Thursday, February 4, 2010

Korg Sigma, Contemporary Keyboard 1979

Korg Sigma synthesizer introductory advertisement from page 31 of Contemporary Keyboard Magazine July 1979.

This introductory advertisement for the Korg Sigma synthesizer ran only once in Contemporary Keyboard magazine, a month after the synthesizer appeared in the June 'Spec Sheet' section of CK.

I didn't know much about this synthesizer when I first looked at the ad, but after only a bit of research I soon realized why Korg positioned this particular keyboard as a 'performing synthesizer'.

This advertisement doesn't actually give away too much about its performance features (except for what you can see in the photo), but a quick scan of the spec sheet info provides quite a bit of info:
  • A touch-sensitive keyboard with routing to pitch-bend, vibrato depth, and the mix of synthesizer/organ effects.
  • Control inputs that includeVCO control voltage inputs, envelope generator trigger inputs, and VCO cutoff frequency control voltage inputs.
  • And most awesome - two joysticks! One for pitch-bending, modulation, and pick noise depth control (!), and the other for lowpass filter and highpass filter cutoff frequency adjustments.
I also didn't realize just how popular this synthesizer is - a MATRIXSYNTH post from 2007 tells us that it is #69 in the top 100 synths according to to Peter Forrest's "A-Z of Analogue Synthesisers". And indeed, Sigma groupies' loving comments can be found on a number of synthesizer sites such as Vintage Synth Explorer and Harmony Central.

A quick search on the InterWebz pulls up a number of Web pages concerning this synthesizer, confirming its popularity both for its oddness and ugliness. And that is *exactly* what Paul Ward calls it in his article that appeared in the June 2001 issue of Sound On Sound. Although he himself found the instrument 'generally nasal' and that he is 'not a great fan', he does admit that he had "heard enthusiastic waxings about the sound of the Sigma from time to time over the years".

Gordon Ried's excellent online write-up pretty much poo-poos much of the Sigma's sound as well.
"... all things considered, Instrument was a disappointment. Neither gutsy like the ARP, nor clean and precise like the Roland, its patches were bland imitations of their orchestral inspirations. Of the eleven voices, only the Electric Bass, Tuba, and Oboe deserved any real credit. The Horn and Fuzz Guitar were just about passable but others, in particular the Clavi and String, were - as solo sounds - to be avoided at all costs."
But he does conclude that that the Sigma's " and a handful of its facilities put older preset monosynths to shame" and that it is "...a pity because the range of possibilities contained within its weird architecture was huge".

Listen to an old 1979 audio advertisement posted on Synthtopia and judge for yourself.

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