Music Synthesizer Experiments

O. Guy Morley

February 3, 2019

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

The Beginning (1970s-1980s)

It was in the 1980s. For a teenager, buying anything that costed almost two thousand dollars (roughly equivalent to four thousand dollars in 2019) was more than a big deal. Roberto was ecstatic. It wasn’t a car. It was a music synthesizer.

Roberto’s interest in synthesized music started when he was a middle schooler. He listened to Isao Tomita’s vinyl albums, filled with fascinating re-creation of classical music. Roberto also bought probably the first book on music synthesizers and learned its mechanisms and operations. Later, in a high school music class, his class was asked to do an individual project. Even though Roberto didn’t have a synthesizer, he still wanted to create synthesized music. Luckily, he found out that a friend of his friend owned a synthesizer. So, he borrowed it and started a project.

At home, Roberto’s family had a stereo system with a cassette deck. Roberto purchased another second-hand cassette deck; dual cassette decks were not readily available then. He used one deck for playing and the other for recording. The sound from the synthesizer was mixed during this process. He also made a passive mixer (just two potentiometers), so that the synthesizer sound can be “panned” at any position between the left and the right channels.

It was a very primitive and low-quality setup. Since the mixing process introduced significant noise each time, it was not very practical to repeat the process more than several times. But it worked. Roberto felt as if he was a little Isao Tomita.

For his school project, he chose a short piece “composed” by himself in his middle school music class. He used several different sounds along with dramatically-randomized introduction. At the end of the music, he added a short section of “Jupiter” from Holst’s The Planets, featuring four-part chorus simulation. Of course, he was very much influenced by Tomita’s synthesized performance of The Planets.

When Roberto’s recording was “premiered” in class, it was a hit. Many of his friends seemed to have been impressed. After that, he had to return the synthesizer to the owner. He was very sad.

Later, when Roberto became a college student, he decided to buy a music synthesizer. When he finally brought home his own synth made by Roland, he was really excited. Soon, he started to create his own music, still using the primitive recording setup. So, there was an inherent limit to what he was able to do. In order to minimize the number of mixing, he used a rhythm machine. In order to assist his poor keyboard technique, he also used a small sequencer. He spent a lot of time and recorded several pieces of music on a tape. By the end of his college years, though, his interest shifted. He sold the synthesizer and almost forgot about the whole experience until relatively recently.


Note: The rest of the story can be read at: https://archive.org/details/morley19synth and is also available in the PDF format: https://archive.org/download/morley19synth/Morley19-Synth.pdf

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