Monday, May 16, 2011

Sequential Circuits Inc. Prophet-5 Composers/Producers ad, Contemporary Keyboard, 1980

Sequential Circuits Inc. Prophet-5 Composers/Producers 1-page advertisement from page 83 in Contemporary Keyboard November 1980.

What the heck is this? And is that Hall or Oats? :D

What an odd ad. It is just so "not-SCI" that it's almost not funny. Especially when you realize this ad was sandwiched in the middle of one of the most awesome series of Prophet-5 ads. Those featuring John Mattos' fine artwork.

To give you an idea of what I'm talking about, below are the two ads that ran before this one:

Note: extra marks to SCI for including the imagery of the two ads on the walls of the studio in the ad photo)

And this ad ran right after it:

So, why slap this rather dull looking Composers/Producers ad in the middle of such a innovative series of ads for the Prophet-5?

Turns out this issue of Contemporary Keyboard featured a "CK special" on American composer Aaron Copland. So, it kinda makes sense that SCI would take advantage of an opportunity to speak directly to those composer fans that would tune-in to this issue for that special.

End result: this ad.

But, unfortunately, it doesn't look like SCI had a lot of time to prep for the advertisement - it looks a little like a rushed job. The ad-copy in particular looks like one really long run-on sentence. I know at least two editors that could cut that copy to atleast 1/2 of its current size - which would have really helped this ad breathe a little. Long run-on sentences are fine for blog posts *grin*, but in an ad like this, it could lead to premature page-flip. Plus, the ad-copy refers to the Prophet-5 sans hyphen. Not a big deal you say? Grrrrr. I think it is. :)

The one thing SCI definitely did right with this ad was to keep all the techno-mumbo-jumbo out of it. I could imagine that there might have been some SCI engineer/marketing types that wanted to plaster this ad with technical info since the Prophet-5 had just recently hit Rev. 3. But, I think you will agree, most composers reading an article on Aaron Copland that would then come across this ad wouldn't have gotten much out of any technical info anyways.

But if there is one thing I am not - its a composer :) And since I'd never really taken the time to look into the evolution of the Prophet-5 too much, I pulled up Google for a quick search.

The always informative Sequential Circuits Prophet-5 Tribute Web site has some great info on all the Prophet-5 revisions. And the site's author had this to say about the introduction of the Rev. 3:

"In 1980, the Prophet 5 was the synth keyboard players 'had' to own. About 1.300 Prophet 5's where built until then. Sequential's name and reputation were unassailable. But the Prophet 5 was still not a stable instrument, and hard to obtain. This instability was explained by the deficiencies of the SSM oscillators used. And the reason for its rarity was, to a very great extent, explained by the inherent deficiencies of the manufacturer of those SSM oscillators.

Therefore Sequential decided to stop producing Prophet's with the SSM chips, and replace them by Curtis (CEM) chips. This entailed another, much more thorough redesign (than that of the Rev 1 to the Rev 2) that included the power supply, envelopes, DAC's and VCA's..."

According to the site's author, the sound of the Prophet-5 Rev. 3 was, for the most part, surprisingly unchanged by these large-scale revisions, although "some of the bite had gone, leaving an instrument that remained impressive and pleasant to play, but was slightly different in comparison to earlier models".

Along with the internal redesign, it looks like Prophet-5's added a number of other features for users (as listed in the "addendum" of this previous colourful Rev. 3 ad):

  • Cassette Interface
  • Variable Scaling (Programmable)
  • Simplified Editing Facilities
  • Voice Defeat System

The cassette interface and variable scaling were self-explanatory to me, but the two others needed a bit more investigation. Back to Google and I quickly had more information on both the simplified editing and the voice defeat system.

Simplified editing: Often referred to as "live editing", this was simply an easier means of entering the sound edit mode of the operating system. In earlier versions, the user had to hit an edit button to start editing a sound (I hate that), but with Rev. 3, you could simply just turn a knob, and the operating system automatically entered edit mode.

Voice defeat system: This is really cool. According to the Prophet-5 owners manual (Rev 3.3) that I pulled from, the voice defeat system allowed you to play the synth normally even if one of the voices konked out on you. From section 1, page 4 and 5 of the manual:

"For the occasion when a voice may become unplayable due to component failure, a Voice Defeat allows you to delete the failed voice from the assignment system. The Prophet can then be played normally, with the remaining voices.

To defeat a voice, hold the key it is currently assigned to with one hand while holding PROGRAM SELECT 1 and pressing PROGRAM SELECT 8. The voice will be defeated and will remain defeated until the Prophet's power is switched off. (When power is switched back on, the voice will not be defeated.)"

Nice! I had never heard of this feature on any synthesizer before! Are there other synthesizers that include this? How about the new Prophet?

Man, I have a couple of keyboards sitting in my basement that are currently unusable because one of the voices has tanked.

I wonder...

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