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Synth Sense


keyboards through the ages


Lee De Forest invents the oscillator, a device which generates electronic tones, 11 years after the invention of the valve.


First application of term "synthesiser" to electronic musical instrument built by A Givelet and E E Coupleux, producing sound from four electronic oscillators.


First RCA synthesiser completed by Harry Olsen and Herbert Blair in the USA, initially intended for artificial recreation of the human voice.


RCA Mk II synthesiser, 17ft long and 7ft high, acquired by Columbia-Princeton Center at cost of between $175,000 and $250,000. Two computer keyboards input information on pitch, envelope, timbre, dynamics and duration to paper roll store by binary code.


Theremin-salesman Robert Moog meets musician Herbert Deutsch who interests Moog in electronic music. Moog begins building voltage-controlled modules for him, completing the VCO and VCA in 1964 and the famous Moog VCF in 1965. Robert Moog presents a paper at the 16th Annual AES convention (Audio Engineer's Society), entitled "Voltage-Controlled Electronic Music Modules". An engineer at the Cologne Electronic Music Studio, Harald Bode, had apparently suggested a similar system some years earlier, but never put the ideas into practice.

Paulo Ketoff, an engineer at NIS Films in Rome, builds his one-off Synket synthesiser, a portable, three-manual instrument using voltage-control and with facilities to vary timbres and to play microtonally. It is adopted by US composer John Eaton in 1965.


First Buchla synthesiser, incorporating a sequencer, developed by Donald Buchla and installed at the San Francisco Tape Music Center. Produces sounds in response to finger pressure on touch-sensitive plates, and is adopted by US musician Morton Subotnick.

Walter Carlos buys his first Moog instruments, and at his home studio begins recordings which will become "Switched-On Bach".


Walter Carlos' "Switched-On Bach" released by Columbia records — it outsells any previous classical LP and establishes the Moog name. Robert Moog calls the record "the most stunning breakthrough in electronic music". J S Bach is unavailable for comment.


Engineers Max Mathews and Fred Moore at the Bell Telephone Labs in New Jersey, USA, produce a computer program called GROOVE designed to control a synthesiser.

First ARP synthesiser, the 2500, designed by Alan R Pearlman and David Friend. The product is launched soon after by a company called Tonus Inc.


The Minimoog is launched, designed by Jim Scott as a portable, variable performance synth, with three oscillators and the distinctive Moog filter. The Moog factory at Trumansburg is making 40 a month by the end of the year; after a move to Williamsville in 1971, production is up to 300 a month. Minimoog production ceased in 1981.

ARP 2600 is launched, a pre-patched performance synth used by Stevie Wonder and Pete Townshend and described by ARP as "the most popular studio synth of the 1970s".

Keith Emerson of the Nice is the first person to take a Moog system on stage.


David Luce joins Moog with the object of designing a polyphonic synthesiser in three years. Prototypes called the Constellation and the Apollo are built in that period. Moog eventually launch the Polymoog in 1976. Another early poly was Oberheim's 4-Voice.

ARP Odyssey launched, which becomes the most popular monophonic performance synth of the period along with the Minimoog.

Composer Jon Appleton and engineers Sydney Alonso and Cameron Jones begin development of a digital synthesiser, resulting in the Dartmouth Digital Synthesiser. Four years later the same team produce the first Synclavier instrument.

The Roland company is formed by Ikutaro Kakehashi, formerly owner of a hi-fi and TV store, and founder of Ace Electronics, innovators in the rhythm box market. After a policy disagreement when a company called Sumitomi took over Ace, Kakehashi seeks a new company and a new name for it. He calls it Roland after the nephew of Charlemagne, apparently a far-sighted, ingenious and courageous chap. Kakehashi also registers the name of Roland's arch-enemy, Oliver — one which he hasn't needed yet.


Appleton, Alonso and Jones design the Synclavier, described as "the first commercially distributed digital synthesiser". The keyboard and controls are in an organ-type case, with the computer and disc-drives separated. In the next few years about 50 Synclaviers are built, before the launch of the Synclavier II in 1980.


Sequential Circuits' Prophet-5 synthesiser launched, the first commercial instrument to use microprocessor control to store and recall patch information. Roland MC8 Microcomposer launched, the first microprocessor-controlled unit for multi-channel synchronised sequencing, based on a system used by Canadian composer Ralph Dyck.


Fairlight CMI (Computer Musical Instrument) designed by Kim Ryrie and first put on the market.


Casio's first instruments are launched, the 202 and M10 polys, followed early in 1981 by the small but influential VL1.


Dave Smith of Sequential Circuits Inc talks to AES Convention in New York, proposing the USI (Universal Synthesiser Interface), a high-speed serial interface for digital musical equipment. This becomes MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface).


First instruments produced with MIDI interface include Roland JP6, SCI Prophet-600, and Yamaha DX series (the new range of synthesisers using the Yamaha-developed FM synthesis scheme). MIDI version 1.0 is finalised in August.

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One Two Testing - Copyright: IPC Magazines Ltd, Northern & Shell Ltd.


One Two Testing - Nov 1984

Donated & scanned by: Mike Gorman

Synth Sense

Feature by Tony Bacon

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