Monday, April 1, 2019

Casio LZ-1000 synthesizer "Why would you let your friends choose any other synthesizer" ad, Keyboard Magazine 1998

Casio LZ-1000 phase distortion and sample playback synthesizer "Why would you let your friends..." full page colour advertisement from the inside front cover of the April 1998 issue of Keyboard Magazine.

Let's face it... Casio knew a good thing when they saw it.

And *everyone* was as happily surprised as Casio when David Schwimmer finally got the chance to show off his virtuoistic chops on a Casio CT-460 in his hit TV docu-drama "Friends" in 1997.

Blessed with a peerless technique, David's repertoire on the show was wide-ranging, taking in everything from Merzbow and Beethoven, to Coltrane, Parker and Monk, not to mention his own masterful transcriptions and other compositions. It was, perhaps, his sense of spontaneity and impeccable timing that only comes from years of training that made his live performances on "Friends" so fresh and exciting for the studio audience, America and the world.

Knowing a good thing when they saw it, Casio quickly made an endorsement deal with David and upgraded his gear. Within a few short months you could find David's trademark smile and I-don't-care-if-my-music-is-too-loud shrug on every magazine rack in Liechtenstein, Tuvalu and Saskatchewan for months to come. And, of course, it could also be found in this Casio LZ-1000 advertisement which Casio paid good money to place strategically on the inside front cover of Keyboard Magazine for over two years.

Casio and Schwimmer were a perfect fit - an awesome sounding keyboard with some of the latest "Moo", "Bark", "Ding Dong" and "Pew Pew!" sound samples recorded to date, paired with a light-up keyboard that let new users play along with some of David Schwimmer's latest and greatest hits that came pre-programmed with the internal sequencer.

Utilizing some of the latest Internet technology, owners of the LZ-1000 could dial-up to AOL and connect directly with Casio to download Schwimmer's latest hits twice a year. Casio's state of the art sample compression algorithms allowed users to download the package of songs, including the Schwimmer's personally recorded 16 bit/44.1kHz samples, in under six hours and averaging less than $200 in telephone and AOL fees.

I managed to catch his set in Chicago at the 2005 Lolapalooza festival. His set began quietly, with David lingering over just a few short samples, avoiding the urge to head straight for the shredding post-punk that dominated his playing style during that time period. By the fifth hour, the intensity started to build, unleashing explosions of raw energy on the audience of campers next to the festival.

I bought his t-shirt. Who wouldn't?

Casio kept the AOL service running for over 20 years until the endorsement deal unfortunately and suddenly collapsed at the 2017 Amsterdam Dance Event in Belgium where David unexpectedly took his music in a new, totally acoustic direction.

Keyboard Magazine's Jim Aikin concluded his review of the LZ-1000 in the July 1998 issue, stating "...It works, but what's with all the animal sounds?", before giving it a solid 8 out of 10. Coincidentally, Jim also reviewed Schwimmer's newly released electro album "Coffee with Friends" in the same issue asking a similar question.

Here's a great look back at David's authentic and expressive playing style that captivated viewers around the world.

What an inspiration.

Monday, March 25, 2019

Propellerhead ReBirth (RB-338) Techno Micro Composer "Believe the unbelievable" brochure, 1997

Propellerhead ReBirth (RB-338) Techno Micro Composer "Believe the unbelievable" four page colour brochure from 1997.

Full disclosure - I'm a huuuuuge Reason fan. I have a great auto-load template set up that opens with two TBL3 303 emulators, and two Kongs - one with 808 sounds and one with 909 sounds. Great for when I'm on the road. Or in bed.

So, you can't be surprised that I was a huge ReBirth fan way back when as well. It was such a game changer. So much fun.

But I was a little surprised when I came across this brochure, along with about 200 others that I got for free (from a guy who knew a guy). Reading through it brought back some great memories. If you have any recollection of using this software, it's definitely worth the eye-ball time.

The brochure itself is amazing looking - the scans of the front and back cover do not do the shiny silver colour justice. The cool design is top notch with lots of space. Just the way I like 'em.

And did you catch the TWO logos? I'd forgotten how close Propellerhead and Steinberg were. Steinberg first partnered with Propellerhead for their Recycle music loop editing software. And the success of Recycle helped keep that partnership going, with the money made helping fund the development of ReBirth.

But, according to a 2013 interview with then Propellerhead CEO Ernst Nathorst-Böös, that partnership ended with Reason.
" fairly quickly became clear to us that the cultures of the two companies were very different. They were distributing our products, among other things, and did a great job of it. But when Reason came around, we decided that it was important for us to also handle those aspects of our business ourselves."
Remember, Steinberg already had Cubase. Sure, two very different DAWs, but still competitors.
"They had Cubase and we had ReBirth. When Reason came out, it just seemed like the natural thing to do to end the distribution relationship. But we kept working together on making our products work well together, using ReWire and REX technologies."
Ernst speaks highly of Steinberg throughout the interview. It's a good read for anyone interested.

One interesting observation I made while looking through this version of the brochure is that Propellerhead never directly references the TB-303 or TR-808 in the brochure copy. In the introductory paragraph they write about "a silver box" and "303 sound". Later on they reference "two silver synths and a black drum machine". And in the Functions Overview section they reference "two bass line synthesizers, one 'analog' drum machine".

Its not until the legalese section on the back page that they tell us what we already know (and love!)...
"ReBirth RB-338 software synthesizer is a new, original product that simulates the sound of the discontinued Roland products TB-303 and TR-808. However, the product is in no way connected with Roland Corporation."
This apparent policy to avoid direct comparison with Roland's gear changes in future ReBirth promo material...

Stay tuned!

Monday, March 11, 2019

Korg 707 "Performing Synthesizer" brochure, 1987

Korg 707 synthesizer "Performing Synthesizer" four page colour brochure from 1987.

One word - smarties!

I gotta say I love the aesthetics of the Korg 707. For one, it has the same form factor as the Poly-800 with those lovely guitar strap pegs on the sides. But, where that 800 modulation joystick isn't in the best position to bend notes and add LFO while slung around your neck, the 707 has two modulation wheels conveniently located on the top-right edge - the perfect position for your left hand.

But more importantly, the 707 have those delicious smarties buttons. They make my mouth water.

Those in the U.S. may not know what I'm talking about, because as far as the U.S. is concerned, the word smarties conjures up this chalky mess:

But in Canada, smarties are these delicious candy covered chocolate treats:
Mmmmm... yummy.

And so in Canada, and I'm guessing elsewhere, those rounded buttons found on Korg synths like the M1 and 707 have been nicknamed "smarties" buttons. 

And I love 'em. Almost as much as I love the programmers behind the sound of the 707.

The 707's engine is a 4-operator FM synth. But, until like most other FM synthesizers that require physics degrees and unmanageable menus of carriers, modulators and ratios, the creators of the 707 have done away with the complicated programming found on the DX-100 or TX81Z, and replaced them with three sliders for tibre, EG1 and EG2. As it says in the brochure, "these sliders alter many parameters simultaneously". 

I'm hearing your argument already - even just messing slightly with one simple parameter on a classic FM synthesizer can quickly turn your lovely string sound into something really crazy and unmusical.  And now with the 707, attaching one slider to many different parameters all at once is going to lead to total chaos really fast. 


The smarty-pants (see what I did there) at Korg apparently created fixed frequency ratios and algorithms so that the 707 is much more likely to pump out musically useful tones when those sliders are moved.  Sure, if you're Autechre, you may not like this much... but your average musician will dig this simplification lots. 


And speaking of beauty, the brochure is a thing of beauty too. Large cover image, even larger photo on the inside pages.

But two things in particular stood out for me.

The first is that lovely little Korg 25th anniversary "Because We Love Music" logo in the bottom right corner of the front page.  Sure enough, I used my fingers and counted back 25 years from 1987 and yup -1962. Correct! And I like that the logo isn't a big honkin' thing in the middle of the page either. It's nicely sized and positioned. A simple nod to the past. 

The other thing in particular that stood out for me... are you ready for this (it blew my mind)...


WHAT?!?! Was I the only one that didn't know this?  Black. White. Blue. AND PINK. 


I snarfed this photo from a 2-year old Reverb posting.

That thing looks gorgeous. I want one. 


Thursday, February 28, 2019

Rhodes Chroma Polaris "Polaris: Feel The Power" brochure, 1984

Rhodes Chroma Polaris "Polaris: Feel The Power" eight page barn-door fold colour brochure from 1984.

There I was. 1985 I think.  I was in my favourite music store eyeing up the Chroma Polaris. I'd put the idea of buying a car on the backburner for the sole purpose of saving up the cash from my job as a dietary aide at a near-by hospital to instead purchase this synth.

At work, I can make decisions on the spot. But personal decisions have always required days, weeks or even years of mind-numbing procrastination. And this was a big one. So many different synths in the shop, but this was the one.

Finally, decision made, I called over the worker bee and pointed to the Polaris. That one!

So what did the sales guy say?

"Hey, have you checked out this Casio CZ-5000. Its digital. It has a sequencer as well. And its cool looking. And... and... "

...and wouldn't you know it. Just like that I went home with the CZ. And as much as I love my CZ-5000 (I still have it!) I had always wondered what it would be like to to own the Chroma Polaris, but over the decades I'd never managed to come across one.

Until 2018.

Local buyer.

A really great price.

In *perfect* condition. Just like this brochure.

I love this brochure almost as much as I love my Polaris - it's just full of surprises.

The cover is simple - just one big photo of a hand on a keyboard. Gutsy move to not include an actual photo of the synthesizer on the cover of your brochure. Even if you flip it over to the back, all you see is the back of the synth. Interesting.

But that's the point. Curiosity makes you instinctively want to open the brochure up.

So, fold open the brochure and you come to two inside pages, each folded over from the outer ends, revealing that they too can fold out - the "gate fold" as its often called. Surprisingly, the title spans between the two pages. And even more surprisingly... although we get a lot more detail about the features of the Chroma Polaris, there is still no sign of a photo of the synth itself.

But now... open those barn doors! Bam! There's your Chroma Polaris! Spanning not just one... not just two... and not even three pages. But FOUR PAGES.

Now *that* is taking advantage of a gate fold. Observe and commit to memory, design kiddies!

The photo is used as the centre piece of a diagram, pointing out a lot of its features. All steel chassis. High resolution sliders. Velocity sensitive weighted keyboard. But the best is the label for the "Polaris" logo itself:

"Polaris: another engineering triumph of our leading-edge synthesizer 'think tank'."

I want to be a member of a synthesizer think tank.

I'm available. Contact me.  :)

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Roland "The Roland Rack" catalog, May 1980

Roland "The Roland Rack" eight page catalog including SPA-240, SPA-120, SIP-300 and SIP-301 amplifiers, SDD-320 Dimension D, SBF-325 stereo flanger, SVC-350 vocoder, SPV-355 pitch-to-voltage synthesizer, SRE-555 chorus echo, SMX-880 line mixer, SST-120 sound system, and SEQ-315 and SEQ-331 equalizers from May 1980.

Oh man... after scanning that last Roland catalog, I just couldn't stop. I became a whirlwind of scanning... and this one got caught up in the tornado. Okay - a glass or two of wine might have helped too.

Point is - the result is another excellent Roland catalog for the blog!

As a teen I always ran into these racks in pawn shops. They looked awesome but I just couldn't afford them. That's not exactly true... I did end up finding a SVC-350 locally back in the 90s. Snapped it up immediately and its never left the studio. But there is just so many other racks from this series that I want. Unfortunately prices have gone through the roof on most of 'em, so it's just a fantasy to find them all now.

For me, the centre of that fantasy is that lovely KS-300 display stand! You'll find it on the last inside page in the bottom left. Take a look... I'll wait...

See... what I tell ya. Wouldn't that thing look great filled with all those rack units?!?! I've expressed it before, but it can't be said enough. I. LOVE. ACCESSORIES. And this Roland Rack is on the top of my "want" list.

I have never seen one of these in someone's gear shot or in an advertisement. But I want to.

If you have one of these, please snap a photo and send it to me! I will add it to the post with a link back to your page/bandcamp/wherever!

Please!   :)

End note: Did you find the System 100 synthesizer?