Sunday, July 20, 2014

Korg SDD-3000 "Programmable Digital Delay" ad, Keyboard 1982

Korg SDD-3000 "Programmable Digital Delay" full page colour advertisement from page 55 in the December 1982 issue of Keyboard Magazine.

Aaaah - the sun is out and I'm bathing in its warmth. But for how long? I got a lot to say... better get busy. 

First and foremost, from a marketing point of view, what's really interesting about Korg's recent announcement of its new SDD-3000 Delay Pedal is that this ISN'T analog. Don't get me wrong, I LOVE analog and was first in line to get Korg's reintroduced MS-20. But if the online response to this piece of retro DIGITAL technology is any indication, analog isn't necessarily king. RETRO is. Analog. Digital. It doesn't matter. A success here will open the door for Korg and many other companies to seriously think about reintroducing a wider range of retro gear. And that's good for everybody.

Korg has really been on a string of hits lately. First with the MS20 filter in those cute little Monotrons back in 2010 and 2011, and then in the MS20mini and the kit. Those units pretty much sold themselves.

But with two of Korg's most interesting recent announcements (for me anyways), it shouldn't go unnoticed that they have been brought in some heavy hitters to partner with.

First was the totally unexpected and surprising ARP Odyssey announcement back in February where they brought in none other than ARP original Dave Friend. That is just so amazing on so many levels. And now with the SDD-3000 pedal, who's name is appearing next to it? U2 guitar tech Dallas Schoo. That's who.

Korg knows that if they are going to come out with an SDD remake, who better than to partner with than the band that single-handedly put that effects unit back on the map. I have no doubt they could have pulled it off with him, but it just wouldn't have been the same. AND, think about the negativity that could have resulted if they hadn't brought U2 guitar tech Dallas Schoo in and then he comments on how he *didn't* like it. Ouch.

 Smart move. Which brings me to my next point - another smart move by Korg.

Although the official introductory news release for Korg's NEW SDD-3000 Delay Pedal is dated July 10, 2014, Korg USA tweeted the introduction of this awesomeness just after 8 p.m. (my time :) on July 9, linking to their product page. Social media wins again. Most stogy corporations won't let anything leak until a news release goes out. And that sucks bum. In this day and age, there is no problem with giving it to the people before you give it to the media when the story is this hot.

Anyways, no matter how the news got out first, the result was a lot more happy guitarists in the world. Even the Emo ones I'm sure. AaaaaND even those of us who aren't guitarists (or barely keyboardists) who have also looked back on the SDD-3000 with such great fondness. Korg continued the SDD- tradition by later releasing the SDD-1000, SDD-1200 dual delay, SDD-2000 sampling digital delay and my personal favorite, the SDD-3300 triple digital delay. 

But as happens in the musical world, the first born is usually the favorite. And so it is with the SDD-3000 and the masses. The U2-angle obviously helped, but I think its also a favorite because it was a first for Korg and people have a soft spot for firsts.

It wasn't their first effects unit, but it was their first cool looking digital effects unit. As far as I know, before this effects unit was released,  their effects looked... well... like older effects boxes. The era of the 1-unit cool-and-sleek looking digital effects rack was still just in its infancy, and this was Korg throwing their hat into the Keyboard-Magazine-ring relatively early in the game.  

This doesn't mean it was the first 1-unit digital delay off the block, but it was probably one of the first that me and many others heard about because the only place we read about anything music-wise was in Keyboard. I'm guessing there is a good chance that other digital rack gear such as those by Lexicon were getting promoted in other magazines, but as a kid who pretty much exclusively read Keyboard, I didn't see it. As far as I was concerned, it only existed if it was in Keyboard.  :)

Let's put it in perspective a bit.

Before this Korg ad, effects advertisements and spec sheet write ups in Keyboard for the most part came in one of two forms. You had pedals being manufactured and advertised by the likes of MXR, Electro-Harmonix, Pearl and Boss, and you had big bulky effects boxes created by companies like Bode and Roland. These were what I was most interested in and the real standouts for me at the time were Roland's RE-501 delay, Yamaha's E1010 and E1005 analog delay rack units and Sequential Circuits PRO-FX system (drooooooool).

But in amongst all those ads and spec sheets, readers of Keyboard were about to get a hint of what was to come in the sleek-and-clean digital rack world.

First, in late 1981 the spec sheet section of Keyboard magazine included the new Fostex model 3050 digital delay that featured 270 milliseconds delay time for a tidy $450.00. Ohhhh.

Then in April 1982, DeltaLab published an ad in Keyboard for their Time Line DL-4 digital delay 1-unit rack and followed that up in August and October 1982 with an ad for their $499 Effectron digital delay 1-unit rack. Both slim, sleek and almost digital looking. Almost.

And then, with DeltaLabs holding the door open, Korg walked through with this SDD-3000 advertisement at the end of 1982. And although the ad didn't appear more than two or three times, it did make a statement. First, the ad was designed to be horizontal. You had to flip the magazine 90 degrees to read it. Second, the unit itself was really different looking from previous Korg effects units with its digital read-out and puuurdy yellow buttons. 

Although ADA and Ibanez would end up advertising here and there throughout 1983, it was DeltaLabs that really tried to make Keyboard's digital delay territory their own.  That company began a manufacturing and advertising blitz, first in the March 1983 issue with an ad for the whole family including the ADM-256 ($499.00), ADM-64 ($399.00) and ADM-1028 ($699.00). By August 1983 they had no less than three ads running in each issue. To compare, Korg and Yamaha both had a maximum of three ads running in a single issue at the height of their advertising blitzes. DeltaLabs was in good company.

Interestingly, it wasn't until nine months after the Kord SDD-3000 ad appeared that it was finally featured in the Spec Sheet section of the September 1983 issue of Keyboard.
"The SDD-3000 is a programmable digital delay. It was designed to produce a number of effects including chorusing, flanging, doubling, reverb, doppler effects, infinite repeats, and so on. All control settings can be stored in nine different program locations and easily recalled via push buttons or footswitches. Specs and features include: up to 1032 milliseconds of delay, 30Hz to 17kHz frequency response; stereo capability; footswitch connections for program up and down, delay bypass, and hold modes; a feedback loop with 4-position high and lowpass filters; phase inversion of feedback loop and final loop; input and output facilities on the front and rear panel; triangle, square, and random waveforms from the LFO; external and envelope control of the VCO; and 3-position input and output attenuators. Price is $1,495.00. Korg, 79 Frost St., Westbury, NY 11590."
$1,495.00. Wowza. The new pedal is $399.99.  Another reason to like retro digital re-boots!

Well, I think I've rattled on long enough. Time to go out and enjoy the...

damn... raining again.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Roland Alpha Juno 1 & 2 "Flash boards" ad, The Music Technology Magazine 1986

Roland Alpha JUNO 1 & 2 "Flash Boards" full colour advertisement from the inside front cover of the July 1986 issue of The Music Technology Magazine (U.S. edition).

There are just so many reasons to love this ad, and the first is that this ad is from 1986. Let's face it, the 80s were a kick-ass time to be into synthesizers (as well as the growing MIDI music software industry). And with kick-ass time periods come kick-ass advertising art.

It just so happens that the 80s was also a time when affordable computers started popping up everywhere - in the office, at home and in the studio. More than a few commercial artists decided to try their hand at this medium called "computer art".

All that said - I can't even begin to speculate what the imagery in this advertisement is supposed to be. Except for many that face in the bottom right-hand corner. Yeah, I think that's a face.

But I know what the result is:

1. Awesome advertising art.

2. Awesome 80s advertising art.

3. Awesome 80s COMPUTER advertising art.

Another reason to love this ad is that it showed up in the "inaugural" issue of "The Music Technology Magazine". According to the editorial on page 3, the reason the magazine launched in 1986 was because they "felt there was no publication adequately catering for the needs of America's modern musicians". Apparently it was time for one.

Now, some of you readers from across the pond may be wondering - what are you talking about, that magazine has been around for years?!?! Well, they are related.

According to the "History" page of the Recording Magazine Web site, founders of the American version of the magazine were already well-established in the UK:
"In 1986, Music Maker Publications, Inc. (MMP) was formed to launch Music Technology magazine in the United States.

Founders Terry Day and Dennis Hill had already established a successful publishing operation in the United Kingdom, which published several music magazine titles including Music Technology and Home & Studio Recording. Their idea was to establish a company in the United States that would mirror their publishing operation in England.  

Partnered with a U.S. based management team, Terry and Dennis launched Music Technology magazine from their new corporate offices in Canoga Park, California and the timing was just right. In the days when MIDI and digital technology were being developed and refined, Music Technology rapidly gained a devoted readership, passionate about their music and hungry for news and information about the evolving technologies in the audio industry."
The rest of the page is quite an interesting read too, including many different music magazines you are probably familiar with.

I couldn't find a publication date in that inaugural issue. It just has a copyright date of 1986. I had to go to the second issue, dated September 1986 to get more info. In the editorial that appears on page 2 of that second issue (Tony Banks from Genesis appears on that cover), it states that "it's nearly two months now since we launched Music Technology with our inaugural issue...". Bam! That's reason enough to give the inaugural issue a July 1986 date for publication purposes.

Anyways - where was I...? Oh yeah - this was the first issue of the American version of TMTM. So, who better to show up on the cover? Peter Gabriel, that's who. No surprise to find him sitting there beside an Emulator.

Even more interesting is who else the magazine decided to interview in this first issue.

You may have already read the name on the cover image to the right - Douglas Adams! If you don't recognize the name, duck, because I'm about to punch you in the neck. Second, if you don't recognize the name, maybe the title of the article will help jog your memory:

"The Hitch-Hikers Guide to the Macintosh".

And for anyone else still in the dark - here's the Wikipedia link

According to the opening paragraph, Douglas Adams was not only an author, but also a musician with an interest in music technology. Enough of an interest that article writer Matthew Vosburgh refers to Douglas as an "expert on the Apple Macintosh computer and its associated software".

Well, waddaya know!

I will forgive Matthew for probably thinking he is the biggest Douglas Adams fan ever born. Many people around the world make this mistake simply because they haven't met me yet. So to hear that Douglas Adams was also a synth-nut?!?! My head nearly exploded. Point being that when I first came across this issue some time ago, I actually ignored all the synthesizer and MIDI software advertisements to flip directly to the article.

Matthew's article is a fantastic, funny and entertaining read that gives us quite a few juicy tidbits of synthy knowledge. For example, Douglas Adam first used music software for the Mac called Concertwave Plus. Oddly I don't think I'm the first person in the world to punch that in to Google - but all that came up was cracked software sites. Moving on...

Reading the article, we soon find out that some of the first synths Douglas Adams looked at were the Casio CZ3000 and 5000 on account of them both being multi-timbral. But after listening to a Yamaha DX7, he ended up walking out of the store with a TX-7 module and a Korg DW8000. And what good are MIDI synths without MIDI software? It was then that he decided to get Mark of the Unicorn Performer software.

And well, I think many of us can relate to what happened next. He got GAS (look it up...).

According to the article, he picked up THREE more TX7s, A Korg EX800 and a Yamaha RX15 drum machine played through a Roland Octopad (although he regrets not going with the RX11 with its better MIDI implementation). Everything was wired through a Seck mixer and into a Fostex 260 four-track recorder.

Later, Douglas Adams also checked out the Emulator II, Kurzweil, and Fairlight, but opted for a Mirage sampler instead. As luck would have it, the Mirage never came in, and he "wandered off" with the Emulator. That happened to me when a Kawai K1 didn't show up at my local music store and I ended up walking out with three more expensive synths, a drum machine and a sequencer. I kid... kinda.

The behind-the-scenes stories and anecdotes are amazing to read - more so 28 years later. If you can find a copy on eBay, definitely pick it up. Buy two like I did because you will want one copy by your bedside at all times because chances are your Fruitloops and milk are going to spill onto it.

What? No... that has never happened to me. :)

Monday, July 7, 2014

Sequential Prophet VS "When an innovative new technology..." ad, Keyboard 1986

Sequential Prophet VS "When an innovative new technology..." full page colour advertisement from page 89 in the April 1986 issue of Keyboard Magazine.

While working on that recent Yamaha CX5M blog post I made the mistake of flipping through that April issue and came across this beauty. Almost simultaneously, in another tab of my browser is a link to Dave Smith Instruments latest big announcement on their new beauty - the PRO2 mono synth.  "One voice to rule them all" - Hell Yeahz!!!

There's just too much "synth-sexy" popping up on my screen! :)

Anyways, when chatting with other gear heads about vintage Sequential Circuits Instruments gear - the Prophet-5 is almost always where the conversation tends to veer. And for good reason - sweet machine. But more often than not, I will make an attempt to pull the conversation towards the Prophet VS.

That machine is just as sweet.

So it makes sense that when Sequential made the decision to reintroduce the Prophet name in a kick-ass new instrument, they must have known they had something awesome. And thus the Prophet VS was born. That "VS" in the name stands for "vector synthesis". And if you were around *before* the Prophet VS came into existence, chances are when you finally did hear one for the first time in a music store, you had probably never heard anything like it coming out of a single synthesizer. It can sound analog as heck in one patch, and as crispy digital with its bells and clangs in the next. But it could also "swirl". Yeah.... that's right. SWIRL.

Keyboard Magazine's Jim Aiken reviewed the Prophet VS in the August 1986 issue of Keyboard. And I think the opening paragraph will give you a good idea on just how incredible the VS was.
"Sure, it's a radical new approach to synthesis. But does it sound good? Yes, it sounds good. It sounds very, very good. If Sequential's new Prophet VS sells as well as it sounds, it's going to be the success story of 1986."
Jim's three page review ends with similar praise:
"From the moment we turned the Prophet VS on, it was apparent that Sequential has a winner on their hands. The factory presets sound wonderful, and many of them have a distinctive character that differs in subtle ways from anything we've heard before... There are a lot of fine synthesizers out there these days, but Vector Synthesis really does put the VS in a class by itself."
So, its obvious that at the time it was introduced, it was receiving high praise from everyone and their dogs (and cats). But that Keyboard review is from 1986. And history really ended up doing a number on Sequential, as well as a number of other American manufacturers finding themselves up against the deluge of synths that were being pumped out of the rest of the world.

To see exactly what happened, we can jump ahead a decade or two and take another look at what was being written about the Prophet VS. One of the best VS "retro" review articles I've ever come across on the Web is a Sound on Sound retrospective on the machine that appeared in the November 2001 issue written by Rob Alexander. Rob was definitely a fan. Probably more of a fan than me.

Sure, he does an awesome job explaining the machine and in particular vector synthesis, but for me it's the article's opening paragraphs that really helps give readers (and you!) a great synopsis of the time period and the synth market environment Sequential found themselves in the 80s. 1983 gave the world Yamaha's FM synthesis, '85 presented us with Casio's Phase Distortion and Korg's DWGS (Digital Waveform Generator System), and Roland pulled LA (Linear Arithmetic) synthesis out of their hat soon after. In Rob's words, "Such was the rather muddled state of the synth market in the summer of 1986."

Yup. Sure was.

The article goes on to explain that although the VS was definitely one of the best sounding synthesizers on the market, the high US dollar led to a rather high price tag in other parts of the world. Also, Sequential couldn't make units fast enough due to financial restrictions within the company at the time.

The result... well, I'll let you read the rest of the article to find out how it all turned out, but if you are a fan of Sequential and Dave Smith Instruments, you already know. Happy ending indeed with the new PRO-2.

I haven't really talked about the ad itself and it deserves a bit of attention. The layout is as clean and well laid out as the Prophet VS's own front panel. Even with the amount of content needed to explain exactly what this "radically different" synthesis method is all about, the designer managed to keep the photo of the Prophet VS relatively large, with that VS joystick front and centre.

The ad is almost as rare as the instrument itself. According to that Sound on Sound article I mentioned earlier, only about 2500 Prophet VS keyboards were produced and 900 or so racks. This particular Prophet VS ad only seems to have appeared in Keyboard Magazine in the February, March and April 1986 issues.

One other thing about the ad content I just have to find out...

I wonder if Dave Smith really did almost name the Prophet VS the "Tsunami"?