Thursday, September 9, 2010

Sequential Circuits Inc. Prophet-600, Keyboard 1983

Sequential Circuits Inc. Prophet-600 synthesizer two-page advertisement from page 46 and 47 of Keyboard Magazine July 1983.

This advertisement had a good long run in Keyboard magazine throughout most of 1983 and into the beginning of 1984. And rightly so. The Prophet-600 holds a special place in synthesizer history as the first commercial keyboard to include MIDI.

Whenever I show this ad to people, the first thing I always point out is the background. The imagery is a blending of all the older Prophet ads, including the Ear-Force series of ads for the Prophet-10, Prophet-5 and Pro-One. This excites me very much, even if the smaller text on the right and left sides of the ad tend to get a little lost.

The two-page spread allows the reader to get a real good look at the front panel of the instrument. They also include a back panel shot, mostly to give the 'Prophet-600' name a bit more promotion (its a bit harder for the eye to catch on the front of the instrument in the main photo), but also to show off that lovely new MIDI interface.

As you may know, Sequential Circuits Inc and it's president Dave Smith played a big role in the development of MIDI, and so the creator of the ad rightly slapped a big fat call-out box in the top-right corner of the ad, packing it with copy explaining this fact - in a refreshingly non-boastful way.

In comparison to SCI's big MIDI push in this ad, Roland also ran an ad in this July issue which included two new MIDI-equipped synths - the Jupiter-6 and JX-3P. But Roland chose to save any big promotion of MIDI for another day, and instead just slipped the term in when necessary.

Two very different approaches...

But SCI wasn't alone in promoting MIDI in a big way this early on in the game. In fact, Keyboard Magazine itself was a huge playa in helping get the ball rolling.

One of the earlier mentions of MIDI in Keyboard was way back in October 1982. In that issue, our good friend Bob Moog wrote an article entitled 'More On Computer Interfacing' for his 'On Synthesizers' column.

Bob actually started the topic of computer interfacing in the column a month earlier (September) when he wrote on the Apple II/Rhodes Chroma interface, but at the end of that article he promised to discuss 'the work done by other synthesizer manufacturers' the next month.

Then, in the next month's column (October), Bob continued the discussion of computer interfacing and about two-thirds of the way through the article finally got around to explaining what Dave Smith from SCI had been up to...
"Last year about this time, Sequential Circuits president Dave Smith proposed a "universal interface standard" that would create compatibility among synthesizers and computers. That is, the circuit and data formats as defined by Smith's standard would, if adopted by synthesizer and computer manufacturers, allow a musician to use any synthesizer in combination with any computer, with no special additional interface circuitry and with basically the same software."
Bob goes on to write some more about the history of the proposal, and explains the importance of a universal interface, including this gaze into the future:
"One can envision a lively business in novel, creative electronic music accessories that tie right in to the universal interface, and the emergence of a host of "software publishers" who write performance, composition, educational, and recreational programs."
Good call!

Not surprisingly, MIDI is also more than just briefly mentioned in the Keyboard Report review of the Prophet-600 in the May 1983 issue of Keyboard.

Generally speaking, report writer Jim Aikin was impressed with the synth, noting that "the 600 has been streamlined for the more typical keyboard applications rather than for special effects" and that the "instrument offers a wide variety of pleasing musical sounds". Jim divided the review into the typical sections, including The Programmer, Arpeggiator & Sequencer, Modulation Section, Oscillators, Filter & VCA, and back panel sections.

But, rather than just including the MIDI info in the back panel section, Jim pulled it into it's own MIDI Interface section. Jim included two paragraphs on MIDI in this section, explaining the basics, and including this little gem:
"This idea is still in it's infancy; eventually, MIDI connections may become a commonplace item, but so far, the Prophet-600 is the only instrument equipped with them. In order to test MIDI, we got two Prophet-600s and hooked them together."
He also mentions MIDI in his final thoughts on the synth:
"If the MIDI idea catches on (which we hope it will), the Prophet-600 could easily become the basic keyboard for an extended set-up."
I hope so too :o)

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