Palm Products GmbH
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Palm Products GmbH (commonly abbreviated to PPG) was a highly regarded manufacturer of audio synthesizers. Founded and owned by Wolfgang Palm, PPG was located in Hamburg, Germany and, for 12 years from around 1975 to 1987, manufactured an acclaimed and eclectic range of electronic musical instruments, all designed by Palm.
Wolfgang Palm was active as a keyboardist in bands in the Hamburg area before becoming aware of the then-burgeoning synthesizer market. Palm started his company in 1975.
Although he had reportedly built many synthesizers on his own, his first commercially available synthesizer was a modular synthesizer, dubbed the 300 Series, which, despite being fairly sophisticated, failed to sell in large quantities. Motivated by his failure and inspired by the design of the popular Minimoog, Palm introduced the 1002 and 1020 synthesizers. Both were portable, analog, monophonic, and relatively compact. The 1002 used voltage-controlled oscillators; however, the 1020 was revolutionary in its implementation of digitally controlled oscillators, which were much more stable and had a distinctive sound that later became PPG's trademark.
The Wave and the rise of digital synthesis
PPG continued to develop and release digital synthesizers, most of which met with little success. In 1979, PPG introduced the 340/380 System, a complex digital synthesizer which consisted of the 340 Processor Unit, the 340 Generator Unit, and the 380 Event Generator (a 16-track sequencer). It also included a "Computer Terminal" which included a monitor, 8-inch floppy disk drives, and a keyboard (5 octaves, for manual playing of events into the sequencer as well as polyphonic playing with the 340 Wave Generator). Despite its own shortcomings, which included its complex functionality and its high price, it received publicity when it was used by Thomas Dolby during the early 1980s.
Then, in 1980, Wolfgang Palm introduced a new concept, dubbed "wavetable synthesis". These digital synthesizers expanded upon the capabilities of Palm's earlier synthesizers by expanding the sound creation tools with limited samples, which were compiled together in lists called wavetables. The first PPG synthesizer to implement this algorithm was the Wavecomputer 360, released in 1980 in two versions - the 360A, with 4 oscillators, and the 360B, with 8. However, the synthesizer sounded relatively thin, a consequence of having only one oscillator per voice and the typical limited polyphony of most synthesizers of its era.
PPG soon found success with the release of the Wave 2, which debuted in 1981, priced at around US$10,000 (GB£5,500). It contained analog envelopes, LFO and filters, with digital oscillators. Where traditional analog synthesizer were only capable of 5 or 6 waveforms per oscillator, the PPG Wave 2 offered 64 waveforms in 30 "wavetables". One selected a wavetable and then one of the 64 waveforms it contained - a total of 1,920 waveforms per oscillator available for use. In total, around 1,000 Waves were manufactured between 1981 and 1987 with two different updates to the model (the PPG Wave 2.2, which added more waveforms and samples, and the 2.3, which added multitimbrality and MIDI), making it the most successful product PPG manufactured. The PPG Wave also found a place onstage with artists such as A-ha, Alphaville, David Bowie, Geoff Downes, Electronic Dream Planet, Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Depeche Mode, Propaganda, Jean-Jacques Birgé, Jean Michel Jarre, Level 42, Rush, Gary Numan, Missing Persons, Robert Palmer, The Stranglers, Talk Talk, Tangerine Dream, Tears For Fears, Ultravox, Steve Winwood, Stevie Wonder, and many others.
Computer-controlled synthesizers and the Realizer
By 1982, Wolfgang Palm was set on innovating again by introducing computers to music with the Waveterm, a rack-mounted computer system with a built-in monitor, two 8-inch floppy drives (later upgraded to 5.25-inch), and a proprietary Flex9-based operating system running on a Eurocom II motherboard created by the German company Eltec. In the Waveterm B, this was replaced by a proprietary Motorola 68000-based motherboard running an entirely proprietary operating system. It was designed to be used with many of PPG's synthesizers, including the Wave, by specifying points on a graph which was displayed on the screen. One could also sample in acoustic sounds, or use some sounds provided by PPG on disks. The Waveterm was manufactured through 1985. By this time, to raise sales, PPG also had dropped the prices of many of their synthesizers, including the Wave, which would now be sold at around US$6,500 (GB£3,500).
In 1986, Wolfgang Palm designed and began work on a prototype for his most ambitious project yet - the Realizer, an all-in-one studio machine which combined production, recording, sequencing, and mixing tools into one machine in addition to a sophisticated sampling and synthesis system. It also had the ability to load emulations of other popular synthesizers, such as a Minimoog. The system proved to be too far ahead of its time, and was so expensive to create that its projected retail price was almost US$60,000 (GB£34,000). As such, it was never sold, or even got beyond the prototype phase. There are rumored to be two prototype versions in existence, each with slightly different front panel controls. As interest in Palm's other products waned, the cost of developing the Realizer was high enough to put PPG into serious debt. As such, PPG officially ceased business operations and closed its doors in 1987 after shelving the Realizer project.
Wolfgang Palm after PPG
After the decline of PPG, Wolfgang Palm continued to be an active innovator in the area of synthesizer technology. For Waldorf Music he designed the digital ASIC for the first Waldorf product Microwave (1989) which basically contained the complete sound engine of the PPG wave 2.2. Used by many professional artists (including Ace of Base and Depeche Mode), the Waldorf WAVE continues to be popular. The later Waldorf products like the MicroWave II, XT, Q, microQ, Blofeld all had all or several of the original wavetables and waveshapes of the PPG Waves. In 2002, Steinberg released PLEX, a software synthesizer designed by Palm that wasn't sold by big numbers.
Palm's influence on synthesis and electronic music is, undoubtedly, tremendous. The PPG wave's unique sound, and its use on the recordings of such a diverse range of artists is, arguably, responsible for the rise in popularity of digital synthesis in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Today, nearly every digital synthesizer implements wavetable synthesis in some form, and the Wave's unique integration of analogue and digital circuitry influenced synthesizers such as the Monowave and the E-mu Emulator. His implementation of computer technology in sound creation was also ahead of its time.
- http://synthmuseum.com/ppg/index.html - PPG on http://www.synthmuseum.com
- http://www.antarcticamedia.com/ppg/ - An unofficial site dedicated to PPG, with information about their many products.
- http://www.ppg.synth.net/ - Another unofficial site dedicated to the PPG range of synths.
- http://www.hermannseib.com/english/synths/ppg/history.htm - A short biography of Wolfgang Palm.
- http://www.retrosound.de/wave2.2.html - RetroSound - PPG Wave.
- http://www.retrosound.de/PPG-Waveterm-A.htm - RetroSound - PPG Waveterm.
- http://www.vintagesynth.com/misc/wave.shtml - PPG Wave page on http://www.vintagesynth.com/, which includes audio sample (playable with RealPlayer).
- http://www.vintagesynth.com/misc/ppgrealizer.shtml - PPG Realizer page on http://www.vintagesynth.com/.
- Virtual Music Synthesizer Service