Yamaha CS-01 Breath Control Synthesiser
A new concept in performance control for keyboard players demonstrated by Dave Bristow.
E&MM keyboard consultant Dave Bristow demonstrates and talks in depth about this new concept instrument for keyboard players.
Running through it as a synth then, what have we got? There's the tuning pitch control, with octave selection of 4', 8', 16', 32' and, quite surprisingly, the white noise. Waveforms are sinewave, sawtooth, square-wave, pulse and pulse width modulation with a separate pulse width speed (which is nothing to do with the LFO).
That's quite a good idea.
Yes, it makes it entirely independent; and there's glissando, which is a discrete semitone slide from one note to the next.
So there's no depth to the PWM?
That's right. You hear it or you don't.
And no traditional portamento?
No. Moving on to the VCF section you've got the usual Frequency Cut Off, Resonance (with high and low positions — it's not a fader). I think this is something to do with the internal circuitry.
Then, of course, there's an EG depth for the filter. The amplifier also has its own EG depth and at the right of the controls is the EG with ADSR slide faders. There's LFO speed, marked from slow to fast. Incidentally, all these controls are on vertical faders which slide smoothly or over notched switch positions.
Okay, LFO speed and the modulation section is up here on the left. Modulation is done on a wheel — a moulette — but a nice fat one.
It's not centered in any way?
No, it's off or on increasingly and you can use it on VCF or VCO as normal. But modulation is very shallow, extremely shallow. This again, I believe, is due to the nature of the instrument. The pitch bend is sprung.
It's quite a strong spring — do you find any problem with it?
None at all. By the position both wheels are in, you can see from the way I'm holding the synth that they lie in a very natural position for the left hand. With hardly any movement — you just think pitch bend and there it is!
The little section beneath the wheels is for the breath controller — we'll come to that shortly.
So if I just set up an open envelope, an organ one, put the filter about halfway, you can hear the oscillator in its various pitches and waveforms. By the way, the triangle can easily be filtered to sound like a sinewave and the sawtooth has a really bright, brassy feel to it.
There seem to be some click noises breaking through when you make a note?
All the switches will make a noise if you move them when you're depressing a note. As long as you switch in between a phrase, they won't. It's actually not switch noise, but the change in the circuit when the amplifier is open.
You'll also find that the instrument can produce very tight envelopes and these sharp percussive sounds are part of the sophisticated circuitry — although the beginner may not be used to them. I think the waveforms are very good to use because of their richness, especially with pulse modulation.
I'll now move on to performing with the instrument, which I like to play standing up. The CS-01 is most easily used battery-powered on stage, although an AC to 9/12V DC adapter is available. An LED flashes when the battery is getting low — then you've about three hours left as long as you're not using the internal speaker. Once a line out jack to your amp is inserted, the 2W speaker is cut out. There's an 8 ohm mono headphone output at the lower end with the DC and line out socket (-16dB, 10k) and at the upper end a socket for the breath controller.
I must admit I'm so taken with the breath device on this, I've never used the CS-01 without it! One of the reasons that I enjoy using the breath control is that it saves mucking about with all these controls. It does away with seven controls and you're left, in fact, with switches. All you need to alter when you've got the breath controller in is the octave switch, the waveform switch and resonance switch — that's all. Everything else (you'll maybe set the PWM speed occasionally) such as glissando and LFO speed usually remain the same. You certainly don't need to change the EG envelope and depth or the frequency cut off. You're really just using those few switches, which makes the breath control amazingly useful — it really is.
How do you get on with the small keys?
Fine, you soon get used to it. The first little surprise I had using the small keys was when I had my right hand on the CS-01 keys and my left on another keyboard. Automatically I found myself playing 'genuine' octaves — but that came out as 10ths on this one!
The fact that it is monophonic must help.
Yes, it's very easy and very nicely sprung — and certainly not a 'toy' keyboard. It's slightly better than the CS keyboards, it doesn't clack around and the springs are tighter.
Some of the settings turn it into a great bass synth as well as a lead instrument. We agree that the CS-01 is not the first to utilise breath control. There's the Variophon...
That's right, and the Lyricon, and the Steiner which was designed around a trumpet format with a breath sensitive device going through a filter and a valve trumpet pitch action. There's also a separate device where you put a tube in your mouth which could be linked to any keyboard — as long as the synth generated a good sawtooth wave. This was fed into the filter that was controlled by your breath.
The Breath Control Unit here links to the synth via a stereo jack lead. In the unit is quite a bit of circuitry and a GS-2 velocity contact (see photo).
Let's try it out. First, I'll take out the EG depth controls, and the ADSR controls, and the frequency cut off. All those functions are controlled from the mouthpiece. In the breath control sections I'll open up the VCA completely and adjust the degree of effect that my blowing has on the VCF.
As I play, the last note is remembered while I trigger a sound from the breath controller by blowing.
There is certainly a big range of control available, but why does the mouthpiece always 'buzz' slightly while you blow it?
The buzzing noise is my breath escaping — the air has to go somewhere as does the water, which can end up running down your chest and if you're not careful it runs into the keys of the synth!
What happened to your breath controller lead?
It began to break where the rubber stop is — but remember I've carted this particular one in my briefcase unpackaged all over Europe! I haven't really looked after it very well either.
Another important thing is the way the volume can go so quiet while you're blowing gently.
You'd be hard pushed to get the same dynamic range from a keyboard sensitivity control.
Some unusual effects can also be generated — if I hum, for example, I can get an extraordinary 'ring-modulated' type of sound. Flutter tongueing gives a deep rumbling effect. Guitar sounds, too, are effective — I use 8 foot pitch with PWM, some resonance and overdrive the line out signal into the mixer. [At this point I became convinced we'd have to put this incredible sound on an E&MM Demo Cassette, because many Rock fans might wonder what they're listening to.] To get the fast triggering, my trombone playing comes in useful — I go 'tucatucatuca...' with my tongue against the roof of my mouth.
Do you buzz pitches into the mouthpiece?
Not really — I do buzz, but then the pitch bend takes over.
It must be really satisfying playing to the audience because you can physically bend with the notes like a guitarist would do.
Another point. Playing softly can sound clean, whilst blowing harder brings in the 'overdrive'!
Do you have to blow quite hard?
To get to the top of the voltage control you do — there's a little adjusting screw for setting the breath control just off. I've told people it is a very natural thing to blow as you play, it isn't a problem. The only thing which you might not be able to do at first, especially if you've not blown any kind of wind instrument before, is the fast tongueing.
Also, even if you don't want to strut around with it around your neck, you can put the instrument on top of another keyboard (but make sure you don't pull it off — it's so light) and simply create one note effects without touching the keys — the audience just doesn't know where all the sounds are coming from! What I love is the screaming effects which you can get — just like the guitar players. And I like the fact that it does not pretend to be a guitar, like the Liberator.
It's visually attractive, although people are sometimes put off by having something in their mouth.
Not for me, because I've played trombone, sax and flute. I'd feel different about it if it was just a little turning on and off device.
What's the reaction when you play it on gigs?
I tried it at the Music Trade Fair at the NEC. It was a jazz gig and I had the instrument slung round my neck while I played the GS-2. In that situation I found I could still get a lot of expression using just the right hand on the keyboard and no modulation wheels.
My ideal set-up for me would be this and the GS-1!
Surprisingly, the synth's single oscillator is never apparent simply because of the controller.
And it's likely to bring about quite a change in the keyboard player's role on stage — no longer is he relegated to the back line. Instead he's likely to end up sweating away out front for the first time as he blows his heart out on solos!
Recommended retail prices: CS-01 £189.00 BC1 Breath Control Unit £19.00 PA-1 AC Adapter £12.00
Yamaha instruments are distributed in the U.K. by Kemble-Yamaha, (Contact Details).