First look at new Genos effects

New Genos effect algorithms

To my way of thinking, Genos/Tyros/PSR DSP effects consist of two parts: an effect algorithm and sets of preset parameters for the algorithm. That’s my mental model. Genos adds a number of new effect algorithms and effect presets versus Tyros 5. Here is a terse summary of the additions:

  • Reverb block
    • New presets with enhanced mid-range
  • Chorus block
    • Tempo delay, tempo echo and tempo cross delay added
  • Insertion/variation blocks
    • New distortion effects (not included in Montage)
      • Tweed Guy: Vintage bass amp simulator
      • Boutique DC: Boutique made overdrive amp simulator
      • Y-Amp: Preamp & amp simulator for Guitar
      • Distomp: Preamp & parametric EQ simulator for Guitar
      • 80s Small Box: 80s distortion pedal simulator
    • New EQ & compressor effects
      • Uni Comp: Compressor using “downward” algorithm for making loud sounds quieter
    • New modulation effects
      • Real Rotary (Same as Montage minus horn acceleration parameters)
    • New miscellaneous effects
      • Damper Resonance:Simulates a damper resonance effect for grand piano (same as Montage)
      • Presence: Brings out the hidden presence of the input signal
      • Tyros 5 Loop Fx and Lo-Fi Drum effects moved to “Misc” category

BTW, it’s not clear if the Genos does half-pedal like the Montage. I’m thinking, “No.” Yamaha have reserved Virtual Resonance Modeling (VRM) for the Clavinova series. Genos and Montage get the DAMPER RESONANCE DSP algorithm instead.

I’ve been trying to decode the names of the guitar effect algorithms. Yamaha seem incredibly paranoid about stepping on someone’s trademark or copyright. Here’s my current guesses:

  • Tweed guy: Fender Bassman (’59 vintage)
  • Boutique DC: Cornell by DC Developments
  • Y-Amp: Yamaha Y-Amp
  • Distcomp: Yamaha stomp pedal
  • 80s Small Box: MXR fuzz pedal simulator

I wonder if we’ll see these algorithms ported to the Montage in an update? Just after the Tyros 5 was released, the T5’s “Real Distortion” effect algorithms were added to the Motif XF (version 1.5).

Yamaha needs to fix this divot

I did a quick compare of Montage effects vs. Genos effects. As mentioned above, Genos adds the new rotary speaker effect algorithm first released in Montage. Here is a correspondence table:

Montage           Genos             MSB LSB Genos preset name
----------------  ----------------  --- --- --------------------------
ROTARY SPEAKER 1  ROTARY SPEAKER 1  99  16  Dual Rotary Speaker Bright
                                    99  17  Dual Rotary Speaker Warm
ROTARY SPEAKER 2  REAL ROTARY       69  32

“ROTARY SPEAKER 1” is the former, go-to rotary speaker effect algorithm (WARM and BRIGHT).

At this level, all looks great. Except, the Genos Data List PDF shows 16 parameters for the REAL ROTARY algorithm while the Montage Data List shows 18 parameters. The Genos leaves out:

No. Parameter               Range                 Value      Tbl No.
--- ----------------------- --------------------- ---------- -------
17  Slow-Fast Time of Rotor x0.21 - x1.00 - x2.00 (14 - 127) 49
18  Fast-Slow Time of Rotor x0.21 - x1.00 - x2.00 (14 - 127) 49

Either the Genos cannot store more than 16 DSP parameters or it cannot display/edit more than 16 DSP parameters.

Whatever the reason, this stinks and Yamaha need to fix this divot. People need to set the (de)acceleration times for both the horn and rotor. They have sinned in the eyes of B-3 purists and must atone.

Genos Firmware V1.10

All is not bleak, however. Genos Firmware version 1.10 has been announced. Yamaha’s quick summary:

  • What’s new?
    • Audio Multi Recording function is available
    • Search function while adding the Playlist
    • Supports use with the Yamaha Expansion Manager (V2.5.0 or later)
    • Supports Expansion Audio Style
    • Wireless LAN status can be checked on the Time display
    • Improved the performance of the instrument
    • Fixed other minor problems
  • Registration Memory can additionally save following parameters
    • Arpeggio Velocity
    • Arpeggio Gate Time
    • Arpeggio Unit Multiply
    • Style Retrigger Rate
    • Style Retrigger On/Off
    • Style Retrigger On/Off & Rate

The update adds support for Yamaha Expansion Manager (YEM) voice editing and pack installation.

The update is scheduled for release on 1 November 2017. The Genos Reference Manual and Data List were pulled pending the release of the update. The fact that a quick update was in the works might explain why the V1.0 Reference Manual and Data List were delayed. Big corporations move with leviathan speed. [No real news, there.]

Copyright © 2017 Paul J. Drongowski

Genos and the future of Montage

A member of the Yamaha Synth forum asked me for some thoughts about the future of Montage given what we know about Yamaha Genos™. Here is my reply with a few additions.

What’s in the future?

I tend to think about the Genos and Montage as brother and sister in the same way that Tyros and Motif are brother and sister. Different, but they share the same technological DNA and a lot of the same musical DNA (waveforms and voices).

Since the two flagship products are on different development schedules, they tend to leap frog each other with respect to new waveforms and voices. This was certainly true over the 10+ year history of the Motif and Tyros product lines.

I’m now calling this my “Leapfrog hypothesis.” It’s a hypothesis because I don’t have any privileged knowledge of Yamaha’s development process. (I wish I did, but then, I’d be under NDA and couldn’t tell you. 🙂 ) I started thinking about this last year and if you’re interested, please read about it here.

The hypothesis is based on clues from Martin Harris, one of Yamaha’s key developers. The Montage, for example, adopted the much-promoted Seattle strings and Telecaster guitar from the Tyros 5. In return, the Genos has adopted the CFX acoustic piano, electric piano ambient noises and other waveforms from the Montage. Other examples of lateral DNA transfer are VCM effects and Real Distortion guitar effects.

Sound development is so expensive that Yamaha must reuse sonic DNA. It simply cannot afford to fund two independent lines of sound development. As long as the waveform quality is high — and it is — sharing is good for all of us. It spreads out the cost of sound development over a larger number of units and customers. I honestly don’t begrudge the inclusion of some musical style or instrument voice which I will likely never use. If someone else’s purchase helps me to make my kind of music, then I don’t mind paying it forward a little bit.

I don’t have any inside knowledge, but sound development at Yamaha seems to be a continual process. The next top-of-the-line (TOTL) taps into the latest results. Expect larger, detailed waveforms and more articulations in future Montage voices. Also, stereo doesn’t rob polyphony anymore and there will be wider use of stereo waveforms.

So, yes, I would expect the newest voices from Genos to eventually appear in the Montage series: C7 acoustic piano, resonator guitar, Strat, Revo drums, Mega Voices, etc. We haven’t seen the Data List for the Genos as yet, so it’s hard to do a detailed analysis of what’s new in Genos above Montage. Would Montage voices be programmed differently? Sure, Montage and Genos are different platforms serving different needs.

I think it’s safe to say that there will be a re-spin of the Montage hardware sometime. When? That’s on Yamaha’s secret road map. Like the Genos, the Montage sound engine is scalable and can grow into new shoes, so to speak. Everything else in the crystal ball is vapor.

Beyond all that, I see a revenue opportunity for Yamaha by providing new waveforms, voices and related content through Yamaha Musicsoft. If I had a TOTL synth with expansion memory, I would be willing to pay for a sonic upgrade. I currently play a “lowly” MOX6 without expansion memory, so I’m looking for a new platform — either Montage or Genos — based on my musical needs, goals and process.

A most useful paragraph

Here is the most useful paragraph that I’ve read all week. It’s taken from the October 2017 issue of Sound On Sound magazine. Hope it helps you, too.

“These days, many studio engineers create their mixes with a compressor and an EQ sitting across the master stereo bus, whether in their console or DAW software. With the compressor set up to deliver maybe 2-3 dB of low-ratio compression and the EQ adding a gentle boost to the low and high frequencies (and/or slightly scooping the mid-range), the intended result is an enhancement of a mix’s energy and excitement that approximates the effect of that part of the mastering process.”

Copyright © 2017 Paul J. Drongowski
Except the excerpt from Sound On Sound magazine

The future looks bright

After reading the owner’s manual and watching the first demonstrations, it’s clear that the Yamaha Genos™ is a beautiful face-lift over the Tyros series, but where is the sonic breakthrough?

As usual, the answer was right in front of my face all along. First, a few facts and figures:

    Feature                        Tyros 5    Genos
    ---------------------------    -------    -----
    Mega Voices                       54        82
    Super Articulation voices        288       390
    Super Articulation 2 voices       44        75
    Live voices                      138       160
    Articulation buttons               2         3

Back before the specifications were officially announced, I saw a leaked version of these specs. Given the big leap in Mega Voice (MV), Super Articulation (SA) and Super Articulation 2 (SA2) voices, I didn’t think the leaked specifications were credible. Now, I believe.

In short, the new tone generation hardware in Genos enables a very large SSD-sized waveform memory capable of holding all of the waveforms needs for the boost in MV, SA and SA2 voices. The end result is greater musical expression, detail and realism for both the Genos player and audiences.

This blog takes a focused look at Mega Voice, Super Articulation (1 and 2), and why the “great leap forward” is possible in Genos. For PSR/Tyros purists, I hope that you don’t mind my shortened abbreviations for Mega Voice, etc. The short abbreviations are much easier to type without extra punctuation marks.

Background information

MV, SA and SA2 are the trinity of highly detailed, expressive Yamaha voices. All three kinds of voices are based on Yamaha’s sample playback technology AWM2 (Advanced Wave Memory). Super Articulation 2 is based on Articulation Element Modeling (AEM). Both AWM2 and AEM are covered by many Yamaha patents.

Yamaha did not introduce these voices in one fell swoop. Mega Voices were the first to appear. A Mega Voice divides a voice into two or more velocity ranges and assigns a different waveform to each range. A trumpet voice, for example, is divided into:

    Velocity range    Waveform
    --------------    ----------------------
         1 - 20       mf trumpet
        21 - 40       f trumpet
        41 - 60       ff trumpet
        61 - 90       Legato
        81 - 100      Straight
       101 - 110      Shake
       111 - 120      Falls
       121 - 127      Glissando up

MIDI notes above C6 and above C8 are mapped to valve noise and breath noise, respectively. For other examples of Mega Voices, see the Mega Voice mapping table in the Tyros 5 Data List file for details. (Also, learn how to create a Mega Voice using Yamaha Expansion Manager.)

The first three ranges and waveforms correspond to velocity switching as we know it. The second five ranges correspond to articulations as we know and love them in software instruments. The articulations and noises are the sonic sweeteners that make sequenced music sound more human and natural.

Mega Voices are intended for sequencing. They are used in arranger keyboard styles to make them sound less MIDI-ish. Unless you have the finger control of a god, you cannot reasonably play a Mega Voice through the keyboard.

But, wait a minute! What if you put some smart software between the keyboard and the tone generator? The smart software watches and analyzes your gestures (i.e., key presses, releases, button pushes, etc.), and plays either a regular note or an articulated note. This is the basic idea behind Super Articulation.

In the case of the trumpet, for example, the SA software watches the notes that you play and if you push the right articulation button while playing a note, the software selects and plays a shake instead of a regular trumpet sound. The SA software also analyzes note timing and plays a legato waveform when you strike a second key while holding the first key. SA software even responds to note intervals such as playing a glissando when the interval between two notes is big enough.

In the end, Super Articulation makes Mega Voice articulations intuitively playable. I thoroughly enjoy playing the SA voices on my PSR-S950. I don’t have too think to hard at all — just let it rip as I hear it in my head.

Montage and late model Motif- and MOX-series synthesizers implement Expanded Articulation (XA). Take a look at my deconstruction of the Tenor To The Max voice.

Super Articulation 2 takes SA up another notch. Real musical tones are not discrete sonic events. Tones tend to blend together due to the characteristics of the musical instrument itself and/or playing technique (e.g., legato). SA2 performs a digital blending between notes by analyzing gestures and selecting the appropriate waveform from a very large database of waveform segments. Broadly speaking, these segments belong to three categories:

  1. Head: Attack portion of the sound
  2. Body: Main body of the sound
  3. Tail: Release portion of the sound

Consider two notes where the first note is detached and the second note is legato. SA2 plays the head segment for the first note, sounding the attack. This is followed by the body of the first note. SA2 does not play a head for the second note. It blends the body of the first note into the body of the second note. When the second note is released, SA2 selects and plays a tail for the second note.

All of this blending is computation heavy and is very sensitive to timing and latency. The technology behind SA2 is Articulation Element Modeling (AEM). AEM is actually a deep subject and is patented. (See my related post about Real Acoustic Sound.)

Technical breakthrough, sonic breakthrough

Folks who are familiar with software instruments and sound libraries know that all of this comes with a cost. Sample libraries for orchestral instruments are enormous because there are so many different ways to bow, pluck, strike and generally mess with acoustic instruments. Tens and even hundreds of gigabytes are needed to store the highest quality sample libraries. Then, one needs to have a fast streaming device like an SSD and a computationally husky CPU to play the samples without a glitch or hiccup.

Before Montage and Genos, Yamaha’s mainstay tone generator (TG) integrated circuit (IC) was the SWP51L. This venerable chip carried the load in Motif, MOX, CP, Clavinova, and other mid- to high-end Yamaha products.

Like all things electronic, the SWP51L’s time eventually came and went. The SWP51L communicates to waveform memory over a CPU-like bus with a fixed width address. The SWP51L is limited in three ways. First, the fixed width address is not big enough to address the very large sample library needed to support today’s articulation-heavy voices. Second, the address bus cannot be (easily) made wider. Third, the bus protocol is not directly compatible with relatively inexpensive commodity NAND flash memory. Conclusion, the SWP51L does not scale to a big waveform memory.

The Montage and the Genos deploy the new generation SWP70 tone generator. Unlike the SWP51L, the SWP70 is compatible with commodity NAND flash memory — the same kind of memory used in solid state drives (SSD). The Open NAND Flash Interface (ONFI) bus protocol — and the Genos — is scalable.

Thus, Yamaha is finally free to expand waveform memory to sample library scale.

People make much of “SSD, SSD, SSD!” SSDs use a SATA bus for communication, a bus that can become a bottleneck in itself. Yamaha have found a way to integrate SSD functionality into the SWP70 without the need for a SATA bus. The integration promises greater speed (i.e., memory bandwidth) without the cost and latency of a SATA bus. This design approach is patented. Please read one of my earlier posts about the SWP70 for the gory technical details. Hope you know a bit about computer architecture before diving in!

I’ve also speculated about the role of the SWP70 in the implementation of the Genos file system. This post is highly speculative and has not been verified by reading the Genos service manual.

What does this mean for the player?

The bottom line for the player and audiences is rich sound filled with detail and realism, thanks to big waveform memory, AWM2/AEM synthesis and Yamaha’s sound development expertise. Big waveform capacity and the new mono/stereo tone generation channels in the SWP70 also mean greater use of stereo samples (“Live voices” in PSR/Tyros-speak.)

Please look at the chart at the beginning of this article. No previous generation-to-generation Tyros upgrade has had such a big jump in the number of Mega Voice, Super Articulation and Super Articulation 2 voices. It can only get better from here as the SWP70 is the Yamaha platform for the next 8 to 10 years.

The Genos promises to be an expressive instrument which will be fun to play. The knobs, sliders and articulation buttons afford a great deal of real time control. I can’t wait to play one of these!

Longer term, what do the technical breakthroughs hold for the Montage series? You ain’t seen or heard nothin’ yet.

Copyright © 2017 Paul J. Drongowski

Genos: After the fireworks

So, how do I feel about Genos now that the Genos manuals are rolling out and emotions have cooled down?

The Yamaha Genos™ is a significant update on the Tyros 5. The brand new user interface (UI) should be easy to navigate through the brand-spanking new touch screen. The assignable knobs and sliders are very welcome, and probably give some Montage owners FOMO (fear of missing out). The sound set has gotten the usual and expected boost: CFX piano, C7 piano, electric pianos on par with Montage, new acoustic guitars, and so on.

Scratch the surface of the new UI, however, one finds few feature enhancements. The new Playlist capability replaces the Music Finder Database (MFD). Yamaha are in competition with Korg’s Songbook and only real hands-on experience will determine who has the edge.

The lighter weight is definitely appreciated as well as the modern stage styling. Yamaha have chosen to offer Genos in a single 76-key model. The 76-er weighs less than the previous 61-key Tyros 5 and that’s all to the good.

Before I discuss a few specific points, I want to describe how I feel: methodically enthusiastic. Huh?

When I buy a new keyboard, I think carefully about need — what would improve my experience and skills as a musician and what would improve the experience of those for whom I play. I do not currently perform with my Yamaha PSR-S950 arranger. Gig-wise, I can cover what I need to cover with a sample-playback synthesizer. I need section/solo orchestra strings, woodwinds and horns. I need B-3 organ and pipe organ. The Yamaha MOX6 — my main gig instrument — is sufficient in this regard.

I do play the S950 as a practice instrument. I also have aspirations of performing as a one man band (OMB). I would be very happy to have a single instrument that fulfills gigging, practice and OMB situations.

In terms of sound, I’m ready for a major update. The MOX6 and the S950 sounds are roughly the same vintage as the Motif XS, first released in 2007. That’s ten years. As a car owner, I tend to hold and drive the same car for ten years. Then I realize how far the technology has progressed and update. My attitude is the same for instruments. I prefer to hold and play an instrument for five years or longer, learning it in depth. I make an exception if the front panel buttons are worn and broken. 🙂

At this point, I know for sure that I want a better keyboard action such as the FSX action in Montage and Genos. This is similar to moving from a “student model” sax to a “pro” sax. I think the better action will help me as a player.

If you stuck with me this far, you probably realizing that I’m considering either the Montage or the Genos as my next gig and home ax. Even though I respect the Kronos, its orchestra instruments are not as expressive as Yamaha’s. Roland seems to have given up on orchestral instruments. After a quality/reliability issue with Kurweil, I’m off of them for life.

So, I am methodically enthusiastic about the Genos. It’s Genos vs. Montage; Godzilla vs. Mothra. Is the Genos value proposition sufficiently atractive that I will pay its premium price? That comes down to the playing experience and workflow. To be decided over the coming months.

I’m reluctant to give anyone advice. Every musician must carefully weigh their needs, the Genos value proposition and the Genos price. I will say that the Montage, Kronos, Tyros 5 and PA4x remain very fine, capable instruments. The PSR-S970 is no slouch, either. I tend to skip a generation before updating. Should you? Can’t say.

Drawbar organ

The Genos drawbar organ engine is substantially the same as Tyros 5, and S950, for that matter. The drawbar organ page is a skeuomorphic representation of the drawbars, rotary speed switch, etc. When Yamaha adopted a touch screen, thank heavens they added real sliders for drawbar control. This is doing it right.

I play the bars constantly. When I test drove a CVP-709 touch screen piano, the virtual, on-screen drawbars were impossible to play. Kudos for adding real physical controls to the Genos.

Also, thank you for porting the new Montage rotary speaker effect to the Genos.

Speaking of DSP and control, I have another suggestion for Genos 1.1. Many DSP effect algorithms have a parameter which can be controlled from an assignable controller (e.g., AC1). The Genos is too limited in this regard. Any physical controller — including a foot pedal — should be able to tweak a controllable DSP parameter in real time. Currently, for example, a foot pedal can only control the WAH effect. One should be able to control any DSP algorithm with a controllable parameter.

Ready for the studio?

Quite a few pros immediately noted the lack of balanced outputs and asked “Is Yamaha serious about attracting pros to the Genos?” Another question often raised is, “What happened to PAC?” The S/PDIF digital output is good enough to connect to home audio equipment, but the professional studio (and stage) expects balanced outputs.

Another missing feature is audio over USB and/or DAW integration. Fortunately, these features can be added through a software update; balanced outputs cannot.

Really ready for EDM?

Now, I’m not really an EDM person. I like down-tempo and I’m hoping to compose down-tempo tracks once the snow flies and the weather keeps me in. A few common themes recur in on-line forums.

The Genos adopts arpeggios and arpeggio control features from the PSR-S970. True EDM people are expecting more, however. At the very least, Yamaha need to add user-defined arpeggios, maybe in release 1.1. User-defined arps were a much-requested item for the Montage punch-list; Genos is no different.

Yamaha, if you’re listening, there is an active thread about arpeggios in the Genos section of the PSR Tutorial Forum. Please read through it.

If you want to attract younger composers and players to Genos, Yamaha need to be bolder and faster.

Built-in expansion memory

Yamaha are committed to built-in flash expansion memory which cannot be expanded by the end user. Not to put too fine a point on it, the flash memory expansion modules are dead. If you’re getting rid of your Tyros, Motif, or MOXF, get rid of the modules, too. If you’re looking for a bargain Tyros 5, Motif XF or MOXF, be sure to get flash expansion modules thrown into the deal. (If you’re buying a MOXF, keep an eye on the Yamaha promotions web page.)

As I explained in another post, I believe that the Genos internal file system resides in the same physical memory unit as the user expansion waveform memory. The total capacity of this memory is 64GB and is partitioned into the 58GB internal file system and the 1.8GB voice expansion memory. If 1.8GB is too small, I wonder if Yamaha could be persuaded to repartition the memory and make the voice expansion memory bigger (at the expense of file system size)? This is all speculative, of course.

Audio styles

Audio styles have not disappeared — just deemphasized. Audio styles were not universally popular. So, audio styles have been dropped from initial factory content and will be provided at a later date. Users will be able to load audio styles, if they so desire.

I still believe that Yamaha will introduce full audio styles, that is, styles with melodic parts that follow the current chord type and root. When Yamaha re-launch audio styles, they will be “audio styles done right.” I think they learned a lot from the S950, S770, S970 and Tyros 5 in this regard. Release date? Who knows?

Copyright © 2017 Paul J. Drongowski

Genos genesis

After fits and starts due to early leaks, Yamaha have launched the Yamaha Genos™ digital workstation. You can check out Yamaha’s content through the Genos concept site or the Genos product pages. [Click images to enlarge.]

There’s no point in regurgitating Yamaha’s on-line content, so I will just summarize highlights here.

  • Size: 48-9/16″W x 5-7/16″H x 17-15/16″D
  • Weight: 28lb, 11oz (13.0kg)
  • 9″ color touch screen (TFT color WVGA 800 x 480 pixels)
  • Live Control display (OLED 589 x 48 pixels)
  • 9 sliders and 6 knobs that are fully assignable
  • 76-key FSX keyboard
  • Joystick with modulation and joystick HOLD
  • Synthesis: AWM2 and Articulation Element Modeling (AEM)
  • Polyphony: 256 (128 for preset voice + 128 for expansion voice)
  • 550 styles total (punchy drums and DSP effects)
  • 1,652 voices + 58 drum/SFX kits
  • 216 arpeggios: instrument arps, e.g., strums and control arps automate Live Control
  • 28 insert effects including VCM effects
  • Vocal Harmony and Synth Vocoder
  • Audio recording: Audio (WAV 44.1kHz, 16-bit, stereo) and MIDI SMF
  • Audio playback: WAV (44.1kHz, 16-bit, stereo) and MP3
  • MultiPads (both audio and MIDI)
  • Internal memory: 58GBytes (approximately)
  • Connectivity
    • S/PDIF digital audio output
    • Three USB TO DEVICE ports (front panel, back panel, bottom)
    • Wireless LAN (IEEE 802.11b/g/n) depending on regional type acceptance
  • 32-bit digital-to-analog converter (DAC)
  • 1.8GBytes user voice expansion memory built-in

The Genos looks to be a nice overhaul of the now staid Tyros product line. If you’re familiar with Tyros — and I’m assuming that you are — then you are not super surprised at some of the features while being pleased (or not) to have a color touch screen, lots of assignable knobs, sliders and buttons, a secondary OLED display to show parameters, doubled polyphony, S/PDIF, wireless LAN (maybe, in your region), and a 32-bit DAC.

Yamaha have chosen to issue only a single 76-key model; no 61, no 88. This gives them interesting options for line extension. Go small and save weight, or feed the world’s almost insatiable hunger for 88-key piano-like objects?

You might also be surprised to not see audio styles. I think the original audio styles confused most users. Can I save them to USB drive? No. Did they fit many tunes other than the “reference” song? No. Handling REX format via the Yamaha Expansion Manager (YEM) should resolve these issues for advanced users. Yamaha punched up the drums to improve the live feel. (Hey, don’t Yamaha actually make drums? Just kidding.)

Featured instruments include:

  • CFX piano
  • C7 grand piano (newly sampled)
  • Kino strings
    • Newly sampled movie orchestra
    • Violins hard-panned left and right
    • Violas, cellos and contrabass center
  • Revo drums (waveform cycling)

If rumors hold true, there should be a new Strat in there somewhere as well as Gibson and Martin steel guitars and a pedal steel guitar. The electric pianos have gotten the ambient noises from the Montage EPs.

The Live Control view is nicely done. Change a knob and the display shows the new assigned parameter value. Change a slide next and the display switches to the slider settings. Good, no button needed to switch displays while playing. The knobs and sliders are integrated with drawbar settings, making the Genos could be a worthy clone competition or a close substitute for a clone. The new rotary speaker effect (from the Montage?) sounds good. But, Yamaha, you left out the chorus (vibrato only). Don’t chuck your Reface YC.

The playlist feature looks to be a very useful addition. The playlist organizes registration banks for quick access. The PSR/Tyros registration concept is a very powerful one and I wish that Montage had a similar capability. I love registrations because, bang, in one button press, I have a song ready to play. (More about this another day.)

Having a USB device port hidden under the unit is a great idea. Ever have a drunken chucklehead at a bar try to pull out your USB drive? Ever be a chucklehead yourself? 🙂 More manufacturers should do this.

A new release of Yamaha Expansion Manager (version 2.5) is planned for November 2017, roughly in sync with first deliveries. YEM will have support for WAV, AIFF, SoundFont and REX formats.

A new release of MegaEnhancer (version 1.5) will be available in November, also. MegaEnhancer changes the MIDI data in a Standard MIDI File (SMF) to use Yamaha’s MegaVoices.

The iPad app SongBook+ is also on the way. SongBook+ organizes songs with lyrics, notation, and other information. A song may also be linked to a registration — a very handy feature for performers who need to home in on the complete set-up for a song during performance. I play with charts; I like this.

The USA manufacturer’s suggested retail price (MSRP) is $6,799 and MAP is expected to be $5499.

From a hardware guy’s point of view, there are a few things to think about. The 32-bit DAC is a first for Yamaha. Even Montage does not sport S/PDIF. No mention of Pure Analog Circuit, so the audio back-end must be new, new, new.

The polyphony spec is très intéressant: 128 for preset voices and 128 for expansion voices. Hmmm, how did Yamaha arrange (pun intended) the SWP70 tone generators and NAND flash memory?

So, Yamaha have 1.8GBytes of flash left over for voice expansion. There simply is not enough information to infer waveform memory size, so we’ll all be waiting for the service manual.

Speaking of manuals, there aren’t any available at the time of this writing. No owner’s manual, reference manual or data list. Nada. The early leaks forced Yamaha’s hand to launch the Genos two weeks early and now we will wait. First deliveries are anticipated for November. Déjà vu all over again.

I am literally weighing the Genos (13kg) versus the Montage (15kg) as my next ax. There is still a huge amount to learn about the Genos as it is revealed. Has the sequencer gotten an overhaul? Does the Genos support deep voice editing? The user interface does look inviting and I look forward to seeing more.

Sometimes a little bit of information just leads to more questions.

Copyright © 2017 Paul J. Drongowski

Genos is coming soon

Well, it’s official. Yamaha have created a special web site for Genos™ related announcements. The first posting is the teaser video which was accidentally released over the weekend. New videos will appear on September 15, 22 and 29. Dealer previews are scheduled during the last two weeks of September. Of course, we’re all dying to see the manuals and the data list PDF!

There’s one key graphic in the Yamaha annual report with the goal: Develop Products with Distinctive Individuality: Add original value to excellent basic functions and develop products others cannot imitate.

That’s a direct quote.

So, please review my summaries of recent Yamaha patents:

This is Yamaha staking out its claim in synth and arranger technology. Patents are expensive and Yamaha do not seek patent protection frivolously.

Hey, hey, serious stuff, but exciting!

Yamaha have filed several patents on styles and style playback using both MIDI data and digital audio. Not just audio drums, but pitched, melodic instrument parts.

When you hear a cello in the demo, that may very well be a recording of a real human being playing a real cello.

The playback engine tracks left hand chords. With respect to audio parts, the engine selects the most appropriate audio phrase from its library of audio recordings according to chord type. Time-stretching (etc.) adjusts for tempo and pitch-shifting adjusts for transposition. Thus, the recorded audio phrase is pitch- and tempo-matched against the musical clock and MIDI. Sounds easy, but try to do it right and do it in real-time!

I’m making a leap from patent filings to product, but my gut feeling as an engineer is strong about this one. (Feel the force, Luke.)

Or, we’ll all have a good laugh.

Copyright © 2017 Paul J. Drongowski

Music Expo Boston 2017

Saturday was a glorious warm day in Boston — perfect for a trip to Cambridge and Music Expo Boston. Music Expo is a series of mini-conferences produced in association with Sound On Sound magazine. Boston is fortunate to have Music Expo this year along with Miami and San Francisco. Loic Maestracci is the main organizer and he did he bang up job. The iZotope development labs and studios were the local host and venue.

Music Expo has an informal workshop feel to it. Even the more “formal” presentations had a friendly, laidback vibe with people freely getting into Q&A. Several companies had exhibits which were hands-on. (More about this later.) For example, Ableton had three Push 2 systems on hand where you could sit and try one out with the guidance of the booth staff.

Two session tracks and the exhibits ran in parallel, so one needed to pick and choose carefully. If I leave anyone out from this review, apologies — there was just too much going on at once.

My day got started with a fine performance by Elyssa Nicole Fontes and Megazoid. Elyssa is a composer and vocalist who uses backing tracks to perform. The staff had made a decision to move Elyssa and Megazoid to a more accomodating studio, so Elyssa had to fill dead air while the techs brought up her gear and tracks. This goes to show that artists always need to be prepared to handle tech issues in front of a live audience. Elyssa handled the situation with poise and aplomb. It also gave the attendees a chance to ask many questions about her technique, gear, mix, etc.

I then dropped by the Arturia booth to say “Hello.” The Arturia team certainly showed how to travel light with various ‘steps, a laptop and a MiniBrute. That MiniBrute is too cool for school and tiny! I’m glad that I visited the booth early because they seemed quite busy throughout the day.

Next stop was the Yamaha booth. “Booth” is not quite the right word as Yamaha were ensconced in a recording studio. They were demonstrating their latest — the MX88, Montage and Reface — with the MX88 and Montage routed through Yamaha HS8s and a sub. And joy of joy, the demonstrator was Phil Clendeninn! Like most studios, this one had a comfy couch in the back, so I kicked back while Phil ran through 30+ minutes of the best of Montage. Among other sounds, he desconstructed the Seattle Strings performance. The violins are far more realistic and expressive than the MOX patch which I am now using for exposed lines. Oh, I am so ready for this.

Highlight of the day number one: I finally had a chance to meet and chat with Phil. Phil is better known as “Bad Mister” (yes, the dude can play) who has written many useful, informative Motif and Montage guides and has answered zillions of questions on the Yamaha synth site and on the langouring Motifator site.

We covered a lot of ground. When I mentioned Yamaha arrangers, his response was “Oh, ho, you just wait!!” BTW, having done booth duty at SIGGRAPH and elsewhere, I’m amazed at the amount of energy and enthusiasm that Phil brings, and brings, and brings. It’s very hard to maintain that kind of level.

While we were conversing, I finally had a chance to try a Yamaha Reface YC. Of all the Reface, the YC could still win my heart thanks to Vox and Farfisa nostalgia. I always wanted a Continental as a kid, but had to settle for a Mini Deluxe Compact. (More well-kept vintage gear which I wish that I still had.)

I mentioned to Phil that I hadn’t been able to play a YC since launch despite efforts to find one in Boston, Seattle, and Lord knows where else. He acknowledged that this is a problem in this day and age of Internet sales. He ran through a list of concerns that a physical retailer would have: physical security to keep demo units from developing legs, knowledgable staff, etc. He thought that the lack of knowledgable staff also hurts mid- to high-end arranger sales in North America. Sometimes musicians need to be shown what an instrument can do in order to make a sale. The array of buttons on a modern arranger or synth can be intimidating and you don’t often know where to dive in.

From my point of view, there is only one nationwide brick and mortar music store in the U.S., Guitar Center, and unfortunately, knowledgeable keyboard staff are few and far between. I had a flashback to AMD days and the brick and mortar dominance of Best Buy in the computer, laptop, tablet space. It’s difficult to sell and support technogically complicated products to end users. (Please keep this thought.)

With a crush of people coming in, I bade Phil farewell and stopped at the Q Up Arts booth. Q Up Arts were demonstrating the California Keys (for N.I. Kontakt) — a sampled Fazioli 10ft grand. California Keys is cleverly packaged and I won’t spoil the surprise.

Highlight of the day number two: My wide-ranging conversation with Douglas Morton of Q Up Arts. To those in the know, Douglas is a talented, veteran sound developer and artist. I used a number of Q Up Arts products back in the day when samples were provided on audio CDs. (And dinosaurs roamed the Earth.) We began discussing the good old days of audio editing, vintage computer gear, Douglas’s work for the Salt Lake City Aquarium, ending with cross-country skiing in Utah. Douglas lives in two gorgeous locations: Dana Point, CA and Park City, UT. (Been to both and once lived in SLC myself.)

One of the subjects that we touched on was how to bring up the next generation of players on new software and gear. (Familiar theme now, huh?) Youtube videos only go so far; it’s got to be hands on. I quickly thought back to my experience in the morning at the Ableton booth. Push 2 is a spiffy product. That display, c’est magnifique! The Push 2 user interface, however, is not as immediately intuitive as the Novation Launchpad, for example. Thank goodness there was an Ableton staff member on hand to guide me. (Shades of gramps with a smart phone. 🙂 )

Douglas thought that an educational tour of high school and college music labs might be part of the solution. I thought of Living Computers Museum+Labs in Seattle. Education is where Living Computers could ace the synth exhibits at the Museum of Pop Culture, also in Seattle. (MoPOP was formerly known as the “EMP Musuem” and is another Paul Allen venture.) The MoPOP synth exhibits, at least when I visited a few years ago, didn’t offer much in the way of guidance and weren’t inspirational. Living Computers, however, have enthusiastic staff, labs and an educational outreach mission.

Lunchtime and I was able to hear Decap deconstruct his track See You Out There. Decap is a West Coast hip hop music producer (Talib Kweli, Snoop Dogg, Ne-Yo, and Tim Kile). I enjoyed his presentation very much while unwinding and eating lunch in the iZotope cafeteria. Coffee was provided, gratefully, as I had left the house early to drive to the MBTA subway stop. Decent coffee at that.

One big take-away from Decap is the need for playfulness and persistence. His tracks grow from ten minutes of sheer inspiration through four or more days of perspiration as he experiments and shapes it. His experience fits with my current personal philosophy. Put the phone (or tablet) down, start playing and stick with it. Stop pining after the next new tool. You probably have everything that you need already. Just get on with it! Be spontaneous, playful, and take advantage of happy accidents.

Cakewalk demonstrated a prototype virtual reality (VR) system for clip-based composition. You navigate a 3D space where you are surrounded by instruments and virtual pads that select and control clips. Reflecting on the experience today, I think they have a solid technology demonstrator. I give them my computer science respect for getting their system up and running. Cakewalk still need to find the killer hook that makes you want to pull out your credit card though. Surround sound development? It’s early days yet and I wish them the best.

Next session was a panel discussion about “D.I.Y. in the Recording Studio: Building and Maintaining your Analog Gear.” The panel consisted of six folks who are hands on engineers and producers. Great advice from all although I have a small quibble with making one’s own cables. I make terrible cables! I’d rather build a kit to gain electronics experience than fighting crappy home-built cables while performing or making a track. That’s just me.

The panelists spoke about how they got started. It struck me that all of the panelists got started by playing with electronics even if early experiments didn’t work out so well. Just do it! The notion of playful, enthusiastic, self-directed learning is totally at odds with today’s mania for educational accountability and teaching to the test. What is happening to the creative dimension of engineering and the arts in this country? Engineers and artists are bright, intelligent people and we seem to be actively stifling early enthusiasm. Arg!

At that point in the day, I had to call it quits and head home. It takes a while to get home from Cambridge and I didn’t want to get too strung out. What a glorious day walking in Cambridge. Kendall Square looks like “Science City” in a futuristic sci-fi movie with all of its computer and bio labs. The trains were a little crowded with very colorful people heading to and from Boston Pride. A great day all around.

My conversations and experiences convinced me of the value of Music Expo. Youtube videos, e-mail, texts, etc. are not enough. You need to rub shoulders with other kindred souls, converse, handle gear, ask questions, hear other people’s questions, get answers, be guided. NAMM is not the right venue. Music Expo Boston had it right: friendly, personal and interactive.

Copyright © 2017 Paul J. Drongowski

New Yamaha patents

Raining like crazy today, so it’s a good chance to look for new patents and patent applications.

First, here are a few new technical patents assigned to Yamaha. US Patent 9,536,508 titled “Accompaniment data generating apparatus,” awarded on January 3, 2017, describes accompaniment generation using a combination of MIDI and audio waveforms. The accompaniment generator follows chord changes, etc. just like today’s arrangers except that it also plays back melodic (pitched) audio phrases as well as MIDI. This is very likely the nexus of the next generation of Yamaha arrangers (flagship “GENOS“).

US Patent 9,514,728 titled “Musical performance apparatus that emits musical performance tones and control tones for controlling an apparatus,” awarded December 6, 2016, describes a system for near ultrasonic communication between a tablet and a keyboard. Software on the tablet controls tone generation on the keyboard, allowing an app to play back a musical performance (e.g., MIDI over near ultra sonic sound). I suspect that some future Yamaha patent will use this technology for wireless tablet to keyboard communication in place of Bluetooth or WiFi.

The third patent, number 9,489,938 is titled “Sound synthesis method and sound synthesis apparatus” and was awarded on November 8, 2016. The patent abstract says it best:

A sound synthesis apparatus connected to a display device, includes a processor configured to: display a lyric on a screen of the display device; input a pitch based on an operation of a user, after the lyric has been displayed on the screen; and output a piece of waveform data representing a singing sound of the displayed lyric based on the inputted pitch.

Yamaha have a stellar technology base in VOCALOID. I believe they are working toward a real-time system to sing lyrics. This would be a real breakthrough especially for pitch-challenged vocalists like me!

Finally, Yamaha was awarded several design patents covering the external industrial design of synth and arranger keyboards:

    D772,974   PSR-S670   November 29, 2016
    D776,189   Montage    January 10, 2017
    D778,347   YPT-255    February 7, 2017
    D778,346   Reface YC  February 7, 2017
    D778,345   Reface CP  February 7, 2017
    D778,344   Reface DX  February 7, 2017
    D778,343   Reface CS  February 7, 2017
    D778,342   ????       February 7, 2017

The final design patent, D778,342, is perplexing. I haven’t been able to associate it with a product in the North American market. A future product perhaps? It shows a 26-key keyboard with a four way, cursor-like pad. The keyboard design is E-to-F! I/O is on the left side panel.

Tip-toe through the tech

Last year ’bout this time, we were all holding our collective breath awaiting the new Yamaha Montage. There are two products which I expect to see from Yamaha sometime in the next one to two years:

  1. The successor to the mid-range MOXF synthesizer, and
  2. The successor to the top-of-the-line (TOTL) Tyros arranger workstation.

NAMM 2017 seems a little too soon for both products. In the case of the MOXF successor, Yamaha conducted marketing interviews during the summer of 2015. I would guess that MOXF sales are still pretty good and no new products from the usual suspects (Korg, Roland) are visible on the horizon. The Krome and FA could both use an update themselves. Not much market pressure here at the moment. (Korg’s NAMM 2017 announcements are, so far, a little underwhelming.)

Read my MOX retrospective and interview follow-up.

I suspect that the Tyros successor is somewhat closer to launch. Speculation has been heated ever since Yamaha filed for a US trademark on the word mark “GENOS”. The word mark was published for opposition on November 15, 2016. “Published for opposition” means that anyone who believes that they will be damaged by registration of the mark must file for opposition within 30 days of publication. If “GENOS” is indeed the name for the Tyros successor, then the 30 day period ending December 15, 2016 is cutting it very close to NAMM 2017. Even more ludicruous if Yamaha were to begin manufacturing products printed with that name for a NAMM 2017 launch. Imagine the scrap if opposition was successful!

For quite some time, I have been meaning to summarize the key U.S. patents that I believe to be GENOS-related. (Assuming that “GENOS” is the name!) I’ve procrastinated because the launch date is most likely fall 2017 at the earliest as previous Yamaha mid- and high-end arranger models are typically launched in the fall in anticipation of the holiday selling season.

A much larger barrier is the task of reading and gisting the patents. Patents are written in legalese and are much more difficult to read than the worst written scientific papers! One of the folks on the PSR Tutorial forum suggested making a list of the top five technologies for the new TOTL arranger. I generally hate the superficial nature of “list-icles,” but the suggestion is a good one. Nothing will get done as long as the barrier is big because I would much rather jam and play! I’m supposed to be retired.

The 2016 Yamaha annual report states that Yamaha want to make innovative products which are not easily copied by competitors. Patents — legally protected intellectual property — are essential to achieving this goal. Generally, a company only applies for a patent on technology in which they have a serious business interest due to the significant cost of obtaining and maintaining patent protection.

So, here are a few of Yamaha patented technologies which could appear in future products — perhaps GENOS, perhaps others.

SWP70 tone generator

This may seems like old news…

The next generation SWP70 tone generator first appeared in the mid-range Yamaha PSR-S970 arranger workstation. The SWP70 made its second appearance in the Yamaha Montage synthesizer. The S970 incorporates only one SWP70 and does not make full use of the chip. (At least three major interfaces are left unconnected.) In keeping with Yamaha’s TOTL design practice, the Montage employs two SWP70 integrated circuits: one each for AWM2 sample-playback and FM. A second sample cache interface on the AWM2 side is unconnected.

The Tyros successor likely will use two SWP70 tone generators, too. The number of available tone generation channels with two SWP70s will be massive (512 channels). Yamaha could opt for a single SWP70 and still outmatch the current generation Tyros 5. Like the Montage, there will be enough insert effect DSP processors to cover each style and user part, as many as two for every part.

It will be interesting to see (and hear) if the GENOS will make use of the second sample cache interface. A second cache would not only support more tone generation channels, but might be necessary for long, multi-measure musical phrases that are needed for full audio styles (discussed below).

The SWP70 flash memory interface follows the Open NAND FLASH interface (ONFI) standard, the same as solid state drives (SSD). ONFI memory devices can be stacked on a bi-directional tri-state bus, so potentially, the GENOS could support a large amount of internal waveform storage. This flash memory will contain the “expansion memory,” that is, physical memory reserved in flash memory for user waveforms. The expansion flash memory expansion modules (FL512M, FL1024M) are dead, Jim.

If you’re interested in Yamaha AWM2 tone generation, here’s a few patents to get you started:

  • Patent 9,040,800 Musical tone signal generating apparatus, May 26, 2015
  • Patent 8,383,924 Musical tone signal generating apparatus, February 26, 2013
  • Patent 8,389,844 Tone generation apparatus, March 5, 2013
  • Patent 8,957,295 Sound generation apparatus, February 17, 2015
  • Patent 8,035,021 Tone generation apparatus, October 2011
  • Patent 7,692,087 Compressed data structure and apparatus and method related thereto, April 6, 2010

U.S. Patent 8,957,295 is the patent issued for the SWP70 memory interface. U.S. Patent 9,040,800 describes a tone generator with 256 channels — very likely the SWP70.

Pure Analog Circuit

This may seem like old news, too, since Pure Analog Circuit (PAC) debuted in the Yamaha Montage.

Pure Analog Circuit is probably the least understood and least appreciated feature of the Montage. It’s not just better DACs, people. The high speed digital world is very noisy as far as analog audio is concerned. Yamaha separated the analog and digital worlds by putting the DACs and analog electronics on their own printed circuit board away from noisy digital circuits. Yamaha then applied old school engineering to the post-DAC analog circuitry, paying careful attention to old school concerns like board layout for noise minimization and clean power with separate voltage regulation for analog audio. Yamaha’s mid- to high-end products have always been quiet — PAC is pristine.

Since the PAC board is a separate, reusable entity, I could see Yamaha adopting the same board for GENOS.

Styles combining audio and MIDI

Yamaha are constantly in search of greater sonic realism. Existing technologies like Megavoices and Super Articulation 2 (Advanced Element Modeling) reproduce certain musical articulations. However, nothing can really match the real thing, that is, a live instrument played by an experienced professional musician. PG Music Band-in-a-Box (BIAB), for example, uses audio tracks recorded by studio musicians to produce realistic sounding backing tracks. The Digitech TRIO pedal draws on the PG Music technology for its tracks. (“Hello” to the Vancouver BC music technology syndicate.)

Yamaha have applied for and been granted several patents on generating accompaniment using synchronized audio and MIDI tracks. Here is a short list of U.S. patents:

  • Patent 9,147,388 Automatic performance technique using audio waveform data, September 29, 2015
  • Patent 9,040,802 Accompaniment data generating apparatus, May 26, 2015
  • Patent 8,791,350 Accompaniment data generating apparatus, July 29, 2014
  • Application 13/982,476 Accompaniment data generating apparatus, March 12, 2012

There are additional patents and applications. Each patent covers a different aspect of the same basic approach, making different claims (not unusal in patent-land). Yamaha have clearly invested in this area and are staking a claim.

The patents cite four main motivations, quoting:

  1. The ability to produce “actual musical instrument performance, human voices, natural sounds”
  2. To play “automatic accompaniment in which musical tones of an ethnic musical instrument or a musical instrument using a peculiar scale”
  3. To exhibit the “realism of human live performance”
  4. To advance beyond known techniques that “provide automatic performance only of accompaniment phrases of monophony”

Your average guy or gal might say, “Give me something that sounds as natural as Band-in-a-Box.” Yamaha sell into all major world markets, so the ability to play ethnic instruments with proper articulation is an important capability. Human voice, to this point, is limited to looped and one-shot syllables, e.g., jazz scat. The new approach would allow long phrases with natural intonation. [Click on images in this article for higher resolution.]

audio_accompaniment_tracks

Currently, mid- and high-end Yamaha arrangers have “audio styles” where only the rhythm track is audio. The patents cover accompaniment using melodic instruments in addition to rhythm instruments. The melodic audio tracks follow chord and tempo changes just like the current MIDI-based styles. Much of the technical complexity is due to synchronization between audio and MIDI events. Synchronization is troublesome when the audio tracks contain a live performance with rubato. Without good synchronization, the resulting accompaniment doesn’t feel right and sounds sloppy.

Accompaniment from chord chart

This next feature will be very handy. U.S. Patent 9,142,203 is titled “Music data generation based on text-format chord chart,” September 22, 2015. If you use textual chord charts (lyrics plus embedded chord symbols), you will want this!

chord_chart_example

Simply put, the technique described in this patent translates a textual chord chord to an accompaniment. The accompaniment is played back by the arranger. The user can select tempo, style, sections (MAIN, FILL IN) and so forth.

The translator/generator could be embedded in an arranger or it could be implemented by a PC- or tablet-based application. Stay tuned!

Selectively delayed registration changes

A registration is a group of performance parameters such as the right hand voice settings, left hand voice settings, accompaniment settings, and so forth. Mid- and high-end arrangers have eight front panel buttons where each button establishes a set of parameter values (“readout”) when the button is pushed. It’s the player’s job to hit the appropriate button at the appropriate time during a live performance to make voice settings, etc. A player may need a large number of buttons, if a musical performance is complicated.

Usually only a few parameters are different from one registration to the next. Recognizing this, the technique described by U.S. Patent 9,111,514 (“Delayed registration data readout in electronic music apparatus,” August 18, 2015) delays one or more parameter changes when a button is pushed. The user specifies the parameters to be delayed and the delay (such as the passage of some number of beats or measures, etc.) Thus, a single registration can cover the work of multiple individual registrations.

delayed_registration

I’ll have to wait to see the final product to assess the usefulness of this feature. Personally, I’d be happy with a configuration bit to keep OTS buttons from automatically turning on the accompaniment (ACCOMP). Sure would make it easier to use the OTS buttons for voice changes.

Ensembles / divisi

Tyros 5 ensemble voices assign played notes to individual instrument voices in real time, allowing a musician to perform divisi (divided) parts. Tyros 5 ensembles can be tweaked using its “Ensemble Voice Key Assign Type List.” Types include open, closed, and incremental voice assignment. U.S. Patent 9,384,717, titled “Tone generation assigning apparatus and method” and published July 5, 2016, extends Tyros 5 ensemble voice assignment.

The technique described in 9,384,717 gives the musician more control over part assignment through rules: target depressed key, priority rule, number of tones to generated, note range, etc. The rules handle common cases like splitting a single note to two or more voices.

ensemble_rules

These extensions could lead to some serious fun! I didn’t feel like the Tyros 5 ensemble feature was sufficiently smart and placed too many demands on the average player, i.e., less-than-talented me. The rules offer the opportunity to shift the mental finger work to software and perhaps could lead to more intuitive ensemble play. Neat.

Voice synthesis

As I alluded to earlier, arrangers make relatively primitive use of the human voice. Waveforms are usually limited to sustained (looped) or short (one-shot) syllables.

Yamaha have invested a substantial amount of money into the VOCALOID technology. VOCALOID draws on a singer database of syllable waveforms and performs some very heavy computation to “stitch” the individual waveforms together. The stitching is like a higher quality, non-real time version of Articulated Element Modeling (AEM).

VOCALOID was developed through a joint research project (led by Kenmochi Hideki) between Yamaha and the Music Technology Group (MTG) of the Universitat Pompeu Fabra in Barcelona, Spain. VOCALOID grew from early work by J. Bonada and X. Serra. (See “Synthesis of the Singing Voice by Performance Sampling and Spectral Models.”) More recent research has stretched synthesis from the human voice to musical instruments. Yamaha hold many, many patents on the VOCALOID technology.

Patent 9,355,634, titled “Voice synthesis device, voice synthesis method,” is a recent patent concerning voice synthesis (May 31, 2016). It, too, draws from a database of prerecorded syllables. The human interface is based on the notion of a “retake,” such as a producer might ask a singer to make in a recording studio using directives like “put more emphasis on the first syllable.” The retake concept eliminates a lot of the “wonky-ness” of the VOCALOID human interface. (If you’ve tried VOCALOID, you know what I mean!) The synthesis system sings lyrics based on directions from you — the producer.

An interface like this would make voice synthesis easier to use, possibly by novices or non-technically oriented musicians. The big question in my mind is whether voice synthesis and editing can be sped up and made real time. Still, wouldn’t it be cool if you could teach your arranger workstation to sing?

Music minus one

This work was conducted jointly with the MTG at the Universitat Pompeu Fabra. A few of the investigators were also involved in VOCALOID. Quoting, “The goal of the project was to develop practical methods to produce minus-one mixes of commercially available western popular music signals. Minus-one mixes are versions of music signals where all instruments except the targeted one are present.”

This is not good old center cancellation. The goal is to remove any individual instrument from a mix regardless of placement in the stereo field. You can hear a demo at http://d-kitamura.sakura.ne.jp/en/demo_deformation_en.htm.

I doubt if this technique will appear on an arranger; the computational requirements are too high and the method is not real time. However, “music minus-one” is very appealing to your average player (that is, me). My practice regimen includes playing with backing tracks. I would love to be able to play with any commercial tune on whim.

There are patents:

  • US Patent 9,002,035 Graphical audio signal control
  • US Patent 9,224,406 Technique for estimating particular audio component
  • US Patent 9,070,370 Technique for suppressing particular audio component

and there are scientific papers:

  • “Audio Source Separation for Music in Low-latency and High-latency Scenarios”, Ricard Marxer Pinon, Doctoral dissertation, Universitat Pompeu Fabra, Barcelona, 2013.
  • D. Kitamura, et al., “Music signal separation by supervised nonnegative
    matrix factorization with basis deformation,” Proc. DSP 2013, T3P(C)-1, 2013.
  • D. Kitamura, et al., “Robust Music Signal Separation Based on Supervised Nonnegative Matrix Factorization with Prevention of Basis Sharing”, ISSPIT, December 2013.

Music analysis

Yamaha have put considerable resources into what I would call “music analysis.” These technologies may not (probably will not) make it into an arranger keyboard. They are better suited for PC- or tablet-based applications.

I think we have seen the fruits of some of this labor in the Yamaha Chord Tracker iPad/iPhone application. Chord Tracker identifies tempo, beats, musical sections and chords within an audio song from your music library. It displays the extracted info in a simple chord chart and can even send the extracted “lead sheet” to your arranger. The arranger plays back the “lead sheet” as an accompaniment using the selected style.

We’re probably both wondering if Chord Tracker will integrate with the chord chart tool described above. Stay tuned.

Yamaha Patent 9,378,719 (June 28, 2016) is a “Technique for analyzing rhythm structure of music audio data.” Patent 9,117,432 (August 25, 2015) is an “Apparatus and method for detecting chords.” I wouldn’t be surprised if Chord Tracker draws from these two patents.

Yamaha has also investigated similarity measures and synchronized score display:

  • Patent 9,053,696 Searching for a tone data set based on a degree of similarity to a rhythm pattern, June 9, 2015
  • Patent 9,006,551 Musical performance-related information output device, April 14, 2015
  • Patent 9,275,616 Associating musical score image data and logical musical score data, March 1, 2016

I’m not sure where Yamaha is going with similarity measures and searching. Will they use similarity measures to selected accompaniment phrases? Who knows?

The work on score display synchronizes the display of the appropriate part of a musical score with its live or recorded performance. These techniques may be more appropriate to musical education and training, particularly for traditional brass, string and woodwind players. Yamaha derives considerable revenue from traditional instruments and this is perhaps a way to enhance their “ecosystem” for traditional acoustic instruments.

Score display is one possible application of Yamaha’s patented technique to transmit performance data via near-ultrasonic sound. The technique borrows one or more tone generation channels to generate the near-ultrasonic data signal. See my earlier post about U.S. Patent 8,779,267 for more details.

So long for now!

That’s it! I hope you enjoyed this brief tour through a few of Yamaha’s recent patent grants and filings.

If you want more information about a particular patent, then cruise on over the the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) web site. Navigate to patent search and plug in the patent number.

Copyright © 2017 Paul J. Drongowski

The long view

Here’s some information attributed to Martin Harris from Yamaha. Martin is one of the key sound developers at Yamaha:

  • Better Pianos
  • New Strings – 70 piece Seattle Symphony Orchestra Mega
  • New Orchestral Brass – highly dynamic
  • New Tuned Percussion – Glock, Xylo, Marimba and Vibes (with motor on)
  • New Mega guitars – Telecaster with Finger and Plectrum
  • SA2 Celtic Violin
  • New Synth Voices
  • New Classical Choir – Cathedral ambience
  • New Gospel Choir – Various articulations and Ad libs
  • New Pop Vocals – 4 session singers, 2 male and 2 female
  • Singing many dynamics and many articulations (wave cycling)

Montage? No, Tyros 4. The “SA2” should be a clue as the Montage does not provide Super Articulation 2 (SA2) voices.

My purpose here is not to be tricky, but to make the case that sample-based workstations or synthesizers draw from the sound pool that is available at development time, much the same way that hardware designers draw on the pool of available components. Products cannot be composed of imaginary circuits (“sand”), software, and sounds, after all.

To better illustrate this point, here is a rough timeline for the Tyros and Motif product lines with a few mid-range products (S9xx and MOX) thrown in:

             Tyros                        Motif/Montage
----   ------------------  ------------------------------------------
Year   Model     Physical  Model     Physical  Uncompressed waveforms
----   ------------------  ------------------------------------------
2001                       Motif      48MB     84MB 1,309 waveforms
2002   Tyros      96MB
2003                       Motif ES   96MB     175MB 1,859 waveforms
2004
2005   Tyros 2   192MB
2006
2007                       Motif XS  128MB     355MB 2,670 waveforms
2008   Tyros 3   256MB
2009
2010   Tyros 4   512MB     Motif XF  256MB     741MB 3,977 waveforms
2011                       MOX       128MB     355MB 2,670 waveforms
2012   PSR-S950  256MB
2013   Tyros 5   768MB     MOXF      256MB     741MB 3,977 waveforms
2014
2015   PSR-S970    2GB
2016                       Montage     4GB     5.67GB 6,347 waveforms

I included physical wave memory size for each product. I also included the uncompressed total sample size and number of waveforms for each member of the Motif/Montage line.

Clearly, Yamaha know how to ride the memory technology curve. Memory technology has progressed to the point where it is no longer a significant hardware design factor. Rather, the amount of wave memory in a product depends more upon the ability of the sound designers to fill it with quality content and mid- versus premium-product grading (i.e., the target market segment and price point for the model). For example, note that the mid-range S970 has more than twice the physical wave memory than the Tyros 5. Although the “expansion memory” is reserved in the S970’s physical wave memory, the S970 waveform content is substantially smaller than the Tyros 5.

The other characteristic to note is how the Tyros and Motif lines tend to leapfrog each other. Generally, the Tyros line leads the Motif line in physical wave memory and content. This is partly due to the higher memory requirements of SA2 voices, which require many additional articulation samples.

Both the Tyros 4 and Motif XF were released in 2010. Both machines use two SWP51L tone generators. (Newer products like the Montage use the SWP70 tone generator.) The Tyros 4 has twice the physical wave memory capacity with respect to the Motif XF. Yet, the Tyros 4 has sample content which did not make it to a deliverable product in the Motif line until the Montage in 2016: Seattle strings, orchestral brass, Celtic violin, vocals (choir and scat), Telecaster guitar and suitcase electric piano.

Tyros 5 expanded this content in 2013. The Motif XF, on the other hand, received a significant update in January 2014. The V.150 update added the “Real Distortion” effects implemented by the Tyros 5. (A few Real Distortion effects actually premiered in the mid-range S950.) The V1.50 update and the “White Motif” color job were life-extenders for the Motif line. I’ve conjectured before that Montage development was late and this is further evidence.

So, what can we expect in the Tyros successor which I’m calling the “Tyros++”. (Yamaha have trademarked the name “GENOS” which may be the name of the follow-on. Only Yamaha really knows.) Personally, I’m hoping for the new orchestral woodwinds from Montage. These are superbly expressive voices. I’m also expecting improved electric pianos, again, of comparable quality to the Montage.

SA2 voices will probably remain exclusive to the Tyros line. Many folks hoped that Montage would have SA2 and it didn’t. SA2 is an important product differentiator — kind of like the premium “Natural” piano voices are to the Clavinova line. I suspect that FM voices will be a differentiator for the premium Montage line in years to come as well. Yamaha tends to think of these three product lines as distinct, so cross-over is carefully controlled and limited.

All of this talk about samples and wave memory size is overly reductionist. The three main (DMI) product lines — Tyros, Motif/Montage, Clavinova — have distinct personalities and features. Motif/Montage is a synthesizer for stage and production studio. Clavinova is primarily a home or church piano. Tyros serves double duty as a home keyboard and as a workstation for performing professionals. (Oddly, many USA customers scoff at this latter role.)

Although these are all fine instruments, the personalities have quirks. Upper-range Clavinovas are Tyros-in-disguise except for multi-pads, third RIGHT voice (i.e., only two voice layers in the right hand), and no expansion memory. Tyros does not have the deep editing or modulation features of the Motif/Montage. The Motif and Montage — strangely! — do not have a tonewheeel organ mode. This latter omission is hard to understand since the Montage competes against other “stage” products like the Korg Kronos and Nord Stage.

Having compared voice programming between PSR-S950 (Tyros 3 without SA2 voices) and MOX (Motif XS sound set), the product lines are voiced (programmed) differently. Motif/Montage effect programming has a harder edge than the Tyros, which is oriented toward oldies, pop and jazz standards. (Yes, Virginia, the Tyros does have latent EDM potential to be tapped.) If the Tyros++ includes the orchestral woodwinds, for example, they will probably be programmed rather differently than Montage. Tyros++ four-part divisi ensembles with the new orchestral woodwinds would be simply brilliant. Can’t wait to see and hear what happens!

One finally editorial comment. The world is filled with product reviews. Publications like Keyboard magazine, Electronic Musician, etc. focus on individual products and rarely present a deep, long-term perspective on products. Sound On Sound reviews occasionally give historical background — usually for esoteric, retro studio pieces. As consumers, we need the long view in order to make the most informed choice.