A synthesizer (also spelled synthesiser)is an electronic musical instrument that generates audio signals. Synthesizers generate audio through methods including subtractive synthesis, additive synthesis, and frequency modulation synthesis. These sounds may be shaped and modulated by components such as filters, envelopes, and low-frequency oscillators. Synthesizers are typically played with keyboards or controlled by sequencers, software, or other instruments, often via MIDI.
Synthesizer-like instruments emerged in the United States in the mid-20th century with instruments such as the RCA Mark II, which was controlled with punch cards and used hundreds of vacuum tubes. The Moog synthesizer, developed by Robert Moog and first sold in 1964, is credited for pioneering analog synthesis concepts such as voltage-controlled oscillators, envelopes, noise generators, filters, and sequencers. In 1970, the smaller, cheaper Minimoog standardized synthesizers as self-contained instruments with built-in keyboards, compared to the modular synthesizers before it. The first mass-produced synthesizer, the Yamaha DX7, was launched in 1983, popularizing digital synthesis. Software synthesizers now can be embedded on single microchips in any electronic device.
Synthesizers were initially viewed as avant-garde, valued by the 1960s psychedelic and counter-cultural scenes but with little perceived commercial potential. Switched-On Bach (1968), a bestselling album of Bach compositions arranged for synthesizer by Wendy Carlos, took synthesizers to the mainstream. They were adopted by electronic acts and pop and rock groups in the 1960s and 1970s, and widely used in 1980s rock. Sampling, introduced with the Fairlight synthesizer in 1979, has influenced all genres of music and had a major influence on the development of electronic and hip hop music. Today, the synthesizer is used in nearly every genre of music, and is considered one of the most important instruments in the music industry. According to Fact in 2016, "The synthesizer is as important, and as ubiquitous, in modern music today as the human voice."
As electricity became more widely available, the early 20th century saw the invention of electronic musical instruments including the Telharmonium, Trautonium, Ondes Martenot, and theremin.In the late 1930s, the Hammond Organ Company built the Novachord, a large instrument powered by 72 voltage-controlled amplifiers and 146 vacuum tubes. In 1948, the Canadian engineer Hugh Le Caine completed the electronic sackbut, a precursor to voltage-controlled synthesizers, with keyboard sensitivity allowing for vibrato, glissando, and attack control.
In 1957, Harry Olson and Herbert Belar completed the RCA Mark II Sound Synthesizer at the RCA laboratories in Princeton, New Jersey. The instrument read punched paper tape that controlled an analog synthesizer containing 750 vacuum tubes. It was acquired by the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center and used almost exclusively by Milton Babbitt, a composer at Princeton University.
The authors of Analog Days define "the early years of the synthesizer" as between 1964 and the mid-1970s, beginning with the debut of the Moog synthesizer. : 7 Designed by American engineer Robert Moog, the synthesizer was composed of separate modules which created and shaped sounds, connected by patch cords. Moog developed a means of controlling pitch through voltage, the voltage-controlled oscillator. This, along with Moog components such as envelopes, noise generators, filters, and sequencers, became standards in the synthesizer market.
Around the same period, American engineer Don Buchla created the Buchla Modular Electronic Music System.Instead of a conventional keyboard, Buchla's system used touchplates which transmitted control voltages depending on finger position and force. However, the Moog's keyboard made it more accessible and marketable to musicians, and keyboards became the standard means of controlling synthesizers. Moog and Buchla initially avoided the word synthesizer for their instruments, as it was associated with the RCA synthesizer; however, by the 1970s, "synthesizer" had become the standard term.
In 1970, Moog launched a cheaper, smaller synthesizer, the Minimoog.The Minimoog was the first synthesizer sold in music stores, and was more practical for live performance; it standardized the concept of synthesizers as self-contained instruments with built-in keyboards.
After retail stores started selling synthesizers in 1971, other synthesizer companies were established, including ARP in the US and EMS in the UK.ARP's products included the ARP 2600, which folded into a carrying case and had built-in speakers, and the Odyssey, a rival to the Minimoog. The less expensive EMS synthesizers were used by European art rock and progressive rock acts including Brian Eno and Pink Floyd. Designs for synthesizers appeared in the amateur electronics market, such as the "Practical Electronics Sound Synthesiser", published in Practical Electronics in 1973. By the mid-1970s, ARP was the world's largest synthesizer manufacturer, though it closed in 1981.
Early synthesizers were monophonic, meaning they could only play one note at a time. Some of the earliest commercial polyphonic synthesizers were created by American engineer Tom Oberheim, : 93 The Prophet-5 used microprocessors for patch memory, allowing users to store sounds. This overcame a major difficulty in previous synthesizers, which required users to adjust cables and knobs to change sounds, with no guarantee of exactly recreating a sound. This facilitated a move from synthesizers creating unpredictable sounds to producing "a standard package of familiar sounds". : 385such as the OB-X (1979). In 1978, the American company Sequential Circuits released the Prophet-5, the first fully programmable polyphonic synthesizer.
The synthesizer market grew dramatically in the 1980s. : 57 1982 saw the introduction of MIDI, a standardized means of synchronizing electronic instruments; it remains an industry standard. An influential sampling synthesizer, the Fairlight CMI, was released in 1979, with the ability to record and play back samples at different pitches. Though its high price made it inaccessible to amateurs, it was adopted by high-profile pop musicians including Kate Bush and Peter Gabriel. The success of the Fairlight drove competition, improving sampling technology and lowering prices; early competing samplers included the E-mu Emulator in 1981 and the Akai S-series in 1985.
In 1983, Yamaha released the first commercially successful digital synthesizer, the Yamaha DX7. : 57 It was widely used in 1980s pop music. Compared to the "warm" and "fuzzy" sounds of analog synthesis, the DX7 was characterized by its "harsh", "glassy" and "chilly" sounds. Digital synthesizers typically contained preset sounds emulating acoustic instruments, with algorithms controlled with menus and buttons. The Synclavier, a digital synthesizer made with FM technology licensed from Yamaha, offered features such as 16-bit sampling and built-in digital recording. With a starting price of $13,000, its use was limited to universities, studios and wealthy artists.Based on frequency modulation (FM) synthesis developed by Stanford University engineer John Chowning, the DX7 remains one of the bestselling synthesizers in history and was the first synthesizer to sell over 100,000 units.
The success of the DX7 led to competing digital synthesizers. The Roland D-50 (1987) blended Roland's linear arithmetic algorithm with samples, and was the first mass-produced synthesizer with built-in digital effects such as delay, reverb and chorus. : 63 In 1988, the Japanese manufacturer Korg released the M1, a digital synthesizer workstation featuring sampled transients and loops; with over 250,000 units sold, it remains the bestselling synthesizer in history. The advent of digital synthesizers led to a downturn in interest in analog synthesizers. : 59
Whereas once synthesizers had filled rooms, they can now be embedded on microchips in any electronic deviceor run as software. 1997 saw the release of ReBirth by Propellerhead Software and Reality by Seer Systems, the first software synthesizers that could be played in real time via MIDI. In 1999, an update to the music software Cubase allowed users to run software instruments (including synthesizers) as plug-ins, triggering a wave of new software instruments. Propellerhead's Reason, released in 2000, offered an array of recognizable virtual studio equipment.
The market for patchable and modular synthesizers rebounded in the late 1990s. : 32 In the 2000s, older analog synthesizers regained popularity, sometimes selling for much more than their original prices. In the 2010s, new, affordable analog synthesizers were introduced by companies including Moog, Korg, Arturia, and Dave Smith Instruments. The renewed interest is credited to the appeal of imperfect "organic" sounds and simpler interfaces, and modern surface-mount technology making analog synthesizers cheaper and faster to manufacture.
Early synthesizers were viewed as avant-garde, valued by the 1960s psychedelic and counter-cultural scenes for their ability to make new sounds, but with little perceived commercial potential. Switched-On Bach (1968), a bestselling album of Bach compositions arranged for Moog synthesizer by Wendy Carlos, demonstrated that synthesizers could be more than "random noise machines",taking them to the mainstream. However, debates were held about the appropriateness of synthesizers in baroque music, and according to the Guardian they were quickly abandoned in "serious classical circles".
The Moog was adopted by acts including the Doors, the Grateful Dead, the Rolling Stones, the Beatles, and Keith Emerson. : 200Emerson was the first major rock musician to perform with the Moog and it became a trademark of his performances, helping take his band Emerson, Lake & Palmer to global stardom; according to Analog Days, the likes of Emerson, with his Moog performances, "did for the keyboard what Jimi Hendrix did for the guitar".
The portable Minimoog (1970), much smaller than the modular synthesizers before it, made synthesizers more common in live performance.The Minimoog took a place in mainstream black music, most notably in the work of Stevie Wonder, and in jazz, such as the work of Sun Ra. It was also used by electronic artists such as Kraftwerk, who used it on their albums Autobahn (1974) and The Man-Machine (1978), and later by Tangerine Dream, Klaus Schulze, and Gary Numan. In the late 1970s and the early 1980s, the Micromoog was widely used in the emerging disco genre by artists including Abba and Giorgio Moroder. Some acts felt that using synthesizers to create sounds was "cheating"; Queen wrote in their album liner notes that they did not use them.
Early synthesizers could only play one note at a time, making them suitable for basslines, leads and solos. : 207 Sampling, introduced with the Fairlight synthesizer in 1979, has influenced all genres of music and had a major influence on the development of electronic and hip hop music.With the rise of polyphonic synthesizers in the 70s and 80s, "the keyboard in rock once more started to revert to the background, to be used for fills and atmosphere rather than for soloing".
In the 1970s, electronic music composers such as Jean Michel Jarreand Isao Tomita released successful synthesizer-led instrumental albums. This influenced the emergence of synthpop, a subgenre of new wave, from the late 1970s to the early 1980s. The work of German krautrock bands such as Kraftwerk and Tangerine Dream, British acts such as John Foxx, Gary Numan and David Bowie, African-American acts such as George Clinton and Zapp, and Japanese electronic acts such as Yellow Magic Orchestra and Kitaro were influential in the development of the genre. Gary Numan's 1979 hits "Are 'Friends' Electric?" and "Cars" made heavy use of synthesizers. OMD's "Enola Gay" (1980) used distinctive electronic percussion and a synthesized melody. Soft Cell used a synthesized melody on their 1981 hit "Tainted Love". Nick Rhodes, keyboardist of Duran Duran, used various synthesizers including the Roland Jupiter-4 and Jupiter-8. Chart hits include Depeche Mode's "Just Can't Get Enough" (1981), the Human League's "Don't You Want Me" and works by Ultravox.
In the 1980s, digital synthesizers were widely used in pop music.The Yamaha DX7, released in 1983, became a pop staple, used on songs by A-ha, Kenny Loggins, Kool & the Gang. Its "E PIANO 1" preset became particularly famous, especially for power ballads, and was used by artists including Whitney Houston, Chicago, Prince, Phil Collins, Luther Vandross, Billy Ocean, and Celine Dion. The Roland TB-303 (1981), in conjunction with the Roland TR-808 and TR-909 drum machines, became a foundation of electronic dance music genres such as house and techno when producers acquired cheap second-hand units later in the decade. Korg M1 presets were widely used in 1990s house music, beginning with Madonna's 1990 single "Vogue".
Today, the synthesizer is used in nearly every genre of music. : 7 It is considered by the authors of Analog Days "the only innovation that can stand alongside the electric guitar as a great new instrument of the age of electricity ... Both led to new forms of music, and both had massive popular appeal." : 7 The authors draw a connection to the synthesizer's origins in 1960s psychedelia to the raves and British "second summer of love" of the 1980s and the club scenes of the 1990s and 2000s. : 321 According to Fact in 2016, "The synthesizer is as important, and as ubiquitous, in modern music today as the human voice." It is one of the most important instruments in the music industry.
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Synthesizers are common in film and television soundtracks. : 273 ARP synthesizers, for example, were used to create sound effects for the 1977 science fiction films Close Encounters of the Third Kind : 9 and Star Wars , including the "voice" of the robot R2-D2. : 273 In the 70s and 80s, synthesizers were used in the scores for thrillers and horror films including A Clockwork Orange (1971), Apocalypse Now (1979), The Fog (1980) and Manhunter (1986). They were also used to create themes for television shows including Knight Rider (1982), Twin Peaks (1990) and Stranger Things (2016).
The rise of the synthesizer led to major changes in music industry jobs, comparable to the earlier arrival of sound in film, which put live musicians accompanying silent films out of work.With its ability to imitate instruments such as strings and horns, the synthesizer threatened the jobs of session musicians. For a period, the Moog was banned from use in commercial work, a restriction negotiated by the American Federation of Musicians (AFM). Robert Moog felt that the AFM had not realized that his instrument had to be studied like any other, and instead imagined that "all the sounds that musicians could make somehow existed in the Moog — all you had to do was push a button that said 'Jascha Heifetz' and out would come the most fantastic violin player".
Musician Walter Sear persuaded the AFM that the synthesizer demanded skill, and the category of "synthesizer player" was accepted into the union; however, players were still subject to "suspicion and hostility" for several years. : 149 In 1982, following a tour by Barry Manilow using synthesizers instead of an orchestra, the British Musicians' Union attempted to ban synthesizers, attracting controversy. That decade, a few musicians skilled at programming the popular Yamaha DX7 found employment creating sounds for other acts.
Synthesizers generate audio through various forms of analogue and digital synthesis.
Oscillators typically produce waveforms (such as sawtooth, sine, or pulse waves) with different timbres.
Low-frequency oscillators (LFOs) produce waveforms used to modulate parameters, such as the pitch of oscillators (producing vibrato). [ citation needed ]Voltage-controlled filters (VCFs) "shape" the sound generated by the oscillators in the frequency domain, often under the control of an envelope or LFO. These are essential to subtractive synthesis. Filters are particularly important in subtractive synthesis, being designed to pass some frequency regions (or "bands") through unattenuated while significantly attenuating ("subtracting") others. The low-pass filter is most frequently used, but band-pass filters, band-reject filters and high-pass filters are also sometimes available.
The filter may be controlled with a second ADSR envelope. An "envelope modulation" ("env mod") parameter on many synthesizers with filter envelopes determines how much the envelope affects the filter. If turned all the way down, the filter produces a flat sound with no envelope. When turned up the envelope becomes more noticeable, expanding the minimum and maximum range of the filter. The envelope applied on the filter helps the sound designer generating long notes or short notes by moving the parameters up and down such as decay, sustain and finally release. For instance by using a short decay with no sustain, the sound generated is commonly known as a stab . Sound designers may prefer shaping the sound with filter instead of volume.[ citation needed ]
Envelopes control how sounds change over time. They may control parameters such as amplitude (volume), filters (frequencies), or pitch. The most common envelope is the ADSR (attack, decay, sustain, release) envelope:
Low-frequency oscillators (LFOs) generates an electronic signal, usually below 20 Hz. LFO signals create a periodic control signal or sweep, often used in vibrato, tremolo and other effects. In certain genres of electronic music, the LFO signal can control the cutoff frequency of a VCF to make a rhythmic wah-wah sound, or the signature dubstep wobble bass.[ citation needed ]
An arpeggiator (arp) is a feature available on several synthesizers that automatically steps through a sequence of notes based on an input chord, thus creating an arpeggio. The notes can often be transmitted to a MIDI sequencer for recording and further editing. An arpeggiator may have controls for speed, range, and order in which the notes play; upwards, downwards, or in a random order. More advanced arpeggiators allow the user to step through a pre-programmed complex sequence of notes, or play several arpeggios at once. Some allow a pattern sustained after releasing keys: in this way, a sequence of arpeggio patterns may be built up over time by pressing several keys one after the other. Arpeggiators are also commonly found in software sequencers. Some arpeggiators/sequencers expand features into a full phrase sequencer, which allows the user to trigger complex, multi-track blocks of sequenced data from a keyboard or input device, typically synchronized with the tempo of the master clock.[ citation needed ] Arpeggiators seem to have grown from the accompaniment system used in electronic organs in the mid-1960s to the mid-1970s.
Voltage-controlled amplifiers (VCAs) control the volume or gain of the audio signal. VCAs can be modulated by other components, such as LFOs and envelopes.A VCA is a preamp that boosts (amplifies) the electronic signal before passing it on to an external or built-in power amplifier, as well as a means to control its amplitude (volume) using an attenuator. The gain of the VCA is affected by a control voltage (CV), coming from an envelope generator, an LFO, the keyboard or some other source.
Synthesizers are often controlled with electronic or digital keyboards or MIDI controller keyboards, which may be built into the synthesizer unit or attached via connections such as CV/gate, USB, or MIDI.Keyboards may offer expression such as velocity sensitivity and aftertouch, allowing for more control over the sound. Other controllers include Ribbon controllers, which track the movement of the finger across a touch-sensitive surface; wind controllers, played similarly to woodwind instruments; motion-sensitive controllers similar to video game motion controllers; electronic drum pads, played similarly to the heads of a drum kit; touchplates, which send signals depending on finger position and force; controllers designed for microtonal tunings; touchscreen devices such as tablets and smartphones; and fingerpads.
Synthesizer clones are unlicensed recreations of previous synthesizers, often marketed as affordable versions of famous musical equipment. Clones are available as physical instruments and software. Companies that have sold software clones include Arturia and Native Instruments. Behringer manufactures equipment modelled on instruments including the Minimoog, Pro-One, and TB-303, and drum machines such as the TR-808. Other synthesizer clones include the MiniMOD (a series of Eurorack modules based on the Minimoog), the Intellijel Atlantis (based on the SH-101), and the x0x Heart (based on the TB-303).
Creating clones of older hardware is legal where the patents have expired.In 1997, Mackie lost their lawsuit against Behringer as copyright law in the United States did not cover their circuit board designs.
A digital synthesizer is a synthesizer that uses digital signal processing (DSP) techniques to make musical sounds. This in contrast to older analog synthesizers, which produce music using analog electronics, and samplers, which play back digital recordings of acoustic, electric, or electronic instruments. Some digital synthesizers emulate analog synthesizers; others include sampling capability in addition to digital synthesis.
Subtractive synthesis is a method of sound synthesis in which partials of an audio signal are attenuated by a filter to alter the timbre of the sound. While subtractive synthesis can be applied to any source audio signal, the sound most commonly associated with the technique is that of analog synthesizers of the 1960s and 1970s, in which the harmonics of simple waveforms such as sawtooth, pulse or square waves are attenuated with a voltage-controlled resonant low-pass filter. Many digital, virtual analog and software synthesizers use subtractive synthesis, sometimes in conjunction with other methods of sound synthesis.
An analogsynthesizer is a synthesizer that uses analog circuits and analog signals to generate sound electronically.
Modular synthesizers are synthesizers composed of separate modules for different functions. The modules can be connected together by the user to create a patch. The outputs from the modules may include audio signals, analog control voltages, or digital signals for logic or timing conditions. Typical modules are voltage-controlled oscillators, voltage-controlled filters, voltage-controlled amplifiers and envelope generators.
The Moog Taurus is a foot-operated analog synthesizer designed and manufactured by Moog Music, originally conceived as a part of the Constellation series of synthesizers. The initial Taurus I was manufactured from 1975 to 1981; a less successful redesign, Taurus II, followed from 1981 to 1983. Instead of a conventional keyboard, the Taurus uses an organ-style pedal board similar to the pedal keyboard of a spinet organ. This control method was chosen because the Taurus was intended to be played by foot while the player's hands played one or more keyboards, although it was often used by guitarists. While the original Taurus featured its own synthesis engine, the Taurus II was essentially the same as the Moog Rogue. In 2010, Moog issued the Moog Taurus III which closely emulates the analog circuitry of the Taurus I, in addition to adding some modern features.
The Yamaha AN1x is a DSP-based analog modeling synthesizer, produced by Yamaha Corporation from 1997 to 1998, and was marketed as an "analog physical modelling control synthesizer".
The ARP Odyssey is an analog synthesizer introduced by ARP Instruments in 1972.
The Realistic Concertmate MG-1 is an analog synthesizer manufactured by Moog Music in 1981 and sold by Radio Shack from 1982 to 1983 under their "Realistic" brand name. It was produced without some standard Moog features, such as pitch and modulation wheels, as a cost-cutting measure aimed at achieving a lower price for the consumer market. The synthesizer also featured a pair of pass-through RCA jacks, which allowed users to mix radio or records into the final live synthesized sound output.
The Moog synthesizer is a modular synthesizer developed by the American engineer Robert Moog. Moog debuted it in 1964, and Moog's company R. A. Moog Co. produced numerous models from 1965 to 1981, and again from 2014. It was the first commercial synthesizer, and is credited with creating the analog synthesizer as it is known today.
The Roland Jupiter-4 (JP-4) was an analog synthesizer manufactured by the Roland Corporation between 1978 and 1981. It was notable as the company's first self-contained polyphonic synthesizer, and for containing digital control of analog circuits, allowing for such features as programmable memories and voice assignment modes.
The Multimoog is a monophonic analog synthesizer manufactured by Moog Music from 1978 to 1981. Derived from the earlier Micromoog, the Multimoog was intended to be a less expensive alternative to the Minimoog. It nevertheless had some advanced features which the Minimoog did not—most notably, it was one of the earliest synthesizers to feature aftertouch capability.
The Korg DW-8000 synthesizer was an eight-voice polyphonic hybrid digital-analog synthesizer 61-note keyboard instrument released in 1985. By the time of its launch Korg had already begun a common trend in 1980s synthesizer design: using numerical codes to access or change parameters with its predecessor - the Korg Poly-61, which was widely regarded as the company's first 'knobless' synthesizer. This was a move away from the heavily laden, complex control panels of earlier designs.
The Memorymoog is a polyphonic electronic music synthesizer manufactured by Moog Music from 1982 to 1985, the last polyphonic synthesizer to be released by Moog Music before the company declared bankruptcy in 1987. While comparable to other polyphonic synthesizers of the time period, such as the Sequential Circuits Prophet-5 and Oberheim OB-Xa, the Memorymoog distinguished itself with 3 audio oscillators per voice and greater preset storage capacity.
The Korg MS2000 is a virtual analog synthesizer produced by the Japanese electronic musical instrument manufacturer Korg.
The Korg Wavestation is a vector synthesis synthesizer first produced in the early 1990s and later re-released as a software synthesizer in 2004. Its primary innovation was Wave Sequencing, a method of multi-timbral sound generation in which different PCM waveform data are played successively, resulting in continuously evolving sounds. The Wavestation's "Advanced Vector Synthesis" sound architecture resembled early vector synths such as the Sequential Circuits Prophet VS.
The Oberheim OB•12 is a Virtual Analog synthesizer, designed and realised by the Italian musical instrument manufacturer Viscount, in production between 2000 and 2005.
The AX60 is a polyphonic analogue keyboard synthesizer manufactured by Akai Professional in the mid-1980s. It was Akai's answer to the popular Roland Juno series synthesizers. The AX60 uses voltage-controlled analogue oscillators and filter circuitry based on the Curtis Electronics CEM 3394 integrated circuit.
The CZ series is a family of low-cost phase distortion synthesizers produced by Casio in the mid-1980s. Eight models of CZ synthesizers were released: the CZ-101, CZ-230S, CZ-1000, CZ-2000S, CZ-2600S, CZ-3000, CZ-5000, and the CZ-1. Additionally, the home-keyboard model CT-6500 used 48 phase distortion presets from the CZ line. The CZ synthesizers' price at the time of their introduction made programmable synthesizers affordable enough to be purchased by garage bands. Yamaha soon introduced their own low-cost digital synthesizers, including the DX-21 (1985) and Yamaha DX100, in light of the CZ series' success.
The Arturia MiniBrute is a synthesizer manufactured by Arturia. Although the MiniBrute was the first piece of hardware created by Arturia—which had previously exclusively marketed software synthesizers—it generated strong sales.
The Chulek synthesizer is a 32-voice virtual analog synthesizer. The synthesizer features 49 keys, 2 oscillators, 1 sub-oscillator, 32 voices, arpeggiator, 3 LFOs, filter, stutter, formant, reverb, delay and distortion. The synthesizer's internal audio engine is based on algorithms for Digital Signal Processing.
The first digital synthesizer to make it into the studios of everyone else, the Yamaha DX7, became one of the most commercially successful synthesizers of all time.
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