MATRIXSYNTH: The First Digital Synthesizers


Monday, November 20, 2006

The First Digital Synthesizers


A friend of mine asked me what the first digital synth was. To my surprise I wasn't sure. We all know it was the Yamaha DX7 (1983) that changed the landscape from analog to digital, but it clearly wasn't the first. The NED Synclavier (1975) and the Crumar/DKI GDS (197x?) and Synergy (1982) predate it. If anyone out there knows for sure, feel free to comment. Image of the Crumar/DKI GDS via synthony.

Snip on the GDS via Synthmuseum.com:
"'The GDS came out of some early research at Bell Laboratories in the early '70s,' explains Mercer 'Stoney' Stockell, who himself shared in developing the GDS and Synergy. 'Hal Alles, a researcher there, designed the high-speed additive engine that was put into the GDS and later systems. He was a very bright man. The work originally came out of some stuff he was supposed to be doing for echo-cancellation on telephone lines.'"

BTW, regarding the DX7, be sure to check out this post on the Yamaha FX1.

Update via adam s in the comments:
"The Dartmouth Digital Synthesizer is the Synclavier's ancestor. This is recognized as the first digital synthesizer existing as a self-contained instrument, closed system or whathaveyou. Of course, the first digital synthesizer (that is, first digital device to synthesize sound for the sake of music), is the IBM 704 Mainframe computer, on which Max Matthews created Music I in 1957. It's amazing how far computer synthesis predates 'digital synthesizers'. I'm sure that in that almost 20 year span, plently of people had developed (successfully or not) digital synthesizers, especially during the early 70's microprocessor boom."

8 comments:

  1. Many feel that the first digital synthesizer was the Allen Digital Organ. Though of course technically a church organ, it allowed you to load different waveforms with IBM punch cards.

    ReplyDelete
  2. what about the rmi harmonic synth?

    ReplyDelete
  3. RMI was a division of Allen Organ. I think the Harmonic Synthesizer was basically a programmable Allen Organ.

    ReplyDelete
  4. so is this the first digital synth or are you not sure. i'm not sure by the text here.

    ReplyDelete
  5. The first commercially available ones, at least. Allen came out with their digital organs in 1971.

    ReplyDelete
  6. The Dartmouth Digital Synthesizer is the Synclavier's ancestor. This is recognized as the first digital synthesizer existing as a self-contained instrument, closed system or whathaveyou. Of course, the first digital synthesizer (that is, first digital device to synthesize sound for the sake of music), is the IBM 704 Mainframe computer, on which Max Matthews created Music I in 1957. It's amazing how far computer synthesis predates 'digital synthesizers'. I'm sure that in that almost 20 year span, plently of people had developed (successfully or not) digital synthesizers, especially during the early 70's microprocessor boom.

    ReplyDelete
  7. adam s: Great comment, and very true: there were lots of people doing things with general-purpose mainframes and minicomputers well before any such thing as a digital synth per se was ever thought of. I recall hearing a demo back in 1969 of some things that had been done at Bell Labs. There is some FM stuff on the 1978 Synergy album "Games" that was done at Bell Labs using Music V (the immediate ancestor of Csound), if memory serves, on a PDP-11. When I was in college in 1980, we had one of those Bell Labs guys come to school and demo some things they had done. He said that one rendering of a single score track took an all-night run on an 11/34. Make a mistake, and you can't get it fixed until the next day. It was a heroic effort to do digital synthesis back then.

    ReplyDelete
  8. In the 70's owned an RMI Keyboard Computer built by Allen Organ.

    Back then, I was very involved as a rep for many synth companies, and RMI claimed to be the first digital polyphonic synthesizer.

    bead

    http://www.myspace.com/beadomania

    ReplyDelete

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