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What is it like to play the world's most expensive musical instrument?

Other than vintage violins, the New England Digital Synclavier was and still is the world's most expensive musical instrument at $100,000+ for a smallish one. So what is it like to play, and - more importantly - what does it sound like?


The inspiration for this article came from an email message from Ben at mu:zines (muzines.co.uk) enquiring about a series of articles I wrote for Sound on Sound magazine in 1989 about the New England Digital Synclavier.

If you have never heard of the Synclavier then basically it is the whole of your DAW/MIDI studio contained in one instrument, and it dates back three decades. I feel that it is reasonable to say that everything you have in your digital audio workstation, including virtual instruments, plug-ins, sequencing, sampling, audio recording, editing and manipulation and the rest is inspired by this instrument.

Oh yes, you would have needed around $100,000 to buy a reasonably well-specified Synclavier, and of course you could pay more for the extras. At today's values 100,000 1989 dollars would be worth more than $200,000!

So when I say that, other than vintage violins with antique value, this is the world's most expensive musical instrument, I think I am right!

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Ben's question was about my article series on the Synclavier. In the third and final installment I described the process of composing and creating a track on the instrument from start to finish. At the time it was the most amazing experience.

But I didn't feel that words alone could do the instrument justice, so I made available a cassette tape (1989 remember) that showcased the track I composed, and also went through the various stages of composition and recording. I called it SOS Synclavier.

I could go on, but you can find all kinds of information about the Synclavier on the web. And don't forget to check out mu:zines, which I am confident you will find extremely interesting if you have an interest in music technology.

Here's the track - SOS Synclavier (© David Mellor 1989 All Rights Reserved)...

By David Mellor Tuesday November 20, 2018

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