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.
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.
OVERALL PRODUCT DESIGN
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.
SETTING UP AND SELLING
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
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
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.