It was a surprise then when
they released their next big synth product, the Wavestation.
This was a true synth in the strict sense of the word
in that it produced overtly synthetic and electronic textures using
vector synthesis, wave sequencing and, of course, more conventional
techniques. The Wavestation was. of course, derived from the Sequential
Circuits Prophet VS designed by Dave Smith and when Sequential went
bust, it is assumed that the Sequential team went to work for Korg
and thus the Wavestation was born.
Not quite - the team's first project was, in fact, with
In 1988, Yamaha bought the now bankrupt Sequential and
formed a new company, DSD (Dave Smith Designs) with Dave at the
helm. DSD's first job was to work with Yamaha on (not surprisingly!)
a vector synth and the result was the Yamaha SY22 and SY55. There
was also the TG33 table-top expander module.
The principles of vector synthesis were all there in
these products and it was possible to merge, blend and morph oscillator
waveforms in real-time using the dedicated joystick controller -
these movements could also be recorded. However, the synths had
no filters and with watered down, 2-operator FM oscillators and
lack-lustre samples as the basic sound source, they sounded thin
and lifeless. There was little to redeem these products but they
went into production anyway - with sales of FM synths now well and
truly in decline, it was almost as though Yamaha were so desperate
to just get something 'new' onto the market, so these synths were
rushed out too soon. Unfortunately, the products weren't particularly
successful. Furthermore, the relationship between DSD and Yamaha
had (for some reason) soured and Yamaha closed DSD down.
Aware of this, Korg approached the team and pursuaded
them to work for Korg and yet another variation on vector synthesis
went into development, this time in the form of the successful Wavestation
released in 1990.
When it was released, it was greeted with almost universal
acclaim and not without good reason - for the first time in a long
time, here was something that made totally unique sounds, the likes
of which had rarely been heard before. Vector synthesis allowed
you to mix, blend and morph waveforms from up to four oscillators
in real-time using the joystick or using multi-stage envelopes,
LFOs and other controllers. The waveforms were a broad mixture of
digital and analogue synth waveforms and samples allowing enormous
potential for dramatic, evolving sounds. The Wavestation also featured
a new technique called Wave Sequencing where any waveform could
be placed along a simple timeline (at any pitch, level and pan position)
and played back sequentially (no pun intended!). These could then
pass through filters and envelopes. The results were stunning -
almost complete soundtracks in their own right - and these could
also be synchronised to MIDI clock for even more flexibility. The
Wavestation also had a comprehensive set of on-board effects (derived
from Korg's workstation products) and the overall effect of hearing
a Wavestation for the first time was quite an experience!
But this power came at a cost - with so many possibilities,
programming a Wavestation to create your own sounds was something
of a chore - indeed, impossible for many. The trouble is, you almost
had to program your own sounds because so many of the presets
were so distinctive, they were a dead give-away if you tried to
use them in a track!
Also, at a time when memory was expensive, to cram in
all this power meant that compromises had to be made in this area.
As a result, the on-board wave memory was minimal (a mere 2Mb in
the original Wavestations!) and so many of the on-board waveforms
weren't as multi-sampled as they could (or should) have been and
many waveforms had just a single sample that covered the entire
keyboard range. Those that were 'multi-sampled', only had two or
three samples to cover the range. When transposed, these waveforms
exhibited unpleasant aliasing noises - they sounded 'crunchy' down
low and almost ring modulated up high. That said, many used this
to their advantage (including Korg) to create very 'industrial'
Of course, the Wavestation had another failing - it wasn't
a workstation! It had no on-board sequencer, had limited multi-timbrality
and it also had little in the way of 'acoustic' sounds such as piano,
guitar, brass, sax, woodwind and so on. With the success of the
M1 and its subsequent variations, this is what people were coming
to expect of a keyboard instrument. Korg tried to address the latter
problem in the Wavestation EX that had expanded memory containing
piano and other 'acoustic' sounds but at a time when people were
very much embracing the concept of the $2,000 workstation, it was
difficult to get them to part with the same kind of money for a
synth with these limitations.
Of course, die-hard synth nuts bought the Wavestation
in droves and came to terms with its arcane operating system and
programming methods and for many, the Wavestation is still a staple
component in their studio or live rig.
Although the Wavestation was not a huge success in the
wider music market (i.e. the huge majority of jobbing musos across
the world for whom the flowing, evolving textures of vector synthesis
and the angular, industrial soundscapes of wave sequencing are totally
inappropriate), the Wavestation is largely regarded as a milestone
in synth history that remains relatively unique even today.
Korg kept the concept going with the Wavestation A/D
(a 2U rack-mounted version that added the ability to use external
sounds in the vectoring process) and ultimately, the Wavestation
SR (a 1U rack-mount unit with a miniscule 2 x 16 LCD that made even
moderate tweaking all but impossible). The Wavestation concept was
eventually discontinued in the mid-90s. However, vector synthesis
is still alive and well in the form of Dave Smith's Evolver (www.davesmithinstruments.com)
and, of course, in Korg's own Legacy software instrument where (for
once!) the original is faithfully reproduced.
The Wavestation samples have been donated by Hollow Sun
regular, Louis van Dompselaar - they are all dramatic, evolving