I’ve been posting about synthesisers over on my personal blog, as I’m collecting them again and finding that their trivia helps my sanity. But this site is where we do the Good Old Days, and surely the noise making tools are part of that.
Here is the great list of Severed Heads synthesisers, which has often been requested and provides a cautionary tale for eBay addicts!
1979 KAWAI 100F All over Ear Bitten. A screeching tumult of a machine that works mainly on frequency modulation of the filter by the audio signal. Apart from that not a profound machine. I thought it was normal having never used one before. Then I discovered that I was trying to cook eggs in a crystal skull. Sold it to Garry Bradbury, he eventually broke it but found another.
1980 CASIOTONE M10. It plays more than one note at once! And you can run it through guitar pedals! This was everywhere and still heard on City Slab Horror. Excellent.
1981 ROLAND SH-1 with CSQ-100 All over Clean and a few following albums. A workmanlike machine, not good or bad but able to wash the dishes. The CSQ sequencer holds 100 notes until you turn it off. Traded both when getting the DX7. I wouldn’t pay a lot for this, it’s very vanilla.
1981 PROPHET ONE makes a cameo on Blubberknife. Belonged to John Blades. It has a built in sequencer but we didn’t like it much and ran it through the Kawai on Adolf A Karrot. Probably something that would have improved with a bit more experience.
1982 KORG MS20 first shows up briefly on 80s Cheesecake, most evidently on Anthem 82. I bought it new! Not too many people were using them at the time so the MS20 became our signature sound for a few years running, a very vocal and fruity formant. Eventually I got sick of that sound and chucked the lot. This one ended up with Shannon ONeil. Certainly worth buying the replica but the VST is near perfect.
1982 ROLAND TB303 what a horrible machine. I pre-ordered it and got one of the very first sold. It was here and there on 80s Cheesecake as I tried to make something of it. I then gave it to Robert Racic who never used it. Eventually replaced by the excellent MC202 Microcomposer. The MC202 became the heart of albums to come.
1983 KORG POLYSIX was new for Since The Accident and is very prominent on that Dead Eyes Opened thing where it makes the slowly opening filter sweep. Belongs to my brother (still?) Occasionally also his ROLAND JUNO 60 on which I faked sequence like sounds just by stepping the patches. They are both nice but again, easily matched by software.
1984 Another MS20 + MS50 + SQ10 defined the sound of City Slab Horror especially Bless The House. I got all three for $600. They ended up with Garry Bradbury after I couldn’t bear them any more in about 1988.
1985 OSCar – oops almost forgot. I had an OSCar for a couple of months. Number 77 supposedly was John Foxx’s dump. It was OK, but the description was always a lot more exciting than the reality (which is why I forgot). The additive tones were more church organ than sci-fi. Seen one for $3000 recently – are you kidding?
1985 YAMAHA DX7 All over Stretcher especially Big Blue is Back. I bought it new! I almost got a Jupiter 6, but that seemed a bit unadventurous at the time. It got a hell of a lot of use but I never fully learned it and it was eventually traded for the MIRAGE rack. The DX7 is easily done in software but is still cool.
1986 AKAI S612 sampler belonged to Single Gun Theory. It’s all over Come Visit The Big Bigot along with my new ROLAND SH101 doing most of the drum sounds. The 101 is a nice machine – for about $250, not $2000.
1986 ENSONIQ MIRAGE sampler and YAMAHA DX100. I bought a rack for the 1986 tour and then when that was stolen ended up with a keyboard which was heavy and fell apart. Nevertheless the remnants of this 8 bit machine made Bad Mood Guy. I’d buy a Mirage rack only because nostalgia.
1987 ENSONIQ ESQM rack was a replacement for the Mirage. I love Ensoniq racks, reasonable price and built like brick shit houses. I still have this and even after a rough North American tour and decade it works. I played it with a Keytar! This a very nice machine but again the VST sounds almost the same – I’ve tested it.
1988 YAMAHA TX81z along with the ESQ-M defines the Rotund For Success album. It was much easier to get a sound out of this than the DX7. Traded for the SY77, bad idea. I’d buy again.
1988 ROLAND S220 sampler. Very bad move. Quick discs ruined a few live shows. Needed to go bye bye as quick as I could get rid of it. Some glimpses of it on Cuisine.
1990 YAMAHA SY77 is the heart of Cuisine. You can hear lots of acoustic kinds of noises being run through FM kind of treatments. It is a good machine but not easy to make your own interesting sounds on it. Many years later I gave it to Dave Noyze, broken, because I had developed a hate for big keyboards leaning against walls.
1991 ENSONIQ EPS16+ sampler and soon afterwards ENSONIQ ASR10 sampler. You just can’t go wrong with an Ensoniq rack of that period. The whole Gigapus album was performed off the ASR10 and modules to master – vocals and all. They ended up with Garry Bradbury, still chugging away.
1993 OBERHEIM XPANDER was a long term loan via my brother, who had it from a band that had moved on to even bigger toys. It wasn’t very healthy and fell out of tune a lot – noticeably on Gigapus. It’s pretty good at band-limited kinds of sounds, not basses, and it becomes too recognisable after a while. It wisely went to David Smith who, being more organised, repaired it.
1993 MKS80 SUPER JUPITER was the third main toy on Gigapus, and back at the time only about $400. It was nice for bass sounds but apart from a short loan I didn’t have the programmer so it wasn’t that fun to use. It was sold in The Great Poverty. The price they want now is very stupid for something that sounds about the same as every Roland anything ever.
1993 CASIO CZ101. Pretty good sounds from such a cheap box, but not that fun to create patches. I ended up smashing this on stage at a very boring gig. It was my turn.
1994 KORG MONO/POLY was only $250 but after a few months I didn’t think it was all that exciting and off it went again. Its only trick is unison. Prices for this are ridiculous for what you get. Maybe I should have smashed this – it would upset more people.
1996-1999 The Great Poverty happens about here. I sell off what I can. No one wants the ESQ or the SY77 but the rest goes by 2000. The Music Server Series starts being made on a Sound Blaster. Hey, it’s Ensoniq. Then comes VST – but that’s another story.
As you can see Severed Heads owned all kinds of analogue synthesisers over the years and so they don’t really impress me any more. Instead I’ve mostly started back at the moment when I had to sell things. Think of it as a film splice, I do.
Here’s the TERSE TAPES studio synthesisers as of now in order of batteredness:
- Kawai S100F. Yep another one. Of course. Wouldn’t you?
- AKAI S612. Well seeing as I was one of the first people to ever demo one, it just seemed right.
- ESQ-M still rocking 8 bits.
- Roland JV1010 + Vintage Synth card (bought but not yet here). Cheapest possible example of the ‘S+S’ post D50 decades – an era unknown to me. I suspect it will sound like a Roland.
- Roland SH32. Cheap Roland knob box which replaces nearly every other recent Roland knob anything in my opinion.
- Yamaha DX200. Actually a DX7 on a card mounted in a groove box. Ignore the groove and have a tiny DX7.
- Yamaha AN200. Another card that emulates the Prophet Five. Whether it really does that, it sounds lovely.
- Roland D2. For shits and giggles.
- Korg RADIAS. I saw a photo and felt sad I had been too poor to own such a daft thing, which obviously was some kind of MS20 bastard grandchild. Then I learned about eBay.
- Waldorf Blofeld. Because it’s every PPG style wavetable machine in one. But actually a very versatile and good sounding machine.
- Dave Smith Mopho. My least effort in owning analogue. A decent machine but actually I prefer the AN200 sound.
- Novation MiniNova. In fact the first hardware I had bought in nearly 20 years, specifically for live shows where I needed a vocoder and keys. Good all round synthesiser, it kicked off this new round of collecting!