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Oberheim Cyclone

Created by nick. Last edited by nick, 11 years and 260 days ago. Viewed 20,877 times. #6
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This is an article culled from archive material, circa 1997.


The Cyclone is a bit of a legend, although probably not for the reasons Oberheim would like. In the late 1980's, Oberheim came up with a range of MIDI processors in cheap plastic table-top cases for around the $200 price mark: in addition to the Cyclone (a MIDI arpeggiator) there was the Systemizer (providing master keyboard functionality), the Drummer (a drum machine of sorts), the Strummer (for generating guitar chord voicings and phrases), and I believe something called the Choordinator (words fail me). There may have been others; I really don't remember. All shared the same cheap plastic case (only the silkscreen and, later, case colour, varied) and the same two-digit, seven-segment programming interface.

As far as I know, all the units shared the Cyclone's legendary unreliability. The potential functionality was quite impressive: a MIDI arpeggiator with repeatable transposing patterns, a record-buffer for rhythmic or pitch data, MIDI synchronisation, continuous controller input to transmute notes (velocity, duration), and various other features. The only other device with this sort of functionality (and which might have been Oberheim's inspiration in the first place) was the expensive and exclusive Zyklus MIDI Performance System, a machine with incredible pose-value. To be fair, only a few of the Cyclone's features were totally nonfunctional; most worked after a fashion. Those that didn't generally produced a clean crash with a minimal, aesthetically pleasing pattern in the seven-segment display. The Cyclone is the only unit I've ever come across whose own system exclusive dumps would invariably crash it. Of the three bulk message types, only one would work reliably (single patch, no record buffer); the others would bring the machine down with the informative error message "L" or "9".

Bugs aside, the Cyclone is useable if treated with care, although programming is cryptic to say the least. (To program a tempo, divide by two and convert to hexadecimal.) MIDI beat clock sync actually works, although the note timing is rather loose. In fact, the Cyclone is fun. I used one on several recording projects and even onstage with no problems. I wouldn't want to put anyone off messing about with one, but be sure to pay only a small amount of money for it.

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