Thursday, June 17, 2010

Yamaha SY-2, Contemporary Keyboard 1976

Yamaha SY-2 synthesizer advertisement from the back outside cover of Contemporary Keyboard Magazine May/June 1976.

Man, I hate address labels on old magazine covers. Seriously.

The number one rule about presentations is never to apologize for a bad image. Everyone already knows the image sucks because they are looking at it too. But those address label marks stand out like a sore thumb. I was even hoping that the heals on that dude's shoes would help draw attention away from the ripped address label.

No luck. Oh well, down to business.

This SY-2 advertisement appeared twice in Contemporary Keyboard (CK) - the May/June and July/August issues.

I knew next to nothing about the SY-2 when I came across this ad. But I dig all portable synths. Especially ones that have their own carrying handle. So, both of those reasons were kinda the kick-in-the-butt I needed to do some research (and report in a blog post :o)

Basically, the SY-2 is a preset synthesizer with more than a few extra controls to modify many of the sound parameters. The SY-2 replaced the wooden case of it's older sibling (the SY-1) with a tolex wrapping and gave it a hinged cover, making it much easier for a musician to take on the road.

The SY-2's biggest claim to fame is that it showed up in the movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Unfortunately, not in that final scene where the aliens come down to earth (you can thank ARP for that), but in an earlier scene that takes place in a studio or lab somewhere. A post on SynthWire includes a great screen shot from the film. (As pointed out on the page by MATRIXSYNTH, one of the best things about this picture (besides the SY-2) *is* the blurry poster of Farrah Fawcett in the background).

If you happened to be a regular reader of CK back then, then you might have seen the good reference information that showed up in the Spec Sheet section of CK the previous month (in cool 1976-tech-speak :o):
"Yamaha SY-2 synthesizer: Preset sounds of 28 different timbres ranging from piano to "trumute" serve as the SY-2's building blocks, which the performer can use to construct his own sonorities. High- and low-pass filters, each with variable frequency and resonance controls, shape the harmonic structure of the sound being produced while attack, sustain, decay, and release sliders handle transient generation. The SY-2's 37-note keyboard actually covers a range of four octaves, depending upon the "natural range" of the selected preset instrument, reports the manufacturer. Also supplied are transposition levelers, a variable pitch control, a pitch-bending switch, and variable vibrato speed and depth. The keyboard is touch sensitive, permitting the pressure on the key to control volume, vibrato, and wah-wah intensities. The unit is completely solid-state in design, is housed in a reinforced road case, and weights 49 lbs. List price is $995.00. Yamaha Musical Instruments, Box 6600, Buena Park, CA 90620."
Although you can find a lot of good basic reference information online on both Vintage Synth Explorer and, I find that you can pull some of the best information about the SY-2 from the photos and comments in blog posts.

For example, some excellent close-up photos and comments can be found in MATRIXSYNTH.

An August 2009 MATRIXSYNTH post has great photos of the control sections of the synth and the legs that would unscrew from the bottom of the case and get stored in the lid cover. It also included a great comment from Joshua concerning the synth's aftertouch:
"This was one of the first synthesizers with aftertouch, and it's rather strange how the aftertouch works: the keyboard sits on top of a floating rack which contains a potentiometer. Applying pressure on one of the keys causes the whole thing to sink, operating the potentiometer."
A December 2009 post has a few more photos, but its the comment from the always informative Micke that gives us details on the synth's use at the BBC.
"This synth was used quite alot in the '70s and early '80s by the BBC Radiophonic Workshop composers, especially Paddy Kingsland. Listen for example to the the clarinet and flute parts on Kingsland's Whisper from Space, Brighton Pier and Whale (from the TV version of "Hitch Hikers Guide"),and some of the music from the Doctor Who episodes Meglos and Full Circle etc. That's the SY-2."
An even older post from 2007 links us to MATRIXSYNTH's Flickr SY-2 photo stream for some great photos of the cover of the manual and the tolex case. But it is one of the details quoted from the auction copy that gets my attention:
"This is the only alternative to gets the classic GX-1 filters without paying 50000$. I'm telling you, you'll never heard something like that. The sound is unique, personnal and organic. It looks like a preset synth, but it's definately not! Think of the presets as your waveforms..."
Whaaaaat? If you are not familiar with the GX-1, its the grandfather to the CS80. Much like the recently blogged GS-1 ads are the grandfather to the DX-7.

I had to get a listen to one of these.

A quick YouTube search for the SY-2 pulled up a couple of videos, but in particular by StephenTeller included a description that also claims the filter's lineage goes back to the GX-1.
"Some vintage tones from the Yamaha SY-2. This synth features the same filter as the legendary GX-1 which was the pre-cursor to the mighty CS-80. You'll hear the similarity instantly. This keyboard also features aftertouch."

I can hear some resemblance, but I don't think I'm familiar enough with the CS80 or GX-1 to make a professional judgment call.

If you want to hear more SY-2, check out this ten-minute YouTube video from 2006. The sound is missing a bit of bass, but it covers off a lot more of the sounds.

Do you hear any of that Vangelis sound?

You can compare the sound of the SY-2 to some YouTube video queries for the GX-1 and CS-80.

What do ya think?

No comments:

Post a Comment