Early Analog Synths
by: Michael Palmierię2007
In the 1960's early synthesizers were in university music laboratories. One consisted of so much hardware, that it filled an entire wall of a small room. At that time, amplifiers, tone generators and filter modules were separate pieces of equipment, each having many dials, arranged next to and connected to each other using patch cables. Patch cables looked like short guitar cables. One would patch an amplifier to a module that generated a signal - a sound. Different waveforms, e.g. a square wave, a sine wave, a triangular wave and a saw-tooth wave, were selected to generate these signals. The waveforms were controlled in innumerable ways. Multiple waveforms could be combined, further changing the quality and timbre of the signal. The signal would be patched to a filter, which would either add or subtract overtones from the sound.
One actually created an electronic sound and then edited it, in order to use it, possibly for only a few seconds, in a piece. A separate keyboard controller was used to play the newly created sound as pitches. The music was recorded to reel-to-reel tape, which was often cut and pasted, using a razor blade and scotch tape, in order to make the musical work of art.
Today we call sounds on a synthesizer "patches," because of their origins as modules being patched together using patch cords.
The word "analog", when used in conjunction with "synthesizer", implies a synthesizer with which one can create the sound electronically as explained above.
In the late 1960's and early '70's, all-in-one analog synthesizer keyboards became available for home and professional use. These incorporate the amplifier, the wave signal tone generators, the filter and many dials, which are used to vary the signal's parameters.
With the innovation of digital recording to computer disk, keyboard technology evolved further. Digitally recorded sounds are looped, loaded into a small computer disk inside an electronic keyboard and mapped to the keys of the keyboard. When a player plays a key on a digital keyboard, which is set up to play a violin patch, a digitally recorded looped sample of a live violin player is triggered.
This type of electronic keyboard has been in use for some time. Although it should rightfully be called a "sample playback" machine, it is now called a "synthesizer". So, the definition of a synthesizer has changed since it inception.
Licensed to Bitchin' Entertainment by Michael Palmieri. To receive permission to publish this article please contact Theresa Yarbrough