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Synthesizers Alter Music Business

Technology affects production of films, commercials; new challenge for traditional musicians. MECHANIZED MUSIC

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JAY BERLINER, acoustic guitar player, recently recorded an advertising jingle for a fruit and fiber cereal. The sound of the guitar and a piano playing together in a studio ``were really beautiful,'' Mr. Berliner recalls. Unfortunately, the client liked the same music better when it was performed on a synthesizer - an electronic instrument. ``They thought it was more modern,'' Berliner says.

This shift to electronic music is not unique. Today, synthesizers are used to produce advertising jingles, sound tracks for movies, rock band backups, the music for Broadway shows and ballets. High schools, unable to find enough students to play in the orchestra for musicals, fill in with synthetic music. Students practice on synthesizers and music schools include courses on using computers to make and write music.

According to the American Music Conference, since 1973 manufacturers have shipped more than 2 million synthesizers worth $1.8 billion at the retail level.

Mirroring the rest of the economy, sales of electronic instruments are a little slower this year. However, Dominic Milano, editor of Keyboard, a Cupertino, Calif.-based magazine, says sales of computer software to produce music are on a high note.

The boom in synthetic music is the result of major technological advances. Since 1980, the companies had been using ``sampling'' technology, where sounds made from real instruments are digitally recorded. In 1982, a consortium of five companies developed the software communications language known as the musical instrument digital interface (MIDI).

This allows musicians to communicate with computers. ``Suddenly keyboard players could do the equivalent of word processing,'' explains Mr. Milano.


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