Roland TR-909

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roland tr-909The Roland TR-909 Rhythm Composer is a partially analog, partially sample-based drum machine built by the Japanese Roland Corporation in 1983.[1] The brainchild of Tadao Kikumoto, the engineer behind the Roland TB-303,[2] it features a 16-step step sequencer and a drum kit that aimed for realism and cost-effectiveness. It is fully-programmable, and like its predecessor, the TR-808, it can store entire songs with multiple sections, as opposed to simply storing patterns. Only around 10,000 units were produced.[citation needed]

As with the TB-303, the realism of the TR-909 was severely limited by technical constraints, and this showed when the machines were released at relatively low prices before its rise in popularity, coinciding with the beginnings of techno and acid. More expensive, sample-based drum computers were better at faithfully reproducing real drum sounds, while the TR-909 sounded synthetic.

The drum kit contains the following sounds:

All drums except for the hi-hats and cymbals are synthetically generated; there is an oscillator circuit with a dedicated filter and envelope curve. The hi-hats and cymbals are 6-bit samples, compressed and combined with a volume envelope curve (and tuning) to allow slight modification. Thanks to the analog circuitry, various aspects of the drum sound can be modified (pitch, attack, decay).

There is also a feature called "accent"—a primitive means of humanizing the drumbeat. In a simplified model of a drummer and a kit, the loudness of the sound created would basically depend on the velocity at which the drummer hits a given part of the kit. A human drummer can emphasize certain notes by playing them louder, and the accent parameter provides a means to boost a particular step. A more complex model would also include timbral change, but reproducing this effect using the TR-909's analog electronics wasn't feasible[verification needed]. It took the industry a while to even offer this effect in sample based drum machines, due to the price of sample memory and the number of samples one would have to take to faithfully reproduce it.[verification needed]

Part of the charm of the TR-909 comes from its 16-step sequencer — today it might look primitive, not allowing subtle grooves and being limited in variety with only 16 steps, while a more lively, complicated drum pattern might need much more than that. On the other hand, acid techno music is usually simple compared to the styles that might require more than 16 steps to a bar. For example, punching the buttons 1, 5, 9 and 13 on the bass drum part would create a simple "four to the floor" beat.

While the sequencer is running, a light runs from step 1 to step 16.

The TR-909 has several editing modes: pattern editing where one focuses solely on the 16 steps, and track editing, which allows for chaining various patterns in a row. Because it has MIDI, it's also possible to control other instruments with the sequencer.

This machine and its unique sequencer (both Roland and other manufacturers used either a grid-based sequencer, showing the dots on an LCD, or another method that did not display the pattern at all) were the basis for so-called grooveboxes — self-contained compact synthesizer workstations with rudimentary keyboards and pattern-based sequencers, aimed at creators of electronic music, using sample-based sound generation and a number of realtime controls.

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