Most recently, the idea of a single keyboard that freely combines synthesis technologies such as sample playback, FM, and various forms of modeling (analog, physical, plucked string, tonewheel, etc.) calls to mind the Korg Kronos, its forerunner the OASYS, and perhaps the “concept car” OASYS seen at Winter NAMM 1995. Yamaha deserves credit, though, for implementing this idea in two seminal synths, the first of them five years earlier still. In the spirit of this issue, let’s also look at how they foreshadowed the Motif.
Introduced in 1990, the SY77 was the first Yamaha synth to include what would become an important piece of the Motif’s DNA: the Element. Each of four Elements per Voice (patch) could use either a six-operator FM engine like in the DX7, or Yamaha’s AWM2 (Advanced Wave Memory) sample playback. Each Element got its own filter, velocity and keyboard mapping, and panning. You could even modulate an FM operator with a sampled wave. Think about it: Over 20 years ago, the SY77 blended different synthesizers not merely in the same instrument, or even the same multi—but in the same patch.
Reviewed in our December 1998 issue, the EX5 boasted five synthesis types: AWM2 and user sampling, analog modeling, the acoustic/ physical modeling of Yamaha’s pioneering VL1, and “formulated DSP”—advanced per-note processing of AWM2 waves. As in the SY77, you could mix synthesis types within a Voice. On the Motif, PLG expansion boards let you expand your “classic” or ES with diverse synth engines, and though you couldn’t grab Elements from different PLG boards in the same Voice, you could combine their Voices in a multitimbral sequence or Performance (combi). Roots of the Motif’s approach to sequencing include Song and Pattern modes, the ability to trigger phrases and one-shot samples from the keys, and a polyphonic arpeggiator.