Well, it's not everyday you receive a mystery gift through post, but today was officially mystery-gift-receiving-thru-the-post day!
It wasn't 100% unexpected as I had an email from a Japanese fan called Tsuyoshi saying that he wanted to send me a toy synth - and it turned out he wasn't joking!
Only a few days later I took delivery of a large parcel covered in Japanese Kanji writing bearing a Kyoto mail address, and this is what I found within:
Inside the box!
'Synthesizer Chronicle' & The Gakken SX-150
Attached to the box is a lovely full colour glossy synth magazine with lots of exciting pictures of classic synths from the MiniMoog to the Roland SH101, and 100's more. There's even a pic of Graham Massey (808 State) playing a Moog Prodigy, same as wot I got.
There's also the circuit diagram for the SX-150, plus instructions on it's assembly and some example patches.
Lots of articles to read, but unfortunately (for me) it's all in Japanese so I can't understand a word of it!
Carefully removing the magazine reveals the box of circuitry and bits that comprise the Gakken SX-150 synthesizer.
To my surprise, it really is a proper (albeit amazingly tiny) synthesizer with the controls one would expect to find on any synth worthy of the name: LFO (sine or square), Filter Cut-off & Resonance, a Pitch Envelope and Attack/Decay.
Even more intriguingly, it has a stylophone type continuous pitch controller. (Can I call it a pitch ribbon? Yeah, why not!)
However, there are important differences between a stylophone and the SX-150. The stylophone (invented in 1967) has a stylus operated keyboard so you can play actual melodies and offers no sound altering possibilities. The SX-150 is the exact opposite - the pitch controller is continuous (making picking out notes quite tricky!), but is able to make a much wider range of sounds with the LFO, filter and pitch envelope all working to make quite a surprising array of sounds and effects for such a 'simple' device.
Particularly good fun is setting a high pitch envelope and sweeping the LFO rate up and down for some serious pitch modulation!
Not only that, but it has proper sockets for output and you can even feed an external audio signal in (not tried that yet, but I will).
As soon as I get a moment I'll record some bits and pieces with it and post them here, but in the meantime you can check out what it sounds like on these links:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=--tJr_fwknM&feature=related (first 25 secs is good!)
I'd just like to say a really big thanks to Tsuyohsi for being so generous in sending me this gift - and I hereby publically promise to use it on the next Cassette Electrik song as a little gesture of thanks for his kindness!
Tsuyoshi is also in a band, in Kyoto, called Flicks, and you should have a listen to his electro/experimental works influenced by everyone from The Slits to Debussy: