Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Remembering the Bahn Sage

Today we pause to remember the Bahn Sage... the synth that the world was not ready for. Ten years ago, a visionary named Ken Elhardt joined forces with Bahn Audio Systems, the company which had previously confined itself to building top-secret sound eavesdropping satellites for the US military. The result was the Bahn Sage:

(photo swiped from Matrixsynth)

The Sage was doomed from the start because it was simply too advanced for the market. All of the technologies that we are now seeing in the most advanced of today's products were done, and done better, in the Sage. Zeroscillators? Sorry, Cynthia, the Sage's four oscillators did zero far better. Notice the joystick? It was connected to an advanced time and formant processing system called Varisentence, which made it possible to expand or compress the most difficult and sophisticated vocal parts into any time frame it needed to fit into. With Varisentence, it was possible to listen to all of Husker Du's Zen Arcade in eight seconds, with perfect clarity. Bob Mould had an agreement to receive the prototype once the system went on sale, and at the time he said: "With this synth, I will forever be the king of speed metal. Those Metallica guys haven't got a chance." Roland stole the technology, but they never got it completely sorted; to this day, their variant cannot handle whole sentences, only phrases.

Combined with its nopass filters, segment-free envelopes, and perfectly nulled VCAs, the Sage was set to knock all other analog and VA synths off of the market. And the Sage met all of the circuit design goals for today's most discriminating synth players: it contained no digital circuits, and in fact no ICs of any kind. It met the European RoHS requirements years before the regulations were even proposed, and would have been ready to ship the day that RoHS went into effect, had not disaster befell the company.

Unfortunately, shortly before the unveiling, the Sage's designer Elhardt disappeared. It was later discovered that he had time-warped back to 1958 to patent the concept of voltage control, only to find when he got there, that Bob Moog had gone back to 1947 and beaten him to it. The temporal upsets caused by this event resulted in Adam Sandler becoming the world's foremost synth player, and the rights to nearly every circuit design idea falling into the possession of the mysterious master designer and frequent Web commentator known only as "Argitoth". Playing Argi synths which produce absolutely pure sine waves with perfectly balanced overtones, Sandler has over the past ten years created every work of electronic music that is mathematically possible, resulting in the current situation where no original work can be done any more. If only the Sage had lived. Sigh.