Oberheim SEM: The Seminal Synthesizer Behind Iconic ’70s and ’80s Tunes

Introduction to Oberheim SEM

The ‘70s and ‘80s were the golden era of synthesizers, and one iconic synth that played a significant role in shaping the sound of that era was the Oberheim SEM. SEM stands for Synthesizer Expansion Module, and it was designed by Tom Oberheim in the early ‘70s. It quickly gained popularity for its unique sound and was used extensively by renowned artists of that time, making it a must-have for any synth enthusiast.

What is the Oberheim SEM?

The Oberheim SEM is a monophonic analog synthesizer that consists of two voltage-controlled oscillators (VCO), a noise generator, two voltage-controlled filters (VCF), two envelope generators, and a voltage-controlled amplifier (VCA). It was first introduced in 1974 and has since gone through several iterations and reissues.

History and Background of the Oberheim SEM

Tom Oberheim was one of the pioneers of synthesizer design, and the SEM was his first major release. It gained popularity for its unique sound, which was a result of combining features of the Minimoog and ARP 2600. The SEM was used by numerous artists, such as Van Halen, Gary Numan, Eurythmics, and New Order, among others, and its popularity continued even after production stopped in 1981.

How Does the Oberheim SEM Work?

The Oberheim SEM works by using voltage-controlled components to shape and process electrical signals. It consists of two VCOs, each with its own pitch and waveform controls, and a white noise generator. The signal then passes through two VCFs, each with its own cutoff and resonance controls, before being shaped by two envelope generators and finally being controlled by a VCA for output.

Components and Features of the Oberheim SEM

In addition to its two VCOs and VCFs, the SEM also has various modulation options, including a sample and hold circuit, an LFO, and an external input for audio or control signals. It also has an onboard sequencer, oscillator sync, and a pitch wheel for added control and flexibility.

Famous Tracks Featuring the Oberheim SEM

The Oberheim SEM has been featured in numerous iconic tracks from the ‘70s and ‘80s, including:

  1. “Jump” by Van Halen
  2. “Cars” by Gary Numan
  3. “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” by Eurythmics
  4. “Blue Monday” by New Order

Why is the Oberheim SEM Considered a Classic Synthesizer?

The Oberheim SEM is considered a classic synthesizer due to its unique sound characteristics and its influence on synthesizer design and evolution.

Unique Sound Characteristics and Capabilities

The distinct sound of the Oberheim SEM is a result of its two VCFs, which allow for more complex filtering and sound shaping. It also has a unique glide feature that gives it a smooth and expressive sound.

Influence on Synthesizer Design and Evolution

The Oberheim SEM’s design and features have influenced many other synthesizers that came after it. Its success and popularity also paved the way for Tom Oberheim to continue designing and producing other iconic synthesizers.

How to Get Your Hands on an Oberheim SEM Today?

The original Oberheim SEM is a highly sought-after vintage synth, but it has been reissued in recent years. Alternatively, there are also other options for those looking for a similar sound, such as the Arturia SEM VST plugin or the newer SEM Plus hardware synth.

What is the Oberheim SEM?

What is the Oberheim SEM? - Oberheim SEM: The Seminal Synthesizer Behind Iconic

Photo Credits: Goldenscissors.Info by Donald Brown

The Oberheim SEM (Synthesizer Expander Module) is a legendary analog synthesizer that played a crucial role in shaping the sound of popular music in the 1970s and 1980s. Known for its warm and distinctive tone, the SEM was used by countless musicians and featured prominently in iconic songs of the era. In this section, we will dive into the history and background of the Oberheim SEM, exploring how it came to be and why it became such a beloved instrument among musicians.

History and Background of the Oberheim SEM

The Oberheim SEM, also known as the Synthesizer Expander Module, was created by Tom Oberheim in the 1970s. It was one of the earliest portable synthesizers and played a significant role in shaping the sound of iconic ’70s and ’80s music. The SEM stood out from other synthesizers of its time due to its unique design and discrete analog circuitry. Its distinct sound characteristics and capabilities, as well as its influence on synthesizer design and evolution, have cemented its status as a classic synthesizer.

Today, original SEM models are highly coveted, but there are also reissued versions and alternative synthesizers that offer similar features and capabilities. Pro-tip: For a truly authentic vintage sound, consider pairing an original Oberheim SEM with other classic synthesizers from the same era.

How Does the Oberheim SEM Work?

The Oberheim SEM (Synthesizer Expander Module) is a legendary instrument that played a pivotal role in shaping the sound of popular music in the 1970s and 1980s. In this section, we will take a closer look at how this iconic synthesizer works. From its unique components and features to the intricate signal flow and sound generation, we will uncover the inner workings of the Oberheim SEM and how it creates its signature sounds. Get ready to dive into the world of analog synthesis and discover the magic behind this seminal instrument.

Components and Features of the Oberheim SEM

The Oberheim SEM is renowned for its unique components and features that contribute to its distinct sound. Here is a summary of the key aspects of the Oberheim SEM:

Components Features
1. Voltage Controlled Oscillators (VCOs) – Provide the fundamental sound waves
2. Voltage Controlled Filters (VCFs) – Shape the timbre and tone of the sound
3. Voltage Controlled Amplifiers (VCAs) – Control the volume and dynamics of the sound
4. Modulation Generators – Enable modulation effects like vibrato and tremolo
5. Envelope Generators – Shape the attack, decay, sustain, and release of the sound
6. Patch Points – Allow for signal routing and external modulation

These components and features of the Oberheim SEM contribute to its versatility and ability to create a wide range of sounds. Musicians and artists appreciate the flexibility and sonic possibilities offered by these elements of the Oberheim SEM.

Signal Flow and Sound Generation

The Oberheim SEM’s signal flow and sound generation can be easily understood by following these steps:

  1. Audio input: The sound enters the Oberheim SEM through an audio input jack.
  2. Voltage-Controlled Oscillators (VCOs): The VCOs are responsible for generating the initial audio waveforms, which can be adjusted in terms of pitch and timbre.
  3. Filters: The audio signal then passes through voltage-controlled filters, which shape the sound by altering the frequencies.
  4. Amplifiers: The signal reaches voltage-controlled amplifiers, which control the volume and dynamics of the sound.
  5. Modulation: Modulation sources such as envelopes and LFOs can be used to modulate parameters like pitch, filter cutoff, and amplifier levels.
  6. Output: Finally, the processed audio signal is sent to the audio output, ready to be heard.

The Oberheim SEM’s capabilities in terms of signal flow and sound generation contribute to its iconic sound and make it a classic synthesizer.

Famous Tracks Featuring the Oberheim SEM

Famous Tracks Featuring the Oberheim SEM - Oberheim SEM: The Seminal Synthesizer Behind Iconic

Photo Credits: Goldenscissors.Info by Noah Smith

When you hear iconic songs from the ’70s and ’80s, there’s a good chance that the Oberheim SEM (Synthesizer Expander Module) played a significant role in its sound. This pioneering synthesizer was popularized by some of the biggest names in music during that era. Let’s take a closer look at the famous tracks that featured the Oberheim SEM, including Van Halen’s “Jump,” Gary Numan’s “Cars,” Eurythmics’ “Sweet Dreams,” and New Order’s “Blue Monday.” Each of these songs showcases the unique capabilities and signature sound of this seminal synthesizer.

1. “Jump” by Van Halen

“Jump” by Van Halen is a timeless track that prominently features the iconic Oberheim SEM synthesizer. To recreate the signature sound of “Jump” using the Oberheim SEM, follow these steps:

  1. Begin with a sawtooth wave for the main melody.
  2. Add a touch of envelope modulation to create a punchy attack.
  3. Layer in a thick square wave for the bassline.
  4. Apply a chorus effect to add depth and richness.
  5. Utilize the onboard arpeggiator to create the catchy arpeggio riff.
  6. Finally, adjust the filter and resonance settings to shape the overall sound.

The distinct sound and versatility of the Oberheim SEM have made it a favorite among musicians for decades. Its contribution to “Jump” by Van Halen solidifies its status as a classic synthesizer in the world of music.

2. “Cars” by Gary Numan

Gary Numan’s iconic track ‘Cars’ prominently featured the Oberheim SEM synthesizer, contributing to its lasting legacy in the world of electronic music. The distinctive sound of the Oberheim SEM, with its rich and warm analog tones, added depth and texture to the song. Numan’s use of the SEM’s unique features, such as the rich filter section and versatile modulation capabilities, helped create the signature sound that became synonymous with “Cars” by Gary Numan. The success of this track showcased the Oberheim SEM’s ability to shape the sound of the era and solidified its status as a classic synthesizer.

3. “Sweet Dreams ” by Eurythmics

The hit song “Sweet Dreams” by Eurythmics, released in 1983, prominently features the Oberheim SEM synthesizer. This track showcases the unique sound and capabilities of the SEM, with its distinctive analog sound and versatile modulation options. The SEM played a crucial role in creating the iconic synth-driven sound of the ’80s. The memorable synth riff in “Sweet Dreams” was crafted using the SEM’s signal flow and sound generation features. The success of this track and others utilizing the Oberheim SEM solidified its status as a classic synthesizer, continuing to influence synth design and shaping the sound of popular music.

4. “Blue Monday” by New Order

“Blue Monday” by New Order is a timeless track that prominently features the iconic Oberheim SEM synthesizer. First released in 1983, this song quickly became a dance music anthem thanks to its infectious electronic sound. The Oberheim SEM’s distinctive analog tones and versatile modulation capabilities played a crucial role in creating the song’s unique sonic landscape. Its rich basslines, pulsating arpeggios, and lush pads added depth and texture to “Blue Monday,” solidifying the Oberheim SEM’s status as a legendary synthesizer in music history and showcasing its significant contribution to shaping the sound of the ’80s.

Why is the Oberheim SEM Considered a Classic Synthesizer?

Why is the Oberheim SEM Considered a Classic Synthesizer? - Oberheim SEM: The Seminal Synthesizer Behind Iconic

Photo Credits: Goldenscissors.Info by Ralph Brown

The Oberheim SEM, or Synthesizer Expander Module, is a legendary instrument that has left an indelible mark on the world of electronic music. Its iconic sound and innovative design have solidified its place as a classic synthesizer, cherished by musicians and producers alike. In this section, we will dive into the reasons why the Oberheim SEM is held in such high regard, focusing on its unique sound characteristics and capabilities, as well as its influence on the design and evolution of other synthesizers.

Unique Sound Characteristics and Capabilities

The Oberheim SEM is renowned for its distinctive sound characteristics and versatile capabilities that have shaped iconic music from the ’70s and ’80s. Its oscillator design allows for the creation of rich and complex waveforms, resulting in warm and full tones. With flexible modulation options, such as the multi-mode filter and ADSR envelopes, the SEM allows for expressive sound shaping. Its unique sound can be heard in famous tracks like “Jump” by Van Halen and “Sweet Dreams” by Eurythmics.

For those interested in this classic synthesizer, there are original and reissued models available, as well as alternatives like the Arturia SEM V plugin. Unleash your creativity with the Oberheim SEM and craft your own legendary sounds.

Influence on Synthesizer Design and Evolution

The Oberheim SEM has played a significant role in shaping the design and evolution of synthesizers. Its distinct sound characteristics and capabilities set a standard for future synthesizers to follow. The SEM’s modular architecture, with its separate modules for oscillators, filters, and amplifiers, served as inspiration for the development of other synthesizers. Its semi-modular design also allowed for flexibility and customization, revolutionizing the way synthesizers were built. The popular ARP 2600 synthesizer, for example, was heavily influenced by the SEM. This influence paved the way for the creation of more advanced and innovative synthesizers in the years to come.

One individual who was greatly influenced by the Oberheim SEM was Mark, a dedicated musician. Inspired by the iconic sounds of ’70s and ’80s music, Mark was determined to create similar music. After researching synthesizers, he came across the Oberheim SEM and its reputation for its unique sound. Mark purchased a vintage SEM and was amazed by its capabilities. He began experimenting with different sounds and textures, drawing inspiration from the SEM’s modular architecture. As a result, Mark’s music evolved and incorporated elements of the SEM’s iconic sound. His success and recognition in the music industry were a testament to the Oberheim SEM’s influence on synthesizer design and evolution.

How to Get Your Hands on an Oberheim SEM Today?

How to Get Your Hands on an Oberheim SEM Today? - Oberheim SEM: The Seminal Synthesizer Behind Iconic

Photo Credits: Goldenscissors.Info by Randy Ramirez

If you’re a fan of classic ’70s and ’80s music, chances are you’ve heard the iconic sounds of the Oberheim SEM synthesizer. But with the original models being rare and expensive, how can one acquire this legendary instrument today? In this section, we’ll discuss the differences between the original and reissued models of the Oberheim SEM and explore alternative options for those looking to add its unique sound to their collection. So let’s dive into the world of the Oberheim SEM and discover how to get your hands on one today.

Original vs. Reissued Models

When considering the Oberheim SEM synthesizer, it’s important to understand the difference between original and reissued models.

  • Original models: These are the vintage synthesizers produced during the 1970s and 1980s. They have unique characteristics and are highly sought after by collectors and musicians for their distinctive sound.
  • Reissued models: These are modern reproductions of the original Oberheim SEM, made using the same specifications and designs. They offer the opportunity to experience the iconic sound of the SEM without the high cost and rarity of the original models.

Whether you choose an original or reissued model depends on your budget, availability, and preferences for vintage or modern equipment.

Alternatives to the Oberheim SEM

When looking for alternatives to the Oberheim SEM synthesizer, there are multiple options to take into account. Among these options is the popular Moog Minimoog, renowned for its warm and rich sound. Another choice is the Sequential Circuits Prophet-5, offering a vast array of sonic possibilities. The Roland Jupiter-8 is also a noteworthy alternative, delivering lush and atmospheric tones. For a more modern approach, the Dave Smith Instruments Prophet-6 combines vintage analog sound with contemporary features. Ultimately, the decision depends on personal taste and desired sound qualities.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. What is the Oberheim SEM synthesizer and when was it introduced?

The Oberheim SEM, short for Synthesizer Expander Module, is an analog monophonic synthesizer that was first introduced in 1974 by Tom Oberheim.

2. What are some iconic ’70s and ’80s tunes that feature the Oberheim SEM?

Some famous tracks that feature the Oberheim SEM include Herbie Hancock’s “People Music” and Stevie Wonder’s “Love Don’t Live Here Anymore.” The synthesizer was also used in pop hits like “Strawberry Letter 23” by Brothers Johnson and “Master of the Game” by George Duke.

3. How did the Oberheim SEM contribute to the development of new musical genres in the ’80s?

The Oberheim SEM, along with other polyphonic synthesizers, opened the door to new musical genres such as industrial, synth-pop, and new wave. Its unique sound and capabilities helped shape the sonic frontiers of the ’80s music scene.

4. What famous rock groups used the Oberheim SEM in their music?

Rock groups like Queen, Rush, and The Police all used the Oberheim SEM in their music. Queen’s “Flash Gordon” and Rush’s “Tom Sawyer” are prime examples of the synthesizer’s distinct sound.

5. How did the Oberheim SEM influence famous movie soundtracks?

The Oberheim SEM was used in the iconic soundtrack for “The Terminator” (1984), adding its signature analogic growl to the sci-fi film. It was also featured in “Ghost in the Machine” (1981), the soundtrack for the movie “Flash” (1980), and many others.

6. Are there any guidelines for importing the Oberheim SEM to the UK?

As with any imported item, there may be import taxes and fees when bringing the Oberheim SEM into the UK. It is important to research and follow all guidelines and regulations to ensure a smooth process.