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Synth History: Dom Sigalas on VL1

Dom Sigalas explores the groundbreaking VL1 Virtual Acoustic Synthesizer.
The VL1 was a groundbreaking synthesizer introduced in 1993. It generated sound using a sophisticated physical modeling technology called “Virtual Acoustic”. The manual describes it thusly:

“The Yamaha VL1 Virtual Acoustic Synthesizer produces sound in an entirely new way. It has no oscillators or function generators, no preset waveforms or samples. In fact, it uses none of the sound generation concepts employed in conventional synthesizers. The VL1 represents the world’s first practical application of computer-based “physical modeling” in musical sound synthesis.

In the same way that computer models are used to simulate weather systems or the flight characteristics of aircraft in the design stage, the VL1 simulates the very complex vibrations, resonances, reflections and other acoustic phenomena that occur in a real wind or string instrument. This requires a tremendous amount of computer processing power (weather and aerodynamic modeling require room-filling super computers), and radical advances in microprocessor speed and capability plus some very sophisticated Yamaha technology were necessary to achieve the real-time sound generation capabilities exhibited by the ground-breaking VL1 Virtual Acoustic Synthesizer.”

Dom Sigalas explores the remarkable VL1 in the video below. Check it out.

Here is my recollection of the first time I saw the VL1:

1994 was the year of my very first NAMM show. Of all the products I saw nothing impressed me more than the VL1. I got a personal demonstration from the one and only Phil “Bad Mister” Clendeninn. He explained in detail how it produced sound and why the included BC2 breath controller was an essential part of the experience.

I remember the first sound I played called “Floboe”, a hybrid flute/oboe sound. I touched a key and started blowing...softly at first, then increasing the airflow. First, I heard only the “air” moving through the virtual horn. As I blew harder the horn sound appeared, changing in volume and timbre with increasing airflow. Then I tried playing like a brass by stopping the airflow with the tongue and quickly releasing (literally called “tonguing”). The sound responded differently! It was a mind-blowing experience. Check out this song I created using the sound “Floboe” with the VL1 and the original MOTIF:

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