Future perfect and future possibilities. Bob Henrit on Simmons' new trigger unit
The publicity issued originally with Simmons' latest innovation the MTM refers to it as 'an eight channel, programmable interface unit designed to translate audio signals into MIDI code and MIDI signals into triggers to drive analogue synthesisers'. Having sat with the unit for three hours or so, I can emphatically say this is not the whole truth; it's a hell of a lot more besides. (I think it would be fair to say that even Simmons haven't fully explored the possibilities of MTM.)
Those letters stand for MIDI-Trigger-MIDI and in its most simplistic form the box will allow you to trigger an EDK brain from microphones placed to pick up individual acoustic drums. Besides this it allows the pad (or acoustic) drummer to access (ie play) notes from a synthesiser or voices from some other source like a drum machine or a synth-expander.
Another facet of MTM which should prove to be a boon to the drummer is its ability to interface with a multitrack tape recorder and enable the already recorded sounds to be changed for more suitable ones.
One feature which I found fascinating as a drummer is the possibility to set up repeat echos with MTM via SDS7, enabling your real drums to be integrated with electronic repeats. In a way it will persuade your 7 to do what SDS9 will do with repeats and 'slapback', but with MTM you have the facility to adjust the distance between designated echoed beats. You can halve, quarter or three quarter the time, and this goes some way to creating shuffle-type rhythms from a single beat. (MTM will give you a sort of ADT too.) As you'd expect, the 'machine' will process notes of definite musical pitch in exactly the same way. We'll discuss the implications and uses of this feature later.
When triggering an EDK from real drums it has never been good enough to just adjust the sensitivities of each microphone input. MTM allows you to 'tailor' the trigger response to your style of playing. A soft hit may be made to produce a loud response and vice versa. The control which goes someway towards making this happen is Absolute Threshold and this is one of the process parameters; the others are Percent Above Previous Hit, and Percent Above Previous Channel. These will eliminate cross-talk and cross triggering. Also within this collection we have Hold Off Time and its Dynamic counterpart, which ensures that louder sounds will sustain longer, and Dynamic Curve and Minimum Output to allow soft hits to trigger. Pulse Width and its Dynamic version control incoming signals so that a larger trigger will result in a longer pulse width. Most of the parameters we've discussed are also available for the MIDI section of MTM. As usual, all these different controls may be activated in the Edit mode.
Dave Simmons and the team have really come up with a great membrane switch for MTM. It really is positive and you can feel a click when the switch has done its business. These switch 'touch' positions are graphically arranged in their operating functions, eg Patch = Process + Route + Effect. So, Process deals with triggers to be changed from Mike to Line as well as Absolute Threshold, Hold Off and all the other parameters I detailed earlier.
Route, as its name suggests, joins trigger and MIDI outs to inputs inside MTM. In short, it sends signals from any of the incoming sources to any of the eight pads. Normal SDS7 routing connects one to one, two to two, etc, but you can create a new route where (say) one goes to two; this would allow the bass drum module to be controlled by the snare pad. Route is also to do with MIDI. Each route may have a different set of eight MIDI notes; this would enable chords to be played, or rather produced, by a single pad. Effect is pretty self-explanatory; basically it's to do with echo, normal or stepped either in semitones up (or down), via MIDI. Sequence is also possible too where each echo may have a different note; there's also a run-generator effect whose progress may be interrupted by a subsequent hit which will pick up the nearest note of the sequence.
I mentioned chords earlier and if we program a different MIDI note for each channel this is exactly what will result if we trigger two or more of them together. Either the complete chord can be sounded, with a single stroke, or creative programming will allow notes of the chord to be added with dynamic increase. Split chords are possible too where different notes will sound dependent upon how hard you hit the pad, as well as layered chords with different notes superimposed by that dynamic change. The pad may also be persuaded to trigger first the root and then the entire chord, or even the root and more notes of the chord with your dynamic change. (Of course dynamic change means how hard you hit.) MTM is programmed to find all of these notes but to achieve this it must be interfaced with a keyboard synthesiser, or something like a TX7 which doesn't have a keyboard. All of these notes show up in an LCD window which is situated over on the right hand side of the unit. The notes register as A3, B3, C4, etc, including the sharps, so to build up the effects I've mentioned you need to select the right notes.
MTM can store up to 100 user-programmed patches, 15 processes, 79 routes and 30 effects. It has a cassette interface too to extend the memory facility even further, but it also contains some factory presets. There are 20 patches, which may be adapted, as well as five processes, twenty routes and ten effects. These factory programs are being worked upon as I write, and are rumoured to be dynamite.
It's rack-mountable and two units from top to bottom. Its front panel has eight trigger sensitivity adjustment pots as well as one for overall outputs. Beside these are the membrane switch panels for parameters and the like and next to them is a calculator pad with numbers to set up the functions. Within the calculator pad are advance and retreat buttons. We then have our 32 character LCD window which has eight controls below it to deal with Patch, Process, Route, Effect, Option/Select, Edit, Store and Sequence. The back of MTM has eight trigger inputs — jack and XLR — as well as a hi hat channel specifically for SDS7. There are also eight standard jack outputs, a cassette socket, MIDI in, two MIDI outs, and MIDI through. Of course it would help if you could use your 7 selector pad so they thoughtfully fit a socket for that too. (I understand that MTM's micro processor speeds up the operation of this selector pad.) Finally there's a footswitch socket for Simmons' dual pedal. (One pedal advances through the patches while the other takes you backwards through them.)
As I said several hundred words ago, the possibilities of this innocuous little box would appear to be endless; for me it already does what I want it to do. As Dire Straits very nearly put it: '...That's the way to do it, I want my MTM.'
Review by Bob Henrit
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