The Flexible Drumbox
Roland's new hybrid technology analogue/digital drum machine is perhaps the most versatile around, but also simple to use.
A Roland demonstrator come newly to the TR-909 received his sample at five in the evening and was due to go on at eight to do a show which required all the programmes in his existing TR-808. Now by previous standards this is something of a nightmare. Programming rhythm machines has ever been a speedy matter and the hero of this particular story would have estimated the transfer to take at least a day. 'However' he relates 'With the new programming system and the editing facilities you can correct, delete, and insert anywhere without needing to go back to the beginnings. So once I started everything went down really smoothly and in the end I had time for a couple of pints at the local before going on. That went down very smoothly too.'
As well as being the drinking man's drum box the TR-909 is the result of some very sober reflections in the R&D departments of Roland. The problem was to produce something that would produce the realism that only digital sounds can give cymbals and hi-hats, plus the control over drum sounds which analogue machines give but digital ones don't.
The answer has been to use both. The cymbal sounds are digital and the rest are analogue — taking into account that at least one pundit has acknowledged Roland analogue drum sounds to be at least as good as the real thing anyway.
The advantages of the TR-909 is that every drum sound can be 'tailored' to your music. Bass drum has tune, level, attack, and decay; snare drum has tune, level, tone, and 'snappy', all toms have tune, level and decay and even the Hi Hat has Open Delay, Closed Decay and Level while the cymbals have level controls and Crash and Ride tune controls.
Being analogue when the toms are tuned higher, for example, no other parameter changes. In a digital system this would not be possible: higher tuning would give a shorter note. The TR-909 also reproduces dynamic changes more faithfully than a pure digital machine: it can capture the change in the character of a drum according to whether it is hit hard or softly when played by a dynamic instrument through the MIDI input.
Programming, as mentioned, is a pleasure with simple edit and correction procedures. You can programme in 'step' time or programme bar by bar in real time.
You can also play in real time using the 16 keys on the front of the machine. Alternatively, because this drum box is MIDI — you can play in real time using the instrument of your choice — a MIDI keyboard or guitar synth for example.
For those interested in vital statistics, the TR-909 has two memory banks capable of storing rhythm chains of up to 896 measures. Up to 96 separate patterns may be memorised. You can write to any time signature you like and there's a flam/shuffle mode to take the machine out of conventional time signatures altogether. For anyone requiring even more memory, additional RAM cartridges available from Roland each give as much again as the TR-909 has on-board. Programmes can also be stored on cassette tape.
Roland have moved slightly out of the current trend for all-digital machines, but for good reason. The TR-909 is likely to be used by professional musicians and studios to whom absolute control is paramount and who need MIDI versatility, large memory, and impeccable sound. Roland are still first in rhythm.
Gear in this article:
Feature by Roland UK
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