Montage Synthesizer

At the NAMM Show this past January, Yamaha Corp. of America launched more than 100 products, thus ensuring that the venerable company—the world’s largest musical instrument manufacturer—was the talk of the show. But perhaps no product attracted more attention than the Montage synthesizer, which will be in stores on May 6 and which will come in 61-, 76- and 88-key configurations. Nate Tschetter, Marketing Manager, Music Production, within Yamaha’s Pro Music Division, detailed for The Retailer how Montage offers players unprecedented control of, and interaction with, sound, but he also offered insight into what makes the category itself appealing. “Synthesizers are incredibly popular right now,” Tschetter affirmed. “Sound quality, interaction and value are driving the demand.” He continued, “Instead of having an ‘all-in-one’ device that does everything, the trend is toward devices that do one thing really well, while allowing musicians to interact directly with the sound through controls, rather than menus or a mouse.”

According to Tschetter, the initial inspiration for Montage was to create an instrument that would allow music-makers to interact with sound in new ways, thereby allowing them to create new forms of musical expression. “Montage has been in development for several years,” he said, “and it’s always focused on the concept of Motion Control and providing new ways to interact with sound.” The more that Yamaha explored the concept, the more the company realized that Motion Control could also unify two of its most successful synthesizer technologies: FM and Advanced Wave Memory (AWM). “The evolution really happened with our amazing sound design team, which had to take this beast of an instrument and figure out how to make Motion Control work,” he added.

Because the Motion Control Synthesis Engine is key to Montage’s capabilities, we’ll delve into more detail. “It lets you interact with the sound in several different ways,” Tschetter began, listing them off: “through your own input via the Super Knob, through rhythm with Motion Sequences or through someone else’s input via the Envelope Follower. You can even have all three interactions happening simultaneously.” He offered a practical example, saying, “Suppose you have a string performance. The Super Knob can smoothly vary the size of your ensemble from a quartet to a full string orchestra. It can take that quartet from a small chamber to a concert hall, and it can adjust the width of the stereo field from narrow for the quartet to wide for the string orchestra…maybe even adjust your audience position from close to far, and so on.” A single control does all of it.

From a Motion Sequence point of view, a player could design a sequence of 16 steps to drive a specific synthesizer parameter or, indeed, even multiple synth parameters. “So,” Tschetter said, “now, rhythm becomes a synthesizer control source for virtually any parameter inside Montage. You can even interact with this pattern in real time by holding certain steps, triggering the Motion Sequence, changing the pattern of the Motion Sequence using Scenes and so on.” And, the Envelope Follower can take audio and turn it into a control source. “For example,” he noted, “take a drum loop and have it output a control source for controlling the filter. Change that from filter to, for example, the pitch of an FM modulator. You can get into some pretty complex synth sounds very quickly.”

Montage boasts the Advanced Wave Memory 2 (AWM2) sound engine, which is Yamaha’s sample-based playback and storage system. “Every sampled sound inside Montage takes a certain amount of storage space,” Tschetter revealed. “Using more storage space allows us to use more samples for longer decay, more velocity layers, more notes sampled, more articulation, etc. It adds to the realism of the instrument.” However, doing so comes at a cost; therefore, Yamaha’s designers always try to find ways to fit as much data into the physical storage space as possible. “That’s where our proprietary compression algorithm comes in,” he continued. “It lets us compress the data onto the physical storage without diminishing quality. This adds to the instrument’s overall realism and sound quality.”

Montage also incorporates the FM-X sound engine, a unique and expressive synthesis technology. “The original Yamaha DX7 digital synthesizer used six-operator FM for sound creation,” Tschetter remarked, “whereas the FM-X sound engine consists of eight operators. This gives an additional pair of operators to embellish the sound.” FM-X’s principal importance centers on how Motion Control can interact with it. “Yamaha synthesizers have always made a point to give the user control over the sound,” he stressed. “FM, by its nature, is an incredibly dynamic and expressive synthesizer technology. So, pairing it with an incredibly deep and sophisticated dynamic Motion Control engine is really powerful.”

Montage boasts a new user interface that, in addition to featuring the Super Knob, offers other enticing enhancements, as well. “The big new thing is the color touchscreen,” Tschetter enthused. “From there, you can select and edit pretty much anything inside of Montage. We’ve also added eight endless rotary encoders and faders with stepladder LED indicators to give more direct sound interaction.” He added that players can use Montage’s panel controls to do pretty much everything they might want to do. “That’s really useful when playing live,” he noted, “because, when performing, your hands aren’t always in the center of the instrument.”

I started this article by noting that Yamaha launched more than 100 products in January at the NAMM Show. Despite that cornucopia of glistening gear, though, Montage nevertheless attracted individual attention. “I found that people had an emotional connection with the instrument: one you could read in their faces as we shared Montage with them,” Tschetter stated. Yamaha’s presented the instrument numerous times, and people consistently have a “wow” moment when they experience it. Tschetter, who described himself as having been “a bit of a curmudgeon” about the idea of something achieving even greater heights than the Motif series, is the ideal surrogate for a player for whom Montage is new. “When you start using it and experiencing it,” Tschetter said with evident enthusiasm, “you see that it adds a new, inspiring dimension to your playing.”

Montage 6, Montage 7 and Montage 8 will be available for $3,499, $3,999 and $4,499, respectively, at Yamaha dealers next month.

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