Korg has a "touch sense" switch. Roland allows the VCA to be controlled either by the envelope generator or an envelope follower. Musico's VCA is controlled by a dynamic envelope generator, which acts like a "cross" between an envelope generator and an envelope follower and has a variable attack time control.

The blend of synthesized signals and the original input signals must be controlled and delivered to the instrument's output. This is usually done in two stages: The voltage-controlled oscillators or other synthesized signal sources are mixed and fed into the voltage-controlled filter, and the final synthesized signal is mixed with the original input. (See figure 3.)

Both Roland and Musico have straightforward signal mixing systems. Roland uses a single control for each oscillator, for the synthesizer output and "direct" output. The Resynator uses a pair of proportional mixing controls: one for the two VCO's and one for the synthesized vs. direct outputs.

Korg's mixing system is different because its product design is different. It uses a system of voice "presets" which are accessible by switches. This is essentially a mixing system with no level controls, since all the presets can be summed together. The Korg also has a "balance" control between its "instrument" preset section and its "synthe" section.


Since the operator of an instrument-controlled synthesizer doesn't have his hands free most of the time, these instruments are provided with footswitch or footpedal access to important "playing" controls. Input jacks are pro- vided for such functions as vibrato, pitch bending, portamento control, VCF and VCO sweep, instrument-synthesizer mix or mix defeat, oscillator tuning, filter peak, envelope sustain and other functions.

Another group of external "controls" on these synthesizers is the "control voltage interface" which allows the use of other voltage-controlled synthesis equipment with the instrument- controlled synthesizer. The instrument-controlled synthesizer can either "drive" another synthesis system with its VCO control voltages, envelope "gates" and "triggers" and envelope control voltages used as control outputs; or the ICS can be used as an additional "expander module" by means of the corresponding signal inputs. All three synthesizers described here have input and output control interfaces, but compatibility between products is not to be assumed.


Many aspects of these products won't allow a methodical description. Each product has its own set of "bells and whistles," special controls and indicator lights to assist the operator in setup and performance. The packaging concepts differ. The Roland SPV-355 and the Musico Resynator are rack mountable units, while the Korg X-911 is built more like an effects box (albeit with a lot of controls!)

The final test of these instruments is in the quality and versatility of the musical output, the accuracy of "tracking" the input, and the price. These products fall into widely differing price ranges. There is enough difference among the products to merit a thorough examination of each of them.


To effectively market instrument-controlled synthesizers, you need three things: the product itself in an environment which allows and invites the musician to try it out, a thorough knowledge of the device and its characteristics, and an ability to teach the musician (your customer) enough about it so he can be "on his own" with the instrument.

In a recent issue of Sound Arts [August 1980], Craig Anderton described the setup and sales approach for guitar synthesizers. This approach is virtually the same for instrument-controlled synthesizers. Since you will be demonstrating to musicians with wind or brass instruments, in addition to guitarists, be sure you have some instrument pickups and microphones available that interface well with the instrument-controlled synthesizers you have. Make sure everything works before the customer appears. If the demonstration setup is self-contained, with its own set of amplification equipment and a place to sit and play, you won't create impatience in the customer.

To learn the instruments yourself, you may rely on the manufacturer's instruction manual, perhaps a demonstration cassette, and your existing knowledge of synthesis techniques. Make sure you know how to play "through" the system so that it tracks well and sounds good. Have your favorite control settings written down, and make sure you set them up quickly. The musician will respond much better if you can make it look easy. If the manufacturer has literature or demonstration material available, make it accessible to the customer. Remember, these products are not low-priced items, and the more expensive a product is, the more a customer likes to have informative material to assure the right choice.

You will meet two types of prospective customers. One will try to learn about the instrument and make it work. The other will try his best to make it not work. He is not merely testing the limitations of the system: he is trying to assure himself that this device is not what he wants. Concentrate on the customer with the positive attitude-even if he isn't as adept a musician as the "negative" customer, his willingness to learn will overcome many obstacles.

Introducing the product to the customer, musically, is a two-step process. First, show him some great sounds that you provide in a quick, interesting demonstration. Second, let him play the synthesizer with his own instrument in a controlled situation that allows him to feel successful. Before he starts playing, make sure the input controls are set correctly and the synthesizer controls are set for a simple, pleasing sound.

The musician's first impulse will be just to "play" his instrument and expect the synthesizer to work. Before his process gets started, teach him the concept of "playing through" the synthesizer with his instrument's musical output. Once he can get a controlled sound with good tracking, move on to more advanced settings and techniques. If you know any "tricks" to make the synthesizer work better with that particular instrument, by all means share the knowledge.

Above all, don't forget that the instrument-controlled synthesizer is "an instrument you play with an instrument." Don't sell it as a sophisticated musical effect. The conceptual grasp you have of instrument controlled synthesizers will pay off in sales, customer satisfaction, and an expansion of the musical synthesizer market to many people who have been waiting for "their turn" to be synthesists.

Copyright by Michael Beigel

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