24 February 2008

dave smith and roger linn reveal linndrum 2

Dave Smith and Roger Linn are collaborating on a pair of new drum machines that they hope to release later in 2008. Before we discuss the LinnDrum 2, let's discuss the two main people involved in this project.

Dave Smith is a synthesizer designer known for products such as the Prophet 5, the Prophet VS, and more recently, the Evolver and the Prophet '08. He was also instrumental in the creation of the MIDI (musical instrument digital interface) standard in 1981.

Roger Linn developed successful percussion sequencing products such as the LM-1 drum machine, the LinnDrum, and the Akai MPC60 midi production center. The Akai MPC product line continues today -- Akai introduced the top-of-the-line MPC5000 earlier this year.

Dave Smith and Roger Linn's new drum machine was formerly called BoomChik and is now called LinnDrum 2. The product will be available in two versions, with Roger Linn Designs selling the all-digital LinnDrum 2, and Dave Smith Instruments selling the LinnDrum 2 Analog, which adds 4 analog voices to the base model.

I am eagerly awaiting the release of these two new products. I'm pleased to see two innovative electronic music instrument designers continuing to work in this field after their initial successes in the 1980s. The LinnDrum 2 Analog seems like the best of both worlds, although I am concerned about its reported large size. Elektron's machinedrum mk2 is smaller than the original product; perhaps LinnDrum 2 will go through a similar size reduction in time. Of course, they have to ship the thing, first.

Here's a YouTube video showing a LinnDrum 2 Analog demo unit, but the machine isn't producing sound (at least, not in this video.)

28 January 2008

meet the roland tr-808

This is the first of hopefully many posts about the Roland TR-808.

In 1980, Roland Corporation introduced the (Transistor Rhythm) TR-808 drum machine. The TR-808 produces all of its sounds with analog synthesis, generating unrealistic sound for some of the instruments. Hihat sounds within the TR-808 are produced by simply applying volume envelopes to white noise. I happen to like the TR-808 hihat sounds a lot, but in the era that this machine was released, many music producers were seeking realism. The analog-synthesized TR-808 had a tough time competing against the more expensive but now-legendary standalone sample-based drum machine of the era, the LinnDrum. Some producers who relied on sampled percussion weren't satisfied with cymbal samples, and chose to record cymbals in the studio to accompany the drum machine tracks.

Despite its rough start, the Roland TR-808 has a great history with music production and performance that continues today. One prominent example of TR-808 usage in mainstream music is Marvin Gaye's 1982 soul hit, "Sexual Healing." By the end of the 1980s, electronic music producers were seeking out the TR-808 for its deep, punchy bass drum sound.

The Roland TR-808 introduced the world to step sequencing, which enables rhythm programming without requiring a live performance in which the timing must be just right. The 16-step sequencer on the TR-808 allows the user to easily turn a sound on or off at each of the 16 steps in the sequence by simply pressing a button. Sequences can be as long as 32 steps, with steps 17-32 reusing the row of 16 buttons.

MIDI was not available in 1980, but the TR-808 includes one DINSync jack which is switchable between input and output. Three trigger outputs are also included, utilizing the cowbell, clap, and accent sequences. These trigger signals would control the progression of a sequence that was programmed sequentially in another instrument such as a synthesizer.

One of the TR-808's features that provided an incredible amount of versatility for recording and mixing was individual outputs for each sound. This allows any individual instrument to be processed differently from the main mix.

Here's one of my favorite Roland TR-808 videos on YouTube, in which several music producers describe this drum machine's allure:

23 January 2008

the $100 drum machine from zoom

Zoom offers the Micro RhythmTrak (MRT) 3, a sample-based drum machine featuring 199 sounds, 7 velocity-sensitive pads (with two banks to provide up to 14 sounds per drum kit), 50 factory drum kits, 20 user drum kits, MIDI in for sync and trigger, and 1/4" outputs. This drum machine has been available since 2002, according to sonicstate.com. The MRT-3 has a silver enclosure, while the MRT-3B has a black enclosure.

The top and side enclosures are made from plastic, and there's a metal base on the bottom. This device feels a bit heavier than it looks. It is very sturdy, and the buttons and the output knob feel very durable.

Power for this drum box can come from a 9-volt DC adapter or four AA batteries.

I purchased an MRT-3B because I was fascinated by the idea of a miniature drum machine with velocity-sensitive pads costing US$100. It's small enough that it fits in a backpack with plenty of room to spare.

Factory kit 08 sounds like Roland TR-808 samples, and factory kit 09 sounds like Roland TR-909 samples. So musicians that favor those sounds have something to look forward to in this product. At the tail end of the factory kits, kit 49 and kit 50 have a collection of bizarre sound effects. Flipping through the factory sets, I hear a lot of range in these sounds in terms of styles. Anyone working with styles such as rock, pop, jazz, hip-hop, reggae/dub, house, and techno will find something to like here.

With only seven instrument pads per bank, this device is centered around creating sequences with the built-in sequence recorder as opposed to live performance.

At higher velocity levels, some samples incorporate reverb in order to provide a bigger sound. I wish there was a way to only use dry samples. The use of reverb on some samples makes post-processing more difficult, as reverb will enter the whole effect chain, and could cause undesirable results if additional reverb is applied.

So, what kind of applications are appropriate for this device? I use this as a headphone drum machine, which means I plug in headphones and bang out some beats when I just feel like playing as opposed to recording or sequencing. I would definitely take my MRT-3B to a rehearsal session or for any just-for-fun situation where larger, more capable, more expensive gear isn't needed. If I were to use this machine to produce percussion sounds for a track, I would imagine that the sounds or sequences would be recorded, then processed afterwards. However, as mentioned earlier, the reverb applied to some of the built-in samples presents a challenge for routing the MRT-3's output through additional effects.

20 January 2008

elektron introduces the machinedrum mk2

For the first product-related post on this site, I'd like to focus on one of my favorite drum machines: the Elektron Machinedrum.

Elektron Machinedrum SPS-1 (image from vintagesynth.com):

The Machinedrum offers four flavors of digital synthesis to create instrument sounds. The UW (user wave) edition of the Machinedrum adds sample playback capability. I don't have the UW edition of the Machinedrum yet, but I've always been interested in loading some Roland TR-606 samples onto an SPS-1UW for experimentation.

Elektron recently announced that their Machinedrum and Monomachine products would be updated to Mk2 versions. The Machinedrum Mk2 features a slightly smaller enclosure, a worldwide switching power supply, improvements in the signal-to-noise ratio, and 64 steps in the pattern sequencer.

Elektron Machinedrum SPS-1UW Mk2 (image from elektron.se):

To work with a 64-step sequence on my original SPS-1, I sequence four patterns of 16 steps each, and chain them together. Working with chained patterns is not as easy as working with one pattern that contains all the steps you need. Using the Machinedrum in extended mode (as opposed to classic mode) means that each pattern can have its own set of sounds, so changes made to the sounds on one of the patterns have to be saved and then loaded within the other patterns.

If the parameter knobs are closer together on the Mk2 version than on the original model, that could be a detriment to usability. I am interested to know more about the supposed improvements in signal-to-noise, although I've been quite pleased with recordings I have done of my original SPS-1 connected through my MOTU UltraLite interface.

19 January 2008


Welcome to Trigger Out, a new weblog dedicated to drum machines and rhythm programming!

To start, my goals for this weblog include sharing information about drum machines, such as product announcements, photos, modifications, tips and tricks, inter-device communication (involving CV, Gate, DINSync, and MIDI), and the use of rhythm in music.

Comments and questions are always welcome, as long as they are on topic and not related to self-promotion. I hope you will visit this site regularly!