A jaunt into Cold War history

This started out as a simple investigation. Then …

Folks who usually visit this site will wonder if their browser landed in the right place. Fear not. In addition to music and computation, I dabble occasionally as an amateur historian — computation and communications, mainly, early Cold War.

First, two book recommendations:

  • Garrett M. Graff, “Raven Rock,” Simon & Schuster, 2017.
  • Sharon Weinberger, “The Imagineers of War,” Alfred A. Knopf, 2017.

Both books are extensively researched, well-written and good reads.

Mr. Graff covers the vast scope of American efforts to provide continuity of government (COG) in the face of a national emergency, nuclear war in particular. This topic is difficult enounh due to its scope, but he also thoroughly manages to cover six decades post World War II.

Ms. Weinberger tells the story of the Department of Defense (DoD) Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA). Many people simply associate ARPA with “The Internet,” but ARPA’s history and contributions are much broader than that. Her description of ARPA’s role in the Vietnam War is especially enlightening, further showing how wrong things went.

ARPA held the charter for America’s first attempt at ballistic missile defense: Project DEFENDER. Reading about Project DEFENDER reminded me about a series of National Security Action Memoranda (NSAM) written during the Kennedy and Johnson administrations. These memoranda document key decisions and directives made by the president and the national security staff. Several of these memoranda assign the “highest national priority,” DX, to certain defense-related projects. Project DEFENDER is one of those assignees (NSAM-191).

DX priority (also known as “BRICK-BAT”) was created by the Defense Production Act (DPA) of 1955. David Bell, directory of the Bureau of the Budget in the Kennedy administration, wrote an excellent, concise summary of the importance and practical significance of DX priority:

“This national priority rating system was established in 1955 primarily for the purpose of alleviating development and production bottlenecks for major national projects of the greatest urgency. … This indication aids any project which is assigned the DX rating in matters such as: The assignment of the most highly quality personnel by contractors and government agencies; the scheduling of effort on the National Test Ranges; and in the competition for the allocation of all resources including financial support.” [David E. Bell, Memorandum for Mr. Bundy, “Request for DX Priority Rating for Project DEFENDER,” September 25, 1962.]

At the time, ten programs had DX priority:

  1. ATLAS weapon system and required construction
  2. TITAN weapon system and required construction
  3. MINUTEMAN (ICBM) weapon system and required construction
  4. POLARIS fleet ballistic missile weapon system (including Mariners I & II and submarines, submarine tenders and surveys)
  5. NIKE-ZEUS guided missile weapon system and required construction (research and development only)
  6. Ballistic Missile Early Warning System (BMEWS) including Project DEW DROP
  7. SAMOS (satellite-borne visual and ferret reconnaissance system)
  8. DISCOVERER (satellite guidance and recovery)
  9. MERCURY (manned satellite)
  10. SATURN booster vehicle (1,500,00 pound-thrust, clustered rocket engine)

All ten programs were key to the Cold War effort at that time: ICBMs, reconnaissance, and manned space flight. Taken together, these projects represented roughly 25 percent of the defense budget, leading Secretary of Defense McNamara to caution against overuse of the DX priority.

On September 23, 1963, President Kennedy signed NSAM-261 giving highest national priority (DX) to Project FOUR LEAVES. The White House diary for that day indicates that Project FOUR LEAVES is a military communication system. One of the enduring mysteries to this day is the exact system to which “Project FOUR LEAVES” refers.

One investigator, Robert Howard, claims that the White House Diary on the JFK library site describes FOUR LEAVES as a “military communication system.” (See “September 23, 1963,” if you can.) I have not been able to verify this personally due to a technical issue with the diary finding aid.

Reading Mr. Garrett’s book encouraged me to return to this mystery. We know from many different sources that the Kennedy administration was highly concerned about the vulnerability and survivability of the federal government under nuclear attack. I recommend the following resources about this subject as its scope is well beyond a blog post:

  • L. Wainstein, et al., “Study S-467 The Evolution of U.S. Strategic Command and Control and Warning, 1945-1972”, Institute for Defense Analyses, June 1975.
  • Thomas A. Sturm, “The Air Force and the Worldwide Military Command and Control System,” USAF Historical Division Liaison Office, August 1966.
  • David E. Pearson, “The World Wide Military Command and Control System: Evolution and Effectiveness,” Air University Press, Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama, June 2000.
  • Bruce G. Blair, “Strategic Command and Control,” The Brookings Institution, 1985.

Given the nature of the projects with DX priority at that time, it is plausible to assert that Project FOUR LEAVES is a military communication system for command and control of nuclear war.

At first, I was inclined to think of the four leaves as the four major components of the National Military Command System. In February 1962, Secretary of Defense McNamara approved a National Military Command System (NMCS) consisting of four elements:

  1. The National Military Command Center (NMCC)
  2. The Alternate National Military Command Center (ANMCC) Site R
  3. The National Emergency Command Post Afloat (NECPA)
  4. The National Emergency Airborne Command Post (NEACP)

In October 1962, he issued a DoD directive on the World-Wide Military Command and Control System (WWMCCS) that included these elements. According to DoD Directive 5100.30, “Concept of Operations of the World-Wide Military Command and Control System”, 16 October 1962:

The NMCS is the priority component of the WWMCCS designed to support the National Command Authorities (NCA) in the exercise of their responsibilities. It also supports the Joint Chiefs of Staff in the exercise of their responsibilities.

The NCA consists only of the President and the Secretary of Defense or their duly deputized alternates or successors. The chain of command runs through the President to the Secretary of Defense and through the Joint Chiefs of Staff to the commanders of the Unified and Specified Commands.

By October 1962, these elements were well-established and the development of AUTOVON with its hardened sites was underway. The list omits the (then) highly secret government Mount Weather relocation site (also called “HIGH POINT” or euphemistically, the “Special Facility.”) There is a big difference in the secrecy attached to AUTOVON vs. HIGH POINT. The latter is rarely mentioned or discussed in Kennedy era memoranda even by its euphemistic name.

One needs to consider the strategic situation at the time. American assets were increasingly threatened by land- and submarine-based Soviet ICBMs. Warning time and reaction time was, at best, fifteen minutes, making it unlikely that the president could make it safely to the most survivable NMCS element, NEACP. The leadership also feared pre-placement of nuclear devices cutting warning and reaction time to zero. Given the small number of leadership nodes and short warning time, I cannot overemphasize the acute danger and probability of a successful decapitation strike against the highest levels of the American govenment (the NCA). The American leadership was aware of this vulnerability and feared it.

The only practical recourse was to increase redundancy, to preposition successors and delegates, and to make targeting more difficult for the Soviets. (Compounding the problem was the inadequacy of laws governing succession. This was before the 25th Amendment and makes for an interesting analysis including constitutionality.) The government needed to increase the number of relocation sites, to provide communication between sites and established command nodes, to provide the means to identify a lawful presidential successor, and to provide the means of issuing an emergency war order (EWO).

Thus, I’ve come to believe that FOUR LEAVES refers to the AT&T “Project Offices” as described in Mr. Grass’s book. In addition to AUTOVON, AT&T were contracted to design and construct five highly secret, hardened bunkers:

  • A site to support the ANMCC (Site R).
  • A site to support HIGH POINT.
  • A relocation site in Virginia, south of the D.C. relocation arc.
  • A deep relocation site in North Carolina.
  • A relay station between the relocation site in Virginia and the deep site in North Carolina.

The sites were linked by a troposcatter radio system. AUTOVON, by way of comparison, was interconnected by coaxial cable and microwave communications. The Project Office sites are often conflated with AUTOVON, but this confusion is likely intentional in order to provide cover for the Project Office construction and locations.

As a system, an important likely goal was continuing communication with the most survivable element of NMCS, NEACP. NEACP’s duty was to orbit at the eastern end of the Post Attack Command and Control System (PACCS). The EWO issued by the NCA aboard NEACP would be sent via multiple air-to-air and ground channels to bases and missile fields in the American mid-west. NEACP’s orbital area is determined by its ability to inject the EWO via air-to-air and air-to-ground links, and by its ability to avoid and survive a Soviet barrage attack. Thus, NEACP needs a large area well-outside of the D.C. relocation arc which, quite frankly, would be an unimaginable thermonuclear horror during an attack.

The relocation site in North Carolina was the southern terminus of the chain. Local folklore describes the buried structure as several stories tall — much bigger than the one- or two-story cut and cover bunkers used by AUTOVON. Very likely, this site, known by locals as “Big Hole,” was a major emergency leadership node. Survival of this site and its peers depended upon absolute secrecy.

Is this analysis proof that Project FOUR LEAVES is the AT&T relocation project? No, but it does point in that direction. If FOUR LEAVES is the construction of the five Project Office sites, DX priority would compel AT&T to give highest priority to personnel, equipment, material and schedule above AUTOVON. Given the acute danger of nuclear decapitation, time was of the essence.

What of the five Project Office sites today? The relay station (Spears Mountain 5, Virginia) has been shut down. It is now the private property of its homeowner. (You Tube video) Troposcatter radio is no longer needed, supplanted by the redundancy and higher bandwidth of fiber optic networks and satellite communication. “Big Hole” has been mothballed.

The site in Virginia near Mount Weather is now a site of controversy. AT&T applied for a permit to construct a “data center” on the site. The permit was publicly contested and AT&T stopped the project (Project Aurelia) when publicity became too great. See the Loudoun County Council and Loudoun Now for additional information.

Peters Mountain remains in operation.

Copyright © 2017 Paul J. Drongowski

Pocket Miku software resources

This page is a collection of resources for using and programming Gakken Pocket Miku, also known as the “NSX-39”. It starts out with a cheat sheet for using Pocket Miku, moves on to Web-based applications, and finishes with customization and MIDI System Exclusive (SysEx) messages.

Be sure to read the Pocket Miku user’s guide before starting. The material below is not a hand-holding tutorial!

Pocket Miku cheat sheet

Stylus area

The lower part of the stylus area is a chromatic keyboard which plays notes. The upper part of the stylus area is a ribbon controller. Touch the stylus to either area to make music.

This is a classic resistive keyboard/ribbon controller. Stylus actions are converted to MIDI note ON, MIDI note OFF and pitch bend messages. The MIDI note is fixed: F#. MIDI pitch bend messages determine the actual final pitch which is heard.

Operating modes

Pocket Miku has two major operating modes:

  1. Normal mode
  2. NSX-1 compatibility mode

Pocket Miku boots into normal mode. In this mode, the NSX-39 recognizes and responds to stylus actions, button presses, etc.

Pocket Miku has three submodes in the normal operating mode:

  1. Do-Re-Mi mode with scales (default)
  2. A-I-U-E-O mode with vowels (SHIFT + vibrato button)
  3. Preset lyric mode with 5 lyrics (SHIFT + one of the AEIOU buttons)

The default phrases in preset lyric mode are:

    SHIFT + A    Konnichiwa Arigato (Hello, thank you)
    SHIFT + I    Butterfly song (choucho)
    SHIFT + U    Cherry blossom song (Sakura)
    SHIFT + E    Auld Lang Syne (Hotaru no hikari)
    SHIFT + O    Irohanihoheto

The magic key combination U + VOLUME UP + VOLUME DOWN switches between normal mode and NSX-1 compatibility mode. Pocket Miku plays a high hat hit when changing modes (not a “beep”). The Yamaha Web applications use NSX-1 compatibility mode. NSX-1 compatibility mode is also good for DAW-based sequencing since it decreases latency by disabling the interpretation of MIDI System Exclusive messages that are meaningful only to the NSX-39 microcontroller.


Pocket Miku responds to single button presses and combinations:

    A-I-U-E-O    Selects on of the vowel phonemes
    VIBRATO      Adds vibrato to the sound
    SHIFT        Selects additional functions and modes
    VOLUME UP    Increase volume
    VOLUME DOWN  Decrease volume

    SHIFT + A, SHIFT+I, ...   Select A-I-U-E-O vowel mode
    SHIFT + VIBRATO           Select Do-Re-Mi mode
    SHIFT + VOLUME UP         Octave up
    SHIFT + VOLUME DOWN       Octave down
    VIBRATO + VOLUME UP       Pitch bend up (up one semi-tone)
    VIBRATO + VOLUME DOWN     Pitch bend down (down one semi-tone)

    A + VOLUME UP + VOLUME DOWN        Panic reset
    U + VOLUME UP + VOLUME DOWN        Select NSX-1 mode
    O + VOLUME UP + VOLUME DOWN        Retune Pocket Miku
    SHIFT + VOLUME UP + VOLUME DOWN    Initialize (factory reset)

Web-based applications

Gakken NSX-39 applications

Gakken provide three applications specifically for the NSX-39 (in normal mode). The applications are at http://otonanokagaku.net/nsx39/app.html.

Google Chrome version 33 or later is required because the Gakken applications use the Web MIDI API.

Connect NSX-39 to your computer with a USB cable and set the power switch of the NSX-39 to “USB”. If you do not connect the NSX-39 before you start Google Chrome, the NSX-39 will not be recognized by the application.

The Web MIDI API must be enabled in Google Chrome. After starting Chrome, enter:


in the address bar as shown on the first “Browser Settings” screen. Then, enable the API in the “Enable Web MIDI API” column. Please click the appropriate button (e.g., “Use Windows Runtime MIDI API”) and restart Google Chrome.

Launch the desired application from here:

Once you agree to the End User License Agreement (EULA), you can connect to the NSX-39 (Pocket Miku’s model number).

If this procedure does not work, please restart the computer and proceed from the first step.

Application: Input lyrics

You can edit the lyrics by pressing the “E” button in the lyric input slot. Only Hiragana can be input. After inputting lyrics, pressing “Enter” on the keyboard and the app sends lyric data to Pocket Miku.

After sending lyrics data, when playing Pocket Miku, Pocket Miku sings according to the sent lyrics.

Lyrics can input 64 letters per slot. There are 15 slots and they are selected with [A] - [O], [SHIFT] + [A] - [O], [VIBRATO] + [A] - [O].

Press [SHIFT] + [VIBRATO] during editing to switch to Do-Re-Mi mode.

Application: Play in realtime

This is an application where you can input and play lyrics in realtime. If you hover over the tile where the letters are written on the screen, you can pronounce that character.

Tiles can be selected from 50, mentai (voiced, semi-voiced), small letters (1) (2), jiyuu (free arrangement) mode.

Jiyuu is a mode that allows you to place characters freely using the “frog” menu:

  • Tsukasa … You can add up to 50 letters, panels.
  • Move … Move the panel to the desired position by dragging.
  • Ken … You can delete the panel by clicking it.
  • Reading … Read the saved character panel setting file.
  • Upload … Save the character panel setting as an external file.

Google Translate didn’t do so well with these instructions! Sorry.

Change configuration

Config is an abbreviation for configuration and means “setting.” With this application, you can change the settings of Pocket Miku and add new functions. The following four operations are supported:

  • Startup sound for function addition pack
  • SHIFT button Character heading / character advance
  • Effect ON / OFF
  • Harmony

Please press the “Install” button and read the displayed message and if there is no problem press the “Send” button. When all the functions are installed, a voice saying “Owarai” appears, and writing the settings is completed.

If you want to restore the settings back, please click the “Uninstall” button, read the explanation carefully, and press the “Send” button if there is no problem.

Yamaha NSX-1 applications

Yamaha provide open source sample apps (Japanese language) at http://yamaha-webmusic.github.io/. The Yamaha applications use the Web MIDI API. See the directions above in order to set up Google Chrome.

In order to use these applications, you must change Pocket Miku to NSX-1 compatibility mode by pushing U + VOLUME UP + VOLUME DOWN simultaneously.

Aides Technology application

Aides Technology is the developer of the Switch Science NSX-1 Arduino shield.

They have one very handy Web application when MIDI sequencing. The application translates romaji (kana text) lyrics to an NSX-1 System Exclusive (SysEx) message. You can copy the HEX SysEx message from the page and paste it into your DAW. On Windows, the application will put the SysEx message on the Windows clipboard automatically.

You may also need this ASCII to Hex text converter when debugging your SysEx messages.

I’m a long time SysEx HEX warrior. Trust me, this is the way to go!

Customization and MIDI System Exclusive messages

Customization is the most difficult topic due to its complexity and the general lack of English language resources. Customization is performed through MIDI System Exclusive messages instead of simple textual commands. This approach enables use of the Web MIDI API, but makes it darned difficult to compose messages by hand.

I’m told that the Gakken Official Guide Book (Gakken Mook) contains a short section about customization via SysEx. However, one cannot cram a paper magazine through Google Translate. 🙂

The next best thing is the Pocket Miku Customization Guide (PDF) by Uda Denshi (polymoog). This guide and Google Translate will only take you so far.

The absolute best English language resource is the series of blogs written by CHH01:

Please note that Pocket Miku has two major subsystems: a microcontroller and the Yamaha NSX-1 integrated circuit. Each subsystem has its own SysEx messages. See the Yamaha NSX-1 MIDI implementation reference manual for information about its SysEx messages. Messages interpreted by the microcontroller are described in the Pocket Miku Customization Guide. These messages are turned OFF when Pocket Miku is in NSX-1 compatibility mode.

The NSX-39 SysEx implementation is very powerful. You can change the lyrics which are stored in flash memory (15 lyric slots), change the way the NSX-39 responds to button presses (120 command slots), read switch states, and much more. Here is a list of the main customization message types (thanks to CHH01):

F0 43 79 09 11 d0 d1 d2 d3 d4 d5 ... F7

Request Version Data          d0=0x01 d1=N/A
Version Data Reply            d0=0x11 d1=NSX-39 version data
Lyrics Entry                  d0=0x0A d1=lyrics slot number   d2=character data
Request Command Slot Details  d0=0x0B d1=command slot number
Command Slot Reply            d0=0x1B d1=command
Change Command Slot           d0=0x0C d1=command slot number  d2=command
Command Direct Entry          d0=0x0D d1=command
Lyric Number Data Request     d0=0x0E d1=N/A
Lyric Number Data Reply       d0=0x1E d1=Slot number          d2=Slot data
Lyric Details Request         d0=0x0F d1=Slot number
Lyric Details Reply           d0=0x1F d1=character count      d2=character 1, etc.
Switch State                  d0=0x20 d1=000000ih             d2=0gfedcba
NSX-39 Status                 d0=0x21 d1=Status

Good luck with your investigations and experiments!

Copyright © 2017 Paul J. Drongowski

Summer NAMM 2017: Two new toys

So far, Summer NAMM 2017 is turning out to be a total sleeper for keyboard players. Here’s a couple of new toys that could be fun for musicians on the run.

Looks like the Yamaha SC-02 SessionCake is coming to North America ($99 USD). The SessionCake is a battery-powered brick which, by itself, it a kind of headphone amplifier that lets you add effects or whatever through an iOS device. But, wait, there’s more! Up to eight SessionCakes can be chained together into a Borg-like mixer for group jams.

Kraft Music are the first to list the SC-02. There are also more details on the Japanese Yamaha site. There are two models: one for keyboard and one for guitar/bass.

The other little box that is flying in under the radar is the Boss DR-01S Rhythm partner ($229 USD).

Depending upon how you want to look at it, the DR-01S is either a metronome on steroids or a classic rhythm box with a speaker and bongo-like styling. No, you don’t physically beat on the thing although it’s possible to trigger a percussion instrument via footswitch. The DR-01S sports rhythms for “acoustic musicians” and has the expected goes in and goes outtas like AUX IN and LINE OUT. It runs on 6 AA batteries.

The reference to “acoustic musicians” makes me think “no heavy metal.” I’m going to give the DR-01S a listen and see if its patterns are appropriate for contemporary liturgical music. Since it’s a small unit, I worry about sound quality (boxiness) and whether I could run a keyboard through it without a mushroom cloud. Could be fun and useful!

Pocket Miku pictures

Thanks very much to our friends at japan24net on eBay! They did a superb job of packing and Pocket Miku arrived at our house in record time. どうもありがとうございました

Now, the obligatory pictures! Please click on the images for higher resolution. Front:

The back:

With the rear cover off:

And finally, the money shot:

That looks like a 12.000 MHz crystal. Sorry, I didn’t have time to work through the data sheet and compute the CPU clock frequency. (96MHz maximum)

Copyright © 2017 Paul J. Drongowski

Pocket Miku hardware resources

Pocket Miku, also known as “NSX-39,” has three major integrated circuit components:

Here is the Pocket Miku NSX-39 circuit schematic.

The Generalplus GP3101A is a system on a chip (SOC) advanced multimedia processor. The GPEL3101A is an ARM7TDMI processor with integrated RAM and many peripheral interfaces including:

  • 136KByte SRAM
  • Universal Serial Bus (USB) 2.0 interface
  • 8 channel sound processing unit (SPU)
  • SPI (master/slave) interface
  • Programmable general I/O ports (GPIO)
  • 6-channel, 12-bit analog to digital converter (ADC)
  • 16-bit stereo (2-channel) audio digital to analog converter
  • 0.5W class AB mono audio amplifier

Here is the Generalplus GP31P1003A product brief. The NSX-39 schematic does not specify the clock crystal frequency, but the GP31P1003A can operate up to 96MHz.

The Yamaha NSX-1 eVocaloid processor communicates with the GPEL3101A via SPI. MIDI messages, commands, and initialization data are communicated serially. The GPEL3101A control software converts MIDI over USB to MIDI messages sent to the NSX-1 via the SPI connection.

The GPEL3101A senses the keyboard and stylus inputs through its 6-channel, 12-bit ADC.

The NSX-1 generates a digital audio stream which is sent to the GPEL3101A digital audio auxiliary input. The GPEL3101A converts the digital audio to analog audio using its DAC. (This is a neat solution — no discrete DAC component!) The GPEL3101A sends analog audio to the external PHONE OUT and amplified audio is driven into the NSX-39’s speaker.

The Macronix MX25L1635E is a 16Mbit CMOS serial flash memory. It communicates with the GPEL3101A via SPI (4xI/O mode). The memory can retain 2MBytes of data. The MX25L1635E holds the NSX-39 control program and (probably) the initial eVocaloid database. The eVocaloid database must be loaded into an internal RAM memory within the NSX-1 eVocaloid processor.

We can infer that the eVocaloid database cannot be larger than 2MBytes. The NSX-1 typically sets aside 2MBytes for the database within its large capacity internal RAM memory. Because this memory volatile RAM, it must be initialized with the eVocaloid database at start-up. It would be a sweet hack to replace the eVocaloid database with an English language database or Real Acoustic Sound (RAS) waveforms.

The NSX-39 software keeps the lyric slots and the command slots in the Macronix flash memory. This arrangement retains lyrics and commands across power-down.

Copyright (c) 2017 Paul J. Drongowski

Summer NAMM 2017 preview

Time for a brief Summer NAMM 2017 preview.

Summer NAMM is rarily as exciting as Winter NAMM, so I don’t expect much in the way of new product announcements.

Roland just recently had their “Future Redefined” [whatever] event, so I doubt if Roland will announce anything new. Korg are promoting their Grandstage stage piano. Be sure to check out the Grandstage introductory video on Youtube in which Rosemary Minkler and her jazz trio absolutely burn up the stage. (If you don’t like jazz, well, OK.)

From the few industry previews on-line, Yamaha will feature keyboard products that were previously announced at Musikmesse, along with the MX88. Yamaha will introduce the PSR-EW300 ($250 USD) to the North American market. The EW300 is a 76-key version of the PSR-E363 entry-level arranger keyboard. Both the EW300 and E363 feature 48 voice polyphony, up from 32 voices. The EW300 and E363 pages claim “improved sampling,” which is good because Yamaha’s entry-level was really getting tired. (I have yet to hear the “improved sampling,” BTW.) Perhaps a new spin of the SWL01 processor family as well?

I’m rather surprised that it hasn’t been mentioned on the forums, but Yamaha cut prices across the entire Reface line on July 1. A big price cut before Summer NAMM is kind of suspicious. We live in the age of imagined conspiracy…

Advertised prices for the Reface series seemed to have settled. The DX and CS models are $300 USD. Price for YC and CP models have settled around $370 USD. The Guitar Center web site has flagged all models as “CLEARANCE,” so this may be the last we see of Reface, two years after introduction at Summer NAMM 2015. The disparity between DX/CS and YC/CP pricing may reflect the depth of existing inventory or perhaps popularity. Yamaha, as usual, knows for sure.

So, let’s imagine a conspiracy! Wouldn’t it be grand to see Reface v2 at Summer NAMM 2017 replete with full-size keys?

Speaking of “Minimum Advertised Price” or “MAP.” Electro-Harmonix are dropping the retailer Amazon due to grievances over MAP policy. If you’re not familiar with “MAP” or “the street price,” you should get hip as a consumer. MAP is a way for a manufacturer to prop up product pricing without (barely) running afoul of price fixing laws. MAP is why every on-line retailer seems to have the same price. (You should always call to get the best price.)

Amazon, according to Electro-Harmonix, allow “alias” companies — stores — to advertise below MAP. Thanks to commingling of sales by Amazon, Electro-Harmonix cannot track below-MAP sales back to dealers and enforce dealer agreements. This whole area (MAP) is a cesspool and frankly, none of the parties get much sympathy from me.

Yamaha NSX-1 resources

Here are some of the Yamaha NSX-1 resources that I’ve found on-line. It took a lot of browsing to find English language resources! I apologizing for writing a rather terse blog post — just the facts, documents and links!

Please check out my own posts on this site:

I hope these resources help your exploration of the NSX-1, eVocaloid and Pocket Miku!

Sound source specifications

Sound source methods  EVocaloid, Real Acoustic Sound, Wavetable 
                      method (General MIDI)
Maximum polyphony     64
Multi-timbral         Sound source 16 parts, A / D input part × 2
Waveform memory       Equivalent to 4 Mbytes
Number of voices      EVocaloid (eVY 1 (Japanese)) / Real Acoustic 
                      Sound × 30 types, General MIDI × 128 kinds
Number of drum kit    1 Drum Kit (General MIDI)
Effects               Reverb × 29, Chorus × 24, Insertion × 181,
                      Master EQ (5 Bands)

Hardware specifications

Host Interface        SPI / 8 bit parallel / 16 bit parallel
Audio interface       Input × 2, output × 2
Power supply          1.65 V - 3.6 V [Core] 1.02 V - 1.20 V
Power consumption     [Standby] 10 µA [Operating] 12 mA to 22 mA
Package               80-pin LQFP (0.5 mm pitch, 12 mm × 12 mm),
                      76-ball FBGA (0.5 mm pitch, 4.9 mm × 4.9 mm)

Software specifications

Serial Comm Interface      Bit length     8
                           Start bit      1
                           Stop bit       1
                           Parity bit     none
                           Transfer rate  31250 bps or 38400 bps
Program change             CH.1    eVocaloid only (eVY1)
                                   Not receive program change messages
                                   Monophonic pronunciation
                           CH.2 - CH.16   General MIDI voices
System exclusive message   GM ON, XG parameter, Lyrics data etc.
                           Not received other than Yamaha ID
                           Some Yamaha ID still does not received
                           (such as music instrument specific)
Other MIDI messages        Channel message
                           NRPN, RPN
Lyrics data                Transfer by System Exclusive or NRPN messages
Continuous operating time  8 hours (eVocaloid specification)
                           If exceeded, requires power off, reset,
                           and NSX-1 reboot, etc.

Real Acoustic Sound

As mentioned in my earlier post, the Yamaha NSX-1 integrated circuit implements three sound sources: a General MIDI engine based on the XG voice architecture, eVocaloid and Real Acoustic Sound (RAS). RAS is based on Articulation Element Modeling (AEM) and I now believe that eVocaloid is also a form of AEM. eVocaloid uses AEM to join or “blend” phonemes. The more well-known “conventional” Vocaloid uses computationally intensive mathematics for blending which is why conventional Vocaloid remains a computer-only application.

Vocaloid uses a method called Frequency-domain Singing Articulation Splicing and Shaping. It performs frequency domain smoothing. (That’s the short story.)

AEM underlies Tyros Super Articulation 2 (S.Art2) voices. Players really dig S.Art2 voices because they are so intuitively expressive and authentic. Synthesizer folk hoped that Montage would implement S.Art2 voices — a hope not yet realized.

Conceptually, S.Art2 has two major subsystems: a controller and a synthesis engine. The controller (which is really software running on an embedded microcomputer) senses the playing gesture made by the musician and translates those gestures into synthesis actions. Gestures include striking a key, releasing a key, pressing an articulation button, moving the pitch bend or modulation wheel. Vibrato is the most commonly applied modulation type. The controller takes all of this input and figures out the musician’s intent. The controller then translates that intent into commands which it sends to the synthesis engine.

AEM breaks synthesis into five phases: head, body, joint, tail and shot. The head phase is what we usually call “attack.” The body phase forms the main part of a tone. The tail phase is what we usually call “release.” The joint phase connects two bodies, replacing the head phase leading into the second body. A shot is short waveform like a detached staccato note or a percussive hit. A flowing legato string passage sounds much different than pizzicato, so it makes sense to treat shots separately.

Heads, bodies and tails are stored in a database of waveform fragments (i.e., samples). Based on gestures — or MIDI data in the case of the NSX-1 — the controller selects fragments from the database. It then modifies and joins the fragments according to the intent to produce the final digital audio waveform. For example, the synthesis engine computes joint fragments to blend two legato notes. The synthesis engine may also apply vibrato across the entire waveform (including the computed joint) if requested.

Whew! Now let’s apply these concepts to the human voice. eVocaloid is driven by a stream of phonemes. The phonemes are represented as an ASCII string of phonetic symbols. The eVocaloid controller recognizes each phoneme and breaks it down into head, body and tail fragments. It figures out when to play these fragments and when bodies must be joined. The eVocaloid controller issues internal commands to the synthesis engine to make the vocal intent happen. As in the case of musical passages, vibrato and pitch bend may be requested and are applied. The NSX-1 MIDI implementation has three Non-Registered Parameter Number (NRPN) messages to control vibrato characteristics:

  • Vibrato Type
  • Vibrato Rate
  • Vibrato Delay

I suspect that a phoneme like “ka” must be two fragments: an attack fragment “k” and a body fragment “a”. If “ka” is followed immediately by another phoneme, then the controller requests a joint. Otherwise, “ka” is regarded as the end of a detached word (or phrase) and the appropriate tail fragment is synthesized.

Whether it’s music or voice, timing is critical. MIDI note on and note off events cue the controller as to when to begin synthesis and when to end synthesis. The relationship between two notes is also critical as two overlapping notes indicate legato intent and articulation. The Yamaha AEM patents devote a lot of space to timing and to mitigation of latency effects. The NSX-1 MIDI implementation has two NRPN messages to control timing:

  • Portamento Timing
  • Phoneme Unit Connect Type

The Phoneme Unit Connect Type has three settings: fixed 50 msec mode, minimum mode and velocity mode in which the velocity value changes the phoneme’s duration.

As I mentioned earlier, eVocaloid operates on a stream of phonetic symbols. Software sends phonetic symbols to the NSX-1 using either of two methods:

  1. System Exclusive (SysEx) messages
  2. NRPN messages

A complete string of phonetic symbols can be sent in a single SysEx message. Up to 128 phonetic symbols may be sent in the message. The size of the internal buffer for symbols is not stated, but I suspect that it’s 128 symbols. The phoneme delimiter is ASCII space and the syllable delimiter is ASCII comma. A NULL character must appear at the end of the list.

The NRPN method uses three NRPN message types:

  • Start of Phonetic Symbols
  • Phonetic Symbol
  • End of Phonetic Symbols

In order to send a string of phonetic symbols, software sends a start NRPN message, one or more phonetic symbol NRPN messages and, finally, an end of phonetic symbols NRPN message.

Phonetic symbols are stored in a (128 byte?) buffer. The buffer lets software send a phrase before it is played (sung) by the NSX-1. Each MIDI note ON message advances a pointer through the buffer selecting the next phoneme to be sung. The SEEK NRPN message lets software jump around inside the buffer. If software wants to start at the beginning of the buffer, it sends a “SEEK 0” NRPN message. This capability is really handy, potentially letting a musician start at the beginning of a phrase again if they have lost their place in the lyrics.

When I translated the Yamaha NSX-1 brochure, I encountered the statement: “eVocaloid and Real Acoustic Sound cannot be used at the same time. You need to choose which one to pre-install at the ordering stage.”. This recommendation is not surprising. Both RAS and eVocaloid must have its own unique database; RAS has instrument samples and eVocaloid has human vocal samples. I don’t think, therefore, that Pocket Miku has any RAS (AEM) musical instrument samples. (Bummer.)

Speaking of databases, conventional Vocaloid databases are quite large: hundreds of megabytes. eVocaloid is intended for embedded applications and eVocaloid databases are much smaller. I’ll find out how big once I take apart Pocket Miku. Sorry, Miku. 🙂

I hope this article has given you more insight into Yamaha Real Acoustic Sound and eVocaloid.

Copyright © 2017 Paul J. Drongowski


More fun with large scale integration (LSI).

I went mad with desire when I heard about the Switch Science eVocaloid eVY1 shield for Arduino. The bad news is Switch Science is out of stock and is not making the board any longer.

I started to deep dive the Yamaha NSX-1 eVocaloid IC at the heart of the eVY1 shield and eventually found some specs. The NSX-1 responds to sixteen MIDI channels. Channel 1 is dedicated to eVocaloid — a monophonic singing voice. Channels 2 through 16 are assigned to the polyphonic, multi-timbral MIDI synthesizer. The MIDI synthesizer conforms to the XG voice and effects architecture. Unfortunately, the wave memory is about 2MBytes, putting it at the same level as an old school QY-70. (Got one of those already.)

I uploaded Yamaha’s NSX-1 brochure. Take a peek. Please note the waveform diagram on page 2 (i.e., head, body, joint, tail) eVocaloid and Articulated Element Modeling (AEM) are definitely siblings. “Conventional” Vocaloid uses computational heavy mathematics to blend phonemes. eVocaloid and conventional Vocaloid are more like cousins.

Assessing the MIDI implementation, software needs to pump abbreviations for eVY1 phonemes into the NSX-1 to make it sing. A string of abbreviated phonemes is sent via SysEx message. Looks like the developers got burned by the long SysEx message problem in Windows XP as they recommend using Windows Vista or later.

The vocal database (consisting of samples and more) is stored in a surface mount IC beneath the board. It isn’t possible to replace the vocal database with instrument samples in order to take advantage of the NSX-1’s Real Acoustic Sound (RAS) synthesis. eVocaloid mode and RAS mode are exclusive and cannot be used at the same time. Doesn’t look like we can get Super Articulation 2 voices on the cheap. (Bummer.)

Given these limitations, my ardour cooled rather quickly! However, leave it to Katsunori UJIIE to lift my spirits. Check out UJIIE’s demonstration of the Gakken NSX-39, Pocket Miku.

Meanwhile, my quest for a light-weight, self-contained, battery-powered rehearsal keyboard goes on. Recently, while I waited for the GC associate to process my returned Roland GO:KEYS, I plinked away on a Yamaha NP-12. The NP-12 is certainly cheap enough ($170 USD) and light enough (just shy of 10 pounds). Although it has only ten voices, I could MIDI the NP-12 to the MidiPlus miniEngine USB sound module for non-piano voices. A quick experiment with the miniEngine and the PSR-S950 proved feasibility.

I became curious about the level of tech inside the Yamaha Piaggero products and scrounged the Web for service manuals. I couldn’t find anything on the NP-12, but did find service manuals for the NP-30 (32 voice polyphony, 2007) and the current NP-32 (64 voice polyphony, 2016).

As I suspected, the upgrade in polyphony signaled an upgrade in the internal processor. The NP-30 is based on the SWL01T (YMW767-VTZ) workhorse that is part of many entry-level, battery-powered Yamaha products. The NP-32 is based on the SWX03. I haven’t seen the SWX03 before and I believe the SWX03 is a new version of the SWX02 (which appears in the PSR-650 and MOX, for example). The SWL01T fetches sample data from the CPU’s system memory while the SWX02 and SWX03 fetch samples through a dedicated memory channel. Thus, the SWX processors have higher memory bandwidth and can support higher polyphony.

Physical wave memory is 8MBytes (64Mbits): 4M x 16-bit words. Uncompressed sample size is approximately 16MBytes. It is a testament to Yamaha’s sound design prowess that they can synthsize a decent sounding acoustic piano with such little memory. Sure, the NP-12 is the absolute bottom of the line, but it does sound decent given its modest street price.