A synthesizer specially designed to produce drum sounds, and usually incorporating a sequencer capable of producing combinations of typical drum patterns (repeating sequences of usually 4 or 8 bars of drumming, programmed in the manner in which a drummer might play a certain style of music). Two vastly different schools of though regarding drum machines have developed over the years: analog machines which use all-analog circuitry to simulate drum and percussion sounds, and sample playback machines which are usually loaded with samples of real drum sounds. Some of the latter are romplers, which have little capability beyond reproducing canned sounds. Most modern drum machines are MIDI controlled. Certain drum sounds are mapped to note numbers, so that a note on message with the proper number will play the drum sound. Unfortunately, there is no standard for how this should be done, and some machines are notorious for their seemingly random note assignments.

Drum machines have their own subculture within the synth scene. In particular, the Roland TR-series of analog drum machines, originally manufacturered in the '80s, became popular with hip-hop artists who discovered that by modifying the machines and tweaking the calibration settings, they could produce the types of sounds popular in hip-hop, such as the earth-shaking, nearly subsonic kick drum popular within the genre.

History[edit | edit source]

In 1958, the Wurlitzer organ company in the United States released a drum machine called the Sideman. This was probably the first drum machine to use electronic circuitry to generate the sounds, rather than relying on loops of pre-recorded drum patterns. The Sideman used vacuum tube (valve) circuitry. Patterns were controlled by a motor-drive device called a "commutator", and the motor speed determined the tempo. The machine worked surprisingly well (as surviving examples illustrate), well enough that musicians' unions pressured Wurlitzer to drop the product. It was off the market by 1960.

In the early 1960s, a nightclub owner in Tokyo, Tsutomu Katoh, was consulted by a notable accordion player, Tadashi Osanai, about the Sideman he used for accompaniment in the club. Osanai, a graduate of the Department of Mechanical Engineering at University of Tokyo, convinced Katoh to finance his efforts to build a better one.[1] In 1963, their new company Keio-Giken (later Korg) released their first rhythm machine, Donca-Matic DA-20, using vacuum tube circuits for sounds and mechanical-wheel for rhythm patterns. It was a floor-type machine with built-in speaker, and featuring a keyboard for the manual play, in addition to the multiple automatic rhythm patterns. Its price was comparable with the average annual income of Japanese at that time.[2]

Early electronic drum machines[edit | edit source]

In the 1960s, implementation of rhythm machines evolved from electro-mechanical vacuum tubes to fully transistorized solid-state electronics. As a result, sizes were reduced to desktop size, from earlier floor type machines.

Korg (1963–1967)

Korg's effort was focused on the improvement of reliability and performance, along with the size reduction and the cost down. Unstable vacuum tube circuitry was replaced with reliable transistor circuitry on the Donca-Matic DC-11 some time between 1963 and 1966. In 1966, bulky mechanical-wheels were also replaced with compact transistor circuitry on the Donca-Matic DE-20 and DE-11. In 1967, the Mini Pops MP-2 was developed as an option for the Yamaha Electone (electric organ), and Mini Pops was established as a series of compact desktop rhythm machines. In the United States, Mini Pops MP-3, MP-7, etc. were sold under the Univox brand by the distributor at that time, Unicord Corporation.[2]

Korg's Stageman and Mini Pops series were notable for "natural metallic percussion" sounds and incorporating controls for drum "breaks and fill-ins."[3]

Ace Tone (1964–1967)

In 1964, Ace Tone founder Ikutaro Kakehashi (later founder of Roland) developed a prototype hand-operated electronic percussion instrument without preset-pattern, called "R1 Rhythm Ace". It was exhibited on Summer NAMM 1964, but not commercialized.[4]

In 1967, Kakehashi developed the preset rhythm-pattern generator using diode matrix circuit. Kakehashi's patent describes his device as a "plurality of inverting circuits and/or clipper circuits" which "are connected to a counting circuit to synthesize the output signal of the counting circuit" where the "synthesized output signal becomes a desired rhythm."[5] It was an improvement over his earlier R1 Rhythm Ace, a fully transistorized electronic drum instrument, which was a commercial failure in 1964 because it lacked pre-programmed drum patterns.[6]

Ace Tone commercialized Kakehashi's preset rhythm machine, called the FR-1 Rhythm Ace, in 1967. It offered 16 preset patterns, and four buttons to manually play each instrument sound (cymbal, claves, cowbell and bass drum). The rhythm patterns could also be cascaded together by pushing multiple rhythm buttons simultaneously, and the possible combination of rhythm patterns were more than a hundred (on the later models of Rhythm Ace, the individual volumes of each instrument could be adjusted with the small knobs or faders). The FR-1 was adopted by the Hammond Organ Company for incorporation within their latest organ models. In the US, the units were also marketed under the Multivox brand by Peter Sorkin Music Company, and in the UK, marketed under the Bentley Rhythm Ace brand. Ace Tone founder Ikutaro Kakehashi later left Ace Tone and founded Roland in 1972, and continued to develop drum machines there.[4]

Nippon Columbia (1965)

In 1965, Nippon Columbia filed a patent for an automatic rhythm instrument. It described it as an "automatic rhythm player which is simple but capable of electronically producing various rhythms in the characteristic tones of a drum, a piccolo and so on."[7]

Early preset drum machine users[edit | edit source]

As the result of their robustness and compact size, rhythm machines were gradually installed on electronic organs as accompaniment of organists, and finally spread widely. Ace Tone drum machines found their way into popular music starting in the late 1960s, followed by Korg and Roland drum machines in the early 1970s.[8]

An early example of drum machine use can be found on The United States of America's eponymous album from 1967–8. Drum machine tracks were heavily used on the Sly & the Family Stone album There's a Riot Goin' On, released in 1971. Their song "Family Affair" was the first #1 pop single to feature a drum machine.[9] Osamu Kitajima's progressive psychedelic rock album Benzaiten (1974) also utilized drum machines, and one of the album's contributors, Haruomi Hosono,[10] would later start the electronic music band Yellow Magic Orchestra (as "Yellow Magic Band") in 1977.[11] French singer-songwriter Léo Ferré mixed a drum machine with a symphonic orchestra in the song "Je t'aimais bien, tu sais..." in his album L'Espoir, released in 1974.

Ace Tone users (1969–1971)

The first major pop song to use a drum machine was "Saved by the Bell" by Robin Gibb, which reached #2 in Britain in 1969. It used a "slow rock" rhythm preset on Ace Tone's FR-1 Rhythm Ace.[3][12] The German krautrock band Can also used a drum machine on their song "Peking O" (1971), which combined acoustic drumming with Ace Tone's Rhythm Ace drum machine.[13] The first album on which a drum machine produced all the percussion was Kingdom Come's Journey, recorded in November 1972 using Ace Tone's Bentley Rhythm Ace.[14]

Roland users (1972–1974)

Timmy Thomas' 1972 R&B single "Why Can't We Live Together"/"Funky Me" featured a distinctive use of a Roland drum machine[15] and keyboard arrangement on both tracks. George McCrae's 1974 disco hit "Rock Your Baby" used a drum machine,[16] an early Roland rhythm machine.[15]

Programmable drum machines[edit | edit source]

In 1969, musician Don Lewis gave performances with an Ace Tone Rhythm Ace drum machine that he had modified, decades before the popularization of instrument "hacking" via circuit bending. He made extensive modifications to the Ace Tone drum machine, creating his own rhythms and wiring the device through his organ's expression pedal to accent the percussion, unique at the time. Lewis was approached by Kakehashi, who wanted to know how he had achieved the sounds from the machine Kakehashi had designed. Prior to Kakehashi's founding of Roland in 1972, Lewis and Kakehashi had discussed the idea of a programmable drum machine.[17]

In 1975,[18] Ace Tone released the Rhythm Producer FR-15 that enables the modification of the pre-programmed rhythm patterns.[19]

Microprocessor introduction[edit | edit source]

In 1978, Roland released the Roland CR-78, the first microprocessor-based programmable rhythm machine,[4][20] with four memory banks to store user patterns,[21] and controls for accents and muting.[20] Its combination of programmability and familiar preset rhythms made it popular from the late 1970s to the early 1980s, widely adopted by artists such as Blondie, Phil Collins, Ultravox,[21] Underworld, Fatboy Slim, BT, Gary Numan, 808 State, Peter Gabriel, Hall & Oates, Jimmy Edgar, Genesis, Überzone, Brian Ferry, Men Without Hats, John Foxx and OMD.[22] In 1979, a simpler version with four sounds, Boss DR-55, was released.

Roland TR-808[edit | edit source]

The famous Roland TR-808, a programmable drum machine, was launched by Roland in 1980. The TR-808 included unique artificial percussion sounds, such as “the hum kick, the ticky snare, the tishy hi-hats (open and closed) and the spacey cowbell.”[23] The machine is particularly noted for its powerful bass drum sound, built from a combination of a bridged T-network sine oscillator, a low-pass filter, and a voltage-controlled amplifier.[24] The bass drum decay control allows the user to lengthen the sound, creating uniquely low frequencies which flatten slightly over long periods,[24] which can be used to create basslines[25] or bass drops.[26] It was the first drum machine with the ability to program an entire percussion track of a song from beginning to end, complete with breaks and rolls.[27] The machine includes volume knobs for each voice, multiple audio outputs, and a DIN sync port (a precursor to MIDI) to synchronize with other devices via the Digital Control Bus (DCB) interface, considered groundbreaking at the time.[28] The machine has three trigger outputs, used to synchronize/control synthesizers and other equipment.[29][28]

The TR-808 would become a fixture of the burgeoning underground dance, electro, house, techno, R&B and hip-hop genres, mainly because of their low cost (relative to that of the Linn machines) and the unique character of their analogue-generated sounds. It was first utilized by Japanese electronic music band Yellow Magic Orchestra in the year of its release, after which it would gain worldwide popularity with Marvin Gaye's "Sexual Healing" and Afrikaa Bambaataa's "Planet Rock" in 1982.[23]

The analogue-based Roland TR-808 has endured over time. The beats of the TR-808 has since been widely featured in popular music, and can be heard on countless recordings up to the present day.[23] Because of its bass and long decay, the kick drum from the TR-808 has also featured as a bass line in various genres such as hip hop and drum and bass. Since the mid-1980s, the TR-808 and TR-909 have been used on more hit records than any other drum machines,[30] attaining an iconic status within the music industry.[23]

Roland TR-909[edit | edit source]

While the TR-808 was fully analogue synthesis-based, the Roland TR-909 combined analogue synthesis with digital sampling.[31] The TR-909 was also notable for being the first MIDI-equipped drum machine.[32][33] In turn, the TR-909 was succeeded in 1984 by the Roland TR-707, which was entirely based on digital sampling.[21]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Colbeck, Julian (1996). Keyfax Omnibus Edition. MixBooks. p. 52. ISBN 978-0-918371-08-9. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 Donca-Matic (1963). Korg Museum. Korg.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Russell Hartenberger (2016), The Cambridge Companion to Percussion, page 84, Cambridge University Press
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Reid, Gordon (2004), "The History Of Roland Part 1: 1930–1978", Sound on Sound (November), http://www.soundonsound.com/sos/nov04/articles/roland.htm, retrieved 19 June 2011 
  5. US patent 3651241, Ikutaro Kakehashi (Ace Electronics Industries, Inc.), "Automatic Rhythm Performance Device", issued 1972-03-21 
  6. Matt Dean (2011), The Drum: A History, page 390, Scarecrow Press
  7. Automatic rhythm instrument.
  8. Russell Hartenberger (2016), The Cambridge Companion to Percussion, pages 84-85, Cambridge University Press
  9. Roberts, Randall. "New release gathers Sly Stone's drum machine tracks of '69-'70". Los Angeles Times. http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/music/posts/la-et-ms-sly-stone-drum-machine-tracks-20141105-column.html. 
  10. Osamu Kitajima – Benzaiten at Discogs
  11. Harry Hosono And The Yellow Magic Band – Paraiso at Discogs
  12. ACE TONE: RHYTHM ACE - FR-1 & FR-2L INFO PAGE, Dubsounds
  13. Rick Moody, On Celestial Music: And Other Adventures in Listening, page 202, Hachette
  14. Kris Needs, Suicide - A New York Story, Pop Matters
  15. 15.0 15.1 Mike Collins (2014), In the Box Music Production: Advanced Tools and Techniques for Pro Tools, page 320, CRC Press
  16. Martin Russ (2012), Sound Synthesis and Sampling, page 83, CRC Press
  17. Wolbe, Trent (30 January 2013). How the 808 drum machine got its cymbal, and other tales from music's geeky underbelly.
  18. Percussion Technology, Part II, SBO Magazine, December 2001
  19. Ace Tone Rhythm Producer FR-15. ESTECHO.com. — Sakata Shokai/Ace Tone Rhythm Producer, a successor of Rhythm Ace after the reconstruction of Ace Tone brand in 1972, provided feature to modify the pre-programmed rhythms.
  20. 20.0 20.1 Russell Hartenberger (2016), The Cambridge Companion to Percussion, page 85, Cambridge University Press
  21. 21.0 21.1 21.2 http://www.factmag.com/2016/09/22/the-14-drum-machines-that-shaped-modern-music/
  22. http://www.vintagesynth.com/roland/cr78.php
  23. 23.0 23.1 23.2 23.3 Jason Anderson (November 28, 2008). Slaves to the rhythm: Kanye West is the latest to pay tribute to a classic drum machine. CBC News. Retrieved on 2011-05-29
  24. 24.0 24.1 Reid, Gordon (February 2002). "Synth Secrets: Practical Bass Drum Synthesis". Sound On Sound (UK: SOS Publications Group). https://web.archive.org/web/20040215232500/http://www.soundonsound.com/sos/Feb02/articles/synthsecrets0202.asp. 
  25. Leight, Elias (6 December 2016). "8 Ways the 808 Drum Machine Changed Pop Music". 8 Ways the 808 Drum Machine Changed Pop Music. http://www.rollingstone.com/music/news/8-ways-the-808-drum-machine-changed-pop-music-w453714. 
  26. Spin, February 1990, page 24
  27. Contemporary Keyboard, Volume 7, Issues 1-6, 1981: "The Roland TR-808 will undoubtedly become the standard for rhythm machines of the future because it does what no rhythm machine of the past has ever done. Not only does the TR-808 allow programming of individual rhythm patterns, it can also program the entire percussion track of a song from beginning to end, complete with breaks, rolls, literally anything you can think of."
  28. 28.0 28.1 Kirn, Peter (2011) (in en). Keyboard Presents the Evolution of Electronic Dance Music. Backbeat Books. ISBN 978-1-61713-446-3. https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=IbtJAgAAQBAJ&pg=PT72&lpg=PT72&dq=%22mark+vail%22+808&source=bl&ots=dOOpEyQGfI&sig=nPF6yAIeQlupw3Pw0Drg6LE34r4&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwir3b7qhsfRAhUFJcAKHfSNCyMQ6AEIHzAB#v=onepage&q=%22mark%20vail%22%20808&f=false. 
  29. db: The Sound Engineering Magazine, July 1972, page 32
  30. Peter Wells (2004), A Beginner's Guide to Digital Video, AVA Books, p. 18, ISBN 2-88479-037-3, https://books.google.com/books?id=stvOCfhc_igC&pg=PA18, retrieved 2011-05-20 
  31. Roland Corp (January 20, 2014). How Roland Came Up With 909 Sounds. Roland. Retrieved on 20 January 2014
  32. Martin Russ. Sound synthesis and sampling. p. 66. https://books.google.com/books?id=_W9Ek2LmPNMC&lpg=PA365&dq=roland%20TR-909&pg=PA66#v=onepage&q&f=false. 
  33. Butler, Mark Jonathan. "Unlocking the Groove: Rhythm, Meter, and Musical Design in Electronic Dance Music". Indiana University Press, 2006. ISBN 0-2533-4662-2. p. 64
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