Yamaha occupied an entire ballroom in the Marriott, a short sprint across from the Anaheim Convention Center.
I caught up with long time supporter of Xenovibes, Western Regional Manager, Frank Yardley who gave me a tour of the ‘booth’ beginning with my favourite department; the wonderful world of electronic wiz.
John Anthony Martinez, my Xenovibes partner, and I have toured in confidence knowing that no matter where we landed there was a Yamaha representative. When we arrived in NYC for Moogfest07 at B B King in the rain there was rep Eugeni with a DTXpress III. At the 2004 Xenovibes premier in Singapore, Yamaha Asia had a DTXpress II ready for our rehearsal. An O1X mixer/HUI complete with MLan and two 32-bit multi-effects processors was bought to record the show; an item I’ve since used faithfully on every CD. On the other end of the musical instrument spectrum, a Yamaha C3 concert grand was my instrument in my undergraduate years at the Elder Conservatorium …
But then I digress. What can I say about Yamaha except it is a name associated with innovation and quality.
The movement from modular synths to the digital age, from a machine-like appearance to a more intuitive and aesthetically musical interface has been one of exciting times in the history of the development of the electronic musical instrument.
Early synthesizers were experimental and clunky. The offerings from Moog and EMS in America and Britain respectively though, quickly changed our minds about what it could be like as a musician in the new age.
Yamaha’s humble beginnings was in the piano and reed organ industry in the late 1880‘s. The business grew organically, churning out many breakthroughs and successes. It also grew from the acquisition of technology companies, one being Sequential Circuits who were in financial woes when they were bought out in 1988/89. Sequential Circuits was founded by Dave Smith and Chet Wood who brought Midi into the world and made the first commercially available Midi synth; the Prophet 600, in 1983.
A decade before the Prophet 600, Yamaha had introduced the GX 1. Receiving intense interest, the GX1 was an analog polyphonic synth with not one, but four manuals, and featured one of my favourite accessory of all time; the ribbon controller. It can be heard on Stevie Wonder’s “Village Ghetto Land” and ELP’s version of Aaron Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man (watch Keith Emerson in this video playing my fav arrangement of the work!)
The DX7 is undoubtedly its more well known (FM) synthesizer to date (John Chowning licensed his FM synthesis patent to Yamaha in 1975.)
This first digital synthesizer; more portable, more affordable – able to leap tall buildings – but definitely more stable, started popping up in schools and small ensembles on a tight budget; and threatened to take over the role of orchestral instruments and real people.
But the DX7 (released in 1983) wasn’t just an orchestral instrument substitute and when it was rescued by bands of the New Wave movement our ears were treated to a magical era and the power of frequency modulation.
Frequency modulation, unlike amplitude modulation (AM) is the synthesis of sounds via the modulation of a simple waveform aka the carrier fequency, giving you timbrally complex waveforms and tones
Question; those of you who remember the DX7‘s ROM cartridge, hands up!
Various artists have harnessed the distinctive sonic characteristics of Yamaha’s synthesizers. Jan Hammer used the DX7 extensively while scoring Miami Vice. Madonna , a-ha and Bananarama are said to have used it for bass lines in ‘Live to Tell’, ‘Take on Me’ and ‘Venus’ respectively. The E Piano appeared in Sade’s Smooth Operator.
Besides the popular Motif, Yamaha was also responsible for the TX81Z, the WX series wind controller and a whole plethora of instruments electronic, not forgetting their pro audio partners and traditional instruments such as their concert grand pianos endorsed by the likes of Chic Corea (AvantGrand Hybrid) and Alicia Keys.
So I could hardly wait to see what Frank and his associates had to show me.
We began with the Tenori-on a DJ tool that lights up on both the front and back sides, and is one of the cutest and smartest midi-able instruments I’ve seen so far. Using a 16×16 LED grid, one assigns instruments/tone pitches along its x-axis and note lengths/timing along the y-axis. It takes user samples and according to its manual can be “connected (via Midi) to a second TENORI-ON to allow synchronized performance, or to a computer to allow recording of the instrument’s MIDI output.” The Tenori-on comes in two versions, the White and the Orange. The video clip with a demonstration by Technical Sales Specialist, Allen Gore, speaks volumes.
Video Clip: Tenori-on
Next I move to the e-drums. Tom Griffin, Technical Sales Specialist together with e-drummer Zak Bond who is based out of Japan gave me a quick drum-through of what makes the new machine extraordinary. Their DTX 900 series of e-drums, Tom Griffin tells me, is the ‘answer’ to requests from users on the Yamaha forum. The 6 piece kit is expandable to take on 4 more triggers. Pads have a new head surface made from textured cellular silicon for a more realistic feel. They are shock mounted and free floating to reduce cross talk and increase sensitivity. The brain/module has the ability to control Cubase ai5, which is bundled with the new kit. The brain /module is the former DTXtreme III with an OS upgrade. More specifications can be seen in the video and found online.
Video Clip: DTX 950K
What i felt upon being introduced to the Yamaha CP1 keyboard was, here was an instrument that leveraged Yamaha’s expertise in designing and building acoustic and electronic keyboards, and that showed off a few of the more significant technological contributions they themselves made through the years; technology still being sought after even today.
Under the hood of the CP1 you will find Yamaha grand pianos CF IIIS and S6B. Thanks to Spectral Component Modeling, you can even be your own technician and tweak the hammer action; want it soft or hard? For those hankering after the TX81Z and DX7 sounds, this is your lucky day for the actual FM tone generator is built into the CP1!
Yamaha also recreated various Rhodes tine pianos whose hammer positions can be changed. Through ‘virtual circuit modeling’ effects such as phasing and flanging can also be tweaked.
To top this off, a fine selection of reed pianos.
The CP1 as demonstrated by Blake Angelos, Product Specialist, came complete with the NW-stage technology (acronym for new wood action) the playing surface that included synthetic ivory, and that was a hybrid between the feel of an acoustic piano and the rhodes. Watch the video as Blake shows off the variety of ‘pianos’ sampled to satisfy the fussiest keyboard player. (Extra reading in this pre NAMM video in Keyboard Magazine)
Video Clip: CP1 Piano
Just when you thought there was nothing else one could bring to the acoustic drum, we meet the new kit on the block. Marketing Manager Dave Jewell was on hand to demonstrate the drums built for the budding rock/heavy metal drummer.
Video Clip: Rock/Heavy Metal Kit
Where to next is the question lingering on my lips. Maybe Yamaha will have something new for us at Summer NAMM?!
Prices for the products featured in this article available through Yamaha’s worldwide distributors.
Photos & videos (c) 2010 Shueh-li Ong (unless specified, all articles written by Shueh-li Ong bear the photography, videography and digital work of its author.)