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The Father of the Digital Synthesizer - John Chowning


Sven Golly

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Very cool article. Thanks much, Sven.

I really liked this observation: It was against what the department said music was; they said I was dehumanizing music! laughs Chowning. My response was, Perhaps its the humanization of computers.. Classic.

 

Though my attempts at FM programming produced mostly crash-and-burn results, factory and 3rd party 6-OP and 4-OP sounds became part of my rig very quickly from the mid-1980's on. Our sound palettes would be missing something significant without the efforts of John Chowning and Yamaha's belief in the technology.

 

'Someday, we'll look back on these days and laugh; likely a maniacal laugh from our padded cells, but a laugh nonetheless' - Mr. Boffo.

 

We need a barfing cat emoticon!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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I was at Indiana University in the electronic music lab when a grad student announced he was going out to Stanford to work on something called FM synthesis with John Chowning. About a year later Dr. Chowning came back for a symposium with his new technology. Bob Moog was in attendance. They set up the lab's quad system, EV Sentry III cabinets with Macintosh power, in the lobby of the musical arts center. We were treated to some early recorded examples of FM including the morphing tones described in this article sent around the 360 degree field. We didn't realize that we were hearing history being made.

9 Moog things, 3 Roland things, 2 Hammond things and a computer with stuff on it

 

 

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Thanks, Sven. That was a good read! Respect to the man. Ya gotta love that FM equation.

 

As someone who owned and enjoyed a DX7 but never really understood how to program it, I wonder: did Dr. Chowning, or Yamaha, ever publish anything describing (in layman terms) the logic behind, or the methods used, to program the various simulations of real instruments mentioned in the article (brass-like, bassoon-like, clarinet-like, and so on) ?

 

(Having just googled it:) I suppose it's this: "FM Theory & Applications - By Musicians For Musicians" by John Chowning & David Bristow. Anyone here ever read that? How was it?

 

 

 

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Articles 12 & 13 at:

 

http://www.soundonsound.com/sos/allsynthsecrets.htm

 

Have a good discussion of FM synthesis. Dr. Chowning saw the potential of something dismissed by others as gimmickry or trickery. Bravo.

 

Thanks for the original post.

 

 

 

Kawai KG-2C, Nord Stage 3 73, Electro 4D, 5D and Lead 2x, Moog Voyager and Little Phatty Stage II, Slim Phatty, Roland Lucina AX-09, Hohner Piano Melodica, Spacestation V3, pair of QSC 8.2s.

 

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Thanks Sven,

 

I always had a love/hate relationship with my DX-7. I hated most of the sounds. I loved that it stayed in tune, had velocity, and weighed a fraction of what my MemoryMoog weighed. I never did dig into the process of programming but I am enjoying reading about the history.

This post edited for speling.

My Sweetwater Gear Exchange Page

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As someone who owned and enjoyed a DX7 but never really understood how to program it, I wonder: did Dr. Chowning, or Yamaha, ever publish anything describing (in layman terms) the logic behind, or the methods used, to program the various simulations of real instruments mentioned in the article (brass-like, bassoon-like, clarinet-like, and so on) ?

 

(Having just googled it:) I suppose it's this: "FM Theory & Applications - By Musicians For Musicians" by John Chowning & David Bristow. Anyone here ever read that? How was it?

If you're the kind of person who hates math the book might give you a headache. But the "x-amples" (boy, does that joke get tired fast) are worth going through. I will assume you have found the scanned pdf version of this online (it's the second Google hit for the book title).

 

Another online resource:

http://www.flitemedia.com/downloads/dx7/BasicFM.pdf

 

If you can get hold of a copy, Howard Massey's "The Complete DX7" and "The Complete DX7-II" get rave reviews. There is, as it turns out, a pdf of the first on the "Interwebs" but I'll not say where lest I be accused of promoting piracy.

 

This is also good for understanding the basic theory of FM:

[video:youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ziFv00PegJg

 

 

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Interesting to read about the rebuild of the Spanish "Gothic Hall" that houses the original of the name "Karma" as applied in music.

 

This sentence made me think of the signature of the piece's writer:

 

"Though the DX7s success paid off the most for Yamaha and Stanford, Chowning was duly rewarded for his role."

 

But, it's entertaining and I suppose educational to read such a posteriori account of a Stanford/Chowning enterprise's filling in of the 4 (traditional) p's. I particularly like Yamaha being accounted to make an honest buck on the basis of innovative technology as a legitimate business with a healthy profit. Refreshing.

 

It's hard to fault Chowning and his Stanford buddies for the way he and his peers set up a synthesis and art form that through it's history has been found to be very little food the dogs of war against music. I mean no matter only a part of the, to many here well known, FM sounds are truly satisfactory as a musical sound, it's all music that has come from this effort.

 

I'm no complete stranger to little parts of the (theoretical) Stanford grapevine, and I'm glad they, without me knowing, carved out a nice summary of sampling related errors with the DX-7. Some may not take it that way, but the article's youtube example and a few more on the YT on Chowning and his work make clear sampling was part of the challenge in making usable FM sounds. I enjoyed playing the second video on my good monitoring system with some Lexicon effect for more space. Even encoded into the obviously far from perfect compressed sound track, many sound properties are still clear.

 

Theo V.

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Terrific read. I owned (and still do) a DX7. Purchased I think in about 1984. At that time Yamaha had a magazine that cam out often with patches created by users. Still have most of those. One particular article showed how to program Hammond sounds with each of the generators representing a drawbar sine wave. This was a really nice patch that when adding a TX-7 could also synthesize percussion and the full drawbar set. Sounded great through my 145.

 

It would be nice to see a article on the technology behind the physical modeling of sound.

 

Thanks Sven !!

Musicale

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