Here’s a little story illustrating the fundamental interconnectedness of all things that I wanted to share…

1) A while ago I started researching the technology of and history behind Yamaha’s OPL2 and OPL3 FM synths (just because I was curious).

2) Sometime later I read a wholly unrelated news article about a Hungarian baby.

3) The FM synthesis technique used by Yamaha was conceived and developed by John M. Chowning.

4) Chowning reportedly happened upon the idea behind FM synthesis while experimenting with vibrato in the 1960s.

5) Vibrato Wars rage between factions disagreeing on how classical music should be played with regard to vibrato to be historically accurate.

6) In The Vibrato Thing, David Montgomery makes very sarcastic remarks (on pages 5 and 6) about the perceived unlikelihood of Fritz Kreisler (an Austrian violinist born in 1875) being able to hear Gypsies play violin.

7) Wait a second! That article about a Hungarian baby mentioned a Gypsy musician named Mihaly Fatyol who “played the dance halls of Budapest and Europe from the 1920s to the 1970s, at a time when no restaurant, no society wedding was complete without a Gypsy orchestra”. Hmm, maybe Mr. Montgomery is the one jumping to conclusions and it was not at all unlikely for an Austrian living in Vienna to hear a Gypsy violinist in a Viennese café in the late 19th century? Then again, I’d rather not take part in the vibrato wars…

Anyway, there you have it—the connection between an OPL3 chip and a Hungarian baby.

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8 Responses to Digressions

  1. dosfan says:

    Well OPL was the poorest of the Yamaha FM sound chips. OPM (YM2151) was MUCH better. Many arcade games of the mid-to-late 1980s and early 1990s used the YM2151 for background music. Unfortunately PCs got stuck with the crappy OPL because of Adlib’s choice (likely because it was cheaper).

  2. Michal Necasek says:

    Crappy is relative. Compared to the PC speaker?

    I’m sure the price did have something to do with it, but does anyone have an idea how much the different OPL/OPM chips actually cost back then?

  3. Jeff says:

    I’m curious about this, too — um, sound generation that is, not Hungarian babies.

    Sound emulation is one of the weak spots of browser-based emulators, so it’s something I’d like to tackle eventually. I’ll probably look for some existing sound chip emulation code to port to JavaScript, but I wouldn’t mind the learning experience of writing it from scratch either.

  4. dosfan says:

    Well a PC emulator only needs to deal with the PC speaker unless you plan on adding Sound Blaster support though that didn’t appear until the early 1990s. Sound emulation is hard, FM sound emulation is very hard and quite CPU intensive. If you want to look at sound emulation code then look at MAME.

  5. @Jeff check out game-music-emu, it’s LGPL and includes a good number of chip emu. I guess you could always call it via emscripten….

  6. You remind me of me browsing Wikipedia (sorry for the necro).

  7. This guy here has bought a MT-32 Roland Midi Synth module that was, as you might remember, the option below AdLib, Sandblaster and Gravis Ultrasound.
    And he says it’s possible to route the MIDI from a VM to the Roland and enjoy that MIDI-done-right-sound for maybe the first time ever 🙂
    He gives some fine examples from e.g. Day of the Tentacle
    He might also be a go-to-guy for some sound card related questions, as he mentions in another video that some Yamaha synth were essentially sound cards with keys attached.

  8. Michal Necasek says:

    It’s more the other way around. Companies designed synthesizers and sold them as stand-alone units. Often there was a keyboard version where the same synth was built into a keyboard. And sometimes there was a version of the synth available on an ISA card, like the Roland LAPC-I, SCC-1, or Yamaha SW60XG. Or the original Turtle Beach Multisound which included an E-mu Proteus 1/XR synth.

    I’ve had an MT-32 since about 2005, when it was still possible to buy a new in box unit for a non-insane price ($100). I’ve used it with an actual old PC, so I know what old games were meant to sound like 🙂 Game music which was composed for the MT-32 sounds great.

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