Monday, October 31, 2011

Yamaha GX-1 "The 'Most' Yamaha goes to Mickie" ad, International Musician and Recording World 1978

Yamaha GX-1 "The 'Most' Yamaha goes to Mickie" 1-page advertisement from page 17 in International Musician and Recording World January (UK) 1978.

I'm a little embarrassed - for two reasons.

The first is a simple mistake - I almost overlooked this GX-1 advertisement because my eye's wouldn't leave a certain ad that sat across from it on the opposite page.

I swear that thing was looking right at me, deep into the recesses of my mind, pondering and judging my darkest secrets. It's like I was hypnotized by that giant mouse.

Okay - obligatory Halloween content finished.

The second reason I'm embarrassed is that I really had no clue who "Mickie" was. Which meant that the whole title thing - "The 'Most' Yamaha goes to Mickie" - was also lost on me. Part of the problem was that extra space between "Mickie" and ""Most" in the first line of the ad-copy. My mind wouldn't put the two words together in my brain and I thought maybe there was a word missing somewhere. I had to ask my GF if maybe the ad was referring to Mick Jagger. Seriously. I had no clue.

But when I finally did figure it all out (thanks Wikipedia!) everything else fell into place. Big producer... Rak Studios in London... Herman's Hermits... I learned a lot this weekend   :)

If you recall from my last CS-80 blog post, Yamaha didn't seem to promote the CS-80 through advertisements in International Musician. And it looks like we now know part of the reason. They were spending at least a little of their advertising budget on this advertisement, while (intentionally or unintentionally) letting earned media promotion do it's thing for the CS-80.

Looking closer at this GX-1 ad, its kind of an anomaly. Yamaha usually wasn't one to "pull an ARP" by name-dropping so extensively in an ad. I'm not saying they never did it, but if I look at other Yamaha ads I've posted, usually they relied on throwing out a few technical terms and focusing on the reader as the musician.

But, in this case, Yamaha does the name-dropping job proud by using the Trifecta of "important music business stars" - Mickie Most, Stevie Wonder and, of course, Keith Emerson.

Although Stevie Wonder coined the term "Dream Machine" in reference to the GX-1, to me he will always be associated with samplers (probably just me showing my age group). I would thus argue that from my point of view, Keith Emerson was usually associated more closely with the GX-1 over on this side of the pond. And you don't have to look far for examples - like that awesome photo in the book Vintage Synthesizers of Keith playing a GX-1 while "ignoring" his Moog modular and Hammond C-3 in a Montreal stadium.

Keith also had a column in Keyboard Magazine called "Inside Tracks" where he answered readers' questions on keyboard technique, film scoring, recording projects and other musical topics. Unsurprisingly, a question about the GX-1 makes an appearance in the first run of the column found in the May 1983 issue.
Q: "Did you use the Yamaha GX-1 on 'Honky'"?
A: "No I couldn't get the GX-1 into Nassau, where the album was recorded. The island would hae sunk! It takes about eight people to lift the thing, and it was bad enough trying to get any other stuff into Nassau, let alone trying to get it out. So there's no GX-1 on Honky."
It is not just the name-dropping references that make this such a great ad to me. The instrument is gorgeous and even this classic crappy black and white photo proves it. A friend has used the term "rocket body" to describe two things in life - p0rn stars and synthesizers. And the GX-1 probably fits nicely into both of those categories.

But it is that third paragraph of ad-copy that really puts this ad into perspective.
"The Yamaha GXI is the test bed of Yamaha Technology. Spin offs from this project have been utilized in the new ranges of Yamaha home organs and professional musical instruments."
So, this isn't so much an ad for the Yamaha GX-1, but an ad for *all* Yamaha instruments. No one is expected to spend 40,000 pounds on an instrument after reading this ad. But I bet a few musicians thought about buying a few of the less expensive organs and synths, and maybe even a CS-80 or two, after reading about the trickle-down effect of GX-1 technology.

Lucky for me, I'm now in 2011and have friends of the blog like FlameTopFred and Micke to help guide me through synth-tech connections like those of the GX-1/CS-80/E-70. There is also that thing called the Internet - and a quick Google search (Web and images) brings up a wealth of information, including the well-written Wikipage article. Great tech information, as well as other fun facts such as finding out that Aphex Twin (Richard D James) acquired Mickie Most's GX-1.  Also check out Gordon Reid's two-part series on the GX-1 found in the February 2000 and March 2000 issues of Sound On Sound. You will learn more than you ever wanted - including info about those speakers behind the machine in the photo. Digging a little deeper into search results is well worth the effort.

Making a huge buying decision without the Internet seems frightening to me now. I'm guessing name-dropping ads like this one might have been the tipping point for many of my purchases back in 1978 - more so if I had known who Mickie Most was...   :)

But in the end, the biggest name-drop of all in this ad isn't Mickie - or Stevie or Keith

It is the GX-1 itself. Nice work Yamaha.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Yamaha CS-80 "Finally" advertisement, Contemporary Keyboard 1977

Yamaha CS-80 synthesizer "Finally" 1-page advertisement from page 9 in Contemporary Keyboard December 1977.

I had originally posted this ad way back in 2009 before I had a lot to say. But now, after posting that well-received CS-80/60/50 12-page brochure, I guess I have a little bit to say after all.  And most of what I have to say is related to advertising vs. earned media, and in some ways, the CS-80 would have been a good study to test the effects of each.

CS-80 information began to show up in a number of mags pretty much around the same time period during the winter of 1977. Here in North America, Contemporary Keyboard and Synapse both started to run this CS-80 advertisement in December (well... for Synapse it was the November/December issue). This was probably around the time the CS-80/60/50 brochure started to appear, and I'm kind of surprised that Yamaha didn't sync up the design or ad-copy a bit more between the two. Sure, you can say a lot more in a brochure, so you don't expect the well-written ad-copy of the brochure to be identical to the ad. But I would have thought Yamaha in America would have translated some of the design elements of the brochure over to the ad.

Speaking of the design elements - there isn't much in this ad. But that close-up photo is awesome! I love seeing those four rows miniature memory panels in the foreground with the two rows of programmable panels running off into the distance. It's a little romantic  :)

As far as ad-copy is concerned, Yamaha did keep the general theme of the brochure at play in the advertisement - focusing on the creativity that can be expressed live through the CS-80. And the ad does at least give the CS-50 and CS-60 a final thought at the end of the text.

So, Yamaha clearly chose to focus on advertising in North America. Meanwhile, across the pond, the company took a different approach - at least as far as International Musician and Recording World was concerned. Not sure if it was the company's intent, but somehow they got the magazine to review the instrument, not once - but TWICE within six months.

The first write-up showed up as a "KeyboardCheck" review in the January 1978 (UK) issue of IMRW. Rod Argent took the CS-80 out for a test drive on page 46, where he managed to haul the 4,350 pound/220lb synthesizer into the studio for the recording of Andrew Lloyd-Webber's "new set of 23 Paganini Variations". Not able to save the best for last, in the third paragraph, Rod writes:
"I must say at once that the Yamaha passed these tests with flying colours. In fact Mr. Lloyd-Webber was so impressed that he bought one after three days of recording and by all accounts is now threatening the time schedule of "Evita" by insisting on lengthy demonstrations to everyone who comes to his flat!"
Most of the rest of the review is your usual tour of controls and functions, and Rod concludes that it is a beautifully constructed instrument with a good layout with an "extremely satisfying" sound. Nothing we didn't know there. :)

The second IMRW review showed up exactly six months later in the July 1978 (UK) issue (with the same 4,350 pound price tag). And this time Dave Simmons gave the CS-80 true "synth" status by reviewing it in the "SynthCheck" section rather than "KeyboardCheck".

Dave's introduction made it clear he didn't get as much time in with the instrument as Rod did six months earlier, but was just as eager to praise the synth right out of the gate with this introduction:
"Since I have been doing synthesizer reviews for International Musician there have been two pieces of equipment that have particularly impressed me. One is the Roland Guitar Synthesizer and the second is the CS80 from Yamaha. As with the guitar synthesizer, I could easily have played for weeks with the CS80, but because of large demand for this instrument, the only one available for review belonged to someone else and so I was unable to take it out of the warehouse, or try it out in a band situation."
Later in the review he states that the CS-80 is the best synthesizer he has ever played, and suggests that you actually can "throw away your other synthesizers" if you buy one. He prefaces these remarks by noting that he is NOT on Yamaha's payroll. :)

Interestingly, I can't find a CK review for the CS-80. In fact, it looks like very little Yamaha gear got reviewed before 1980.

So, in the end, I have to wonder. Did Yamaha think they got a better deal out of spending cash on a year and a half worth of 1-page advertising in Contemporary Keyboard, or by taking the chance of getting TWO over-the-top complimentary reviews by lending out the instrument to IMRW?

I know I would have taken the chance on the two great reviews. But then again, with the awesomeness that is the CS80, it's not that big a chance to take.    :)

Monday, October 24, 2011

Yamaha "CS-Series Synthesizers" brochure featuring CS-50, CS-60 and CS-80, 1978


Yamaha "CS-Series Synthesizers" 12-page brochure featuring CS-50, CS-60 and CS-80 synthesizers from 1978.

[PDF version to be provided later once I figure out an alternative to SkyDrive]

Sometimes I just don't feel like writing. And this morning I also didn't feel like going outside to rake the rain-soaked leaves that continued to accumulate at an increasingly fast rate during last night's freakish thunder storm. Instead of trying to stubbornly pull myself in either of these directions, I turned on the coffee maker in the kitchen and then turned on the computer and scanner in the extra bedroom. Time to do some mindless scanning.

This time I managed to blindly pull a Yamaha CS-50/60/80 brochure out of the archive, figuring it would keep me busy for an hour or so. But I soon started spending more time reading through the brochure than actually scanning it.  Part of the problem was that I'd never actively researched the differences between these synths, so to have all this information packaged together so elegantly was a quick way to get acquainted with all of them at once.

(  Three hours later... )

And.... done.    :)

The brochure is divided into four sections:

1. Introduction: "A Fascinating New Way To Create Musical Sounds" - 1 page
2. CS-50 info - 4 pages including that awesome fold-out photo of the synthesizer
3. CS-60 info - 2 page
4. CS-80 info - 3 pages
5. Block diagrams of each synthesizer - 1 page
6. Specifications - 1 page

The odd shape of those first couple of scans is because that first page actually is a fold out - so scan 1 (the cover) and scan 2 (the introduction to the brochure) actually make up the first real page. Scan three is the other side of that long fold-out page which features the giiii-nomous large photo of the CS-50. Scan 4 (the first page of the CS-50 info) sits opposite of scan 3, and then you have the rest of the pages sitting opposite each other as laid out above... hope that all makes sense.

If you don't know much about these three synths, then I would recommend first flipping open the fold-out page to read the "Feature comparison of CS-50, CS-60 and CS-80" chart on that intro page. Then, flip directly to the inside of the last page to see the block diagrams. And finally check out the back cover of the brochure for side-by-side specs. Then go back and read about each synth in their respective sections. Awesome reference info all around.

Enjoy.... while I go out and finally rake leaves. Gah.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

EML SynKey 2-sided brochure, approximately 1978

EML SynKey brochure from approximately 1978.

This brochure was sent to me, along with quite a few others pieces of  EML literature, by George Mattson. George was an independent factory sales rep for EML before he built the Syntar (drool).. and more recently, is the man behind Mattson Modulars (more drool).

Side note: Although my Doepfer obsession has reached new heights recently, I am about to decide whether to get a Mattson starter modular, or the six-pack - which looks too dang cute!

Sorry - got side-tracked for a sec. Can't... stop... looking...

Like this advertisement for the SynKey that I recently posted, this brochure is rather rare. Almost as rare as the 75 or so SynKeys that were produced (according to Mark Vail's book Vintage Synthesizers).

The front side of the brochure is one you may have come across on the Web, and includes ad-copy that builds on the text found in the SynKey's Contemporary Keyboard advertisement. It clearly carries the SynKey's message of simplicity and ease of use.

The back side of the brochure seem to be much more rare to find online, and includes ad-copy that focuses on the SynKey's three big promotional features - programming, second touch and pushbutton semitone select. Definitely take the time to read through it to get a good idea of how the SynKey operated. The back of the brochure also provides a list of the programmable parameters that are available on the SynKey. All in all, a very well-written piece.

My only peeve is my usual one - the document doesn't have a print date.  Gah.

When a document such as this doesn't have a date I usually rely on pricing info to get an idea of when exactly the piece was created during the life cycle of the instrument. In the case of the SynKey, I have one good price reference - the programmable SynKey was listed in Contemporary Keyboard's May/June 1976 Giveaway contest #5 at $2,195.00. I also have another price reference point - but it's a bit sketchy. Mark Vail's Vintage Synthesizers book lists the programmable SynKey price at a much lower $1,350.00 - but that includes a production start date of 1979. Considering the first ads for the SynKey were out in 1976, we know the actual production start date was much earlier. BUT, could that $1,350 price tag be the price that the unit cost in 1979? The huge price drop could have been on account of the card reader technology which would have quickly devalued the instrument as RAM memory costs went down in competitor's synths. But this is all just a hunch. And it all doesn't matter anyways because there is no pricing info on the brochure to cross reference with.

But, I do have one other theory to give this brochure a 1978 print date:

The brochure includes information on the non-programmable SynKey (model 1500) as well - but its kind of been added on as separate ad-copy underneath the main photo of the instrument in a *completely* different font.  Sites such as often include a scan of the front of this brochure - but the scan doesn't include the extra text about the non-programmable version. To me, this suggests that the scanned ad found on is probably the first version of the brochure. And this could possibly suggest that the non-programmable model 1500 SynKey came out later and was added to the brochure at that time.

The book Vintage Synthesizers lists a production start date for the non-programmable version at 1978 (and a cost of $925). I know - a long shot. I've asked a few people for more info on the two model's different start dates.

Note to readers: My theories have about a 20% success rate  :)  Will update when I learn more.

Changing topics, I've found a few good sources for photos and demos of the SynKey online.

MATRIXSYNTH posted a relatively recent April 2011 ebay auction that included some great photos of the programmable SynKey. That baby blue accent color found on the instrument is gorgeous. Another even more recent May 2011 auction post also has some good photos - and close up, you can see the baby blue bars are actually stylistic punch cards with hole punches! Nice design touch.

But, my favorite MATRIXSYNTH SynKey auction post is this one from MARCH 2009 because it includes photos of the colour punch cards as well (same blue colour!) as well as a few other pieces of literature.

The only place I've come across a colour photo of the orange non-programmable model 1500 SynKey is Scroll down to the second photo to see the gorgeous orange accent colour of that machine.

As far as demos are concerned, I really enjoyed YouTube contributor "xgregcompositionx" vids. He's uploaded three SynKey video demos that show off it's great sound.

Check 'em out below. Time for me to watch Survivor  :D

Monday, October 17, 2011

Electronic Music Laboratories, Inc. SynKey synthesizer ad, Contemporary Keyboard 1976

Electronic Music Laboratories, Inc. SynKey synthesizer 1-page advertisement from page 9 in Contemporary Keyboard May/June 1976.

I posted a scan of this ad back in 2009 but never really had the urge to blog about it. But, then I came across the same ad online somewhere and it piqued my interest a little bit - mostly because of the punch card programming.

You heard right. Users could recall "preset" synth sounds from the 25 prepunched cards programmed by EML, or punch their own custom sounds for recall on the 25 blank cards also provided. The high-res scan of the ad gives you a clear indication of what the punch cards looked like. Kinda cool, really. And promoted as the first programmable synth. Ever.

The ad-copy stays pretty high-level, but gets a little technical by telling readers about SynKey's "unique top-octave divider" that delivers the equivalent of 13 oscillators. If I understand correctly, it allowed what was essentially a monophonic instrument to play chord intervals by just the press of one key. That would make a huge sound.

For readers of that issue of CK, a lot more technical info on the SynKey could be found in Giveaway contest #5 on page 14 - it reads like a Spec Sheet promo:
"Syn-Key by Electronic Music Lab is the first synthesizer you can program. Instead of fumbling with knobs, patch cords, and forgetting the settings for sounds that you like, simply punch a plastic computer card to preset more than twenty Syn-Key functions. Insert the card. Push the button. You've got the sound you want. This feature permits changes in sound in a matter of seconds. 
A unique integrated circuit creates the effect of having thirteen oscillators for a full rich synthesizer sound. And you don't need to tune the oscillator - a series of indicator push-buttons selects accurate intervals from the root through the thirteenth semi-tone. 
Other programmable controls include oscillator root waveform; modulation-oscillator shape; filter tune; resonance and mode; filter envelope attack, decay, and sustain;and amplifier attach, decay, and sustain. 
Syn-Key's 3 1/2-octave keyboard has a second-touch feature that produces dynamic changes in timbre,vibrato, wah-wah, and pitch-bend. 
Syn-Key comes with 25 pre-progammed cards, 25 blank cards, and a punch. The unit measures 29 1/2" wide, 8" high, 17" deep, and weighs 29 lbs." 
That contest page also gives us a price: "A $2,195.00 Value". A surprisingly much higher price than I've seen in the past.

Interestingly the external hype the company tried to generate about their punch card technology wasn't viewed the same way internally. The story goes that they went with a card reader for memory storage rather than RAM because they were getting a deal on the card readers. Of course, RAM tech changed quickly, and it wasn't long before memory prices decreased to the point where punch card technology quickly became a dinosaur.

As much as I find the technical aspects of the machine interesting, it is the small writing in the bottom left hand corner of the ad that really got my curiosity up.

"A Kaman Music Product made by Electronic Music Labs, Inc. 
Synkey is a registered trademark of Kaman Corporation."

Kaman Music Product? As far as I recall, none of the other EML product ads had any reference to Kaman, and this ad is telling me "SynKey" is actually a registered trademark of the Kaman Corporation?

I did a bit of Googlin', and came across the Wikipage for Kaman Music Corporation. According to this page, the company began in 1966 and was best known for its composite-body Ovation guitars. But they weren't really a synth company by any stretch. In 2007, Kaman was purchased by Fender, but I noticed it still retains a Kaman branded Web site.

But, I couldn't find anything about SynKey on those pages.

Luckily, Mark Vail's book Vintage Synthesizers contains a whole chapter on EML and the Kaman/SynKey connection becomes a bit more clear. Turns out that EML was first going to create the instrument for Kaman Music and had begun production for the deal. But the deal never went through and EML was left with a lot of inventory. EML decided to sell the instrument themselves and my guess is that they got the registered trademark back from Kaman at this time.

For me, the info above makes this ad all the more valuable and historically significant because it means the ad must have been created *before* the deal with Kaman fell through.


Thursday, October 13, 2011

Fairlight CMI "Orchestra for sale?" ad, Keyboard 1982

Fairlight CMI "Orchestra for sale?" 1-page advertisement from page 15 in Keyboard Magazine February  1982.

I recently got on my Fairlight kick when I started researching the Fairlight app for my iPad. I still haven't purchased either version of the app - the PRO version seems nice, but I'm a notoriously cheap bastard.Both work with the Line 6 mobilizer... right? RIGHT?

Anyways, that little spark of interest led me to track down some of the old Fairlight ads, including this first "Fairlight regional distributor opportunities" ad. A half year later and Fairlight turned their attention towards consumers (um... wealthy consumers) in Keyboard and started what would become a long string of advertisements over time.

As far as the ad design goes, I'm not really digging the black and white imagery too much, especially with the cropped-in CMI. It almost gets hidden within the image of the orchestra. But, the ad does offer a demo cassette for a buck, so I'm givin' the ad extra points. Plus, I get to see that awesome "FI" logo.  That gives the ad extra extra points. But I doubt musicians unions were giving it as many points as I am now with a title like "Orchestra for sale?". But that is a whole different conversation to save for a future blog post.

This really was just the beginning for Fairlight in Keyboard - as more sampling competitors came onto the scene, Fairlight's advertising really had to get into gear. And with all those juicy Fairlight ads to come, there will be lots of time in the future to pass on more research.

So, rather than give it all up now, I thought I would mention another little piece of Keyboard history that this ad inadvertently became a part of.  This February 1982 issue of Keyboard Magazine is also known for one... teensy... weensy... little... problem:

They got the year wrong on the cover. It was printed with '1981' instead of '1982'. It's not often that mistakes like this are made, even back in 1982.

Now, I'm not sure if all printed copies had that mistake, but every copy I've run across has included the wrong year. E-bay auctions also have been know to mistakenly list it as February 1981. Something to look out for if you are trying to ramp up your collection.

But, it's mistakes like this that remind me why the Web quickly became my preferred medium. I dig the fact I can change content so quickly.

Imagine printing 200,000 copies of your1987 annual report that included the wrong financial data. Ooops. "Everyone in Finance had sign-off! Really!"  :)

Now, a PDF of the report just gets dumped on the Web. A PDF that can be changed on a moments notice. And only 2,500 copies of a report gets printed with half of those getting recycled before they even leave the building.

Anyways, I hope that page-layout person at Keyboard had a forgiving boss.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Fairlight Instruments Pty Ltd "Regional Distributor Opportunities" ad, Keyboard 1981

Fairlight Instruments Pty Ltd "Regional Distributor Opportunities" 1/2-page vertical advertisement from the bottom right corner of page 57 in Keyboard Magazine July 1981.

This rather early Fairlight Instruments ad really helps define a certain time period in sampling history. And provides some good historical reference info to boot.

Only a year and a bit before this advertisement appeared, Fairlight had displayed their CMI at the May 1980 Audio Engineering Society convention where a pre-sampler E-mu contingent was able to see the Fairlight live in action. Another instrument with sampled sounds, Roger Linn's LM-1 drum machine, was also in attendance and didn't go unnoticed by E-mu.

Conventions like AES and NAMM must have really been influential to start-ups - I know they were for me. I was lucky enough to attend Siggraph for what I like to call the "decadent decade" between 1996-2005, and I can tell you that there is *nothing* as inspiring as conventions and trade shows.  And it must have been inspiring to E-mu, because in less than a year the company had developed a potential sampling competitor for the Fairlight, had come out with this pre-NAMM advertisement to promote it's introduction, and had demo'd the new Emulator at the February 1981 NAMM show in Anaheim. Not too shabby for E-mu.

But even after the NAMM show, Emulator sales slowed eventually due to certain restrictions of the instrument. Meanwhile, according to this advertisement, by mid-1981 "over 60 CMIs [were] aleady in use by musicians, composers, home and professional recording studios, music colleges, universities and film studios". Not a bad user-base to start.  Fairlight still had a good sized head-start.

I know, I know - comparing Fairlight to the Emulator may not be a fair apples-to-apples comparison. Still, the writing was on the wall - the cost of sampling was crawling slowly towards the masses. Fairlight must have know it was just a matter of time before E-mu and other new competitors tightened up their technology.

And it wasn't just competitors that was going to be a problem for Fairlight. The physical size of the US is a problem as well. According to Fairlight's co-founder Kim Ryrie in Mark Vail's book "Vintage Synthesizers", The U.K., Germany and Japan were the biggest markets for the CMI, but the company "always found the U.S. a very expensive place to sell into and support, because it's so physically large." A strategy that included regional distributors that could expand "marketing, installation and back-up" to such a large area makes sense to try and minimize this issue.

Fairlight didn't want just anyone to distribute and market the CMI on their behalf. If you thought the price of admission to club Fairlight was high for musicians - $25,000+ for early CMIs - the price for the privilege to be a qualified regional distributor was even higher at $40,000. Now that's how you keep out the riff-raff.

And it looked like Fairlight wasn't going to leave a distribution partner to the wolves once they forked over the 40 G's. Distributors would be supplied with "demonstration equipment, spares and maintenance kit, marketing manual, brochure and literature stock, word processing facilities for marketing and news releases, video tapes, demonstration cassettes and a detailed promotion and support program".

When I look at that paragraph of marketing supplies, it immediately becomes a checklist.   :)

Time to eat more left-overs from my Canadian Thanksgiving dinner.

End note: This ad is almost totally devoid of design. It's like it has all been sucked into that frickin' cool Fairlight Instruments logo. I likey!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Passport Designs Master Tracks MIDI sequencer software, Keyboard 1986

Passport Designs Master Tracks MIDI sequencer software "The 1-2-3 of MIDI Sequencers" 1-page advertisement from page 11 in Keyboard February 1986.

// begin sappy //

I originally had another blog post pretty much ready to rock, but when I heard the sad news about Steve Jobs, I decided to post this advertisement. I know it sounds sappy, and you've been hearing it everywhere lately, but this ad literally changed my life.

Although I would currently define myself as a Windows-based music producer using mostly Sonar and ReNoise  (and even more recently, testing an Ubuntu/ReNoise combo on a first-gen netbook :), my first music production love affair with a computer was an Apple IIe running PassPort Design's Master Tracks. A Mac IIci running MOTU Performer was my second.

Before using a computer, I thought sequencing with the Six-trak's and CZ-5000's on-board sequencers was the bee's knees. But when this advertisement presented itself, it was enough to pull me away and get me interested in computer-based music production. 

I have fond memories of walking into my local music store and special-ordering Master Tracks software along with their MIDI interface. They had never sold either the software or the hardware before. But just now, reading Passport Design's Wikipage, has brought back some not-so-good memories of trying to install that MIDI interface (or the extended memory card - can't remember which, but pretty sure it was the Interface). Twice I took back the interface because it wasn't working properly and had to wait for them to ship another.  All the while the music software sat on my desk waiting to get put into action.

I was frustrated. So was the manager of that music store.

The third time I got the interface - it too didn't work. But my older brother who was much more wise in the ways of the mysterious Apple IIe (it was actually his computer until he moved out of town for grad school), read through the manual and proceeded to either move the interface or extended memory card into slot #1 rather than slot #2 (or some similar silliness).

He then turned on the computer and loaded the software. And it worked like a charm. Gah!

I learned a valuable lesson that day. Chances are when something doesn't work - it is user error. :D

Back in the day I would lug that IIe onto the stage, along with a Yamaha TX81Z, Kawai K1 and Mirage sampler. I can't even recall what drum machine I used.  And this fading memory of that time period is probably for the best - looking back, trying to compose a mixture of angry industrial and electronic music a la NIN probably wasn't working so well for me.   :)

It was only years later that I admitted to the manager what had happened with the MIDI interface. And that was well after he gave me a number of synth belt buckles

I've only recently come back to Apple with the iPad 2, experimenting with music apps like Synthetic Bits FunkBox, and now Little Midi Machine with the Line 6 MIDI Mobilizer. And I plan to have even more fun downloading some of the newer composing apps this Thanksgiving long weekend.  I'm hoping to be ready to try and leave the laptop at home during my next out-of-town trip - trips that have become good test scenarios for my increasingly frequent mobile/netbook composing habits.

I'm sure Apple is in good hands with new CEO Tim Cook, but I don't think the company will ever be the same without Steve Jobs.

// end sappy //

Monday, October 3, 2011

Talk Studio/Zypher Electronics Digi-Atom 4800 Analog-to-MIDI interface "Control the MIDI World" ad, Keyboard 1984


Talk Studio/Zypher Electronics Digi-Atom 4800 analog-to-MIDI interface 1-page advertisement from page 49 in Keyboard Magazine April 1984.

Since starting to build my Doepfer modular, I've really started getting back into MIDI-to-CV converters. If I don't feel like turning on everything in the studio, I'll hook my Tenori-On or iPad up to my Kenton PRO Solo to run the modular, or my Roland MPU-101 if I want to get a few other older synths into the party.

But, its *always* been my MIDI gear as master, controlling the analog gear. I've never really had the urge to drive my MIDI gear from an analog master - just too much trouble, or I'm lazy or something. I'm guessing it has something to do with entering the synth scene so soon before MIDI was launched. It has just made me wired that way (pun TOTALLY intended).

But just recently, I ran across this 2007 thread on the Abelton forum, and my jaw just dropped when I scrolled down a little. For a couple of reasons.

1. That BIG ASS Doepfer modular
2. The Digi-Atom in the top right of the photo, according to the owner, allows the Doepfer "to control any plugin parameter or Nuendo knob with the Doepfer LFOs or other mod generators"

Now that's awesome. And reading about the Digi-Atom 4800 made me recall this advertisement in Keyboard. And hence this blog post (and probably the next one....  :)

At the time the Digi-Atom came out in 1984, I'm sure it seemed like a good idea. Everyone had analog sequencers and keyboards and MIDI was still a baby. Articles in Keyboard and other magazines were positive about the new technology, but always seemed to slip in a "we'll have to wait and see if this MIDI thing catches on".

But there they were in music shops - fancy new MIDI keyboards that needed to be hooked up, controlled and sync'd into all of those analog set-ups musicians had paid dearly in time and cost to build into their studios. There was a definite need for some type of Swiss Army Knife interface to control all those pesky new MIDI keyboards with tried and true analog sequencer technology.

Talk Studio/Zypher Electronics, along with a few others, were ahead of the curve in this respect, but who could have predicted that the curve was about to take a 180 and drive off in the opposite direction. MIDI technology progressed so rapidly that hardware and software MIDI sequencers soon appeared on the scene and eventually took over the market. Within a year it wasn't analog controlling MIDI - but MIDI controlling analog. Now interfaces were needed to convert those MIDI signals into CV/gate and the DIGI-ATOM 4800 would quickly become obsolete to most of those youngin's coming on to the scene, and a very rare musical tool for others.

But you have to give Talk Studio creds for taking the risk, and this advertisement definitely would have been intriguing to many. Plus, I'm a sucker for spacey/futuristic imagery. Interestingly, in really small print running along the left side of the photo are a few design and photo credits.
"Design by A. Harada. Photo by T. Yokoyama"
I've seen this lots with illustrations, but very rarely for photos used in older ads.

Also, the diagram of all the ins and outs was a really good addition to the ad and would have gone a long way to illustrate to musicians exactly how and why one might need the 4800. That diagram also benefits from the fantastic ad-copy. For such a technical device, the writer does a really good job keeping it simple. The only issue is that the bottom half of the page gets a little crowded - the empty space could have been used a bit more productively.

Not surprisingly, there isn't a lot of good photos of this beast online. But, I can point you to go-to site MATRIXSYNTH, which posted a January 2009 e-bay auction with a few good close-up photos.

And could they make that "Zypher Electronics" text on the top of the unit any bigger? Kidding!

I've got a bit more info on the Digi-Atom 4800 I'd like to share in my next post. Stay tuned!