image courtesy of Kevin Lightner
"With their development system up and running, the Music Technologies team - er, now Digital Keyboards - focused on the less expensive system. 'Next we came out with this instrument called the Synergy,' Stockell reveals. 'The Synergy was a push-button machine and it didn't offer any programming like the GDS, but it had some interesting aspects to it. One is that it had a sequencer. It was the first keyboard that had a sequencer anything like this. The sequencer allowed you to overdub and play on top of the sequence. It was real easy to use.
"'Another thing was, the Synergy provided the ability to be able to control multiple sounds [up to four] simultaneously from the keyboard - also a first. You could do that with some analog synths, but you couldn't before actually figure out which finger on which key was going to play what sound, and have absolute control over that kind of thing. It could track your hands up and down the keyboard. You could get six floating split zones, and there were all kinds of different modes for assigning sounds to keys. The whole idea of the machine knowing things like which hand was playing what sound was very experimental. We thought it was wonderful. We would design this extensive piece of software to do this one thing, and there was really only one neat tune that you could make with it.'
"Wendy Carlos describes some of the Synergy's controls and capabilities: 'On the far left of the Synergy's front panel, there's a joystick that goes left-to-right for pitch-bend and up-and-down for modulations. I prefer the two Minimoog-style rotary wheels for pitch-bend and modulation but the Synergy had none of those. It also had some rotary knobs for globally controlling timbre, volume sensitivity, vibrato rate, amplitude, and its random rate - aperiodicity is the term they use. Threshold settings allowed keyboard velocity to dynamically control volume or timbre changes and, depending on how the voice was built, could in effect act to change the brightness or inharmonicity in the sound, or some other quality that a live [accoustic] instrument would have if it were played more forcefully.
"'The keyboard had no aftertouch, and even though release velocity was implemented in the voices, a hardware tie-in was never made. Release velocity would have been nice, but I pushed for getting the microtonality tables, because I thought that was more important at the moment, and I guess I still do.
"'There were 24 internal patches that you could toggle rather quickly. The Synergy was among the first synthesizers to have a memory cartridge slot. You could get a device that would let you burn your own ROM chips and you could save your own cartridges of voices. I even built DK a library of voices that they later sold when the machine was in its latter stage of being commercially available.'
"To avoid any confusion, Synergy cartridges stored patch data, not waveforms.
"Wendy continues: ...'The Synergy's oscillator table was 12-bit. Its frequency tables were specified to be 16-bit, and then they were interpolated to be 20-bit, which is how they're able to be used on the microtonality tables. So they're really a good bit better - and I don't mean the pun - than the spec might look. And if you're putting together big additive voices, 12-bit isn't a big limitation, because you'd have to crank down the level of 16-bit oscillators so that the total didn't exceed 16 total [at the output DAC] in the end anyway.'"
[excerpted with permission from the book Vintage Synthesizers by Mark Vail, copyright Miller Freeman, Inc]