Converting domestic instruments into professional ones. Plus an invitation to join the staff here at E&MM.
Last month's news story on the Casio CZ101 polysynth was a bit of a tease, really. We already knew how stunning it could sound, how revolutionary its new synthesis principles were, and how earth-shatteringly low its price tag would go. So it's probably best if I leave the technical description and subjective adulation to Paul Wiffen, whose appraisal of the CZ starts on Page 10. We'd hoped, also, to bring you an exclusive review of Isao Tomita's performance on the 101's ancestor, the Cosmo system, at this year's ArsElectronica, but unforeseen production difficulties (no, not drinking all the Christmas booze a week early) have meant this'll have to await a future issue.
What shouldn't be left unsaid, however, is that the time it took Casio to come up with the 101 - and the rest of the pro gear that should make itself evident in the course of 1985 - can't all have been taken up by research and development. An innovation like Phase Distortion doesn't come about overnight, of course, but it's a fair bet that marketing indecision also played its part in delaying the synth's arrival. And that's made me wonder just how many other domestic keyboard manufacturers may have professional instruments ready and tested for full production, but awaiting the final go-ahead from the powers that be.
Take Elka as an example. Their X30 reviewed in this issue represents contemporary organ technology at its finest, but it remains packaged in such a way as to make that technology distinctly unappealing to most modern music performers. All that auto-accompaniment stuff really isn't on, but there's no denying that, if the Italian company were ever to produce a range of hi-tech, professional electronic instruments aimed at a somewhat younger audience, they'd be up there with the established names before you could say 'Project Series Contemporary Keyboard'. Because let's face it, inside that X30 is a mildly wonderful digital drum machine dying to get out: but will it ever get the chance? That's for the marketing men, not the technicians, to decide.
Technics have already shown the rest of the organ world what can be done if you take your voicing technology and put it into a more professionally-acceptable package: their Digital 10 (reviewed last month) is as good an electronic piano as you'll find under £1000, and if the company were to chance their corporate arm a little further by introducing some more products based on similar design objectives (and again, they can't deny they've got the know-how to make it happen), there's no reason why said products shouldn't be of comparable quality.
So if the design skill is already there, why are some companies so reluctant to enter the pro keyboard arena in a wholehearted fashion? It's a simple question but it lacks a similarly straightforward answer. However, I suspect that a major factor is simply that the marketing divisions of these major corporations (and some of them really are major) simply don't know how good a job their colleagues in R&D are doing.
The reason for that ignorance is probably not unconnected to domestic musical trends. The Japanese, for instance, are generally a lot keener on the go-anywhere, personal keyboard (as pioneered by Casio and now marketed by a host of imitators) than they are on fully-fledged, professional and semi-pro synthesisers. So are the Italians.
Which is why an industrial giant such as Yamaha can put some marvellously fresh and exciting digital drum sounds into a personal keyboard (the PS6100) but remain content at supplying their first-ever dedicated units (the RX series) with little more than sonic replicas of conventional drum kits. And why Elka - and an entire breed of organ manufacturers - won't enter the 'serious' end of the music market without making absolutely sure (as Hammond did with their DPM48 drum machine) that the product is right.
It's also why Casio had to go right to the top (the top, in this instance, being Isao Tomita) to find out whether or not their Cosmo computer system was really much cop, musically speaking. Still, at least they took the right decision in the end. We wish them well.
Strange as it may seem, almost all the current editorial staff at E&MM are ex-readers, rather than off-the-peg journalists who served their apprenticeship on the Monmouthshire Regional Echo or people who just happened to be walking by at the time.
Between us, we manage (don't ask me how) to form a productive and generally well-behaved work unit that enjoys putting together the country's leading electronic music magazine. However, it just so happens that there's a slot to fill within that unit, not because anybody's actually leaving, but simply because we've come to the firm conclusion we'd all be a lot happier if we didn't have to work the long hours that have recently become the norm. In other words, E&MM needs a Staff Writer. And fast.
So if you've got a basic grounding in music synthesis and its electronics and computer applications, a broad taste in music, an open, enquiring mind and the ability to string a few sentences together, write to Terry Day at the editorial address printed below.
You never know, you might be writing Comment for next month's E&MM.
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