Thursday, August 05, 2004

Synclavier: Sampling, MIDI & Days Gone By

The introduction of Sampling technology and MIDI to the Synclavier proved to be enhancements that led to a kind of undoing when it came to users and operators going for a Synclavier synthesized sound.

I think of sampling technology, in particular, as both the beginning and the end of an Era.

The reason for this is that after New England Digital introduced sampling as an instrument option, technicians and musicians –both– abandoned the instrument’s unique synthesis capabilities in favor of triggering perfectly ‘real sounding’ samples. It’s probably fair to say that there is a lot of Synclavier use on albums that you'd never know was Synclavier because it was being used to trigger samples, or as a Digital Audio Workstation, and not as a synthesizer.

Keep in mind, when when I say 'sound of the Synclavier', I do not mean way the sound waves generated and output by the digital-to-analog convertors were colored. I mean the actual sound synthesis possibilities unique to the instrument.

Synclavier sound synthesis met continued diminished use after the additional introduction of MIDI. At that point the instrument might be used not just to trigger an internal array of samples, but also as powerful sequencer triggering a battery of layered other synths of the day, like D-50's, M1's and Emu.

In fact, by the time I began working for Jonathan Elias, none of the staff composers used the inherent synthesis technology of any of the three units the studio owned. It was all about MIDI Sequencing of samples and outboard gear.

So, would I buy one of these vintage beasts today, given the power and economy of today’s music production tools? Well, they’re no longer so expensive. A machine that original sold for nearly a hundred thousand twenty-five years ago could probably be bought and restored with MAC functionality for about a tenth of the original price.

And I’m a synthesist in the classic sense, myself, at heart, not a guy who triggers samples. My ears are shaped by years developing an expertise with both the Moog and Synclavier, and listening to them through analog Neves and Yamaha NS-10s.

So my answer would be resounding YES. Hey, I still get wobbly knees when I hear that original Synclavier factory Gong patch lead off Michael Jackson’s BEAT IT.

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