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TECHNOLOGY : Yamaha to Unveil New Products : Music: Synthesizer offers more realistic re-creations using virtual acoustics. At $7,000, it is aimed at professionals.

November 03, 1993|DEAN TAKAHASHI | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Yamaha Corp. of America plans to introduce two new product lines today that it says highlight its growing expertise in using computer technology to more accurately reproduce sound.

The more innovative product to be introduced by the Buena Park-based company is a synthesizer for music aficionados that uses virtual acoustics, or the use of complex mathematical computer models to simulate and reproduce sound.

The technology, the company says, brings electronic sound one step closer to the company's ultimate goal: creating computer-generated sounds that cannot be distinguished from natural or acoustic sounds.

The VL1 synthesizer can re-create the acoustics of woodwind instruments far more accurately than previous methods for electronically generating sound, company officials said. It can reproduce sounds ranging from the sour notes of a Scottish bagpipe to the screeching feedback of a rock star playing a guitar next to an amplifier.

"It's a great leap forward compared to what is used now," said Scott Plunkett, a keyboardist for pop star Don Henley. "It is wonderfully expressive, strangely acoustic for a synthesizer."

The VL1 synthesizer is the first product of many that will use the patented technology, said Ron Raup, senior vice president of Yamaha of America. By year's end, the VL1 will be sold in musical instruments stores for about $7,000, the company said.

Development of the virtual acoustics technology started in 1987, when Yamaha engineers began applying the science of computer modeling--using complex mathematics to simulate realistic situations. Such techniques are used to test aircraft.

By detailing each nuance of a wind instrument, from its shape to the pressure applied when someone blows on it, the Yamaha developers were able to construct a complex computer program to simulate the performance of a wide variety of instruments. This technique of generating sound offers a leap over previous technologies, such as the 1950s-era technology known as sampling.

In sampling, a raw sound bite from an instrument is captured and encoded in a computer chip's memory, then reproduced.

Together with frequency modulation, or FM, sampling forms the core of electronic sound in everything from doorbells to synthesizers. Nuances such as staccato (short, sharp tones) or legato (smooth, blended sounds) often cannot be distinguished with sampling.

But the VL1 is more like capturing a motion picture of sound, something that changes depending on how it is played, Raup said.

"It's like the difference from paging through a photo album and watching a full motion video reproduction," said Charles Feilding, manager of Yamaha's sound design office in Buena Park. "The technology was mature before this opened up."

Feilding said that because mathematics governs the machine, it can be used to create theoretical sounds that cannot be produced with ordinary instruments. For instance, it can produce sound from the combination of the reed of a flute and the body of an oboe.

The virtual acoustic synthesizer, harder to play than a conventional synthesizer, is aimed at music professionals, such as producers of movie scores, who will be able to better appreciate its nuances.

Yamaha of America is a subsidiary of Japan-based Yamaha Corp., which was best known in the past as a maker of pianos, motorcycles, keyboards and other equipment.

The second new product represents Yamaha's move into one of the computer industry's fastest-growing markets. The company is preparing add-on circuit boards, known as sound cards, that deliver high-quality sound for personal computers. The company already supplies millions of chips to companies that make such cards.

Raup said the company may launch a Yamaha sound card business in April, but he said it will target the market's high end to avoid directly competing with its sound chip customers.

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