The Japanese Music Fair
A report on this popular annual event.
From the moment that I set foot in the Tokyo Science Museum (aka Kagaku Gijyutsukan) it was go, go, go! Many of you will have attended the British Music Fair at Olympia last year, and had a limited opportunity to try out some of the latest equipment around. The Japanese show has a similar aim, but taken far further. From each of the five corners of the Science Museum (it's a funny shaped building) came a wall of sound. Noise restrictions aren't for the Japanese; 'unless you can't hear yourself think you can't be enjoying yourselves', seems to be the philosophy of the day. In case you haven't realised it, the Japanese Music Fair is a public event, designed to show off all the latest Japanese produced musical equipment to the fanatical Japanese punters. There were quite a few manufacturers of non-Japanese origin at the show, but only as 'guests' of their oriental distribution companies.
"Touch the Music" was the theme of the show, so every stand offered the visitor a chance to get his hands on the products. The Japanese are a very honest race - no one would consider stealing from such an exhibition, consequently none of the demonstration instruments were tied down, not even effects pedals, and there was an almost total absence of security staff. If only it could be the same over here in the West. But alas!
The Fair lent heavily towards electronic products and keyboard instruments. There were many new keyboards, effects and processors, and automatics - rhythms etc. on show, and over the next few pages I hope to engage your interest and bring you some of the exciting new things we are likely to see in the UK over the next twelve months. Unfortunately, in many cases, pricings of these products is impossible at this stage, with very few stands having any export staff available to comment, in fact it was hard enough trying to track down anyone that could even speak English. The personnel on the stands seem content just to let visitors examine, play, and find out for themselves exactly what was going on with the new products. In some respects this was a good thing, especially since many manufacturers had set out five or six models of each new line, wired up and ready to go with headphones.
One of the more intriguing aspects of the show were the competitions. Every major manufacturer seemed to have organised a competition for the younger visitors to enter, so everywhere you went, you seemed to be tripping over youngsters busy answering questionaires on the products at the show - there wasn't a spare flat surface to be found.
Okay then, so what about the new products? Well the two 'biggies' as I saw it, were on the Casio stand and in the Roland room. And I hope that you'll forgive me if I devote a major part of this report looking at these two products.
Firstly, Casio, a company at the forefront of digital technology, have come up with three new keyboard products - the MT-31, the MT-40, and the CT-701. It is the latter that is going to create one hell of a stir. At present the CT-403 is top of the tree in the Casio catalogue, but in the new year the CT-701 is bound to take over. It is hard to know where to start with a development of this nature so I'll start with the price. It would seem that for under £500 you can be the proud owner of one of these remarkable instruments that features: a five octave keyboard; a wide variety of accurate and very lively preset sounds; a memory function which can read and store a musical score and replay it in different rhythmic variations etc; and a memory guide function which indicates how to play the stored score, thus making the CT-701 one of the most advanced musical teaching aids so far developed. At first this may generate the reaction, "Oh yes, we've heard all this before," but when you look more closely at the CT-701, you'll realise what an amazing instrument the CT-701 is. The main feature, the score memory, centres around the use of a light pen. Casio, in conjunction with the American Publishing company Sight & Sound, have developed a bar code system of representing musical notation. To program a particular piece of music, three separate groups of bar codes are used - one for the pitch of the melody line, a second for the relative timing, and the third for the accompaniment chords, so for a standard three minute song about twenty lines of bar coding has to be scanned. A parity system is used for each line of code, so that the CT-701 will emit a tone to indicate whether that line has been correctly scanned or not. It's quite an idea, and perhaps one that a few home constructors might be able to utilise.
Once the information is loaded into the 701, it is a simple matter of selecting a preset voicing and a suitable rhythm to get the tune to be played back. It can of course play along with it. This is just part of the facilities offered by the CT-701. With the tune loaded in the memory, a series of LEDs above the keys can be used to teach the player which note to press next in order to follow the melody line — this makes initial learning very easy.
Other features include the programming of your own particular series of chord changes and melody line. 345 steps are available for storing notes, and 201 steps (equivalent to 100 measures) can be used for chords. A series of procedure buttons can be used to save on memory by instructing the 701's computer to record desired memory loops. It wasn't possible to unearth all the potential of the CT-701 at the show, but just from the time I had with the machine, I was convinced that this instrument is going to be one of the biggest sellers of 1982 (see our Keyboard Review this month).
Also to be seen on the Casiotone stand were two new mini-keyboard instruments - the MT-31 and the MT-40. The former is basically a revision of the MT-30 (one of my all time favourite electronic keyboards), with a restyled control panel, and the inclusion of a fine tune control; the MT-30's were set up for A-442 which made things a bit tricky if you were playing along with other instruments. The MT-40 is another bit of revolutionary Casio design; it is based on the MT-30/31, but includes a rhythm unit and automatic bass generator. The rhythm unit offers six basic patterns (Waltz, Samba, Swing, Slow Rock, Pops and Rock) with two different fill-ins. It is, however, the automatic bass generator that is of most interest here. Located on the left hand side of the keyboard are a series of calculator buttons arranged in the format of an octave of the keyboard (à la VL-1). When one of these is pressed, the bass pattern relevant to the selected rhythm and in that keys major chord, will sound. Minor and seventh variations can be achieved by pressing one or two keys to the right of the root note. I was very impressed by the quality of the bass patterns, they really 'felt' good - full marks to Casio here for creating an automatic section that doesn't sound particularly mechanical.
Lest I be accused of favouritism, I think that I should move onto some other products, and the other particularly important instruments on show were to be found behind Roland's doors. We've been hearing rumours for some time now about the Drumatics range of automatic programmable devices which are going to "turn the market upside down". Well, two of them were to be found at the Japanese show. When I say two, I mean two different model types as there were about half a dozen of each product wired up with headphones for visitors to try out - an admirable arrangement. The two in question are the TR-606 rhythm unit, and the TB-303 programmable bass line generator. The TR-606 is, as the model number implies, a scaled down version of the TR-808, but (if the yen prices are anything to go by) it will sell in the UK at one third the 808's price! Place your orders now.
The TR 606 is a battery powered unit with seven percussion voices, which are assigned to four attenuable output channels prior to the master mono output. The operation of the unit is very similar to that of the TR-808; there are a series of sixteen buttons which represent the sixteen steps of a measure. These buttons also double as selectors for the 16 programmable memory locations that are used to store the rhythm patterns. To program a rhythm, the percussion voice is selected and the steps in the measure that the voice is to sound loaded via the 16 buttons. This procedure is repeated for the other percussion voices until the desired pattern is achieved. The TR-606 can then be used to sequence the patterns, thus providing a complete rhythm track for an entire piece of music. The TR-606 has a possible storage capacity of 256 measures, which can be made up of a maximum 8 separate percussion tracks.
The TB-303 is so new that Roland had no printed information available at the show. It is designed to operate alongside the TR-606 providing a programmable bass line backing. As with the 606 it is possible to load both pattern information and track information to form a possible total composition of up to 256 measures. The programming buttons are arranged in the shape of an octave of a keyboard (like the MT-40) with extra buttons to determine octave transposition, slide, accent etc. Triplets can be interjected into the patterns, and the unit provides audio, control voltage and gate outputs. The sound produced by the TB-303 is fully variable; a voltage controlled filter with envelope generator is provided and all the major control elements are variable. Again the unit is battery powered, but as to price, I can only suggest that it should be around the same mark as that of the TR-606 - they both seem to have similar functioning levels.
Other new products on the Roland stand included the Juno 6 - a smart non-programmable version of the Jupiter 4 (but with six voices, gulp). Roland seem to be introducing a lot of new products with white control panels, which I personally feel look a lot more contemporary than the rather traditional looking black panel with white graphics, sandwiched between two nice wooden end cheeks. The Juno 6 would seem to sell in Japan for half the price of the JP-4, so it could be quite an attractive proposition if it appears over here. One of the more interesting points relating to the Juno 6 is that, according to the control panel it uses a device known as a DCO to produce the basic tone. This is a digitally controlled oscillator, which presumably receives a digital code from the unit's processor and counts down from that number to generate the desired pitch. The rest of the control parameters are standard to those normally found on a synth - LFO, HPF, VCF (low pass), VCA, Envelope Generator, and chorus. In addition there is an arpeggiator facility. As far as I could tell this instrument is fairly conventional, and mostly analogue, but unsubstantiated rumours have it that the Juno 6 was produced by Roland in conjunction with Sharp (the calculator people) and is almost entirely digital. We will have to wait and see if this is true or not - the demonstrators on the stand wouldn't say anything.
There are a lot of Roland products in Japan that never find their way over to us. This is basically due to cost of shipping making them unattractive pricewise. I was interested to find, though unable to explain, that Roland were heavily into the 8-track cartridge market (they're very popular in Japan), and that they produce several models, some built into combo amps!
Other products include the Piano Plus line. There are three models: the 70, six octaves, touch responsive, and with integral amp and speaker; the 60, as above but with just a five octave keyboard; and the Piano Plus 11 (also known as the EP-11), which has a five octave split keyboard, auto rhythm, auto bass, and harpsichord and piano voicings. The latter may soon appear in the UK, especially as the Casio and Yamaha small keyboards are doing so well, though this one will be a bit more expensive. Did you know that Roland also produce a range of upright electronic pianos - nice bits of furniture with the gubbins of the MP 600 stuck inside.
Onto Yamaha, where it was difficult to move let alone see any of the new products. They didn't have a lot new on show, save for the CE 20, a four octave machine with 14 monophonic preset sounds, and six voice assignable polyphonies, including Brass, Horn, Organ, Electric Piano, Harpsichord and Strings. It plays well, and sounds nice, though it has one rather strange feature - a performance wheel that is used solely for introducing glide to the monophonic section. I couldn't really see the relevance on using a wheel for this purpose. One item that caught my eye on the Yamaha stand was sealed away in a glass case - the programmer used to create the sounds for the GS range of products. These instruments (the GS1 and GS2) use what are known as FM equation generators to produce incredibly complex waveforms that come closer than any other system to simulating existing acoustic instruments (they can of course be used for abstract synthesis too). These instruments are desperately expensive (£10,000 and £5,000 respectively) and rely on magnetic cards to feed in information required to create a specific sound. These cards, or strips, are supplied by Yamaha, you can't create your own, so it was interesting to see the equipment used to determine and programme the sounds. As can be seen from the photograph there isn't a great deal to the programmer, it is basically a custom designed Yamaha computer which enables the timbre, pitch and amplitude created by the FM equation generators to be precisely defined for each time element of the sounds duration.
Yamaha have also developed a new professional range of effects pedals which go under the group heading 'Effectors'. All the usual pedal effects are available - Phaser, Chorus, Flanger, Octaver (divider), Distortion, Tone Booster, Parametric, Limiter, Noise Gate, Compressor, as well as a line selector, and Analogue Delay. The unusual thing about this system is that a floor mounted board is available into which up to ten units can be accommodated. This board incorporates a jack field, power supply, a patch lead checking circuit, an output level indicator, master volume control, a bi-pass circuit, headphone output, echo send and return, even a gooseneck mounted light! Quite a system, I just can't wait to see what the UK price is going to be.
There wasn't much happening at the show for drummers. Pearl had a new kit called the Ponta, with very deep 8-ply maple shells, and they also had a range of toms which they called 'Extenders'; these were designed to enable heads of a larger diameter to be fitted to the shells, i.e. a 14" head could be fitted to a 12" drum. I'm not too sure what they are trying to achieve. Yamaha had a few new additions to their System series of kits, but Tama had nothing new to show at all. SoundMaster who produce a wide range of electronic devices (although we only really seem to see the SR-88 rhythm unit over here) had one or two new goodies including an Analogue Chorus Echo (SE 4300) with spring line reverb included, and an interesting variation on the SR-88, a programmable Latin Percussion generator with Bass Drum, Low Conga, High Conga, Timbale and Clave voice generators.
If Yamaha's stand was crowded, Korg's was a veritable ants' nest of teeming bodies. I don't know how we all got out alive. The crush was worth it though because when you got through there were three fascinating new products being heavily promoted. We saw nothing new from Korg at the British Music Fair, but things are now rectified by two new keyboard instruments and a smart little tuner. The first of the keyboards is known as the Mono/Poly — an apt, but rather clumsy name. This is a 'four voltage controlled oscillator' synthesiser. It is different to any other synth that I've come across in that the four VCOs can either be used to construct a single note, i.e. in unison, or they can be assigned to individual notes of the 3½ octave keyboard, thus the Mono/Poly can play up to four notes at any one time. Each oscillator has independent controls, and will generate triangle, ramp, pulse, and pulse width modulated waveforms switchable over four octaves (16' to 2'), in addition there are separate level controls and four LEDs to indicate which oscillators are being used at a given time — pretty important when in Poly mode. The 'catch' is that the Mono/Poly has just one voltage controlled filter and associated four stage envelope, and one voltage controlled amplifier, again with a four stage envelope, so the synthesiser can only be considered as a pseudo polyphonic. It is a nice machine though, with pitch and modulation wheels, an arpeggiator (they seem all the rage now), two LFOs, noise, sync, sample and hold etc., etc.
The second new synth from Korg could be a real winner. It's the Polysix, a six voice programmable with a five octave keyboard. This could be the best new thing Korg have come up with for a long time (then again it might not). Each voice consists of a single VCO with ramp (sawtooth), pulse and pulse width modulated waveforms switchable over 16', 8', and 4' octaves. A sub oscillator has also been provided that can be introduced either one or two octaves down. A low pass VCF shares its ADSR envelope generator with the VCA, though a gate pulse can be used to shape the amplitude if required. Various modulation facilities are available, which can be routed to either the VCF/VCO/VCA via the modulation wheel. Again there's the Arpeggiator — a particularly variable one, and the Polysix also has a comprehensive effects section — chorus, phase and ensemble with separate speed/intensity control. An eight location programmer section is to be found to the far right of the synth. Every parameter is programmable (not the performance controls) and a simplified tape dump system enables permanent storage of a large number of programmes.
Korg's other new product is the Micro Six guitar tuner. Their GT-6 has been one of the most popular tuners for some time now, so the Micro Six is an updated version that is pocket size. These exciting additions to the Korg range, which includes their new Lambda and Sigma synthesisers, should be available in the UK early next year.
Technics were drawing very large crowds for demonstrations of their U Series organs. We have seen these instruments over here for a while now, but there is a further addition to the ranger the SX-U80, which should fill the gap in the Technics range at about £2,500.
A company known as BIAS, whose products we don't seem to get in the old country had a most interesting multi effects pedal, which included, in one package, a compressor, distortion, flanger/chorus, analogue delay, octivider, parametric EQ, touch wah, and at the end of the chain, a rather necessary noise gate. The unit comes in two sections, the control panel for setting up the desired effects, and a multi footswitch with nine buttons to introduce the various effects. It's a nice idea, and known as the BIAS All-in-One.
The American company Dyno-My-Piano managed to find themselves exhibiting at the Music Fair. These people doctor Rhodes pianos. You name it, they do it to them. The most interesting device that they hook up to the Rhodes is known as a Percussion Pedal. This is a mechanical footpedal that actually moves the harp of the instruments such that the hammers strike the tines at different points. The effect is something akin to the variation in timbre achieved by plucking the strings of an acoustic guitar at different points - the closer to the bridge the string is plucked, the greater the harmonic content of the sound. The percussion pedal relies on the same principle, so that a much wider variation in tone can be attained from one's Rhodes. The latest model that Dyno-My Piano had on show was their Studio 4000 model, which from the States will set you back $5,000. It's some instrument though, with: split keyboard, percussion pedal, tristate vibrato, graphic EQ, overdrive - the works! The sounds emanating from the two EV cabs alongside it was awesome.
We are just beginning to see Teisco products appearing in the shops here in Britain. Actually they've been around for over twenty-five years in Japan. The company was bought out by Kawai (the world's second largest manufacturer of keyboard instruments) many years ago. However, Kawai have only recently decided to resurrect the name and market group gear products under it. There were several new products here for the first time, and we should see them in our shops round about spring time. John Hornby Skewes & Co Ltd are the distributors in Britain and they seem determined to make a big success of these products. The SX-400 (see review in this issue) was at the UK show, and attracted a lot of interest. To sustain the momentum Teisco have the QP-88 (quartz Piano - but with 61 not 88 keys), a nice looking four preset electronic piano; the EX-300, a multi-ensemble with strings, brass, human voice ("ah"s and "uh"s!) and bass sections; and the S-60P, a scaled down version of the excellent S-100P (one of the all time great preset synths), this has 15 good monophonic preset voices, touch keyboard (37 notes), bend, vibrato, etc. It's almost as good as its predecessor.
Guitarwise, there was very little new and exciting to see at the show. Aria, however, had a good eight new models to add to their phenomenal range. These included the PE-R100, TA-100, TA-70, U-60T (a bizarre pointed body), CS 350T electrics, and SB R150 fretless bass. I find it almost impossible to keep up with this company, which incidentally is handled world wide by Arai. Ibanez had little new, save for a couple of additions to their Signature range, and some new colour options including the rather tasty polar white.
The Japanese Music Fair is held every two years, and it is an experience like no other. I just hope that I can manage to get to the 1983 show, which I understand is going to be held in much more spacious surroundings. Japan is a fascinating country, so I suggest if you are ever contemplating a trip out East, try and fit it in with the "Touch the Music" experience.
Show Report by Dave Crombie
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