and the DX7
of the DX7
It was 1983. Yamaha revealed
the milestone synthesizer, the DX7. One of the
unique contributions in this keyboard was that
it was one of the first synths to have MIDI
(Musical Instrument Digital Interface). All
sorts of cottage businesses grew up in the wake
of this synthesizer, offering sounds, software
and hardware add-ons. Atari was just starting
to make its name in the music industry. Many
software firms quickly made editors and librarians
for the Atari platform that would support the
DX7. Steinberg as well as C-Lab, Hybrid Arts
and Dr T's Software all produced excellent editors
and librarians dedicated to the DX7 and its
4-operator cousins (the TX81Z, the DX100 and
DX11). Not only that, but thousands of sounds
became available by third party contributors.
Also, programs were developed that encompassed
not only the DX7, but multiple synthesizers
all in one program. Dr T's XOR, Hybrid Art's
GenEdit and Sound Quest's MIDI Quest are some
examples. This was a great time for MIDI as
new ways were being explored and new synthesis
structures were being created.
DX7 and family use what is called FM (Frequency
Modulation) as its main sound structure. FM
(as used in the Yamaha DX series) was developed
at Stanford University by a certain John Chowning.
Basically (in a real small nutshell) FM uses
as its main sound source what is called an "operator".
An operator consists of an oscillator (a sine
wave) and an 8-stage envelope generator. These
operators can be arranged in many ways. The
different ways they can be arranged is
called an algorithm. When you see the terms
6-Op and 4-Op, this means how many operators
you have to work with. There are basically two
ways you can arrange operators. Either an operator
is a carrier (it makes the sound) or a modulator
(meaning it affects the sound of the carrier,
such as how bright or tinny it is). The envelope
in a carrier will affect volume, while an envelope
in a modulator will effect timbre. This
can be rather confusing, but is very easy once
you "get it". There are excellent
resources on FM theory on the internet worth
delving into as well as books. A recommended
book is Howard Masseys', "The Complete
DX7". See the link section for a good resource
on FM theory.
Today, even after Yamaha has
stopped production, the DX7 family is still
here. Awakened by a strong internet community,
there are many resources for the DX7 which makes
obtaining one, or its other flavors of FM synthesis
a very reasonable and rewarding experience.
Modern modules using FM technology have also
been made available by Yamaha: the FS1R and
the AN200/DX200. There are also soft synth alternatives
for PC which create 6-operator synthesis in
software. You can even load DX7 SysEx banks
into them. You could even say that FM is making
a come-back, much in the same manner as analog
has come back into the mainstream.
is that you can now obtain these FM goodies
very cheaply. What used to cost $1,700 (and
non-discounted for the first year it was out)
you can now obtain (DX7 Mark I, or even a Mark
II) for about $200 to $300. TX7s (the desktop
version of the DX7) you can get for $75! The
FB01 4-Op module for around $40! The TX81Z
(with its landmark techno sound "lately
bass") can also be obtained for less than
$100. These instruments are so reasonable that
it would be foolish not to get one for the studio.
Once you obtain
one (or more) of these jewels, it really needs
to be used with an effects unit. A good reverb,
delay and chorus goes a long way in bringing
out the sounds what others would call "cheesy".
You will be amazed at how good these instruments
can sound when a good reverb or chorus is added.
A must for anyone who plans on using a DX!
you have an Atari, there are now many editors,
librarians, sounds and utilities for 6-operator
and 4-operator instruments that will keep you
going for as long as you have the instrument.
This is due to the programmers giving their
consent to release their programs as freeware
as well as PD applications being made available.
However, there are still some programs not available
(yet) such as C-Lab's X-alyzer and Steinberg's
Synthworks DX7 editor. Both of these offered
excellent graphics and features. There is also
XOR, which has a DX7 profile as well TX81Z ,
FB01 and the DX7II profiles.
Caged Artist series of synthesizer System Exclusive
(or patch) editors/librarians
was created by Bob Melvin and distributed by
DR T Software in the late 1980s. Today, Bob
Melvin has given permission for free trading
of these excellent editors. The
first program in the series was "DX Heaven"
which was for the first generation Yamaha DX7/TX7 synthesizers.
It was, as the title states,
for DX7 programming. DX Heaven was originally
written in the mid '80s for the Apple II computer
but was ported over to the ST with many additions.
DX Heaven could also be used as an MPE module
for use in Dr T's Omega II KCS. Thus you could
play a sequence in KCS, and be tweaking the
sound at the same time. DX Heaven also has an
excellent random patch generator, making it
fascinating to hear what the computer comes
up with which can create interesting patches.
You can choose which parameters (mask) and what
percentage of change you want. Then the more
you click on "randomize" it keeps
generating new patches, which you can keep or
discard. Using one seed patch, I was able to
generate many "useable" patches and
also create sounds that would have been hard
to create "by hand" only because I
would not be that extreme in selecting the parameters.
is easy using the arrow keys as well as just
clicking on a sound. The editing screen shows
all parameters at once, which makes seeing the
whole patch convenient in making comparisons.
There is also a separate envelope graphic screen
in which you can drag around points of the envelope
with the mouse for some real fast editing of
parameters! The interesting thing about this
graphic is that you see all operators at once
while the one you are working on is highlighted.
The Caged Artist
series also included 4-Op Deluxe, the editor
and librarian for 4-operator FM synths, such
as the TX81Z, FB01, DX11 and DX100. These editors
could also be used in conjunction with KCS as
MPE modules (as mentioned above). The neat thing
about this is that you can have several editors
up and running at the same time and simply click
in-between them. For example, I have KCS version
4 installed on my Falcon. When I run the KCS
program, it automatically loads DX Heaven, the
FB01 and TX81Z editors as well as the MT32 editor
(which I use as well). By simply going to the
MPE menu on the main screen of KCS, I can choose
which editor I want to work in. Makes for a
very nice multi-tasking musical environment!
was Hybrid Arts contribution programmed by Tom
Bajoras. The program was originally named DX-Droid,
but had to change its name to appease the force!
(George Lucas and friends) So the final version
was called DX-Android. There were even adverts
in the electronic music magazines at the time
with a picture of a droid (very akin to Star
Wars) playing a DX7 and ST computer along with
a TX816 rack! Those with DX7 synths today can
still use this excellent program. DX-Android
was one of the first programs to incorporate
random patch generation, thus making it a landmark
application in its time. In many ways it almost
seems like a "DOS" program as it did
not use the GEM menu system, but using a combination
of function keys, mouse and arrow keys, allows
navigation through all the elements of the program.
This program also presents many screens to view
different aspects of FM synthesis, thus offering
a different way to program than the one-screen
view. Highly recommended!
Today, Tom Bajoras
has released DX-Android and the source code.
I have been working in conjunction with David
Leaver to produce a copyright-free version.
He was finally able to take out the copy protection,
so now we have a working edition of this fabulous
program. You need to have a formatted disk handy
as the program asks for a blank disk when first
starting. There is no manual yet,
but with the tried and true method of click,
enter and learn, you will be able to manage
the program, which is logically laid
several excellent PD programs have become available.
DX Bunker from Germany is no exception. This
program can even be run in 030 VGA color modes
with good result. DX Bunker offers
drag-and-drop functions as well as an editor function
with graphic envelopes of each operator, and
this all on one screen! It also has a library
function, which means you can have more than
just 32 sounds. You can store all your sounds
in the library, then create custom banks of
sounds that you can send to the instrument.
There are also different options in viewing
the display, as you can invert the color scheme.
The menu is in German, but you can easily figure
things out. A good collection of sounds come
with the program.
is another more recent PD application coming
from Santa Barbara, California's Jim Patchell.
This application also works in 030 VGA color
modes. It is meant for the Yamaha TX816 rack
(which consists of 2-8 DX7s in a rack!).
When first opening the program, it asks which
MIDI channel, as the TX modules are separated
by which MIDI channel you choose. To work on
a sound, you first go to the Ed-Op menu and
choose an operator. Once you click OK, you can
go back to the Ed-Op menu and choose what you
want to edit: envelope, scaling, frequency,
and sensitivity. These bring down graphic sliders. The envelope graphic is interesting
in that instead of the usual x-y bar, you have
sliders for the envelope, much in the same fashion
as analog synths. Going into the Ed-Mod menu,
you can pull down an impressive algorithm list,
which makes it very easy to pick the correct
algorithm for the job!
All the above
programs work on Steem, the Atari emulator for
PC. There are even special provisions for SysEx
that the programmers of Steem have incorporated
into the program. Thus if you do not have a
real Atari, you can still use these excellent
I tend to look
at DX programming as putting together components
to make one sound.
- Pick your
algorithm. I usually start with algorithm 5
or 6, which gives you three stacks
to work with.
- Work on one
stack. Mute the other operators you are not
working on. This is tremendously
helpful. For example, using algorithm 5, I want
work on operators 1
and 2. I mute operators 3, 4, 5 and 6. Now you can concentrate
on getting a cool
sound using operators 1 and 2.
- Work the envelope
of the first operator. This will form the basis
of the sound. Then slowly turn up the operator
level for the next one. At this point, you have
to decide what type of sound
you want. Do you want a bell type of sound?
Then you will need a high frequency
on operator 2, a fairly low output level so
it is not overwhelming and and a sharp attack
on the envelope. When you are satisfied with
how that sounds, mute
operators 1 and 2, unmute 3 and 4, bring up the
operator level for operator 4, and then decide
what type of sound will go well with your bell
sound you just created.
Perhaps you want another bell sound, but you
can detune them from operator
1, so when you put them together you get a full
chorused type of bell sound.
- So for each
stack: decide what type of sound you want.
- When completed,
unmute all operators and listen to the result.
Add any finishing touches.
- Now decide
what types of modulation, velocity and keyboard
level scaling you need.
- When completed:
save the patch!
This is one viewpoint
on programming. Another is to take an existing
patch, and edit it from
there to your liking, adding velocity changes,
pitch envelope effects,
or whatever. One of the unique aspects of the
DX7 is that whenever you go into edit mode,
you are working on a copy of the patch and not
the actual patch. Thus you can be free to tweak
to your heart's content knowing you are not messing
up the original sound.
Super lead DX
Here is a technique
I have learned through the years for getting super
lead sounds from the
- Use any sustaining
patch such as strings, analog brass, organ,
- Put the portatime
to 2 (or whatever you want).
- Use SUS-key
P follow Mode for the portamento.
- Step on the
sustain pedal, and hold it.
- Start playing your riffs.
- You will notice
the volume going up and it turns into Mono
but a very interesting
tone that is different than using regular portamento.
lead sound! Try it! Beats the pants
off some of the stuff you hear these
Loading DX sounds
A note on loading
the DX7 sounds. Go to function button # 8 (which
is labelled on the original DX7 as the MIDI
function button!) and set the MIDI channel to
1, and enable System Exclusive. Also turn off
Internal Protection. I would back-up your internal
sounds also, before dumping new sounds in. Use
any of the programs described or a generic MIDI
SysEx program such as Midian.
There are also
Broadway productions which still make use of
the DX7 in their score. "Les MisÚrables"
is such a production. As a matter of fact, the
original production company issues disks
with the DX7 sounds in Atari Steinberg Satellite
format. I have been contacted more than once
in regard to this and have been able to help
these musical directors in converting the sounds
to standard SysEx format for use in their production
of Les MisÚrables. One of these directors (Neil
Booth) wrote up some notes on his experiences
of his production of Les MisÚrables. See my
DX7 page on TAMW for the story. The production
makes use of four DX7s. There are two keyboardists,
each with a set of DX7s, pre-programmed with
the correct sounds. The score has marks when
to change the sound and what patch numbers to
call up on which DX being used (upper and lower
keyboards). It has been said that this combination
of DX sounds gives Les MisÚrables its
"sound". A well-deserved compliment
to a classic line of synths.
Sounds: DX Convert
sounds? Where can you find sounds in Atari format?
Anybody have DX7 sounds in DX Heaven format?"
I hear you say. The answer to both of
these is a resounding yes! There are banks of
sounds in DX Heaven format, as well as an excellent
and much-needed utility created by an Atari
member Ross Maclver called DX-Convert. This
application converts Dr T/XOR format files to
standard SysEx as well as SysEx to Dr T. This
means you can convert those thousands of banks
available on the internet and use them in DX
The same goes for 4-Op Deluxe users as Ross
created a utility for that as well!
To send regular
SysEx files, there are dumper programs like
Dumpit by Ben Hall, as well as a full-scale
SysEx program called Midian. Both of these are
available on the DX7 page on TAMW (see below).
- Dave Benson's
There are now
several user groups on the internet. One of the first
and probably the most popular is Dave Benson's
DX7 list. You can go to his site to sign up.
I have been a member for years and have had
the acquaintance of many Atari users there as
well. Dave Benson's DX7 site is considered the
resource for the DX7, see the links section.
- FM synthesis
This one was
started by a certain Adam Fandert, whom was also
a member of the Atari MIDI forum at Yahoo (in which I am moderator). This forum is
for discussion of all types of FM, and not just
- The DX Yahoo
This is a large
group devoted to the Yamaha style of FM synthesis.
Many Dave Benson group members
are here as well.
FM to the future
With all these
excellent resources now available, now is the
time to avail yourself with one or more of these
FM jewels. The price is right and the software
is free! What can you say? Adding FM to your
present set-up will greatly enrich the overall
sound as well as giving you an education in
a unique form of synthesis. The FM sound when
layered with analog or sample technology offers
a unique and rich sound not otherwise possible.
Another factor is that you will have the largest
patch collection ever developed for a single
instrument as there are literally thousands
of patches available on the internet! Perhaps we
will see a well-deserved comeback of these fabulous
instruments. Can you see a 100-operator, 300-algorithm
machine? Food for thought!
For more FM Atari
programs, please see the DX7 page at Tim's Atari
MIDI World (see link below).
New on Tim's Atari MIDI World (TAMW)
wanted to add more to the bread and butter section
(sequencers) so I created pages for the following
to the algorithmic section:
in the "other" section: