Dave Smith, Whose Synthesizers Shaped Electronic Music, Dies at 72

 

Unlike a piano or organ, early synthesizers, just like the Moog and ARP, might generate just one notice at a time. Shaping a specific tone concerned setting a number of knobs, switches or dials, and making an attempt to breed that tone afterward meant writing down all of the settings and hoping to get related outcomes the following time.

The Prophet-5, which Mr. Smith designed with John Bowen and launched in 1978, conquered each shortcomings. Controlling synthesizer capabilities with microprocessors, it might play 5 notes at as soon as, permitting harmonies. (The firm additionally made a 10-note Prophet-10.) The Prophet additionally used microprocessors to retailer settings in reminiscence, offering reliable but customized sounds, and it was transportable sufficient for use onstage.

Mr. Smith’s small firm was swamped with orders; at instances, the Prophet-5 had a two-year backlog.

But Mr. Smith’s improvements went a lot additional. “Once you’ve got a microprocessor in an instrument, you understand how straightforward it’s to speak digitally to a different instrument with a microprocessor,” Mr. Smith defined in 2014. Other keyboard producers began to include microprocessors, however every firm used a unique, incompatible interface, a state of affairs Mr. Smith mentioned he thought of “sort of dumb.”

In 1981, Mr. Smith and Chet Wood, a Sequential Circuits engineer, offered a paper at the Audio Engineering Society conference to suggest “The ‘USI’, or Universal Synthesizer Interface.” The level, he recalled in a 2014 interview with Waveshaper Media, was “Here’s an interface. It doesn’t must be this, however all of us really want to get collectively and do one thing.” Otherwise, he mentioned, “This market’s going nowhere.”

Four Japanese firms — Roland, Korg, Yamaha, and Kawai — have been prepared to cooperate with Sequential Circuits on a shared customary, and Mr. Smith and Mr. Kakehashi of Roland labored out the main points of what would turn into MIDI. “If we had performed MIDI the same old approach, getting a normal made takes years and years and years,” Mr. Smith informed the Red Bull Music Academy. “You have committees and paperwork and da-da-da. We bypassed all of that by simply principally doing it after which throwing it on the market.”


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