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Synthesizer Demonstration Records, Part 2

My Book/eBook: Electronic and Experimental Music, sixth edition, Routledge 2020.

My Podcast: The Holmes Archive of Electronic Music



This episode of the podcast is the second of two parts featuring historic demo recordings of electronic music instruments. We continue the story with demos spanning the early history of ARP up through digital synthesis and sampling in the 1980s including demos of the E-mu Emulator, Synclavier, and Fairlight CMI.


So, officially, what is a demo record? It is a recording released on any medium, usually but not always vinyl, produced and released by the instrument manufacturer itself to promote their product.


As I have collected demo recordings over the years. I realize in retrospect that these recordings not only preserve the sound of these original instruments but also represent through audio examples, the intentions of the manufactures in making these instruments available. What kind of sounds could be produced? How easy was it to control and compose with these instruments? How did a given piece of equipment differ from others in what was a highly competitive market?


Once a musician purchased one of these instruments, they were basically on their own to figure out how to produce those intricate sounds heard on the demo. It is no surprise, then, that these demo recordings often soft-pedal the difficulty of making a synthesizer work while playing up the variety of sounds and effects that could be achieved. Which is what makes most of these demos so charming. There was also the fear that synths would eventually replace musicians of other instruments by deftly imitating their sounds. And while claims of entering a future full of synthesizers was actually realized, the synth keyboard didn’t end up dominating the music industry by replacing other musicians, but by becoming an important part of the entire tapestry of music of the times, especially in the control and programming of music in the studio.


For Part 2, we will hear demo records for the following:


We will begin with not one, but six demo tracks featuring various ARP instruments. ARP became the market leader prior to the emergence of Yamaha with the DX7. We will hear various tunes and narration (one by musician Roger Powell) around the ARP 2500, 2600, the Pro Soloist, Omni, and finally a combination of these. Then, remember the synthesizer kits made by PAiA? We’ll listen to an early demo for the models 2720 and 4700. From Electro-Harmonix, maker of guitar pedals and effects, we will hear two tracks featuring a wide variety of gear from a talk box to ring modulator. From the Netherlands came the little-remembered modular synth from another kit-maker, ESS; it was called the Elektor Formant. We have some examples from Rocky Mount Instruments, or RMI, of the RMI Keyboard Computer featuring various voices it could muster. We have two sides of a Sequential Circuits demo for the Prophet 5. Then, entering the world of digital synthesis and samplings, we have some great demos from Synclavier, E-mu Emulator, and Fairlight followed by the organ-like sounds of the Equinox 380 Musicomputer from CBS. We finish with two demos from the opposite ends of the Yamaha spectrum: a demonstration of the Electone, organ-like synthesizer console and then the programmable DX7, which I believe is the top selling synthesizer of all time.


Playlist

1. ARP demonstration. Roger Powell and Harry Coon, the ARP 2600—How it Works, side 1 from The Electronic Sounds Of The Arp Synthesizer 2600 And 2500 (1972 ARP Instruments). Vinyl, 7", 33 ⅓ RPM. Narrated and all music by Roger Powell. 7:38


2. ARP demonstration. Roger Powell and Harry Coon, the ARP 2500—How it Sounds, side 2 from The Electronic Sounds Of The Arp Synthesizer 2600 And 2500 (1972 ARP Instruments). Vinyl, 7", 33 ⅓ RPM. Music by Harry Coon and an improvisation by Roger Powell. 6:20


3. ARP demonstration, Dave Fredericks, “I Can See Clearly Now” from The ARP Pro Soloist Synthesizer (1973 ARP Instruments). Vinyl, 7", 33 ⅓ RPM, EP. 2:24


4. ARP demonstration, unknown artists, The First Symphonic Keyboard - ARP Omni (1976 ARP Instruments). Flexi-disc, 7", Promo, 33 ⅓ RPM, Single Sided. 5:05


5. ARP demonstration, Dave Fredericks, “Zarathustra” from The ARP Pro Soloist Synthesizer (1973 ARP Instruments). Vinyl, 7", 33 ⅓ RPM, EP. 2:58


6. ARP demonstration, Music and Narration By Roger Powell from side 1 of The ARP Family Of Synthesizers (1973 ARP Instruments). Vinyl, 7", 33 ⅓ RPM, Stereo Music By Dave Fredericks, Harry Coon. The narrator is credited as being musician Roger Powell, but I don’t think that’s true. Powell was an ARP sponsored artist around this time and some of his works from Cosmic Furnace are played on the disc, though. 7:08


7. PAiA Synthesizers demonstration. “Selections From Epsilon Boötis” by Richard Bugg from PAiA Synthesizers (1974 PAiA Electronics, Inc.). Flexi-disc, 7", 33 ⅓ RPM, Single Sided, Promo, Red. Uses the Paia 2720 and Paia 4700 synthesizers. Interesting demonstration that also includes instruments being processed through PAiA modules. PAiA demonstration record which included an 18-page booklet with pictures and schematics of the featured composition. 6:17


8. Electro-Harmonix demonstration of guitar pedals and effects. The Electro-Harmonix Work Band. “Fame and Fortune” from State-Of-The-Art Electronic Devices (1976 Electro-Harmonix). Vinyl LP. Directed by Elliott Randall who organized a band of studio musicians recruited to play a variety of Electro-Harmonix effects boxes and pedals. Bass, Will Lee; Drums, Gary Mure; Engineer, Joe Vanneri; Guitar, Dan White, Jim Miller; Producers, Dan Gershon, Elliott Randall, Mike Matthews; Vocals, Piano, Philip Namanworth. Record was basically made to feature and promote high-end electronic guitar/bass/voice effect devices by Electro-Harmonix. Detailed explanations of each device and its role in each given track are given in the liner notes on the sleeve. This track features the Golden Throat, a mouth filter device running guitar sound through a tube into the player’s mouth; and Octave Multiplexer, a downward octave displacer with tone control possibilities, used here on voice. 5:08


9. Electro-Harmonix demonstration of guitar pedals and effects. The Electro-Harmonix Work Band. “I Am Not a Synthesizer” from State-Of-The-Art Electronic Devices (1976 Electro-Harmonix). Vinyl LP. Directed by Elliott Randall who organized a band of studio musicians recruited to play a variety of Electro-Harmonix effects boxes and pedals. Bass, Will Lee; Drums, Gary Mure; Engineer, Joe Vanneri; Guitar, Dan White, Jim Miller; Producers, Dan Gershon, Elliott Randall, Mike Matthews; Vocals, Piano, Philip Namanworth. This track features the Hot Foot universal pedal, “allowing real-time foot control of any potentiometer (knob) on any other device; Frequency Analyzer, or ring modulator; Memory Man, a solid state echo/analog delay line; Electric Mistress, a flanger; Doctor Q, an envelope follower and voltage controlled filter; and Big Muff Pi, a harmonic distortion and sustain device. Not synthesizer was used in the making of these sounds. 8:19


10.The Elektor Music Synthesiser demonstration , no artist, (1977 ESS). Flexi-disc, 7", 33 ⅓ RPM, Single Sided. This was a small, analog synthesizer with 3 VCO’s, 1 VCF, and a dual VCA.The Elektor Formant had a three octave keyboard and was made in the Netherlands and available by kit. From the manual: “Formant is not a suitable project for the beginner. The complexity of the synthesiser demands a high degree of competency in soldering p.c. boards and interwiring if an unacceptably large number of faults are not to arise.” 7:35


11.RMI Keyboard Computer demonstration. Mike Mandel, “Mandel Does it” from RMI Harmonic Synthesizer And Keyboard Computer (1976 Rocky Mount Instruments, Inc.). Vinyl LP. Mike Mandel, RMI Keyboard Computer. 1:58


12.RMI Keyboard Computer demonstration. Clark Ferguson, “Voices” from RMI Harmonic Synthesizer And Keyboard Computer (1976 Rocky Mount Instruments, Inc.). Vinyl LP. Clark Ferguson, RMI Keyboard Computer. 1:38


13.RMI Keyboard Computer demonstration. Clark Ferguson, “Strings” from RMI Harmonic Synthesizer And Keyboard Computer (1976 Rocky Mount Instruments, Inc.). Vinyl LP. Clark Ferguson, RMI Keyboard Computer. 3:00


14.Prophet 5 demonstration. Part 1, Performed by John Bowen from The Prophet (1978 Sequential Circuits). Flexi-disc, 7", 33 ⅓ RPM, Two Sided. Recorded at Music Annex, Menio Park, CA. 3:27


15.Prophet 5 demonstration. Part 2, “Sinfonia No. 11 in G minor” (Bach) performed by Dan Wyman from The Prophet (1978 Sequential Circuits). Flexi-disc, 7", 33 ⅓ RPM, Two Sided. John Bowen, Recorded at Sound Arts, Los Angeles, CA. 2:23


16.Synclavier demonstration. Denny Jaeger and Patrick Gleeson, side 1 from The Incredible Sounds Of Synclavier II (1981 New England Digital Corp.). Vinyl, LP, Compilation, Stereo, Blue Translucent. Demonstration disc for Synclavier sampling system. Includes “Untitled,” composed, programmed, and performed by Denny Jaeger; additional programming, composition, and performances by Bill Keenan. 14:23


17.Equinox 380 MusiComputer demonstration , Bob Snyder, “Heaven Came Down” from Equinox - Featuring The Amazing Equinox 380 MusiComputer Electronic Keyboard (1982 CBS). Vinyl LP. Equinox 380.” All selections were recorded 'Live" with a standard production model of the Gulbransen Equinox 380 MusiComputer. No "over-dubbing" was utilized in the production of this album.” Snyder himself recorded the following demo tracks that are different than the album I am sourcing for this podcast, Here is that recording of a YouTube video that demos this organ synthesizer with added narration and audience clapping. 2:46


18.Equinox 380 MusiComputer demonstration, Danny Saliba, “Runaway” from Equinox - Featuring The Amazing Equinox 380 MusiComputer Electronic Keyboard (1982 CBS). Vinyl LP. Equinox 380.”All selections were recorded 'Live" with a standard production model of the Gulbransen Equinox 380 MusiComputer.” 2:18


19.LinnDrum demonstration. Side 1 from The Ultimate Drum Machine (1982 Linn Electronics, Inc.). Red Flexi-disc, 7", 33 ⅓ RPM, Single Sided, Promo. 2:25


20.Emulator Demonstration, Side 1, “The Andrew Wilson Emulator Demo” (written by Andrew Thomas Wilson); and “Batteries Not Included” (written by Marco Alpert); narrated by Marcus Hale from Emulator Demonstration (1982 E-mu Systems, Inc.). Flexi-disc, 8.” Featuring the E-mu Emulator sampler. 6:51


21.Fairlight Computer Music Instrument demonstration. Don Blacke, narrator. Side 1 of the cassette, Just Fairlight - Number Three (1982 Fairlight Instruments Pty Ltd). Cassette. “Cassette released by Fairlight Instruments Pty Ltd promoting the Fairlight Computer Musical Instrument - the first polyphonic digital sampling synthesizer. Cassette was available when purchasing the synthesizer from the company. Printed information and tracklisting included on a separate sheet of paper. Side A includes informative narration explaining the Fairlight CMI and features various samples and short compositions. The last quarter of Side A includes recording of a presentation by Dr Robert Moog commenting on the Fairlight CMI. Side B contains all musical extracts from Side A, though without the commentary.” 20:02


22.Yamaha Electone demonstration. Claude Dupras, “Pulstar” from Interface Yamaha FX-1 (1983 Yamaha). Vinyl LP. Dupras, a longtime Yamaha Electone user, recorded this album for Yamaha to showcase the features of the latest model, the digital Electone FX-1. Here he plays the Vangelis piece “Pulstar.” 3:21


23.Yamaha DX7 demonstration. Side 1 from DX7 Sound Sensation (1983 Yamaha). Flexi-disc, 33 ⅓ RPM, Stereo. Tracks: Bell, Female Voice (2); Bagpipe, Snare Drum, Footsteps (3); Stardust (1); Harp, Cello (2); Electric Guitar (2); Church Organ (1); Violin (1); Train, Banjo, Fiddle, Honky-Tonk Piano (4); Volcano (1); Pan-Flute, Timpani, Shimmer, Chinese Organ (4). Notes on DX7 settings per track: (1) Signal processors used on this recording: Reverb, Delay, Graphic Equalizer, Parametric Equalizer, Flanger (used on 'Guitar'); (2) Number in parentheses indicate the number of overdubs used for the corresponding voice; (3) The entire recording was made with a single Yamaha DX7." 6:37


Background Music

  • Excerpts from the Moog 900, RCA Music Synthesizer, Sound of Moog, ARP family of instruments, E-mu Emulator, demonstration recordings.

  • Blue Marvin, “Release Time” from the album With Arp Sinthesyzer 2600 (1973 Joker). Blue Marvin is Alberto Baldan Bembo in this Italian release of ARP Odyssey tracks.

  • Opening and closing sequences voiced by Anne Benkovitz.

  • Additional opening, closing, and other incidental music by Thom Holmes.


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NOISE AND NOTATIONS

Electronic and Experimental Music

Notes on the development and continuing history of electronic music, its creators, and the technology.