Roger O'Donnell, one of the keyboard players with the Thompson Twins band, has been using the Prophet 600 as his sole live keyboard for the past year. We talked to him at RAK Studios, where the band are rehearsing for their upcoming British tour.
When did you first meet a Sequential Circuits product?
The first thing I saw was the Prophet 5, which everybody wanted at the time. I wanted one desperately, but I just didn't have the money. I remember thinking then that it was the ideal progression from the Mini-Moog which was the only synth I had at the time. I got to use the 5 on sessions and then a friend of mine got one, so I used to go round and play his all the time.
So you'd planned to buy yourself a Prophet 5?
Yes, but the session business being what it is, it took me ages to get the money together and by the time I had, the 600 had come out. So I looked at the difference between them and what else was available at the time, I decided to go for the 600, basically because of the price. It was the same format but with the extra voice, which was really useful, and of course the sequencer which I find really useful for composing. But the price was really a major consideration because I felt I saved myself £1,000.
I also liked the greater flexibility of the Unison/Track, which allows you to play a single oscillator monophonically or memorise a chord. Actually, that chord memory, when I first got it, I couldn't see any use for. But now I use it all the time, not just for brass 'dabs' but on riffs and things when I'm using it for writing. Also if you hold over a chord when changes to a unison voice it will also memorise a chord. In one of the new songs "Into the Gap", which has really Eastern feel and I'm playing fifths and when I hold the string part over and choose another program, I can play the riff monophonically.
Have you used it to make up your own sounds?
Yes. Recently I've been working a lot on bass sounds and I've got some really good sounds and I now use it a lot for bass. When I first got the 600 I still used the Mini-Moog for bass-lines, but now I hardly use that anymore because I can keep the bass sounds on the 600 memorized. Lately I've got a real edge to the bass sounds. It gives a good 'plucked' sound to funky lines which sound less like a synth and more like a real bass.
One of the things we all have to play a lot of with the Thompsons is brass sounds and I've got a nice range of brass sounds from the 600. I've got one really heavy brass sound which is ideal for the chords on songs like 'Love on Your Side'. The great thing is that using the Poly Mod section you can get some really rich chorusy brass.
Another thing the Poly Mod is really good for is percussive, Glockenspiel-type sounds, routing the Filter Envelope to the Frequency of Osc A and closing the Filler right down. I really like the sharp percussive sound that gives you.
Presumably the sounds which are recorded using the Prophet 5 (which Joe plays) often have to be played live using the 600. Do you find that the 600 copes well with that?
Yes - all the sounds I ever heard from a 5 I can get from the 600, because they've got that same filter, haven't they? (Yes
) Some people have said to me that the 600 didn't sound as good as the 5 but I think that's a load of... well, I don't think that's right. I think people get put off after using the 5, because the 600 isn't so big.
People tend to think that because its got a few less flashing lights it isn't going to sound so good. Well, I've never had any problems making it sound as strong or as full as the 5.
The other good thing about the 600 is that on the albums Tom plays the majority of the synth parts on the OB-Xa and it reproduces that sound of that really well.
I'm also looking forward to using the MIDI, particularly with the Commodore 64 sequencer. I use the on-board sequencer for writing ond trying out harmonies etc, but it'll be nice to be able to use it with a drum machine or a trigger. I hope I'll be able to get into sequencing live then.
How has the 600 stood up to touring?
Its stood up really well, through some incredible things, like when we supported the Police in Phoenix. It was 105° on stage and it stayed perfectly in tune and all the programs were great. I mean when you're touring you've got to be able to rely on an instrument. I've actually knocked the 600 off its stand, and it just bounced.
I find the foot pedal very useful. There's a lot of things which you can do with it. Apart from program advancing and unison track, you can also memorise an assign on the arpeggiator and step through it one note at a time for bass drones or whatever.
Do you use the Pro-One at all?
Not live. Tom does the lead-lines and other monophonic bits on that himself on stage but I've played around with it and that is really useful too.
You had a go on a T8 recently. What did you think of that?
Well, the generation of keyboard players I come from started off on the Fender Rhodes, and after the 'feel' of a Rhodes the deadness of the synth is just something you have to put up with to get those sounds. But then to get a synth, and a Prophet at that, with that same feel, it makes you feel like you're playing a proper musical instrument again rather than a convenient arrangement of switches and resistors. I'm very much a 'feel' player and the T8 was great for that. I was also very impressed with the factory programs... I mean, that piano patch is the best thing I've ever heard from a synth and it matches the Yamaha Grand. It's great... I want one.
Roger did in fact buy himself a T8 a few days later from his local music shop, Music Village in Chadwell Heath. A couple of days afterwards, Joe, the other Prophet user in the band got himself a T8 as well. But Roger will still be using the 600 on stage and hopes to make good use of the MIDI link between the two.
The Traks Music System
The Six-Trak ushers in a new generation of musical synthesizers. It's a very "news-worthy" instrument, featuring brand new technologies which translate into brand new musical possibilities. For instance, the Six-Trak is a multi-timbral
polyphonic synthesizer. It lets you play six completely different instrument sounds at one time. And you can do so in three ways. One way is by layering several instrument sounds on top of each other so that you can play them in unison from the Six-Trak keyboard. We call this new, multi-layered unison technique our "Stack" mode. Another way of playing the Six-Trak as a multi-timbral "ensemble" is by recording six different instrument sounds into the Six-Trak's on-board multi-track digital recorder. Push one button and the "band" plays. The Six-Trak's multi-track recorder (or sequencer) is packed with all of the functions needed to qualify as a professional music tool. Functions, include Record, Playback, programmable playback speed, programmable track volume changes, variable-resolution error-correct, track duplication, and over 800 notes storage capacity.
A third method for creating complex, multi-part music on the Six-Trak is by combining the live playing capabilities of the instrument with its multi-track recording feature. For instance, you might choose to record a bass line on Track #1, a guitar on Tracks #2 and #3, and a fiddle on Track #4. This lets you reserve two voices for playing a "live" banjo solo on the keyboard during playback.
We got so excited telling you about the Six-Trak's innovative multi-timbral capability that we failed to mention its many "standard" features. The Six-Trak is a 6-voice polyphonic fully programmable synthesizer featuring six real VCO's and six 4-pole filters. The synthesizer program memory stores 100 programs, each consisting of 33 voice parameters. LEDs clearly indicate the selected program, and if the program is being edited, will also display the parameter number and parameter value. Parameter values are edited with a single knob. Programs can be copied. And the non-volatile memory is retained when power is off thanks to a ten-year backup battery.
Each voice has a multi-waveform oscillator (or noise) as the principal sound source. A PITCH wheel is provided for bending notes. The oscillator is followed by a resonant low-pass filter which contours the timbre, and an amplifier which contours the dynamics. There are three ADSR envelope generators: for oscillator frequency; filter cut-off frequency, and amplifier gain. (The polarity of the first two can be inverted.) A triangle or square wave modulation LFO can be applied to oscillator frequency, pulse width, or filter frequency. Modulation depth is both programmable or adjustable by the MOD wheel. A second modulation route runs from the oscillator triangle output to the filter frequency. Frequency glide ("portamento") and voice volume are programmable. Non-programmable master volume and tuning controls are provided. The TUNE switch has been eliminated by fully-automatic oscillator tuning.
The back panel has jacks for audio output (which can drive stereo headphones), a multi-purpose control foot-switch, and MIDI input and output. MIDI is the technical link to the feature. Today it allows the integration of the Six-Trak into one programmable system including SCI's new Drumtraks and Model 64 MIDI sequencer. The synchronous link to the Drumtraks adds an entire programmable rhythm section to the multi-timbred ensemble. The Model 64 sequencer offers increased sequencer storage - to 4000 notes, program storage on cassette or disc, sequence transposition, alternate keyboard modes, as well as forthcoming music display and editing functions.
A fully programmable drum machine featuring 13 digitally recorded instruments and MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface). DRUMTRAKS lets you program volume and individually for each of its 13 real drum and cymbal sounds. This allows you to "expand" your "drum set" to include the sounds of gongs, 32-tom rolls, gorilla claps and more! Extensive editing options include auto-correct, overdub, erase, and copy modes.
Drumtraks features a programmable mixer with a monophonic output (which can drive stereo headphones). For control by external mixers or processors, six audio channels (plus the metronome) are available at the back panel through standard ¼" phone jacks.
The Drumtraks overall memory capacity of over 3300 notes can be allocated to up to 100 different drum patterns, any of which can be up to 100 measures long in any time signature. Tempo range is 40-250 beats-per-minute. Each overdub of a pattern can be recorded with a different instrument volume or tuning, in real time, or auto-corrected to one of eight levels of resolution. Any part of an instrumental track can be erased. Patterns can be copied and added together (appended).
Once drum patterns (sequences) are recorded in the Drumtraks memory, up to 100 songs can be defined. Basically, songs are made by chaining patterns together. Each song can consist of up to 100 steps. Steps specify how the song is built by selecting patterns and inserting volume or tempo changes. Songs, too, can be edited, copied and appended. The Drumtraks' memory is retained even when power is off thanks to a back-up battery with a ten-year life. For permanent storage and reprogramming, the built-in interface can be used to store the contents of memory on a common cassette. The Drumtraks features two built-in interface systems. There is a selectable 24, 48 or 96 pulse-per-quarter note clock input, and a 24-pulse clock output for older sequencers or rhythm units and sync-to-tape. For operation with computer-controlled sequencers, the new MIDI interface is also provided. This enables the Drumtraks to synchronize to SCI's new Model 610 Six-Trak multi-timbral synthesizer/sequencer, or any other MIDI-equipped instrument. For example, the Drumtraks can be played with full velocity control from the keyboard of the Prophet-T8, allowing for easy, real-time recording of drum dynamics!
The Model 64 is the first SCI sequencer available using MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface). It is a cartridge which plugs in to the memory expansion port of a Commodore 64 personal computer, taking advantage of that system's portability, memory capacity, cassette or disc storage, and video interface.
The Model 64 Sequencer records whatever is played by storing the MIDI information sent from any MIDI equipped instrument compatible with the Rev 1.0 MIDI spec. Up to 4000 notes can be recorded. The Model 64 also stores velocity, pitch-bend and modulation information (if the synthesizer is so equipped). For playback, the sequencer sends MIDI information back to the synthesizer either as recorded in real time, or autocorrected for subtle timing errors. The playback tempo can be varied by using either the internal clock or an external drum machine clock.
As a digital recorder, the sequencer's editing facilities allow for multi-track overdubbing, duplication, and correcting parts without re-recording, splicing, or accumulating noise through the processes of "mix-down" and "bouncing" generations of tape tracks. The sequencer memory can be allocated to eight independent variable-length sequences, each of which can have six tracks. Eight different timing error-correct values are available, from a quarter-note (lowest resolution) to a sixty-fourth note (highest resolution). A sequence can be transposed within a six-octave range. A library of songs can be built by chaining sequences together and storing them on disc or cassette. Songs can also be overdubbed and transposed.
For precise start and stop control of recording and playback, the Model 64 cartridge has a jack for an optional footswitch. A second jack accepts the synchronizing clock from an external drum box. The sequencer will record this drum box clock with the sequence. On playback the drum box clock can then keep the sequence synchronized to the drum part.
Operation is simple. For portability, the Model 64 Sequencer is designed for use with or without a monitor. LEDs on the cartridge identify up to four sequences and indicate record, play, overdub, and storage functions.
The Model 64 Sequencer is another new concept from Sequential Circuits, the leader in affordable high-technology for the electronic musician. It is ready to use with our new Sixtrak, Prophet-600 and Prophet-T8 synthesizers, with the Prophet-5 or Prophet-10 equipped with a Model 841 MIDI retrofit kit, or with any other MIDI-equipped synthesizer.