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Dead medium: Dead synthesizers: the Hazelcom McLeyvier
From: kadrey@well.com (Richard Kadrey)
Source(s): Mark Vail, "Vintage Synthesizers," Miller Freeman, Inc (pp. 78-79)

"Like an object caught in the Starship Enterprise's malfunctioning transporter, the McLeyvier shimmered between existence and Limbo for a few years beginning in 1981. Designed by composer/technologist David McLey and aggressively (not to mention prematurely) marketed by Hazelcom Industries of Canada, this high-end digital system was to be another all-in-one box performance/production wonder machine.

"'Only a few people really know the McLeyvier intimately,' says composer Laurie Spiegel. She worked on later versions of the instrument. 'In many ways they were absolutely wonderful, and in many other ways absolutely infuriating.'

"The McLeyvier's functions reportedly included notational score display, editing, and printout ('push a button and printed sheet music appears in publishable form'). A disk memory was capable of storing six hours of music material, and played it back via analog hardware with up to 128-voice polyphony. The computer was to accept commands 'in any language' including Braille. Priced between $15,000 and $30,000 depending on the options, the McLeyvier appeared at successive trade shows as the Interactive Music Processor and the Amadeus, before sinking without a trace. 'With the indomitable spirit of David facing Goliath,' in the words of the press release, Hazelcom proved itself not quite up to the job.

"'One of the big problems,' Speigel states, 'was that the company put out a computer-controlled analog system in the very year when digital synthesis was becoming the big thing.' When McLey decided that music was more important to him than instrument manufacture, Spiegel was put in charge of redesigning the software to fit the proposed new digital hardware. Soon after, however, Hazelcom's attention became diverted to other ventures, and the project was scrapped. According to Spiegel, 'Only about eight of them were ever in serious use.'

"'It was a very special instrument,' she goes on. 'It was unbelievably reconfigurable, on the assumption that there is no best way to set up an instrument; it varies from person to person, and from piece to piece. Instead of coming up in any fixed way, the first thing it did when the program booted was to run an initialization program so that the user could customize it completely. As an integrated music environment, I don't think there's anything as good out there. You memorized a couple hundred commands, and you could use them at any point, so your world wasn't chopped up into a lot of separate editors. You had random access to everything all the time. Also, it was a musical language, an operating system for music composition. The vocabulary consisted of things like 'invert,' 'ostinato,' and 'transpose.' It had certain limitations,' she concludes, 'but it could do things that nothing else today can.'"

Richard Kadrey (kadrey@well.com)