New England Digital
New England Digital Corp. (1976–1993), founded originally in Norwich, Vermont and eventually relocated to White River Junction, Vermont, was best known for its signature product, the Synclavier Synthesizer System, which evolved into the Synclavier Digital Audio System or "Tapeless Studio." The company sold both an FM digital synthesizer/16-bit polyphonic synthesizer and magnetic disk-based non-linear 16-bit digital recording product, referred to as the "Post-Pro."
Originally developed as the "Dartmouth Digital Synthesizer" by Dartmouth College Professor Jon Appleton, in association with NED co-founders Cameron W. Jones and Sydney A. Alonso, the Synclavier would become the pioneering prototype hardware and software system for all digital non-linear synthesis, polyphonic sampling, magnetic (hard-disk) recording and sequencing systems technology that is commonplace in all music and sound effects/design today.
The instrument's development picked up speed in late 1978/early 1979, when master synthesist, sound designer, and musical arranger, Denny Jaeger, began working with NED to help create system upgrades, advanced capabilities, and unique sounds that were tailored to fit the needs of the product for the commercial music industry. The second generation's user interface panel and overall music design features of the original Synclavier (that wold become Synclavier II) were substantially driven and designed by Denny Jaeger. His relentless attention to detail and unparalleled understanding of synthesis, audio recording, and technology provided tremendous product/market insight to the original founding hardware and software engineering team of Alonso and Jones.
In November 1979, immediately following the arrival of Denny Jaeger, Alonso hired Brad Naples as the company's Business Manager. Working in tandem, Jaeger and Naples were the main drivers of the marketing and sales/business development efforts of the company. However, all four individuals—Alonso, Jones, Jaeger, and Naples—worked as a collaborative team, which was quite unique and unparalleled at the time. NED unveiled the newly improved Synclavier II at the AES show in May 1980, where it became an instant hit.
The company continued to refine the Synclavier II, with Jaeger leading more musician-friendly, technological improvements, and Naples evolving to become the company's President/CEO (1983–1993) to assist Alonso and Jones, who were substantially expanding the hardware and software team. Mr. Appleton remained involved with the company, but mostly continued his professorship at Dartmouth College. Without the insight and assistance of Professor Jon Appleton, the Synclavier idea would never have happened. It became one of the most advanced electronic synthesis and recording tools of the day. Early adopters included:
- John McLaughlin
- Pat Metheny
- Michael Jackson, particularly on his 1982 album "Thriller"
- Denny Jaeger and Michel Rubini, the first to use the Synclavier to score a major motion picture (The Hunger, with David Bowie, released through MGM in April, 1983) and to score the first network TV series (The Powers of Matthew Starr, from Paramount Television, released September, 1982).
- Laurie Anderson, whose 1984 album "Mister Heartbreak" includes visual depictions of Synclavier sound waves in the liner notes
- Frank Zappa, who composed his 1986 Grammy-winning album Jazz From Hell on the instrument. He continued to use it on his studio albums until his death in 1993, culminating in the posthumous release of his magnum opus Civilization, Phaze III (by Zappa's estimation, 70% of this two-hour work is exclusively Synclavier.)
- Producer Mike Thorne, who used the Synclavier to shape the sound of the 80s producing bands such as Siouxsie & The Banshees, Soft Cell, Marc Almond, and Bronski Beat
- Record label founder Daniel Miller (Mute Records). It found use on most Depeche Mode albums in which band member Alan Wilder was involved.
- The Cars
- Herbie Hancock
- Sean Callery
- Eddie Jobson
The system was nearly as famous for where it was not used, as it was for the list of premier studios in which it was: the extremely sophisticated synthesizer enjoyed the distinction of being banned from many famous concert halls, out of fear that it would make the musicians themselves obsolete. For a while in the '80s there was even a common phrase going around 'Is it live or is it Synclavier?' particularly relating to certain performers and musicians who were found to be miming to an entire show performed by Synclavier.
The mature Synclavier was a modular, component-based system that included facilities for FM-based synthesis, digital sampling, hard-disk recording, and sophisticated computer-based sound editing. By the late 1980s, complete Synclavier systems were selling for upwards of $200,000, to famous musicians such as Sting, Michael Jackson and Stevie Wonder, and to major studios the world over. The Synclavier was also employed by experimental musicians, such as John McLaughlin, Kraftwerk, Laurie Anderson, Frank Zappa and Peter Buffett who used it extensively in their music. It also found itself popular among the academic world for research and analysis of audio, and for more clandestine operations, such as speech analysis and manipulation by the intelligence services, submarine sonar and sound analysis by the Navy, flight simulators for Boeing, and even by NASA as the core of the digital camera system on board the Galileo Probe sent to study and photograph Jupiter and its moons. It is still used to this day in major movies for sound design, along with TV, Commercials and Music composition and production.
Unfortunately for New England Digital, the Synclavier became a victim of the early 1990s economic downturn, the high prices (albeit justified as the Synclavier system components were almost entirely military and aviation spec), and the rapidly increasing capabilities of personal computers, MIDI-enabled synthesizers and low-cost digital samplers. In the span of two years, the company saw enormous sales evaporate, and in 1992 they closed their doors forever. Parts of the company were purchased by Fostex, which used the technical knowledge base of staff to build several hard-disk recording systems in the 1990s (like Fostex Foundation 2000 and 2000re), and AirWorks Media, a Canadian company who used portions of code in their TuneBuilder product line. Simultaneously, a group of ex-employees and product owners collaborated to form The Synclavier Company, primarily as a maintenance organization for existing customers, but with an eye to adapting Synclavier software for stand-alone personal computer use, while in Europe the previously profitable, but now motherless, NED Europe is currently run by ex-head of European operations, Steve Hills and is still trading to this day (2005) in London, England as Synclavier Europe
In 1998, under the company Demas, NED co-founder Cameron W. Jones (original and current owner of the Synclavier trademark and software) collaborated with ex-employee Brian S. George (owner of Demas, the company that purchased all of NED's hardware and technical assets) and original co-founding partner Sydney Alonso to develop an emulator designed to run Synclavier software for Apple Computer's Macintosh computer systems and hardware designed to share the core processing with the later generation of Apple G3 computers giving enhanced features and greater speed to the system.