The Complete Synthesizer
by Dave Crombie
Published by Omnibus Press
This book is written by Dave Crombie, who is well known as a reviewer of electronic musical instruments for several publications, including E&MM. He has aimed to explain the fundamentals of electronic music, particularly the operation of the synthesiser and his extensive experience in this field makes his comments worth noting.
The presentation physically of the book is rather unusual, if not irritating, with very wide blue borders on each page and large type that has little spacing between the words. For some reason the figure numbers are highlighted, while important terms are not. But the text is accurate with few spelling errors — essential for what must be considered a reference manual from its title — apart from 'synthesiser'! There are copious line drawings to illustrate the text which are sufficiently accurate for the most part. There are plenty of terms and their usage to learn about — such as parametric, periodic and synchronisation. Chapter one deals with understanding sound; Chapter two looks at synth sections. Useful information is given on filters and the EG is explained well (but no mention of negative EG). Some less used terms are also covered, such as 'filter bias'.
Categorising synthesisers does help in comparing instruments — for example, the Polymoog is detailed as a hybrid polyphonic instrument, but it would have been useful to have details of products classed as string synths, ensemble keyboards and pseudo polyphonies. Guitar, wind and percussion synthesisers are only briefly discussed with no specific examples. Surely Roland deserve some recognition for their guitar and percussion synths, the Variophon and the Yamaha CS-01 for wind, and the Linn for real sampled drums?
Only four commercial instruments are examined and surprisingly Korg and Yamaha products are omitted.
Chapter four gives some valuable pointers for imitative synthesis of traditional instrument sounds. Not much is written about experimenting with abstract synthesis — but that would require a whole book!
Chapter five looks at accessories, particularly the sequencer, with brief mention only of reverberation, echo (only tape echo, not analogue or digital) and omitting flanging, panolo and harmoniser effects.
The last chapter gives a potted history in 3½ pages, introducing developments from the Telharmonium at the turn of this century, and there's a useful glossary of terms to finish.
The book makes enjoyable and instructive reading despite its omissions. Its title is good for publicity but hard, if not impossible, to realise in a 96 page book. But if you're as keen on electronic music as we are at E&MM, you'll definitely find a place for it in your music library.
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