I started playing synthesizers back in 1981. After weeks of hard work during vacation time, I bought a brand new Yamaha CS10 synth. The Minimoog was already around and very popular, but of course I could not afford any Moog at that time.
The Yamaha CS10 was one of the entry synths of the CS family, starting with the CS5 up to the famous CS80. The CS10 had only one oscillator, one LFO, multi-mode VCF with ADSR envelope and a VCA with one ADSR envelope.
In those days the first real polyphonic synths like the Oberheim 4-voice, OB-X and Sequential Circuits Prophet 5 had just been introduced. Unable to afford them too, I opted for a poor-man’s polyphonic synth, The Yamaha SK10. Core of this keyboard was the string-ensemble section, similar to the popular ARP/Solina Stringensemble. I used a phaser pedal to emulate Jean Michel Jarre like string sounds. It also had an organ (including leslie simulation) and brass section on board.
During the 80s a lot of interesting alternative synths came to market. One of the first entry polyphonic synths was the Roland Juno 6. So I sold my stringensemble to replace it with the Juno 6. It sounded great for strings too thanks to the build-in chorus, but it also featured polysynth-like ADSR envelopes on filter and amp. It had a nice arpeggiator, but no memory and no MIDI yet. Sequential Circuits came with a monophonic version of the Prophet 5 which was the Sequential Circuits Pro One. I decided to sell my CS10 and go for the much fatter sounding Pro One. A nice feature I used was to connect the CV output of the Pro One to trigger the filter input of the Juno. By programming a random note pattern with the onboard sequencer on the Pro One I could generate a nice Sample & Hold filter effect on the Juno. I had a lot of fun with both synths!
I often visited music stores to try out the real big analog synths and started to love the fat analog sounds. I was a big fan of the Oberheim OB-X series, up to the latest Matrix 12 and Xpander. The modulation matrix was a great invention, allowing to program real expressive and evolving sounds. At the same time the ARP company had a hard time keeping it’s head above the water and sold it’s latest flagship synth to Fender/CBS. They called it the Rhodes Chroma and a few years later, they sold out the latest batch of Chroma’s for less than half of the original price, so I decided to go for it. One of my heroes Joe Zawinul played one too, so that was an extra trigger.
The Chroma was a real beast of a synth. One of the first with velocity responsive keys, voice layering, multi-timbral operation and keyboard splitting. All features that we nowadays take for granted! The MIDI interface had yet to be invented, but the Chroma had a parallel digital interface. We used a small computer at home, The Philips P2000, on which I programmed a sound editor for the Chroma utilising the digital interface.
The Chroma sounded very fat, but also was kind of hard to program, especially when only using it’s small display, one slider interface.
There is an excellent website for Chroma aficionados that is maintained by Chris Ryan. You can find all kind of interesting information related to the Chroma. I don’t own the Chroma anymore 🙁
During the late 80s all kinds of new digital synths entered the market, most notable the Yamaha DX7, Korg M1 and the Roland D-50, all equipped with the new MIDI interface. The Roland D-50 sounded very fresh making use of short samples utilized during the attack phase of the sound. I liked it a lot, especially using some quite convincing analog emulation sounds on expansion cards. I still own the D-50.
Later on I expanded my Roland D-50 sound with a number of rack synths: the Oberheim Matrix 1000, The Korg Wavestation and the Emu Proteus 2000. The one still standing out to me is the Korg Wavestation. This synth evolved from ideas like vector synthesis first utilized on the Sequential Circuits Prophet VS. You could program nice evolving sounds with the Wavestation including drum loops. Very inspiring to play!
In the 90s I became a big fan of the Kurzweil K-series of synths based on the VAST architecture (Variable Architecture Synthesis Technology). To me, the VAST synth architecture is one of the most complete and flexible ways of programming synths. In a way, it is an object oriented approach to programming, starting with individual keys and velocity layers to build programs and layer programs in setups.
It was one of the first synths with traditional synthesis expanded with quality build-in ROM samples combined with a full sampler intstrument. Also it has a lot of programmable sliders and buttons that we see on most keyboard controllers nowadays.
I used the Kurzweil K2500XS for quite some time and still use it in the studio. Later on I also bought the more portable Kurzweil K2661 for on-the-road playing utilizing the same sounds that I programmed for the K2500.
Sometimes I had a desire to move around on stage as well. I ran into a cheap second hand Yamaha DX100 which I sometimes used to drive my Oberheim Matrix 1000 synth. The DX100 was very compact with nice pitch bend and modulation wheels on the left upper side, and it also had a breath controller input! Since the DX100 was not velocity responsive, I used the breath controller to drive filter and volume of the Matrix sounds.
Nowadays, the synth landscape looks quite different. Analog sound creation is getting more popular again, and more and more convincing analog recreations are available in plugins running on computers with or without additional DSP hardware boards. With Moore’s Law still valid this process of synths running on computers will continue to evolve in the future. We will see more and more Macs on stage!
Recently, I use a Clavia Nord Stage EX for live performance. The 76 keys version is still quite portable to take on the road.
It has a great sound, nice piano’s, a nice Hammond B3 sound with really good leslie simulation, and nice effects including distortion. A somewhat limited synth is also on board but still usefull. What I like most is that almost everything can be controlled with knobs and buttons as you play. I hardly use any programs, because I can quickly switch between Piano, Rhodes and Hammond sounds while playing. Also the effects can be tweaked with buttons so you can change them easily while you play.
I have always liked my Sequential Circuits Pro One synth, so when original Prophet 5 designer Dave Smith came out with the Prophet 08 I had to try one and eventually buy one. Great analog character with lots of knobs, I love it!
In my studio I use Apple Logic as the center tool for all playing and recording. I use Mackie controllers to do all automated mixing. For monitoring I use Dynaudio Air 6 active nearfield monitors. My main keyboard is the Kurzweil K2500XS.
I run a number of instrument and effect plugins within Logic. My favourite instrument plugins are:
– Toontrack Superior Drummer
– Spectrasonics Trilogy Bass
– Synthogy Ivory Piano
– Spectrasonics Omnisphere Synth
– Korg Wavestation Synth
– Native Instruments B4 Organ
For effects I mainly use the Universal Audio software running on UAD-1 and UAD-2 cards. My favourites are:
– EMT plates
– Roland Dimension D
– Pultec EQ
– VCA VU
– Precision buss compressor