Monday, December 7, 2009

Sequential Circuits Prophet-5, Contemporary Keyboard 1978

Sequential Circuits Inc. Prophet-5 synthesizer ad from page 75 of Contemporary Keyboard magazine, November 1978.

SCI was still just starting to get used to advertising, so I can't really fault them for this rather bland looking ad. And I think even SCI knew it was pretty bland as well - it only seems to have ran once. [I've blogged about some of SCI's best ads - see the Sequential Circuits label for more info]

My thinking is that this ad was a stop-gap measure between the first Prophet ad that ran in CK from February to July 1978, and the new colour Prophet ads that didn't start running until early 1979. That would have been six months of silence from SCI, and I think they realized that they needed to include something in the popular pre-Xmas November issue of CK, and rather than use the original ad, this is what they came up with on short notice.

Another reason SCI might have included an ad in this issue of CK was that the Prophet-5 was one of a number of synthesizers featured in a great article by Dominic Milano called "Polyphonic Synthesizers - Part 2". The article contains a whole page-worth of detailed specs (with reference photos) and a write up for each of a number of polyphonics including:
  • Emu 4060 keyboard
  • Oberheim Four-Voice
  • Polymoog
  • Korg PS3300
  • Roland JP-4
  • Yamaha CS-60
  • Prophet-5
  • ARP Quadra
  • Multivox MX3000
The Prophet-5 page in the article includes some great reference information and quotes from Dave Smith that helps sum up what was happening in the industry at the time.

On the main reason for creating the Prophet-5, Dave comments:
"We wanted to answer two of the main complaints people seem to have about synthesizers, one being that they're too hard to use live and the other being that they can't be used to play chords."
The article also mentions that Dave was a computer engineer before going into synthesizer design, and how this enabled SCI to be more flexible and save costs:
"Using the computer is more cost-effective"... "It enables us to do quite a few things that we couldn't have done without it. The edit mode, for example, was added as an afterthought. It was done totally with the software. All I did was change the program. I didn't have to add any circuitry at all. By simply changing the program we sudden had an edit mode."
When asked about the use of Minimoog-style pitchbend and modwheels, Dave is very straightforward:
"From what I can tell, everybody likes the wheels. The other alternative to them is to do what ARP and Oberheim and CAT (Octave Electronics) have done, which is try to build something that's different just to be different. Then people probably won't like it. So I figured, I'm not proud. I'll put exactly what people want on it. We even designed it to match the Minimoog's almost exactly. The idea was to get something familiar. That idea carried over to the whole front panel. We wanted something that people could understand almost immediately."
Dave also comments on his relationship with Emu, interfaceability (their words, not mine), and the new double-keyboard 10-voice Prophet to appear sometime in 1979.

And that's just the Prophet-5 page. There are a number of pages dripping in history - including Tom Oberheim providing great background on the Four-Voice, Dave Rossum and Scott Wedge waxing on Emu, and Dave Friend chatting about the Quadra.

Seriously great stuff.

So, what about Part 1? That was also written by Dominic Milano in the April 1978 issue of CK, but it was much shorter and contained more general information on the polyphonic keyboards around at the time. Still a great read, but as far as I'm concerned, nothing compared to Part 2.

I wish I could keep on typing, but my stomach is really growling... I need a veggie burrito, pronto!

1 comment:

Unknown said...

"Bland" is being generous. I hope your burrito was more exciting. ;-)

Although, you do have to admit that the message doesn't get lost in fancy graphics or clever copy. And, is it just me, or is it almost hypnotic with the levitating synth and the "You will want it"...?

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