THE SYNCLAVIER DIGITAL MUSIC SYSTEM

Kopperhead’s Lee Kopp was an early Synclavier owner. As a beta test site and synthesis programmer for New England Digital Corporation throughout the Synclavier’s development, Lee originated and tested new features that were incorporated into the Synclavier Digital Music System.

The Synclavier Digital Music System is a powerful, integrated system for music synthesis and recording, first developed at Dartmouth College by Jon Appleton and colleagues. The FM synthesis based Synclavier II was released in the late 1970s. With major upgrades in the mid 1980’s, the system boasted a 100 kHz sampling rate, storage on magneto-optical discs, and was renamed the Synclavier Digital Music System. Synclaviers were purchased by hundreds of artists and recording studios, often at prices in excess of $200,000. In it’s Technology Hall of Fame on 2004, recording industry leader Mix Magazine choose the Synclavier as one of the “25 audio inventions that changed the (pro audio) World.” (Also in those 25 is Digidesign’s Pro Tools.) A partial list of Synclavier owners is at the bottom of this page.

The Synclavier is no longer manufactured, but many systems are still in use in the recording industry, particularly in music composition and performance, and in sound design for major movies. Its sound is based around two separate systems (FM synthesis/resynthesis voices and Sample voices) combined together under one dedicated Real Time Performance control software interface. There is also a Direct-to-Disk™ hard disk recording option controlled seamlessly within the same operating system. Its sound quality is legendary and it introduced many “firsts” that are still being emulated and duplicated today. These include multi-tambre and dynamic voice allocation, multi-channel outputs, 100k sampling, real time music notation of performances, and enormous sequencing features including recording and overdubbing of musical performance nuances with real time parameters.

The Synclavier is famous for its depth of sound, versatility at sound creation and production, and speed of use. It’s fully integrated software included the Real Time Package (RTP), Music Printing, SFM (Signal File Manager), Reverse Compilers, EditView, MIDINet and TransferMation. These enabled integrated and interchangable functionality and operation throughout:

  • sound creation, design, and library management for sampling, synthesis & resynthesis
  • the first professional computer based Music Printing and real-time music notation
  • 200 track sequencing, editing, and mixing, including patch memory & management
  • fully integrated MIDI sequencing and 16 channel performance mapping
  • multitrack audio recording, editing, sequencing, and synchronization
  • fully backwards compatibile; an original Synclavier sequence will still play today
For the history and more information about the Synclavier Digital Music System, click this link to find out what makes the Synclavier so special and different.


OSCAR-WINNING SOUND DESIGNER: from Skywalker to Pixar

It's the rare individual who is able to go out on top, to walk away from a career while still at peak performance. It's a move we tend to associate with star athletes, the Michael Jordans and Jim Browns of the world, and after the initial, "Oh, no, say it ain't so" reaction, we generally greet their decision with respect and awe. They did the right thing. And so it is with Gary Rydstrom, arguably the finest sound designer and re-recording mixer of his generation. At the ripe old age of 44, with seven Oscars (out of 12 nominations), a slew of BAFTA, Golden Reel and C.A.S. Awards, and a 20-year filmography remarkable for its range and quality, he is leaving Skywalker Sound. But rather than opt for the speakers' circuit or the golf course, Rydstrom is headed for the director's chair at Pixar, a company that he's been associated with since creating the "voices" for Luxo Jr. back in 1986.
You still work with the Synclavier and you're not alone. What is it about that box? “Tom Kobayashi, who ran Sprocket Systems at the time, went to a trade show and came back with a Synclavier. The idea of using a sampler for sound effects work had astonishing potential. With sampled sounds in RAM, you can instantly pitch-bend it and layer it and play it and shape it, without using any processing time. You can layer on the same key and very finely manipulate the pitch and delay and merge them together in ways that were harder to do in the tape-to-tape days. It allowed me to create the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park, in which I took several layers and blended different animal sounds into what sounds like one animal. With the Synclavier, I have a library of sound "parts," little snippets that are like phonemes in language. Interesting bits of sound that can be rearranged in multitudes of ways. It's a library of raw material, and it's valuable still.”



New England Digital Synclavier II, 1978

From a technology standpoint, the 1978 launch of New England Digital’s Synclavier—the first commercially available, real-time digital synthesis instrument—was a monumental achievement. But the story of the Synclavier began years before when a group of engineering students (Sydney Alonzo, Cameron Jones and Judd Burnham) in the Digital Hardware Lab at Dartmouth College created a small digital synthesizer to give computer-aided instruction in music with some composition language software and ear-training exercises. In 1976, the students formed New England Digital and got a contract from the Norlin Corp. (which had just purchased Moog Music) to create some marketing prototypes.

Early in 1977, Norlin dropped the funding, NED got its technology back and with the availability of new 5.25-inch floppy disks, the group decided to create a portable musical instrument known as the Synclavier. The early units were fairly crude, but with the later debut of the Synclavier II, which offered polyphonic sampling and powerful synthesis capability (still favored by many top sound designers worldwide), NED was on the way.
Over the years, the Synclavier would develop from a musical instrument to an all-encompassing digital production environment, breaking new ground by combining keyboard sampling and synthesis with its Tapeless Studio™ and Direct-to-Disk™ recording technologies. In 1992, NED ran into financial difficulties and folded, but a group of loyal owners formed a user’s group to provide support and software updates. That spirit continues today at synclavier.com.


SOME SYNCLAVIER OWNERS:
 
 
  George Lucas / Skywalker Sound
Sting
Pat Methany
Pete Townsend
George Michael
Herbie Hancock
Kraftwerk
Stevie Wonder
Michael Jackson
Laurie Anderson
Peter Buffett
Benny Anderson (ABBA)
Tony Banks - Genesis
John Tesh
Frank Zappa
Chic Corea
Trevor Horn
George Duke
Kashif
EFX Systems
Electric Melody Studios-Alan Howarth
Mark Snow, the "X-Files"
Chicago Recording Company
Greg La Porta
Mark Birmingham, Prosonus
Walt Disney Productions
Craig Harris
Anthony Marinelli
Frank Proto
Kopperhead, Lee Kopp
Sync Sound
Jonathan Elias and Associates
In Your Ear Recording
Travis Powers, FX for the Simpsons
Hal Leonard Publishing
Millennium Sound
Todd Yvega
Denny Jeager
The Enterpise Studios, Craig Huxley
 
 

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