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Article

Anne Beetem Acker

Interactive laser music controller made by Human Beams, Inc., also known as Beamz Interactive, Inc., based in Scottsdale, Arizona. The firm was cofounded in 2001 by the rock musician Paul Riopelle and the Beamz’s inventor, Jerry [Gerald Henry] Riopelle, also a rock musician and record producer. Todor Fay and Melissa Jordan Grey developed the controlling software. The Beamz system was first released in late 2010. Eight patents, for the controller, interactive music creation methods, and applications, had been filed by 2010.

The performer triggers preloaded music sequences, optionally running over a background rhythm track, by interrupting laser beams using the hands or any object. The user need not be able to read music; the system ensures that combinations are always ‘harmonically pleasing’. The model C6 has six laser beams, the C4 has four. The W-shaped Beamz tabletop controller is linked via a USB connection to a host computer running the controller’s software. An easy-to-use computer interface allows the performer to select or store new sequences. Different types of sequences, notes, and sounds can be assigned to each laser. Sound is produced using the computer’s audio hardware and played back through any connected loudspeaker system. The system comes with preloaded songs and settings, with more available for download over the Internet from the firm’s website. In addition the user can save personal music files and improvisations. Particularly intended for the DJ market, the system enables dynamic remixing of songs, and the lasers create a dramatic appearance. The performer can trigger melodies and rhythms that loop on top of each other, incrementally layering the sequences. A sequence can be a melodic or rhythmic pattern that starts, ends, or changes to a different pattern when triggered. A single note of a synthesized instrument can change pitch when triggered, and the player can then trigger different beams to layer in other sounds....

Article

Anne Beetem Acker

[Doctor Rhythm]

Electronic percussion instrument released in 1980 and manufactured by the BOSS division of Roland. Very popular, small, inexpensive and easy to use, the Dr Rhythm model DR-55 was one of the first drum machines to use ‘step-write’ programming, where in ‘write’ mode the user can select a sound and use buttons to move incrementally (‘step’) through each beat of the beat pattern and select a choice of sounds. It can store up to six 16-step drum patterns and two 12-step patterns, the latter for triple-metre rhythms. Its four (analogue) voice-circuit sounds are snare, kick drum, rim-shot, and hi-hat. The pattern can be switched during playing, and volume, tempo (45 to 300 beats per minute), tone, and accent can be globally adjusted. The DR-110 Graphic (1983) adds a graphic display showing a step-programming grid for the drum voices, and includes 16 preset patterns plus 16 memory locations for user-programmed 12- or 16-step patterns, plus two ‘song’ memories for up to 128 bars of patterns. Its drum sounds can be programmed or played in from drum pads....

Article

Anne Beetem Acker

Electronic device that changes the sound of an instrument, especially used with electronic or electric instruments such as electric guitar, bass, and keyboard. An effects unit can be a rack-mounted box with manual controls (most commonly used in studios), a tabletop box with manual controls (commonly used by a DJ), a box set on the floor (a ‘stompbox’) and usually operated by the foot, or built into an amplifier (including those in some electric guitars). Multi-effects (multi-FX) devices combine several effects in one unit, allowing combinations to be pre-set and accessed with one touch. The most common stompboxes have one pedal and one effect, but some offer multiple effects and a simple pedalboard for selection. Effects units can be connected into an ‘effect chain’. If an effects unit in the chain is turned off, the signal passes to the next in the chain, allowing the performer to choose which effects in the chain to control. Multiple effect chains can be controlled from an ‘effects management system’....

Article

Anne Beetem Acker

[KTV]

Electronic music player that accompanies singers with pre-recorded music. The name comes from Japanese, kara (‘empty’) and oke (‘orchestra’). The basic karaoke machine includes some form of music player, a built-in audio mixer, microphone inputs, and audio outputs. The first karaoke systems included a microphone, eight-track tape player, amplifier, loudspeaker, and printed songbooks. Later machines display the lyrics on a video screen, and the more expensive versions can adjust the pitch level to suit the singer without changing tempo (some early systems allowed for changing the pitch but only by changing the tape speed, altering the tempo). Some early 21st-century versions include an Auto-Tune audio processor to correct intonation and software for making music videos. Karaoke systems for public spaces often are integrated into a pedestal that holds the controls, song storage, microphones, and video display, with separate loudspeakers. Portable systems resemble portable CD players, with or without a video screen. Wireless-microphone karaoke systems by companies such as Entertech use television or entertainment consoles for both audio and video. Video-game versions allow singers/players to receive scores or perform ‘with’ famous bands, sometimes as an animated character onscreen....

Article

Lambda  

Anne Beetem Acker

[Korg Lambda ES50]

Analogue string synthesizer manufactured in 1979 by Keio of Tokyo as part of the Korg range. The Lambda has a 48-note keyboard with full polyphony, three voltage control oscillators, chorus and vibrato effects, and one voltage control filter. An unusual feature is the incorporation of two envelope generators for each note. The preset orchestral sounds have limited editing capability. The presets form two groups, each with an independent output: a percussion set (pianos, clavis, and harmonics), and an ensemble set (brass, strings, chorus, and organ). The unit has a joystick that facilitates simultaneous control of pitch bends and chorus phase speed. The string sounds are particularly prized, and modern synthesizer makers include Lambda string sound samples in their libraries. The Lambda was used for live performance and recordings by many rock musicians of the late 1970s and early 1980s including Rick Wakeman, Keith Emerson, and Les Rockets....

Article

Sumanth Gopinath

[portable media player]

An easily transported, often handheld machine that plays pre-recorded and/or broadcast media, sometimes possessing recording capability; the term is most often associated with portable digital audio and multimedia players. The history of the portable media device can be linked decisively, if not exclusively, to the invention of audio recording (portable magic lanterns and other cinematic precursors were common in the 19th century). Mechanical audio devices such as the suitcase gramophone, popular among sailors and soldiers, emerged during the first two decades of the 20th century, and early radio kits were portable, preceding the often-discussed “domestication” of the record player and the radio into household furniture. Radio sets became fitted components in automobiles around 1930, and so-called portable player pianos—portable player piano mechanisms applied to regular pianos—were even invented around the same time. But despite the commonplace description of such devices as “portable,” the term has meant different things at different times and for different devices: one could articulate a scale-of-portability continuum dependent in part on object size, ranging from media playback and transmission machines that were transportable (which by definition would include all consumer models), to those moved about with relative ease while usually requiring stationary setup and usage (including the examples above), to handheld and pocket-sized devices that could allow for media consumption while on the move. Another consideration in portability was the power sources for such devices, which during the first half of the century shifted from the mechanical to the electrical but which were still hampered by the limitations of batteries, notably their cost, size, and storage capacity....

Article

Syndrum  

Hugh Davies

Electronic percussion instrument invented in Los Angeles by Joe Pollard, a professional drummer. In 1976 he met Mark Barton of the Tycobrahe Sound Company in Hermosa Beach, California, who made some well-received prototypes. Along with Donald Stone, they patented the design and formed Pollard Industries of South El Monte, California. The Syndrum is played like a drum, but has a piezo-electric sensor mounted in the centre of a mesh-covered ‘head’. Syndrums were initially made in two forms: the 477, a drum (also in sets of two and four) connected to a separate electronic console, and the 177, a single-drum unit with built-in controls governing electronically generated sounds. The two-head 277 followed. While the Syndrum was very popular with rock bands and for disco in the late 1970s and early 80s, Pollard Industries failed and in 1978 was sold to Research Development Systems, Inc., which added the Syndrum CM, a single-head drum with controls on the sides. All the drums offered multiple sound effects including the ‘laser’, bird calls, clave, anvil, several types of toms, bass drum, and snare drum. Used Syndrums remain popular, and many keyboard synthesizers and sample libraries offer Syndrum sounds. In ...

Article

Anne Beetem Acker

Monophonic analogue synthesizer produced between 1982 and 1984 by Synton Electronics, a Dutch firm founded in 1973 by Felix Visser. The device was created by Visser along with the product specialist Marc Paping and product developer Bert Vermeulen. Synton originally built vocoders, but soon began importing and distributing Fairlight, E-mu, and Linn products in the Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg. The Syrinx 1, created about 1975, was never produced commercially. Only 300 Syrinx 2 synthesizers were built. First priced under £400, but prized by collectors, originals sold for more than £1200 in the early 2000s. The device is not MIDI-compatible and has no presets, but includes two voltage control oscillators, a voltage divider, a noise generator, two ADSRs (attack decay sustain release envelope generators), two low-frequency oscillators, a pulse-width modulator, a ring modulator, and three voltage control filters. It features a mixer and a touch pad that can control pitch-bending and other parameters. All but the last series (which were mounted in a flight case), had a 44-note keyboard. The Syrinx 2 was distributed in the USA by Robert Moog. Synton went bankrupt in ...

Article

Anne Beetem Acker

Sound-effects device that utilizes the player’s mouth as a resonator, allowing the player to form an electric guitar’s or other electronic instrument’s sounds into words and phrases. Output from a phenolic diaphragm speaker is sent through surgical tubing to the player’s mouth, where the sound is modified and picked up by a microphone.

The guitarist Alvino Rey initiated the technology in 1939. In 1950 the Nashville steel guitarist Pete Drake used a small low-powered loudspeaker and funnel coupled to a hose, but it only could be used in the recording studio. The rock guitarist Joe Walsh recorded his hit song ‘Rocky Mountain Way’ with Drake’s system, spurring the need for an onstage version. Bud Ross, owner of Kustom Electronics, introduced a portable 30-watt driver, but the low-powered diaphragm could not hold up to stage use. Walsh then asked Bob Heil (b St Louis, MO, 5 Oct 1940) to build a high-powered version for live performance. The resulting Heil Talk Box was introduced in ...

Article

Anne Beetem Acker

Electronic instrument, controller, and sequencer created by the Japanese media artist Toshio Iwai (b Kira, Aichi, Japan, 1962) and Yu Nishibori of the Music and Human Interface Group at the Yamaha Center for Advanced Sound Technology. The name means ‘sound on your palm’. As part of Iwai’s interest in the relationships between sounds and visual images, he created a number of interactive sound and art installations, including Composition on a Table (1996–9) and Music Insects (1993, San Francisco Exploratorium), as well as popular commercial video games including Otocky (1987) and Electroplankton (2005), using generative interactive music. In creating the Tenori-on, Iwai emphasized beauty with a natural fit to the player’s hands and easy intuitive use. A simpler predecessor was released in 2001 for the WonderSwan, a hand-held gaming system. The Tenori-on was demonstrated at the SIGGRAPH (Special Interest Group on Graphics) conference in Los Angeles in ...