The guitar was once the 'hot' instrument in rock; the instrument that budding stars gravitated to, buying the latest model that would enable them to get a sound that would propel them to fame. But today, thanks to the development of synthesisers and digital technology, it's keyboard instruments that have become the hottest thing in the music industry.
Musicians are continually updating their keyboards, hauling two, three, four, five, even six different keyboards on to a stage for a performance. Full-size electric pianos are placed next to acoustic pianos, small synthesisers are put on top of electric pianos and console organs. Several different electronic keyboards and synthesisers are stacked in specially-built racks, such as the Hi Lo Dollies, to which the Santa Rosa, California, company just added its latest model.
All Hi Lo Dollies function as either a four-wheeled dolly or a two-wheeled hand truck as well as a safe and sturdy stand for performing, making it easy to move and set up electronic keyboards and synthesisers. Racks that are adjustable for tilt and height on the latest Hi Lo Dolly makes it possible to stack keyboards that previously could not be stacked because of their contours.
Among the keyboards that a musician might put on such a rack are new models from such firms as Rhodes, Crumar, E-mu and Moog.
Rhodes has introduced Chroma, a synthesiser which combines multi-voice programming features with the feel of real mechanical action that is both velocity and pressure sensitive. The 16-channel, polyphonic synthesiser also features a split keyboard capability, 50 programmable presets plus 100 taped-voice programs and digitally-based programming and tone controls linked to 16 oscillators, 16 filters and 16 amplifiers.
"The Chroma embodies several fundamental breakthroughs in synthesiser technology," explained John Shykun, director of marketing for Rhodes, when the new instrument was unveiled for music dealers in late winter. "First is the touch dynamic sensitive keyboard, with keys that don't feel like push-buttons. The player's touch creates and controls pitch, attack and decay while he's playing.
"Second, all of the operating, programming and tone controls are generated in the software, giving the player complete access to all the oscillators, filters and amplifiers.
"And finally, Chroma has the most sophisticated computer interface available. Software is available to allow it to connect with an Apple II computer and other software will soon be available."
The Chroma also features built-in diagnostics which include automatic tuning, automatic oscillator, filter and amplifier checks and a board and battery check, all of which are accessible from the front panel. The keyboard can be split at any point, and the split can be stored in the synthesiser's memory to be recalled on command. Other programming capabilities include a program link which allows two programs to be overlayed. Linked programs can be transposed separately or together. Chroma's programming also gives the player access to a sequencer-like arpeggiation mode.
There also are complete editing facilities and a cassette interface which allows audio and program information to be combined on tape. The back panel features include a single footswitch, a dual footswitch and two volume type (linear) pedal inputs. The outputs are all balanced, assignable and 300 ohms.
The Chroma comes with a custom-designed, heavily padded ATA Anvil case, a standard cassette with 100 voice programs and two owner's manuals.
The interfacing of synthesisers and computers, which Chroma permits, has become the latest trend. Simple printed circuit boards that plug into relatively inexpensive personal computers are now sold by at least five companies. These boards turn these computers, whose normal uses range from keeping track of personal expenses to playing video games, into keyboard instruments. This interfacing has many advantages, most obviously extensive memory capabilities and speed of operation, according to Rock Wehrmann, of Moog. In a synthesiser, he explains, a program is stored in memory where it can be recalled instantly. A microprocessor, or small, integrated computer, makes all this possible in such instruments as those made by Moog. Interfacing the keyboard with a computer expands the instrument's capabilities.
Last year, Moog introduced the first commercially available digital synthesiser, The Source, among other synthesiser models. This year they have already introduced two new synthesisers and a digital sequential controller, dubbed, naturally, the DSC.
The 800-note DSC features storage of vibrato and pitch bend, programmable transposition, rhythmic auto-correction, cassette input/output, sync to tape recorders and battery backup.
Moog's latest synthesisers are the Taurus II, a low-cost one and a half octave pedal synthesiser with detachable electronics, full modulation, performance controls and total interface capability, and the five-octave keyboard Memorymoog. This is a six-voice polyphonic synthesiser with 40 programs, 20 program chains, three oscillators per voice, expanded modulation, programmable pedal functions and an LED readout that asks for and responds to commands.
All of these new Moog products, like the new synthesisers from other manufacturers, are relatively small especially when compared with the first commercially available synthesisers which were created by Robert Moog, which were much, much smaller than the first synthesisers which literally filled entire rooms.
"I started on a huge Moog 55 which, compared with today's keyboards, is a real monster," recollects Derrick Simpson, who has been playing keyboards for 14 years and now heads the keyboard and sound reinforcement department at Chicago Music Co., that city's leading professional, musician-oriented store. "Synthesisers are getting smaller. The trend today is toward compact units.
"Digital technology is making things smaller in size but bigger in terms of capabilities. There's even a couple of programmable small keyboards available now. Generally, the units are also sturdier than they had been. The packaging is a lot better now.
"Because of the new technology," Simpson added, "I've been able to cut my rig down from eight units to four units."
E-mu Systems, Inc., has adopted such recent trends as computer interface to its Emulator digital polyphonic keyboard instrument. All Emulators will now include as standard a powerful realtime multi-track sequencer which makes it possible to create complex musical compositions and sound effects tracks in a manner analogous to overdubbing on a multitrack tape recorder. Using the Emulator's built-in disk drive, completed sequences can be stored on floppy diskettes along with Emulator sounds. The sequencer can be easily retrofitted to earlier models at a cost of $250.
Emulators also now include two foot switches and a foot pedal. The foot pedal duplicates the function of the MOD wheel, making it possible to control vibrato depth while playing with both hands. One of the foot switches acts as a sustain pedal, while the other controls a new keyboard doubling mode. In this mode, notes played on the lower half of the keyboard are automatically doubled by the sound on the upper half of the keyboard.
The synthesiser's capabilities also have been expanded with the introduction of two new optional software systems. The recording of up to eight individual samples at half-octave intervals across the keyboard is possible with the User's Multi-Sample. This results in more accurate reproduction of highly resonant sounds and, in addition, makes it possible to have eight independent sounds available on the keyboard simultaneously. The Personal Computer Interface allows any computer equipped with an RS-232 serial port to control Emulator sounds.
In the area of hardware, E-mu's new analog voltage interface will allow any source of control voltages and gates to control Emulator channels.
Possibilities include remote polyphonic keyboards and polyphonic sequencers such as the Roland MC-4, the Oberheim DSX, or E-mu's own 4060 16-channel keyboard/sequencer.
A double-manual electronic keyboard, with two four-octave keyboards, has been introduced by Music Technology. The company's Crumar T-3 features two manuals of polyphonic strings, electronic pianos and organs with rotary sound system effect.
The string section can have independent crescendo for each key depressed, as well as be treated by a phaser which can sweep automatically or be looped at any phase angle. The organ has the most popular drawbar settings activated by preset switches and has its own reverb system, along with percussion and key click features. All sections are assignable to upper, lower or both keyboards.
An optional advanced 'nerve center'offers such rhythm accompaniment as a realistic digital cymbal sound, and a variety of chord rhythms, alternating or walking bass and stylistic lines played by bass, guitar and piano. An assortment of pedals permits foot control of various sections, including percussion.
The basic T-3, which weighs 31 kilograms, includes a protective cover, pedals for volume, sustain and solo percussion control, music rack and stand. The suggested retail price is $2,350, or $2,950 with the nerve center.
Linn Electronics uses digital technology for its latest rhythm machine, the LinnDrum, which has more features, but a lower price, than its well known LM-1 Drum Computer.
Stored in the LinnDrum's computer memory are digital recordings of open and closed hi-hat, crash and ride cymbals, bass, three toms, snare, sidestick snare, two congas, tambourine, cabasa, cowbell and handclaps. LinnDrum also stores as many as 49 different patterns and dynamics, odd time signatures and what Linn Electronics refers to as 'human rhythm feel' all of which are programmable. Drum sounds can be changed by using alternate 'chips' supplied by the factory and custom-prepared sounds are also available.
All patterns remain in memory even with the power off. Programmed data can also be kept on cassette by way of the tape storage function and then reloaded at a later time. LinnDrum will sync to a variety of synthesisers and sequencers and can overdub to tape. Although separate outputs for all sounds are provided, a stereo mixer with volume and pan sliders is integrated into the front panel. The front panel also contains controls for adjusting voltage inputs and tuning the snare, toms and congas.
Shipping of the LinnDrum, which carries a suggested retail price of $2,995, began in June.
To help improve the sound of its keyboard instruments, Roland has added two compact Cube amps to its popular line of Cube guitar amplifiers. The new amplifiers, both specially designed for keyboard use, are the 40 watt Cube-40 Keyboard, or CK-40, and the 60 watt Cube-60 Keyboard, or CK-60. Each amp has two input channels with individual volume controls for handling two keyboard inputs. Each channel also features an input attenuator with an extremely wide dynamic range to accept input signals of any magnitude without causing input clipping.
Both the CK-40 and the CK-60 feature controls for treble, middle, bass and reverb and the CK-60 allows the reverb to be selectively assigned to either or both channels. The CK-40 has a self-contained two-way 10-inch speaker while the CK-60's two-speaker system includes a 12-inch speaker and a horn tweeter for more faithful reproduction of keyboard instruments. Rear connection jacks include pre-amp out, main-amp in, two mono record-out jacks, headphones and external speaker jack. List prices are $350 and $460, respectively.
Meanwhile, not forgetting guitarists and bassists, Roland has introduced its Spirit amplifier group, a new series of five lower-priced guitar and bass amplifiers.
The Spirit 10 is a compact, portable rehearsal guitar amp with 10 watts RMS of power and an eight-inch full-range speaker. There are jacks for headphone, lineout and overdrive and normal switching and controls for volume, master volume, bass, middle and treble.
Roland's other new guitar amps — the Spirit 30 and Spirit 50 — have larger speakers, increased wattage and more features.
The two bass amps, the Spirit Bass 30 and Spirit Bass 50, have volume, bass, middle and treble controls, hi/lo signal inputs, and a parametric equalisation section for wide-ranging tonal contour.
Manufacturers and companies mentioned:
E-mu Systems: (Contact Details).
Hi Lo Dolly, (Contact Details).
Linn Electronics Inc., (Contact Details).
Moog Music Inc., (Contact Details).
Crumar: (Contact Details).
Rhodes: (Contact Details).
Roland U.K. Ltd., (Contact Details).
Music Technology Inc., (Contact Details).
News by Jerry De Muth
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