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Synth Stars

It's you again, is it? And you want some historic synth dates to show off to the rest of the band with? Oh, all right then, but just this once. Let's see now. This is gonna be right impressive, so get your notebooks out.

The first time our grand-dads ever heard the word 'synthesiser' was way back in 1929. Some foreign types by the name of Givelet and Coupleux wired up four electronic oscillators and jammed well into 1930.

American synthesis arrived in 1955 when Harry Olsen and Herb Blair rigged up a roomful of electronics in an attempt to recreate the human voice for RCA. Instead, they jammed into 1956. Pity they never got Elvis on one. The MkII RCA machine came along in 1959, and at 17ft by 7ft was not exactly what you'd call a portable. In fact it was screwed to the floor at the Columbia-Princeton Center along with two computer keyboards and a punched-paper store.

As far as we humble rock musicians are concerned, it was Robert Moog who changed the world according to synthesisers. Moog and Herb Deutsch built the first voltage-controlled synthesis modules in 1964 and 1965, but their big break came in 1968 when keyboardist Walter Carlos released his "Switched-On Bach" LP on which he played Bach's greatest bits on Moog synthesiser. It sold in cartloads, and suddenly everyone wanted a Moog.

Real competition didn't turn up until another US company, ARP, introduced their first model in 1969, the ARP 2500 (ARP stands for designer Alan R Pearlman). Moog countered with their wonderful Minimoog in 1970: it was designed by Jim Scott as a portable, variable performance synth with three oscillators and the distinctive Moog filter. By 1971 they were bashing out 300 a month, and in 1972 Moog began polyphonic synth experiments, eventually launching the Polymoog in 1976.

A more important event of 1972 occurred when Mr Ikutaro Kakehashi set up his new company in Japan called Roland (named, incidentally, after a nephew of Charlemagne).

"The first commercially distributed digital synthesiser" was the Synclavier, put on sale by New England Digital in 1976. And one of the most important musical instruments of the Seventies was the Prophet synth, launched in 1977: it was the first polysynth to use microprocessors to store and recall patches. Suddenly the polysynth became a stage instrument. The same year saw the Roland MC8 Microcomposer appear - nowhere near as exciting as the Prophet but, with its ground-breaking computer composition facilities, just as important.

The fabulous Fairlight, literally a 'Computer Musical Instrument', first made musicians go green in 1979. It cost a fortune then, too.

The Casio revolution began in a much smaller way in 1981 with their tiny but influential VL1, and the same year saw a group of American and Japanese manufacturers agree on the MIDI standard for digital communication between consenting musical instruments. Yamaha's world-beating FM synthesis system found the mere mortal musician in 1982.

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Making Music - Copyright: Track Record Publishing Ltd, Nexus Media Ltd.


Making Music - Jun 1986


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