We all know very well that the piano is very versatile as an instrument, and the synthesizer is just one of its facets, which could radically change all music, expand its capabilities to limits that classical composers could not even imagine. Few people know what path was traveled before the synthesizer familiar to us appeared. I hasten to fill this gap.
I think it is not worth repeating the triumphant speech about technological progress. You can read about the history of the piano here.
Did you refresh the article in your memory, read it for the first time, or decided to ignore it altogether? However, it doesn’t matter… Let’s get down to business!
History: the first synthesizers
The roots of the word “synthesizer” come from the concept of “synthesis”, that is, the creation of something (in our case, sound) from previously disparate parts. One of its key features is that the synthesizer is able to reproduce not only the sounds of a classical piano (and, by the way, even piano sounds will most often be offered in different versions), but also to imitate the sound of many other instruments. They also contain electronic sounds that only synthesizers can reproduce. But the better the instrument, the higher its price will be – this creates a balance and this, at least, is logical.
The creation of electronic instruments dates back to the end of the XNUMXth century, and here, to the delight of our patriotic feelings, a Russian scientist noted Lev Theremin – it was his mind and hands that created one of the first full-fledged instruments using the laws of physics and electrical power, known as theremin. It was a rather simple and mobile design, which has no analogues so far – this is the only instrument that is played without even touching it.
The musician, moving his hands in the space between the antennas of the instrument, changes the vibrational waves and thereby also changes the notes that the theremin gives out. The instrument is considered one of the most difficult to master ever created by mankind – its control is not obvious and requires outstanding auditory data. In addition, the sound that the theremin produces is, let’s say, quite specific, but it is precisely for this that it is still appreciated by musicians and used in recording.
One of the first electronic instruments, this time already keyboards, was called Tellarmonium and was invented Thaddeus Cahill from Iowa. And the instrument, whose purpose was to replace the church organ, turned out to be truly massive: it weighed about 200 tons, consisted of 145 huge electric generators, and it took 30 railroad cars to transport it to New York. But the very fact of its creation showed where music should move, showed how much more technical progress can help the development of art. They said that Cahill ahead of his time, they called him an unsung genius. However, despite all the charms of the instrument, it still had room to develop: I already mentioned its bulkiness, but, in addition, it caused interference on telephone lines, and its sound quality was quite mediocre even by the standards of the beginning of the XNUMXth century.
The organ is in Hammond
Of course, a number of such large-scale inventions led to their progression. The next step in the development of electronic instruments was the so-called organ at Hammond, the creator of which was an American Laurence Hammond. His creation was much smaller than his older brother Tellarmonium, but still far from miniature (the instrument weighed a little less than 200 kilograms).
The main feature of the Hammond organ was that it had special levers that allowed you to independently mix the signal forms and ultimately produce your own tuned sounds, different from the standard organ.
The instrument has achieved recognition – often used instead of a real organ in American churches, and it has also been appreciated by many jazz and rock musicians (The Beatles, Deep Purple, Yes and many others). Interestingly, when Hammond was asked not to call his instrument an organ, the request was eventually rejected, as the commission could not distinguish the sound of an electric organ from a real wind instrument.
Concert of noises
After the Second World War, which, of course, put the development of musical instruments on pause, the only significant event concerning our topic was “Concert of Noises”delivered by the French Pierre Henri и Pierre Schaeffer – This is an experimental event, during which new generators were added to the Hammond organ, with the help of which he received new timbre blocks and radically changed his sound. Although due to the bulkiness of the generators, all the action could only take place in laboratories, despite this, the concert can be considered the birth of a genre of avant-garde music, which began to slowly popularize.
RCA (Radio Corporation of America) made the first attempt to create synthesizers that would be a step forward from the Hammond organ, but the models created by the corporation Mark I и Mark II did not win success due, again, to the illness of all electronic devices of that time – dimensions (the synthesizer occupied an entire room!) And astronomical prices, however, they definitely became a new milestone in the development of sound synthesis technologies.
It would seem that development is in full swing, but the engineers still failed to make the tool simple and affordable until they got down to work John Moog, the owner of a company that produces theremins you already know, who, at last, somehow brought the synthesizer closer to mere mortals.
Mug was able to eliminate all the shortcomings of prototypes by creating minimoog – a truly iconic instrument that popularized the genre of electronic music. It was compact, cost, albeit expensive – $ 1500, but this is the first synthesizer with two zeros at the end of the price.
In addition, Minimoog had a sound that is appreciated by musicians to this day – it is bright and dense, and, what is most funny, this advantage is a consequence of a drawback: the synthesizer could not keep the system for a long time due to certain technical flaws. Other limitations were that the instrument was monophonic, that is, it could only perceive one note pressed on the keyboard (i.e., there was no possibility to play chords), and it was also not sensitive to the force of pressing a key.
But all this at that time was compensated by the high quality of sound, which is still quoted by electronic musicians (some, be sure, are ready to sell their souls for the same original Minimoog), and truly wide possibilities for sound modulation. The project was so successful that for a long time moog was a household name: saying the word moog meant any synthesizer, not just this particular company.
Since the early 1960s, many companies have appeared, each of which has carved its own niche in the creation of synthesizers: Sequential Circuits, E-mu, Roland, ARP, Korg, Oberheim, and this is not the whole list. Analog synthesizers have not changed dramatically since then, they are still appreciated and very expensive – the models were the classic kind of synthesizers that we are used to.
By the way, Soviet manufacturers also did not lag behind: in the USSR, almost all goods were only domestically produced, and instruments were no exception (although someone managed to transport foreign guitars in single copies, it was also quite legal to purchase instruments from the allied countries of the Warsaw Pact – Czechoslovak Muzima or the Bulgarian Orpheus, but this only applied to electric and bass guitars). Soviet synthesizers are very interesting in terms of sound, the USSR even had its own maestro of electronic music, such as, for example, Eduard Artemiev. The most famous series were Aelita, Youth, Lel, Electronics EM.
However, the world, in addition to technological progress, is also driven by fashion, and as far as art is concerned, it is especially subject to its changeability. And, unfortunately or fortunately, but for some time the interest in electronic music faded away, and the development of new models of synthesizers became not the most profitable occupation.
New Wave (New Wave)
But, as we remember, fashion has a peculiarity to alternate – at the time of the onset of the 80s, the electronic boom suddenly came again. This time, electronics was no longer something experimental (like the innovative German project of the 1970s Kraftwerk), but, on the contrary, became a popular phenomenon, called New wave (New Wave).
There were such world-famous groups as Duran Duran, Depeche Mode, Pet Shop Boys, A-ha, whose music was based on synthesizers, this genre even subsequently developed and, along with it, the name synth-pop.
The musicians of such groups at first used only synthesizers, sometimes diluting them with a guitar sound. The composition of three keyboardists (and they had more than one synthesizer each), a drum machine and a vocalist has become the norm, although if the creator of Tellarmonium could hear about it, then his surprise would have known no bounds. It was the heyday of dance music, the era of techno and house, the birth of a completely new subculture.
MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface)
All this gave a new impetus to raise the already dusty technology. However, analog technologies are on the heels of the digital era, namely the emergence of the format MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface). This was followed by the emergence of samplers, with which you could independently record the desired sounds, and then play them back using MIDI keyboards. The development of MIDI interfaces has advanced so much that in our time, in principle, it is already enough to have only a keyboard, which, in comparison with analog models, costs practically nothing. It can be connected to a computer (but the computer must be powerful enough) and, after certain simple manipulations, play music using special VST-programs (Virtual Studio Technology).
However, this does not mean that the old models will go into oblivion, because the piano did not suffer a similar fate, did it? Professional electronic musicians appreciate analogue much more and believe that digital sound is still very far from it in quality, and those who use VST are looked at with slight contempt …
However, comparing how much the development of digital technologies has gone ahead and how much the sound quality has grown, then, most likely, analog instruments will be used many times less often, even now you can often see keyboardists playing with laptops next to them at concerts – progress, like we see, will never stand still.
It is very important that, in addition to improving the quality and variety of sound, prices that were once astronomical have now become quite affordable. So, the cheapest synthesizers that reproduce sounds worse than Walpurgis Night and do not react to the force of pressing a key will cost about $50. Elite synthesizers a la Moog Voyager Xl can cost from $ 5000, and in fact their cost can grow indefinitely if you, for example, Jean-Michel Jarre and make the tool to order. It is possible that I am getting ahead of myself a little, but I would like to recommend you in advance, if you want to buy a synthesizer, do not save money: often an instrument from the category under $350 will not please you with a good sound, it will even more likely beat off any desire to study and play on it.
I sincerely hope you enjoyed it. Remember that without knowing history, it is impossible to create the future!
If you have not yet read the article on how to choose the right electronic piano, you can do it now by clicking on the link.
The video below shows a demonstration of Mini Virtual Studio: