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Using the Alesis HR16 as an Expander

Sure, it's a drum machine - but the HR16 also makes a great drum expander module if you know a few crucial tricks about applying it. Craig Anderton explains all.

Sure, it's a drum machine - but the HR16 also makes a great drum expander module if you know a few crucial tricks about applying it. Craig Anderton explains all.

Although the Alesis HR16 is mostly advertised as a drum machine, it has much to recommend it as a general purpose drum sound expander module. The 49 sounds available are of very high quality, and can be tuned from 12 semitones flat to almost seven semitones sharp. Besides, the price is most definitely right. For those of you who already own an HR16, here are some tips on how to get the most out of it as an expander module.


Each of the HR16's 100 Patterns can store its own Voice, Tune, Level, and Pan assignments for all 16 pads. Therefore, you can treat each Pattern as a separate drum 'kit', recallable either through the HR16's number buttons or via MIDI Program Change commands. An additional bonus is the possibility of 'sound stacking', where different pads are assigned to the same MIDI note. Thus, one note can trigger more than one sound; try stacking four different snares together, all with different tunings, and you end up with a monster snare drum!

While all this flexibility is fine, it can also get a little confusing. Whenever possible, use consistent kit assignments. For example, if you frequently 'double' the kick or snare, then consistently assign the doubled sounds to two particular pads (possibly Percussion 1 and 2). Keeping patch sheets of your HR16 kits can help in minimising confusion.


Before using the HR16 as an expander module, its parameters must be properly set. The HR16 can receive in Omni mode (MIDI Mode 1) or Poly mode (MIDI Mode 3). In Omni mode, the HR16 receives data appearing on any of the 16 MIDI channels. In the more commonly used Poly mode, the HR16 both transmits and receives over any one of the 16 MIDI channels.

Omni mode is useful when the HR16 is being driven from MIDI drum pads or any MIDI rhythm controller, since you need not care what channel the external controller transmits over. The HR16 will react to whatever data is coming in, regardless of channel assignment. When MIDI drives several instruments (as usually happens when a sequencer sends out data over several channels to different instruments, including drums), Poly mode is preferred so that the HR16 'hears' only the channel containing drum data, and not to channels containing bass, lead, rhythm, etc.

To set the MIDI channel, press the MIDI/Util button and select Page 1 of the MIDI/Util menu. Choose the desired MIDI channel with the number or +/- buttons. When using the number buttons, enter a leading zero if necessary (eg. 07 for channel 7). Entering 00 selects Omni mode. The MIDI channel setting will remain as set, even if you turn off the power, until changed; the default is Omni.


A sequencer or drum controller (such as Roland's Octapad II) generates a unique MIDI note for each drum event or pad strike. Feeding these to the HR16's MIDI In socket can trigger its drum sounds (assigned to particular MIDI note numbers, as described later), but first the HR16 must be set to receive MIDI note events.

To receive MIDI note events, select Page 2 of the MIDI/Util menu. Use the +/- buttons to select On. The Receive MIDI Drums setting will remain as set, even if you turn off the power, until changed.

You will probably want to set Transmit MIDI Drum Notes to Off since the HR16 will be receiving, not transmitting, data. To do this, select Page 3 of the MIDI/Util menu and use the +/— buttons to select Off. As with receiving MIDI notes, the Transmit MIDI Drum Notes setting will remain as set until changed.


Each of the HR16's drum pads can have a unique MIDI Note number, which allows you to match up the drums to particular MIDI note numbers generated by a sequencer or other controlling device. The default note assignments are listed in the manual; to change these, select Page 4 of the MIDI/Util menu (remember when selecting MIDI/Util pages that the MIDI/Util LED must be on). The LCD's lower line will show the currently selected drum pad name, and the MIDI note number and key name assigned to it. Press the drum pad to which you want to assign a particular MIDI note number, and choose the desired note assignment with the number or +/— buttons. If you use the number buttons, you must enter a three-digit number - enter leading zeroes if necessary.

Incidentally, MIDI note assignments are not stored with each Pattern, but are global settings that affect every Pattern. The note assignments will remain as set until changed, even if you turn off the power.


The HR16's MIDI Echo function has nothing to do with delay-type effects, it merely determines whether the MIDI Out will 'echo' whatever data appears at the MIDI In. This is useful if you want to drive another expander module along with the HR16; simply patch the HR16's MIDI Out to the second drum machine's MIDI In, then set MIDI Echo to On by selecting Page 5 of the MIDI/Util menu, and choosing On with the +/— buttons.


Each Pattern can be selected via MIDI Program Change commands. The main purpose of this is to let you call up different 'kits' from drum pad controllers or a sequencer. MIDI programs 00 to 99 select patterns 00-99, and MIDI programs 100-127 select patterns 00 to 27. To enable kit selection via Program Change commands, select Page 6 of the MIDI/Util menu and choose On with the +/— buttons.


You do not want the HR16 to respond to MIDI timing data when it's serving as an expander module, since it will start playing whatever Pattern is selected when it receives a Start command. To prevent the HR16 from responding to MIDI timing data, select Page 7 of the MIDI/Util menu and use the +/- buttons to select the Tape Sync option. You can also select the desired option with the number buttons (3 = Tape Sync).

Now the HR16 is all set up and ready to go. Feel free to play around with the tuning, mix, and level to get the drum sounds you want. However, before closing we need to consider some other useful features...

"You do not want the HR16 to respond to MIDI timing data when it's serving as an expander."


Many professionals create thick, powerful drum sounds by doubling one drum with another; for example, doubling a snare with a tom can give added depth and resonance. When using the HR16 as an expander module, assigning two pads (each with its own voice assignment) to the same note number 'stacks' those two pads into one combined sound. You are not limited to assigning two pads to the same note number - trigger all the pads from one MIDI note if you so desire.

Remember that the stacked sounds can be further modified with the Voice, Tune, and Mix functions. One of my favourite combinations is to stack a timbale with a snare, but with the timbale mixed a bit lower so that the snare has a 'ring' yet is not over-powered.

Altering the tuning can also prove very effective. For example, tuning a lower-pitched tom and higher-pitched tom to the same pitch creates a strong, unison type of effect. The same technique also works well with kick drums.


This is one of the most confusing aspects of the HR16's operation. Many times one Pattern will need only minor changes compared to another Pattern, and it would be easier to copy one Pattern's assignments to another Pattern and make a few changes rather than programme a new Pattern from scratch. The procedure for doing this is not obvious; while there are several ways to skin this particular cat, here's the simplest (although not the one with the fewest keystrokes).

Let's assume Pattern 10 has the preferred drum kit assignments, and you want to transfer these assignments over to Pattern 70. Note that the destination Pattern must be empty for the source assignments to override the destination assignments; erase the destination Pattern if necessary. Here's how to copy the assignments:

1. Select Pattern 10, then press and hold Copy.

2. Select Pattern 70, and while continuing to hold Copy, press Record. Pattern 10 has now been copied to Pattern 70; the display shows Pattern 10.

3. Select Pattern 70, then press and hold Erase.

4. Tap each drum pad button; the display will indicate that each drum part is being erased. Pattern 70 is now the same length as Pattern 10 and contains the same Voice, Tune, and Mix assignments, but contains no drum parts since they've all been erased.

5. We're not done yet - the configuration still needs to be stored. Before selecting another Pattern, record at least one note in Pattern 70, or set the Pattern length to something other than 008 beats (the default; you might as well set this to 001 beat). If you don't record a note or change the length, the HR16 will assume the Pattern is empty and revert to the default Voice, Tune, and Mix assignments the next time it is selected.


If you're into sequencers or drum pad controllers, check out what the HR16 has to offer. Even if you never use it as a drum machine per se, its expander module functions are very impressive.

© 1988 Mix Publications Inc. Reproduced with the kind permission of the publishers.


20" kick A 20" kick B 22" power kick
22" 60's kick 22" double-head kick A 22" double-head kick B
22" ballad kick 24" power kick electronic kick 1
electronic kick 2 8 x 14" wood snare 13" brass piccolo
snare sidestick 13" brass piccolo wood ambient snare
snare rimshot electronic snare brush hit snare
timbale 10" power tom 16" power floor tom
14" double-head tom 10" double-head tom electronic tom
low conga slap high conga slap closed hi-hat A
closed hi-hat B half open hi-hat open hi-hat foot
closed hi-hat ride cymbal ride cymbal bell
crash cymbal shaker small wood block
large wood block cabasa agogo
finger snap drum sticks medium cow bell
large cow bell claves maracas A
tambourine triangle hand daps
maracas B

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Mac Recorder

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Making Quantisation Work For You

Sound On Sound - Copyright: SOS Publications Ltd.
The contents of this magazine are re-published here with the kind permission of SOS Publications Ltd.


Sound On Sound - Nov 1988

Donated & scanned by: Mike Gorman


Drum Programming

Gear in this article:

Drum Machine > Alesis > HR16

Gear Tags:

Digital Drums

Feature by Craig Anderton

Previous article in this issue:

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