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Roland Newslink

Play The System

Article from International Musician & Recording World, June 1985

MIDI made it possible, Roland make it practicable, and now hundreds of musicians every month ore making it part of their sound. The Roland MIDI controller/module system is the most powerful, cost-efficient and ergonomic route to creative music.

Roland have always been committed to the potentially limitless expansion created by modular design. For a number of years the studio standard Roland 100M system was the only truly modular set-up on the market. This, of course, was based on the CV/Gate interface which works best in a monophonic context: polyphonic possibilities exist but only with numerous modules and many yards of writhing cables.

With MIDI, however, interconnection is not only simpler but infinitely more versatile. Transmitting digital information serially the MIDI bus requires only a single 'out' and a single 'in' DIN cable to convey data on Pitch, note length, patch number, bend, velocity, and other parameters. Synthesizers (and computers) can talk down the MIDI bus using their full vocabulary. And accessories such as Roland's SDE-2500 digital delay and SRV-2000 reverb also have MIDI connections so specific reverb and delay programmes can be stored and brought in as part of a MIDI synth patch.

Expandability, accessibility and versatility have been the keynotes of obsolescence-proof MIDI equipment, and to push the concept even further Roland have separated the control components and the sound components. This means, in developing a system, you don't have to buy a series of keyboards that you won't use to get sounds that you will. The sounds are all in rack mounted modules and purpose-built controllers are MIDI-linked to them. Roland's three controllers, the Axis, the MKB-300 and the MKB-1000, are among the best constructed and most responsive contemporary keyboards ever made — simply because they're purpose-built as control instruments. For the same reason, the sound modules and programmers are equally uncompromising.


A Choice of Mothers

To put things into a characteristically Roland perspective, the control keyboard represents an interface between the player and the sound producing device.

Therefore different players require different control keyboards. The MKB-1000 was the first control keyboard offered by any manufacturer and Roland intended it to be a classic. Seen as the appropriate controller for a very comprehensive MIDI system the MKB-1000 is built on a grand scale — literally. It has 88 wooden keys with weighted action to duplicate the 'touch' of a fine piano. The touch response is adjustable and using this keyboard the subtleties of a sophisticated piano-type technique can be married to the amazing sound potential of a MIDI system.

Some players, however, do not hanker after the feel of a grand piano and if accustomed to synthesizer techniques might prefer a lighter, faster action. The MKB-300 is still fully touch-sensitive but the 76 keys have the easier feel of a synthesizer. Both instruments have straightforward but exhaustive controls for Floating Split, Mono/Poly, elaborate Channel Assign functions, 128 Programme Change settings, bender and modulation channel assign, Soft and Damper pedal channel assign, and Key Transpose. Each model of mother keyboard can store on-board 128 programmes containing settings of all front panel controls apart from Bender. Creatively using the key split and driving several MIDI devices simultaneously, these keyboards can access more sounds quicker than has ever been possible before. No matter how large a MIDI system grows, if only one pair of hands is being used to play, then only one Mother keyboard will be needed for control.

Axis - the Lead Keyboard

The Roland Axis allows complete control of any MIDI system coupled with complete freedom of movement — a single MIDI cable is all that's necessary to link in multiple modules or MIDI instruments.

The Axis is a perfect solo keyboard — but with the full advantage of polyphonic sound and limitless audio power at the end of a lead. It's touch sensitive. Changes in the initial velocity of hitting a note and the 'after-touch' pressure will vary the sound.

Information can be sent in the Poly or Mono modes.

The Axis-1 is characterised by the wide variety of functions it is capable of carrying out with just a few amazingly simple controls. MIDI channels one to 16 can be assigned. There's a transpose function so you can change keys without changing fingering. There's a chord memory function so you can programme any chord pattern to be played with one finger. Up to 120 patches can be instantly accessed. A unique 'Patch Chain' function makes life easier on stage by allowing up to ten combinations of programme number, transposed key, MIDI channel, on/off Omni Mode and Poly or Mono mode to be recalled in sequence at the touch of a button. There's a footswitch controlled Hold function.

Yet the controls on the Axis consist of three wheels and five push-switches, operating in conjunction with LED indicators and an LED display. These are the perfection of 'user-friendly' operation because the Axis is designed as an instrument and not a machine, and you can even assign the function of some of the controls so as to suit your own technique and the way you intend to use the Axis.

Lead, chords, or powerful layering effects — anything that MIDI can do, the Axis can control. The original MIDI remote keyboard with its full functions and minimal controls, there's still nothing remotely like it.

MKS-10 - Rack Mounted Piano


The piano is one of the fundamental instruments of contemporary music and Roland have given considerable attention to it, as they have to synthesizers, guitars, and drums. The MKS-10 piano module is the result of several generations of research into recreating acoustic piano sounds through electronics. Because an acoustic piano sound varies in tone characteristics according to the pitch of the key played, Roland have sampled and analysed sounds at a number of different places on the piano keyboard. That's why the MKS-10, especially when used in conjunction with the MKB-1000, can be virtually indistinguishable from its acoustic equivalent. The low notes resonate and the high notes tinkle just as with the real thing. The MKS-10 is sixteen voice polyphonic — and the difference is very clear when, for example, you do a long arpeggio with the sustain pedal on.

The MKS-10 offers two piano, two harpsichord and two clavinet sounds plus Chorus, Flanging, and two different tremolo controls to give an instrument of immense versatility, but true to the piano heritage. Brilliance, Volume and Tune controls are on the front panel. At £950 the MKS-10 is not only the smallest but probably the most inexpensive piano in the world.

Synths without keys


Many of today's most versatile synths don't have keyboards. There's now no reason why they should. MIDI makes interconnection a doddle, one keyboard is quite sufficient for two hands but one band will probably require several synths. The logical result is modules like the MKS-80 Super Jupiter and the MKS-30 Planet S. The Super Jupiter uses VCO's as opposed to DCO's and these tend to give a richer sound that favours lush string effects and large-scale layering arrangements. Unison De-tune augments this 'orchestral' potential. There are 16 VCO's, 8 VCF's and 16 envelope controls. 64 patches and 64 patch preset pairs can be stored on board and a further 128 of each in accessory RAM packs. The touch sensitivity is adjustable and affects the Loudness and Attack Time of the envelope to a pre-selected degree. VCO pitch and filter cut-off are controlled to a pre-selected degree by 'after-touch' pressure.


The £875 Planet-5 or MKS-30 has some relation to the JX-3P except, of course, that it's in module form. It's a touch sensitive twin-oscillator design with 12 DCO's and 6 voices. Like the MKS-80 there's the option of re-programming using the on-board Edit function or going for an accessory programmer.

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JX-8P: A Player's Guide

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SDE-2500. The memories linger on

Publisher: International Musician & Recording World - Cover Publications Ltd, Northern & Shell Ltd.

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International Musician - Jun 1985

Donated & scanned by: Mike Gorman

Roland Newslink


Previous article in this issue:

> JX-8P: A Player's Guide

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> SDE-2500. The memories linge...

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