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Synthesisers: An Easy Explanation

Dave Bristow
Published by Yamaha

Dave Bristow's handy booklet is intended for use with the Yamaha CS-01 Breath Control Synthesiser, but could with a little imagination be used as a basic instructional booklet for any monophonic synth. This is largely because the CS-01 has a simple, left-to-right, 'one-of-everything' layout, and the book follows this format in discussing the individual sections of a synth.

There's an opening glossary which helps to relate the terms used in the book to other technical and musical sources of information. This is followed by a short explanation of the way in which synthesiser functions relate to the characteristics of other musical instruments; pitch bend to string bending techniques on guitar, for instance. Then the main functions are investigated individually, first the high-note priority keyboard and then the performance controls, filter and envelope generator.

Bristow's approach to 'finding a sound' is highly practical, emphasising the fact that exact imitation is difficult and a reasonable impersonation coupled with appropriate expression is much easier. The breath controller is used in producing Saxophone, Trumpet, Whistle and Lead Guitar sounds, and there are some sensible hints for further experimentation. The overall approach is practical, informal and pictorial, with useful musical examples, and while the book's a must for CS-01 owners it should be of interest to many others with an interest in playing technique and expression.

Kemble Yamaha, (Contact Details).

Introduction to Electro-Acoustic Music

Barry Schrader

Barry Schrader's comprehensive manual dwells not so much on the technology of electronic and tape music as on the musical content itself. After vigorously defining the areas he intends to discuss, Schrader begins a survey beginning with Music Concrete and Tape Manipulation, covering several practical techniques of cutting and splicing, goes on to early electronic instruments and voltage controlled synthesisers and briefly discusses digital keyboards such as the Synclavier, and computer composition techniques.

The final section of the book comprises an analysis of several recordings of electronic pieces and a set of discussions with their composers. These include Luciano Berio ('omaggio a Joyce'), Morton Subotnick ('Until Spring') and Gordon Mumma ('Cybersonic Cantilevers'). It's fascinating to gain an insight into the compositional principles of what can be relatively inaccessible pieces, and Schrader's strengths lie largely in such areas rather than in discussions of live electronic music or fields other than the classical.

Basically the book concerns classical electronic music, with a noticeable bias towards the US and relatively obscure designs such as the Buchla synth and the Synket. Given these limitations, and a very careful awareness on the part of the reader of the American tendency to over-generalise (for instance in stating that digital reverb is rather too expensive to be in general use) the book makes a satisfying and informative read.

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Electronics & Music Maker - Copyright: Music Maker Publications (UK), Future Publishing.


Electronics & Music Maker - Feb 1983


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