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Music Thing: The Technos Acxel

Peter Rojas
Technos Axcel
Each week, Tom Whitwell of Music Thing highlights the best of the new music gear that's coming out, as well as noteworthy vintage equipment:

The Technos Acxel had the coolest interface of any synth, ever. Cooler than the Fairlight light pen or the ballbearing switches of a Latronic Notron, possibly even cooler than the wall of knobs on an old Moog Modular.

Developed in Quebec and launched in 1987, the Acxel came in two parts - a huge monolithic rackmountable cube (called the Solitary) and a touch-sensitive control panel (called the Grapher) covered in 2114 LEDs and a two-line vacuum-flourescent text display. It looked exactly like something from a really good science fiction film.

You could draw waveforms on the Grapher with your finger, and control the synth?s unusual workings. It used additive synthesis, a kind of brute-force system where (in this case) up to 1024 individual sine waves could be combined to create complex sounds. The system can sound great, but few manufacturers tried because it demanded so much processing power. The Acxel was the also first machine which could do resynthesis. This is where a sound is analysed and artificially recreated with an algorithm - but not digitally sampled. The machine took 30 seconds to analyse sounds and created results which most users describe as ?interesting?.

Acxels were very expensive, and production was difficult and intermittent. Technos struggled on for a few years then, inevitably, went bankrupt. Today, Acxels are very rare. The last time one appeared on eBay was in 2003. Boring touch-screen LCDs have made cool LED-matrix displays obsolete. But resynthesis is now more popular than ever, because computers and on-screen interfaces have made it workable with soft synths like Cameleon 5000 and Virsyn Cube.

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