Multi-tracking really got the home studio
craze started with the advent of under-a-grand-4 track cassette recorders. Like
many, I started out as a guitarist. Soon, I wanted more than having four
tracks of guitars playing. The Moog was great because it could do the
Bass. OK. Then I had to have drums. At the time, the very first Linn Drums
were out. Multitracker's everywhere drooled, but they were WAY too expensive.
Then a cheap little box, the Boss DR-110 "Doctor Rhythm" came out, a non-midi's
handheld Roland job. It sounded, mmm, like distorted cardboard. After plopping
down for the DR-110, I plopped again for the Yamaha RX-15. I recall remarking
how the cymbals sounded like real metal and not compressed air--that's what
sold me. It sounded somewhat like drums at least, based on some voodoo "PCM"
technology, that the manual described at length in Yamaha Speak (which if you
ever tried to read a Yamaha manual you understand). In other words it made absolutely
no sense. But on the back panel was this mysterious 5 pin jack labeled "MIDI"
and a 1/8 jack labeled "sync out".
Now, I thought, if you could just get a computer
to do the same. It fell on me like a ton of bricks. Yes! You needed a computer,
a sync box, a drum machine, and a "multi-timbral" MIDI synth and you can be
"an orchestra!" And out of this primordial gear, the concept of the MIDI
studio came home to thousands of credit card holders around the world. Despite
19% interest rates on average cards, we bought and bought.
Its a challenge to try to express the how mind
blowing this event was back in 1985. The gauntlet had been thrown down. Here
was the chance for any musician to totally produce their own musical art totally
by themselves. I drove my bike 5 treacherous miles to the first ever computer
superstore and slung a new commodore 64 in my backpack and peddled home.
My next synth was the Sequential 6-trak,
the first dedicated multi-timbral synth, which I programmed to death till the
buttons no longer incremented. I also got the Model 64 and Model 910 sequencers,
which ran on a Commodore 64, and included a crude editor librarian, perhaps
the world's first. With this package, the multi timbral computer-based midi
studio became a reality, for me and many others who could only afford a few
grand to put it together. And it was crude and rude and buggy. I remember having
to bang on the keyboard during many a mix to free up stuck notes. Back then,
not all the manufacturers agreed on even the basics, like what defines a "note
off". The Dr. T's Keyboard Controlled Sequencer came out the first viable MIDI
composition program, with teeth. It too a year to figure it out, but once you
did, it was--and still is--an incredible source of musical inspiration. Emile
Tobenfield--hats off too you--. KCS allowed one full unrestricted an unabashed
creative manipulation of midi data. And with it, Midiphiles began looking at
musical freedom right in the eye.
The then ubiquitous Casio CZ101
was next, with its challenging 8 stage envelopes and pure digital "phase distortion"
sound. You could finally do nice clean digital bell sounds (for the bulk of
us who couldn't pop a few grand for the venerable DX7). We all wanted "digital"
sound then. Why? Analog was so "sloppy" unstable, imprecise and often unpredictable--hmm,
getting the picture now...? You really couldn't get a clean bell tone with analog
gear. Wendy Carlos released "Digital Moonscapes" filled with bell-ish sounds
and no one on a budget could get them--until the CZ101. The Casio had a cheesy,
endearing quality. It had a whopping 4 voices. That brought my total voices
to 10, and I was wild with thought of what I Then could do. (Today, lessee,
I have about 256--yes, manufacturers, I am quite satiated, thank you--hint.
rather than invest in 128 voice technology, lets go back to real potentiometers,
OK?) Back then you had to do the math and count every voice. There was no "dynamic
allocation" either. You had to set the number of voices in advance. Every composition
was a left brain math problem before it got off the ground.