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Yamaha Electronic Percussion System


Article from International Musician & Recording World, October 1986

In the drumbooth, no-one can hear you scream... Bob Henrit discovers Yamaha's wild-styled Electronic percussion system.

The Yamaha PMC1; untouched by human hand

We all had our first glimpse of this Yamaha gear at the Frankfurt show way back in February. Well, it is now available in the UK providing you have quite a lot of money, or a little less money and a MIDI-equipped drum machine.

This is because Yamaha don't actually make an electronic drum brain for this set. What they do make are a set of pads and a percussion MIDI convertor known to all and sundry as PMC1. Therefore, all you need to do is join it to your drum machine via MIDI and you'll be able to access all of its sounds. In real time.

PMC1 will also work with other MIDI controllable instruments too, such as keyboard synthesizers and of course voice expanders. They even supply with the unit a ROM pack and floppy disk to pull a large number of percussion voices from Yamaha's DX7 and upmarket TX816 respectively.

Yamaha's pads look absolutely amazing. In my Frankfurt show review I likened them to Darth Vader! They're black and glossy plastic with some cosmetic features formed into their bowls to take them away from the norm. (What I'm trying to say here is that they don't look anything like Simmons pads!) They resemble deck-tennis racquets in shape but are bent just a little in the horizontal plane around what would be the 'handle'area.

The frames of the pads themselves are diecast and the 'heads' would appear to be made of a brand new, specially developed material with a hard top to play on but with a more elastic and bouncy underside. Obviously this is to allow the sticks to rebound 'more or less' naturally. Below this we have a reasonably thin layer of wood which is shock mounted onto a rubbery material. This cushion allows the 'head' to float freely, rather like an acoustic drumhead does. (Yamaha claim that this floating system helps to eliminate crosstalk between the pads.)

As usual, Yamaha use a Piezo transducer to transmit control voltages to the convertor, and this is joined directly to the wood. The plastic part of the pad is probably a polycarbonate like everybody else uses, but they've used a bit of imagination with it. They've incorporated a sort of corrugated effect to part of the underside. A flexible plastic concertina gaiter is fitted around this tube to hide the joins as it were and this makes the whole thing look really solid and workman-like.

The angle of the pads is adjustable by way of a ball-joint which is actually located within a cage in the pad. A large circular, plastic handled screw is tapped into the cast rim and it eventually locks against a ball which is joined to the end of a holding tube. (This is why they needed to have a gaiter where the articulation takes place.) The open end of the tube has a unique innovation: it contains a male Cannon socket to connect the pad to the PMC1. This very cleverly keeps the cables out of the way of the rest of the stands. The tubular end of the pad fits neatly into the lockable jaws of one of Yamaha's latest receiver block attachments. It's moveable too in a single plane by way of a cast ratchet tilter.

The bass drum pad is, as per usual, larger than all the others. It's called PBD1 and has a slightly different construction to the tom/snare pads. It has the usual sandwich of hard and soft plastic layers on top of the wood, but they put a piece of plastic drumhead film between the two different substances. The wood itself has been hollowed out a little to help the 'bounce' characteristics.

As with all percussion MIDI converters PMC1 converts control voltages put out by the pads into MIDI signal, which in turn are sent on to the tone generators in the drum machine or synthesizer. Of course, it's not just enough to take the signals from the pad to the control box. Ideally it should do something exciting with them before it sends them off in the direction of the drum machine or synthesizer. The PMC1 is fully programmable and like all the modern generation of Yamaha electronic equipment, is sophisticated yet easy to operate.

The PMC1 controls eight pads, but has no integral voices

The whole unit is rack-mountable, two units deep and designed to accommodate up to eight pads, so it has eight sensitivity 'pots' for each input. Above each of the 'pots' are selector buttons for each input. Once depressed an LED on these buttons lights up and allows that particular channel to be programmed relative to the MIDI parameters. (The LED also lights when that particular channel is being triggered.) These knobs run in a horizontal line and above them is a large LED window. To the left side of this display are the memory select increase and decrease keys while to its right are buttons which carry out the same function for data.

PMC1 has 32 memories to retain patch information and the display shows which one is being selected as well as the numerical value of some parameters. (Some of these will simply show up as 'On' or 'Off' as well as 'Up' or 'Down'.) The keys to change these parameters are situated in a bank of 16 push buttons over on the extreme right hand side of the front panel. Also within this cluster is something called Internal Key which gives programming access to any of the memories. Since PMC1 has a cartridge slot to give entry to lots of other programmes, they need to have a button to switch these alternatives. It uses a RAM cartridge which will double the number of memory banks available. (The internal memory of PMC1 may be saved to cartridge too for safety.)

Next to these are a couple of format switches with dual functions. Both are pretty straightforward. One controls Loading and Reception of data from memory cartridge and synth or tone generator, while the other looks after Safety and Transmission to those particular components. Voice/function works out for you which of these things you're trying to cause to happen. PMC1 has a switch called MIDI A/B which determines which parameters from the MIDI 'out' terminals are to be edited. 'A' goes to tone generators and synths while 'B' is tailored to control digital rhythm programmers.

Yamaha have fitted a function called 'chain' which is activated by a switch and joins memory banks in succession. Therefore programmes for different songs may be strung together and selected in the required sequence. Store key does precisely what it says. It can also be used to copy single programmes from PMC1 to an external cartridge, or vice versa. Should you wish to set up the converter so that each pad controls a different MIDI tone generator then this is possible via the Channel key.

The Note button defines which note or pitch will be played by each pad. In MIDI 'A' output you can programme each pad to produce up to five simultaneous notes (chords), with one stroke. In MIDI 'B' a single programmed note can ascertain which instrument voice is produced by your drum machine. Programme change will set a value from one to 128 for each pad. This means that once a memory is chosen, the right voices for each pad will be selected automatically (via MIDI Out), by simply dialling up a programme.

The Gate-Time key determines the duration of each note for each pad. (This is the distance between MIDI key on and off.) Sustain does roughly the same thing via a footpedal for each pad but will keep it going indefinitely; Yamaha also fit a foot control switch which will activate 'bend' (up or down), and modulation too. Otherwise we have two switches, one for Simul, and the other for Dynamic Notes. The former dictates how many notes (up to five), may be programmed to be output together by MIDI channel 'A', whereas the latter allows you to sound different programmed notes depending on how hard you hit. As usual you can program the musical intervals between notes and set the range of the pad.

The back side of the unit has a comprehensive collection of sockets and things. The machine is thoughtfully supplied with eight sockets to accept a maximum of eight pads via Cannon-type connectors. Of course there's a MIDI 'in' terminal as well as A and B MIDI 'out'. The input will allow you the option to play along with a sequenced set of drum or keyboard patterns. It can also be used, as I intimated earlier, to transfer data from external tone generators or synthesizers to Yamaha's RAM cartridges.) A and B MIDI outputs are simply to ensure complete compatibility between synths/tone generators and drum machines. The only other features are three footpedal jack-sockets for optional pedals to sustain, apply bend and modulation, and chain memories together.

That's it as far as the attributes of the system are concerned, but what is going to persuade you to spend all that money to buy this expensive equipment? Well for me the key word is flexibility. The PMC1 can communicate in MIDI-ese with at least 14 different Yamaha units: from drum machines, to computers, to digital sequencers, to DX7 synthesizers and so on.

In conclusion the PMC1 could also be the beginning of an admittedly high priced system which would allow the drummer infinite access to sounds that up until now he was not entitled. I mean, whoever heard of a lowly drummer being able to hit his kit and play synth or bass guitar or even Big Ben! All of this and more is now possible...

Yamaha Electronic Percussion System - RRP: N/A

Also featuring gear in this article

Previous Article in this issue

Fixx Facts

Next article in this issue

Ensoniq ESQ1

Publisher: International Musician & Recording World - Cover Publications Ltd, Northern & Shell Ltd.

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International Musician - Oct 1986

Donated & scanned by: Mike Gorman

Gear in this article:

Drums (Electronic) > Yamaha > PMC1

Review by Bob Henrit

Previous article in this issue:

> Fixx Facts

Next article in this issue:

> Ensoniq ESQ1

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