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Synergy

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  1. The project name used by Larry Fast for his solo albums since 1975.
  2. A digital synthesizer with its origins in work done by Bell Labs' Hal Alles:

Hal Alles at Bell Labs had, in the mid-1970s, developed a digital synthesizer capable of real-time performance, one of the first such. The Italian company Crumar took an interest in what Alles was doing and it established a U.S. spinoff, first known as Music Technology and later Digital Keyboards Inc (DKI)., to commercialize the technology. Their first product was a device known as the Crumar General Development Station, or GDS. Based on a Z80 microprocessor, the GDS running the Synergy operating system had 16 virtual oscillators and could do additive synthesis, frequency modulation, and phase modulation, with multi-segment envelope control over all parameters. (The GDS was designed as a general purpose device that was supposed to be capable of running multiple operating systems, but what became the Synergy OS was the only one ever developed.) The GDS was very expensive, in the five-figure range, and combined with the unfamiliarity and intricacy of the architecture, interest was limited and only a handful were sold.

The team then set to develop a less expensive version. The result was the original Synergy, a more capable and compact version that sold for $5000 in 1981. It had 24 patch memory locations, and could load an additional 24 via a ROM cartridge slot. It was one of the first multitimbral synths; it could play four patches in various split and layering combinations. The big compromise was that, for most purchasers, the Synergy was essentially a preset synthesizer; it could be programmed only by connecting it to a GDS, which few people had. This might have sunk the Synergy had not Wendy Carlos taken a keen interest in it. After Carlos received her Synergy, she purchased a GDS and set about building an extensive library of patches, which she made available for DKI to distribute via ROM cartridges. Carlos was particularly enamored of of the Synergy's capability for alternate tunings, which she used heavily on her 1980s efforts, notably Beauty and the Beast and the soundtrack for the original version of Tron.

(Despite the name, Larry Fast was not involved in the Synergy synthesizer project. Reportedly he was not happy about the appropriation of his project name, but he chose not to take any action.)

A later version, the Synergy II and II+, allowed for patch programming by connecting the synth to a Kaypro computer running patch editor software. This fixed the programming problem, but by this time, the Yamaha DX-7 was covering much of the Synergy's territory at a lower price. The Yamaha did imitative synthesis better than the Synergy, and the available patch libraries were much broader. Even so, the Synergy II+ continued in production until the parent company, Crumar, went out of business in 1987. A few of the DKI principals formed another company and offered the Mulogix Slave-32, a rackmount version of the Synergy II+; this lasted for about two years.

Today, Synergy synths are moderately sought out on the collector's market, although much of the action seems to consist of owners who want a second unit for parts. Roughly 2000 Synergys and Synergy II/II+ models were built, about about 200 Slave-32s. The Crumar GDS is impossible to put a value on since none have appeared on the open market in years; it is not clear that there are any operable units remaining.

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