BACK in the early '80s, Sony Walkmans allowed people to listen to Brahms on a noisy bus or Mick Jagger on a jogging track. Now imagine carrying the power of a modern music studio in your pocket. With headphones plugged into a box the size of a videocassette, you can compose, orchestrate, or improvise with the sounds of today's electronic instruments.
In a matter of seconds you can become glued to this invention like an eight-year-old kid hovering over his hand-held Nintendo Game Boy. But the Yamaha QY10 Music Sequencer - nicknamed ``the band in hand'' or ``the lone arranger'' - is much more sophisticated. It boasts an 8-track sequencer with 32-note polyphony and a 6,000-note memory, 26 realistic drum and percussion sounds, 30 instrumental voices, and 76 rhythmic background patterns.
So much for Nintendo.
Officials at Yamaha Corporation of America predict the QY10 will be as popular with kids as it will be with the serious composer, pop singer, or rock-and-roll guitarist.
``It's not a toy you see in Macy's with silly rhythms. This thing is so hip,'' says Gary Leuenberger of G. Leuenberger Piano and Electronic Keyboards, a Yamaha dealer in San Francisco. A synthesizer programmer for Yamaha, as well as for artists Quincy Jones, Mariah Carey, and Bruce Hornsby, Mr. Leuenberger says he found the QY10 surpassed in power and efficiency some components of his $100,000 music studio. ``It's a studio musician's dream,'' he says.
Musicians who compose with electronic sounds typically use a keyboard hooked up to various components: a drum machine, a sequencer that ``remembers'' musical performances, a tone generator, and perhaps a personal computer to assist in editing and cataloging of sounds. But with the QY10, musicians have all that equipment compressed into this small unit. They can compose and play music while riding a bus, waiting in an airport, or, like Beethoven - strolling through the woods. Back in the stud io, they can ``dump'' the music they've composed into their keyboards and computer.
The QY10 was first introduced in January at the annual trade show of the National Association of Music Merchants in Anaheim, Calif. ``There was the most interest in this product that I've seen in any product in a long time,'' says Michael D'Amore, synthesizer product manager for Yamaha. Now, over one month later, ``we're considerably back-ordered already, and people have been telling us it was the hit of the show.''
Yamaha began shipping the QY10 to musical instrument stores last week. For $399, you get the 11-oz. instrument and an operation manual (headphones and batteries not included).
Company officials are hesitant to predict who will be buying the QY10. Musical training is certainly an advantage in using it, though not necessary, Mr. D'Amore maintains. ``If you have sheet music in front of you, the [QY10] software will allow you to input your chords from the guitar notations on the score,'' he says. Programming a complex piece of music is possible ``as long as you can count to four and read the chords.''
In teaching school children about music, Leuenberg says he has already used the QY10 with success. ``I can teach song arranging and have them playing within an hour,'' he says. ``Any eight-year old kid could input ``Hey Jude'' very quickly. They feel like a record producers.''