Nostalgia – Casio SK1 Sampler Keyboard
The Casio SK1 was once the cheapest sampler in the world. Now that some software samplers are available for free off the internet and magazine cover CDs, the SK1 probably doesn’t qualify for that title anymore.
The sampling was 8-bit and with a bandwidth of around 4kHz (compared with CDs’ 16-bit, 20kHz bandwidth), it’s fair to assume that you know what to expect of the sound quality – distinctly low lo-fi !
It offered a handful of sampled instrumental sounds stored in ROM but its main appeal was its ability to sample. Of course, with such poor sample quality, it was another of those novelty ‘toys’ like the Stylophone and Casio’s own VL-Tone.
There was little you could do with the sound once you’d sampled it but there were thirteen preset envelope shapes you could apply to the sample along with portamento and vibrato. Interpolation was also poor and so sounds (preset or sampled) didn’t transpose well but that only added to their ‘character’. There was no way to store your sample which was lost when you switched the SK1 off!
Naturally, the keyboard was not velocity sensitive but neither was there was any MIDI to play the sounds with velocity from an external keyboard to overcome that limitation.
The SK1 also came with ‘drum’ sounds in ROM which were required for the auto-accompaniment function.
The SK1 is used by Fatboy Slim, Beck, Autechre, Portishead and Blur (amongst other lo-fi enthusiasts) who favour it even today, presumably for its lo-fi, crusty sound quality.
Louis van Dompselaar has kindly donated the entire soundset from his own SK1. The samples were taken from the line out and Louis deliberately powered the thing off batteries to eliminate mains hum. There is a distinct DC ‘thump’ at the start of each of the preset instruments but this is apparently a ‘feature’ of the real thing! There are eight presets and all but one are presented ‘authentically’. However, the ‘Voice’ preset has been run through Antares Infinity looping software to create quite a beautiful and ethereal pad sound which, despite its humble origins, sounds quite classy and ‘expensive’.
The SK1’s drum samples are also included in Nostalgia which Louis has extracted from the patterns. Most bear little or no relationship to their acoustic counterparts but they are interesting metallic electronic percussion sounds nonetheless that could find a place in any number of musical genres.