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Synthesizer von Gestern

Matthias Becker

Matthias Becker very kindly granted permission to post the two Chroma compositions (see Track 12 and Track 18 below) from his CD Synthesizer von Gestern ("synthesizers of yesterday") Volume 1. Tracks are ©1990 Originalton West. For more information, go to Originalton West. Following is the introduction and descriptions of all the tracks from the Volume 1 CD booklet.

The basic idea in producing this CD was to show how all those vintage synthesizers sounded that were described in detail with lots of colour photographs in the book Synthesizer von Gestern (Vintage Synths) - published by Musick Media Verlag, Cologne 1990 [see the Bibliography for more information]. Each of the compositions you'll find on this CD were realised with just one kind of synthesizer and we tried to work out the most typical sounds for each of the instruments. As far as the instruments offered the possibility to be controlled via MIDI - either because they were already equipped with MIDI or by means of an external interface - we made use of an Ataria MEGA ST with C-LAB's NOTATOR Software. Where MIDI was not available all the tracks were "handmade" i.e. produced without the help of an external computer. The single sounds and voices were recorded track by track on a Fostex E-16, mixed down in stereo with a C-MIX automation system and mastered on a Sony R-DAT machine. Soundsweetening was by means of digital reverbs, exciters, compressors and noisegates.

1. ARP Odyssey (1:54)

By the integration of ring modulator and noise generator the Arp Odyssey is quite an impressive instrument capable of some very interesting sounds. We did not find it difficult to make the instrument deliver lots of percussionlike sounds and so this song is a very rhythm-oriented one. Created with the aid of C-LAB NOTATOR and Roland MPU-101.

2. Yamaha CS-60 (3:45)

In matters of sound the instruments of Yamaha's CS-series differ a lot from synths of other manufacturers. The combination of voltage controlled high- and lowpass filter and the very comprehensive LFO-section make this an instrument with a very unique character. No MIDI, therefore played by hand.

3. Oberheim SEM (2:04)

Because the SEM ("synthesizer expander module") by Oberheim comes without noise generator, ring modulator and with only a very basic modulation-section it is only able to produce very clean and very beautiful sounds. The composition was realized without computer aid but with the help of a digital delay with a very long delay time.

4. KORG Mono-Poly (3:16)

A sequence generated by the instrument's arpeggiator forms the nucleus of this composition. The sounds used here show that Korg's Mono-Poly can be a very flexible musical tool. Done by hand.

6. Memorymoog (4:48)

Because this instrument got its fame mainly for its extraordinary bass and brass sounds you could well call the sounds featured here very untypical for the instrument. We chose them deliberately to make clear that each synthesizer is able to produce lots of sounds beyond the well known clichés. No MIDI-Interface.

7. Roland Jupiter 8 (2:42)

Surely one of the great classic synths because of its extreme variety in terms of sound, realtime editing and very easy programming the Jupiter 8 is a very recommendable instrument which is still in use in lots of professional studios around the world. Because of the excellent MIDI-interface by Groove Electronics not yet being available at the time of recording all the tracks you hear were played by hand.

8. Yamaha CS-60 (2:07)

This second composition for Yamaha's CS-60 demonstrates even more sound possibilities of this interesting instrument already featured in track no. 2.

9. Sequential Pro One (2:58)

Without any doubt the Pro One would also have been able to play such kind of composition as the one for which we used the ARP Odyssey but our instrument was not 100% tuned by the time of recording so we decided to do a composition that gave us more freedom in terms of tuning.

10. KORG PS-3100 (3:27)

This all-polyphonic instrument also has quite a distinctive character. Especially typical for the PS-3100 are the sound of the filters and the feature of amplitude modulation. Done by hand.

11. Roland SH-5 (3:38)

In spite of its monophonic design and its (only) 12 dB filters this synthesizer from 1976 offers a large number of very different and very convincing tone colours and was one of the sonic surprises of the project. Handcrafted.

12. Rhodes Chroma

The recording of this invention was made with the help of NOTATOR, Wieschiolek-MIDI-Interface and MPU-101. Though without any doubt this track is very interesting musically the sounds used here are indeed very common and those of you looking for more special Chroma sounds should therefore listen to take no. 18.

13. KORG Poly 800 (2:18)

A small lightweight synth which even can be run on batteries and which in regard to sound is capable of a lot more than one usually expects. Linking to MIDI equipment is no problem at all because of its integrated MIDI interface.

14. Roland System 100 (2:39)

Similar in sound to Roland's SH-5 which is not much of a surprise because both instruments feature the same filter circuitry. Played by hand.

15. Roland Juno 60 (3:18)

Specialties of this synthesizer are without question its stunning organ replicas, its powerful sound and its very user-friendly editing and programming abilities. Recorded with the help of NOTATOR and Roland MD-8 interface.

16. Mellotron (1:39)

The recording of this short piece of music happened to be very difficult because of the Mellotron's well-known tuning instabilities. To solve the problem we did not use the M 400 of my collection but a Novatron with a quartz-stabilized motor. Unfortunately this also could not overcome our tuning problems, perhaps because of worn out tapes. So we were finally forced to sample the sounds and realize the composition via sampler, computer and MIDI. But still it sounds like a Mellotron, doesn't it?

17. EMS Synthi A (2:17)

The EMS AKS is world famous as a "special effects synth" and today Brian Eno still uses it for the sonic editing of sounds. The composition featured here clearly proves that the EMS AKS indeed is a weird little monster. Done by hand.

18. Rhodes Chroma

The sonic resources of the Chroma are demonstrated here to quite a larger extent than on track no. 12. The fact that in spite of its excellent sound this machine today is used only very seldom in professional studios may be due to its very complicated programming. Recorded with the aid of Wieschiolek-MIDI-Interface and NOTATOR.

19. PPG Wave 2.2 (3:16)

Together with the Chroma, both Moog synthesizer, the Korg PS-3100, the Mellotron and the Yamaha CS-60, the PPG Wave 2.2 is without doubt one of the most impressive electronic beasts presented in this collection. The Wave offers lots of sounds you are not able to produce with any other instrument. Recorded with NOTATOR.

20. Yamaha CS-15 (2:49)

After the SH-5 the CS-15 was the second sonic surprise for us. Small but excellent. Played by hand.

21. KORG MS-20 (2:46)

This probably is the first waltz ever recorded in which all the sounds were generated by a Korg MS-20. Quite typical here: the "peaky" sound of the filters. Handmade.

22. Moog System 55 (2:38)

We finish our journey through yesterday's synthesizer wonderland with a reprise of composition no. 1. Typically Moog are the bass sound and the special sounds produced with the help of the fixed filter bank. The solo sound which seems to be a mélange of koto and guitar even did surprise us. Unfortunately we probably won't be able to reproduce this sound a second time. Recorded with NOTATOR and Roland MPU-101.