Friday, December 16, 2011

The Well-Tempered Synclavier

In the late 1970s, the New England Digital Corporation based in Norwich, VT, released the Synclavier. Primarily an FM synthesis based sound module, the original Synclavier did not come with a keyboard and was only programmable via a computer supplied with the system. The system evolved and in 1979 the Synclavier II (shown here with Jon Appleton) was released, complete with a keyboard and four simultaneous voices or synthesis channels. Later models introduced the first commercially available systems for sampling to disk and direct to disk recording and helped solidify the role of the now ubiquitous "tapeless" studio.

Early manual for the Synclavier.
Jon Appleton was a professor of Music at Dartmouth at the time and was influential in the development of the Synclavier, starting with the prototype called the Dartmouth Digital Synthesizer. Working together with Sydney Alonso and Cameron Jones ‘74, Appleton helped pioneer modern synthesis and electro-acoustic music. Included in his papers are business records and correspondence related to the Synclavier and N.E.D., as well as scores, recordings and information related to the Bregman Studio at Dartmouth which Appleton helped found.

To see Appleton's papers, ask for MS-727. A finding aid is available.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

English 79: Writing for the Motion Pictures

In 1936 prominent and successful movie producer Walter Wanger '15 suggested to Dartmouth President Ernest Hopkins that Dartmouth could become a leader in the film industry by producing a new generation of writers. Hollywood's biggest problem was a dearth of quality screenplays, and Wanger theorized that an institution like Dartmouth was poised to improve the industry by teaching screen writing skills to English majors.

The English Department was game to take on the initiative, but only if they would be able to secure a large collection of screenplays for the students to critique. Wanger used his influence in Hollywood to convince each of the major studios to deposit copies of their scripts at Dartmouth. The scripts came right out of the Producers' Association notorious "Hays Office," the official censors for the film industry.

The English Department began offering a separate screen writing class in 1938. We do not have a record of how many people who took the class went on to pursue a career in the movies, but Dartmouth has maintained a long and close connection with the entertainment industry.

You can see a handful of the scripts from the collection in our current exhibition, "Literary Gentlemen and a Girl Like I," a look at screenwriter Anita Loos's 1925 best-selling novel Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. The exhibit also features the Motion Picture Code as issued by the Hays Office. The exhibit will be up through February 2012 in the Class of 1965 Galleries here in Rauner.

A list of the plays can be obtained from the catalog by performing this curious keyword search: "branch:branchwscr".