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[microsound] re: behold the Birotron

Actually there's a good lesson to be learned there aside from any mechanical or business considerations.

One of the most important factors in how we recognize the sound of a musical instrument is contained in the attack portion of a played sound. A synthetic instrument can have anything complex or simple there of course. But when considering acoustic sounds the vast majority of what we associate as musical instruments have something complex and different going on briefly at the start. There will almost always be a momentarily different harmonic structure and frequently a short change in pitch compared to the sustained body of the sound. Generating an envelope function is simply not going to (re) create this portion of the sound and a filter can add what's not there if you just have looped sound like a Birotron.

A cello with no attack portion of the sound doesn't sound much like a cello or arguably very interesting either. Thats not to say the Mellotron which did include the attack is anywhere near perfect. It I think in most people's opinion will sound more like a cello, though the fact that every time the same note is played sounds the same doesn't help it.

As one might guess, the digital solution widely used was to digitally smoothly splice a short attack sound onto a sustained waveform loop. A few rare instruments like a harpsichord have a major change in sound on note release, so that may or may not be taken into account too. You still have issues of the timbre being the same each time the note is played, but it's still a step ahead of the Briotron.

Though I guess a lot of the charm of the original technology is it's being slightly unreliable so long as it functions. I'm sure many sound designers including commercial ventures would love to get a chance to sample one of these. But whatever flaws there are get captured like a snapshot and won't change. The thrill and frustration in playing this kind of old technology is if you are lucky enough that it's fairly playable it's in a constant flux of (hopefully) small changes.
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