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The Manual - DX7

The Manual - DX7

I had a keyboard musician friend in the late 1980's who wrote technical instruction/user/service manuals for computers and digital technology. "Oh I don't read manuals" I joked, "I write manuals for people Who don't read manuals" he laughed in response. "Oh ..." is all I could say, for one of those rare occasions I was stumped for a smart-arsed response. "So you know people find them tedious and boring ?" He nodded Yes ".. er so what do you say in these manuals ? " I asked again. He just smiled and laughed "You're just gonna have to read the manuals to find out. You might know a lot of it already, but then you might find out something you didn't know too."

I did actually read manuals, but so many were written for absolute beginners, that people such as myself that had been working with electronic music and computers for 10+ years by the late 1980's, didn't bother, unless something went wrong. Fair enough most of the time.

One occasion I was in a tech shop with a couple of staff tech head mates checking out a new computer model that had just arrived, fresh out of the box. All grown men we stood around complaining about the stupid design of the computer, there was No Mouse port (socket to plug the mouse into)

Idiots, it's a dud we complained, lets ring up a friend who works at the company and give him a hard time about it we said, and did straight away. Then, there were half a dozen of us scanning all over the computer,  on both ends of the phone. The friend at the company had the computer on the desk and the head tech was also looking at it, neither of them had had a chance to look at it in detail yet, it was literally just off the boat delivered that morning. None of us could find the port.

Then the boss of the tech shop stuck his head out of the office to see what all the fuss was about, 'It's got no Mouse Port' we chanted, "RTFM" (Read The Fucking Manual) he said and disappeared back into his office. Grumble grumble grumble, so we thought yeah might as well look, suppose.

Nowhere to be found, we felt vindicated. Well nowhere in the manual that we actually looked that is. On the first page (that we skipped) with all the basic info about how to connect the power cable to a power point on the wall and turn the On switch ON, including pictures and pointing arrows, there it was, 'hidden', unfairly we protested 'under' the full sized detached keyboard, not on the side of it or on the front or back of the computer case, where it 'should' be ! hehe. Well you can be sure that wasn't the only 'fault' we found, there were many, well maybe 2-3, and that was more to do with software updates (included in update discs we still hadn't seen in an unopened accessory box) than the hardware, but still ! :-)

WHAT THE HELL'S AN ALGORITHM ?

That was the first thing I uttered after seeing a DX7 manual, some mathematical formulae from centuries ago, for gods sake I just want to play a synth I groaned. But one thing made me persevere, the Bell sound. Any synth capable of such clarity and complexity in the top end sound spectrum with harmonic nuances I'd never heard in 15+ years of analog synths, had me intrigued. Gotta have me one of these, so I placed an order for one of the first DX7's to arrive off the boat from Japan in Australia 1984.

"They'll never sell, nobody can figure them out!" the sales staff said to me in the shop with the demo DX7 model, the only one in the country, it's a dud. "Dunno" I said, "it's got a velocity keyboard, that's something." Pretty much all synths had a simple switch keyboard at the time, just on or off, the same volume, unless you used a volume knob in conjunction with every keystroke, a real pain and impossible if you play a 3 note chord. The velocity keys meant you could change the volume of every individual note, like on a piano, which makes for a far richer and nuanced synth sound, instead of just loud and loud. And then there was that Bell sound, "Yeah everyone likes the Bell sound" said the sales staff "That's the seller"

Well I got a DX7, found out what an Algorithm was and started making synth sounds I and many muso friends had never heard before. Within no time I started getting phone calls from recording studios and muso's all across town. "We hear that you know how to program DX7 Algorithm's ? We're in a session now and can't get a sound out this thing, can you tell us how to do it ? " "Yeah sure" I'd reply " You got a pen and paper ready ... ?" Then off I'd go, "Whoa whoa.." they'd say "Can you make it simpler ?" "Yeah sure, how about I come across and show you ?" :-)

Here's some pics below of the charts I used to write the Algorithm code parameters 1984. They may look complex compared to twiddling analog knobs, but I can tell you it's much clearer like this than scrolling thru the single line digital display on the DX7, page after page.

Tech heads are welcome to have a try with some of the sounds, but remember the final key is not just the Algorithm data, but how you play it. That takes practice, often for years like anything worth pursuing for years. Then one day the technical manual theory and physical practice come together, and you've got Art. :-)

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