet Op Amps, Brickwall Filters, and a Compander in the circuitry. Ideal for use in a computer orientated set-up, the Time Machine comes in kit format a price of $298.
The other Time Machine is also called the EEM-2000. (I prefer Time Machine. At least if you say that to someone they have a fighting chance of knowing what you're talking about. What wild and extravagant electronic wizardry is conjured up by the name EEM-2000? Are musical instruments not human too?) Anyway, the EEM-2000 is an analogue delay line with a range from 20 to 200 milliseconds. It will accept two inputs with independent mixing controls and selectable input and output levels allow signal matching to just about anything. Two outputs provide a dry/delayed signal output and an output of the delayed signal only. It will produce effects ranging from reverb and doubling to slap-back and discrete echo. An optional footswitch is available. Available from Audio Sales.
Bode Sound Co. have developed the ultimate phaser called the Barberpole Phaser. "Infinite Phasing is here!" they claim. And they are very excited about it. It provides infinite phasing in either direction, multiple phasing, rotating effects, built-in variable fuzz and a variable number of comb filter banks. There are no glitches and no splices and the unit has many other features which would take a review to explain. Details from Bode Sound.
With NAMM and Frankfurt shows now well behind us, my money is on moredigital products and more manufacturers showing interest in Casio-type instruments. Where is the great synthesiser/electronic instrument revolution? Wherever it is, you will read about it in the pages of E&MM.
Manufacturers and companies mentioned:
Gray Laboratories, (Contact Details).
Octave-plateau Electronics Inc., (Contact Details).
Crumar, (Contact Details).
Performance Music Systems, (Contact Details).
Multivox, (Contact Details).
Ibanez, (Contact Details).
Microtune, (Contact Details).
Blacet Musical Research, (Contact Details).
Audio Sales, (Contact Details).
Bode Sound Co., (Contact Details).