Synthesizers: Building, Composing, Performing

Style: Space Music / Romantic

Influences: Synergy, Vangelis, the 1974-1987 era of Tangerine Dream, early Jean-Michel Jarre,
Erik Satie, Sergei Rachmanninoff

Performances: Piano solo recitals, 1980-1982; Jazz Ensemble (Trombone), 1980-1986

Future Plans: to release a CD of original work, self-financed.

Equipment: Yamaha KX-88, DX-7, TX-816, RX-5; Korg PolySix with self-designed MIDI retrofit; Octave-Plateau Voyetra Eight; Ensoniq Mirage; Roland D-50; PAiA P-4700j modular analog synthesizer, PAiA Fatman (modified). Amiga 3000 computer system running Dr. T's and other vendors MIDI software. Ibanez SDR-1000 digital reverb; Ibanez HD-1500 digital delay; Yamaha DSP-1 sound field processor. Peavey 701-R & 601-R mixers. Vesta multitrack tape machine. Teac W-450R stereo tape unit. Home sound system for monitor/playback; Sony 75ES DAT for digital mastering.


I began my interest in keyboard music with piano lessons (at the age of nine) in 1973. I attended lessons weekly until my departure for college in 1982. At that time, I was under the instruction of a college music professor. While attending college, I remained active in music as a trombonist in both the university marching band and jazz ensemble. It was there I learned the fundamentals of improvisation.

Perhaps even more important, I have always had an intense fascination with electronics. I am currently chief engineer of Temp, Inc., an industrial factory controls and instrumentation manufacturer. I received my bachelor's degree in electrical engineering in 1987, but my real experiences with electronics began long before college.

My first experience playing with a synthesizer was in 1976 when a band came to play at a junior-high gathering. It was an ARP Odyessy, and from the moment I touched it, I was forever hooked. The keyboardist was kind enough to let me play with it when they were not practicing or performing that day.

In 1978, I built my first (of many) microcomputers. In 1980, my constant begging finally prompted my father to purchase a PAiA P-4700j. This was a largish patch-cord programmed synthesizer kit (with a digital keyboard encoder) that took me several m onths to assemble and troubleshoot. By the end of 1980 I was interfacing the PAiA to my ELF-II computer and playing sequences from then-popular songs. (Though I had to program the notes in hexadecimal)

Until 1984, I had little time to devote to my keyboard hobby. At last, a managed to buy a Korg PolySix and begin some composing in earnest. Using only two stereo tape decks and the keyboard (and an analog delay unit) I would write some four-part com postions that went together well enough, but the iterative bouncing of tracks on the tape decks degraded the sound quality.

In 1985, I borrowed money and bought a DX-7. I immediately wanted to layer its voices with the Korg, but at the time no MIDI adapter existed for the PolySix. Undaunted, I set out to build my own, using my knowledge of computer and synthesizer hardware. Though I used a less sophisticated interface than those which upgrade the key assigner computer circuit (mine used a sixty-one analog switch matrix where each analog switch paralleled the corresponding switch on each keyboard key), mine worked equally well and could do something the other type could not: work on any matrix encoded keyboard. In addition, I provided the PolySix with a function it did not have before; it could now respond to MIDI pedal sustain commands. Using the DX-7 and PolySix setup, I managed a few decent compostions. I was now using a Fostex 4-track tape unit, as well as a Korg DDM-110 drum unit.

In 1986 I went nuts and bought the KX-88 (a beautiful keyboard), the TX-816, the Mirage, mixers, and effects units. I acquired the Voyetra in 1991. I do not own a D-50 but rather borrow a friend's when I need the PCM voicings in my work.

I've been an Amiga nut ever since it appeared in 1985. A great machine. A shame it is now an orphaned platform.

Incidentally, I needed DX librarian software before anything was really commercially available, so I wrote my own MIDI data dump software and a friend developed a real-time MIDI sequencer/recorder plus a DX patch bank 'arranger' (allowed the shuffling of DX voices in file sets so I could prepare voice banks for performaces). These programs were written for a Z-80 CP/M computer called the Ampro 'Little Board'. I STILL use it.

In the summer of 1991 I acquired a Sony 75ES DAT machine for use as my digital tape master. Doug Ferguson, a close personal friend and audio engineer of no small accomplishment, has helped me immensely in getting my work ready for pressing.

My musical listening tastes are vast. I have about 1500 CDs and 1300 vinyls. Everything from classical to jazz to new-age to the ("purer" new-age) space music. I have a soft spot for the romantic music style and often try to set romantic themes into my space-music creations. The music of Vangelis and Jean-Michel Jarre (Jarre from 1976-1981) are my best instructional aids; I often refer to their works for insight into tone texture and chord structures. When I need a clinic on sequencer programming I select one of my 62 Tangerine Dream albums and put it on.

I might mention that my first beginning of interest in the keyboard began when I heard Virgil Fox's album of Bach at the Fillmore East. The first synthisizer album to blow me away was Larry Fast's incredible Electronic Realizations for Rock Orchestra in 1975.

I now have 51 minutes of material mastered to DAT for the first CD. As soon as I have enough mastered for 74 minutes, I'll submit the master DAT for production.

Demonstration cassette notes


Old Crow's Electronic Music Page / Christopher S. Rider / syzygy@oldcrows.net