Hands-on: Roland’s #808day upgrade for the TR-8S is a blast to play

It’s a little thing, but it adds a lot when you’re playing live: STEP LOOP lets you repeat steps in a sequence as they play, without losing time. Here’s how it works, along with other updates to Roland’s TR-8S drum machine.

Roland’s version 1.10 firmware is out today, and the big new feature is called STEP LOOP. The basic idea:

Hold down a step to make it repeat.

Hold down multiple steps, and they repeat in order.

Release that step or steps, and the sequence continues in time. (LED feedback shows you that the sequence position advances even as you have steps triggered.)

STEP LOOP impacts the whole sequence, not just one part. To activate it, hold down SHIFT and INST PLAY. To exit the mode, just trigger any other sequence mode. Here is in action. Notice the visual feedback as I enter the mode, and what happens when I trigger one or more steps.

It’s hugely useful, because it lets you make fills and variations out of the existing material of a sequence – and you don’t ever drop out of time. It’s not the first drum machine to do this (the ElecTribe ES2 from KORG springs to mind, among others), but it’s hugely useful in this context. The TR-8S is already a great live performance feature, thanks to its flexible routing and I/O, ample controls, faders for volume, and the ability to load custom samples. STEP LOOP is then a perfect addition for live jamming, because it’s intuitive and rhythmic.

The TR-8S has been getting a steady stream of updates – the other huge one in 1.10 is the ability to preview samples. Here’s a reverse-chronological timeline of some of the highlights.

1.10, August 2018
STEP LOOP
Preview sound samples when you import

1.03 April 2018
Improved performance

1.02 March 2018
Batch import kits
Import and export patterns and kits
Write direct to an SD card from the computer (“Storage Mode”)

All of this fits nicely together. It’s now really quick to chop up some samples and load them onto an SD card, then import them into custom kits. That makes the TR-8S’ own onboard hardware a useful way to build your own custom kits – even preferable in some way to working with software. And the combination of STEP LOOP with other features for making custom rhythms adds tons of variety. (Use LAST to make different length parts, add sub-step rhythms for more complex patterns, and use “auto fill” to mix things up even if your hands aren’t free.)

Oh, and you can sidechain external inputs. So I’ve used the TR-8S with my laptop and Native Instruments Maschine. I use MIDI out from Maschine to keep things in sync, and route audio from the computer into the TR-8S so I can sidechain that audio with the drum machine. I’ve also played with Roland’s own AIRA VT-3 vocal transformer, which also lends itself to sidechaining. But it’s an ideal live performance box.

For more resources on the TR-8S, check out Francis Preve’s blog – he’s done a great Master Class on the instrument for Electronic Musician, plus a custom kit for you to download:

Master Class: Roland TR-8S

Previously:

Roland TR-8S hands-on: a more playable, powerful drum machine

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The 808 just got its own hipster IPA beer in London

Okay, for anyone who thought the TR-808 shoes were too much, you may want to sit down. Now there’s a craft beer immortalizing the Roland drum machine for #808day.

It’s called the BR-808, and it’s quite silly – but you do get a celebrity endorsement from the likes of pioneering artist A Guy Called Gerald:

The specs:

Filmmakers Origin Workshop have teamed up with beat loving brewers Mondo Brewing Company (U.K.), DevilCraft (Japan) and Melvin Brewing (U.S.A) and together they have developed and produced The Origin Workshop BR-808, a special collaboration beer that honours the enduring sounds and cultural legacy of the TR-808 and the seismic shift it created in music.

It’s a taste of the future, a brew defined by the legendary kick drum of the 808. Its been developed to recreate that deep sub-bass low end, delivering a solid Japanese kick that resonates through the American IPA flavours.

With tropical, citrus aromas, mikan orange peel and flavours from the generous rise of Citra and Amarillo hops the Origin Workshop BR-808 provides a refined taste. In the spirit of true collaboration, the brewers added no caramel malt with only light British pale malt and Cara pils, resulting in a refreshing brew coming in at 7% ABV.

That is a hipster marketing singularity if ever I heard one – London + 808 nostalgia + film agency + american IPA. I haven’t tasted this, though, so I can’t vouch yet.

That said, hmmm, 7%? I’m in Berlin, so I’ll stick to the lighter pilsner. 7% and I might not be able to properly operating STEP LOOP on the TR-8S.

More:
https://www.br-808.com/

Previously in 808-inspired merch:

You’ll be able to buy those Roland 808 sneakers soon, plus a new pair

Now… it seems to me a drum machine needs an energy drink, but for now, there’s still Club-Mate. (Oh… okay, that Red Bull thing. But no.)

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No new products, but Roland celebrates #808day with free gear updates

Roland now routinely enjoy the fact that August 8 is “808” day. But we aren’t seeing new product announcements today as in some past years. What you get instead is a bunch of updates for existing gear. Here they are in one place so you can see what’s relevant to you.

All AIRA products – a new Web resource with free sounds. Roland have a newly redesigned AIRA website. Instead of splashy promotional things being thrown at you, you get a tidy selection of news and updates – and, importantly, a Sound Library with free patches and sound content. For now, that includes the TR-8S drum machine and SYSTEM-8 synth, but Roland tells us the site will cover the whole AIRA lineup over time. And there are some gems in there already, like polymeter stuff from live virtuoso and producer KiNK, and FM and percussion sounds that use the synth engine in the SYSTEM-8.

TR-8S / TR-8 – STEP LOOP. Firmware update 1.10 adds STEP LOOP to the TR-8S flagship (808-inspired) drum machine, plus the earlier (and more neon green) TR-8. What does it do? It repeats steps as you hold them down, including repeating multiple steps if you hold multiple steps down, and then returns to the pattern when you release the buttons. Simple feature, big results – because you can jam with variations over top of a pattern, without losing your place. (Some other drum machines have had a similar feature, so it’ll be even more welcome to those users on the TR-8/8S.) It’s easier to show than describe, so we’ll have a video hands-on later.

https://aira.roland.com/newsandtopics/new_step_loop_function_for_tr-8s/

SYSTEM-8 – JX-3P add-on. SYSTEM-8 synth owners get a nice freebie: a complete model of Roland’s 80s classic, the JX-3P, in “PLUG-OUT” form (meaning the model can be loaded directly onto the hardware).

https://aira.roland.com/newsandtopics/jx-3p_plug-out_for_system-8_now_available/

Oh yeah, and the SYSTEM-8 has been coming into its own this summer. It got an FM oscillator for a wider range of timbres, plus new filters. Now, you get a model of a great polyphonic synth for free, too. (Remember when Roland was charging for PLUG-OUT add-ons for hardware owners? Seems they’ve gotten away from that.)

It’s all in the latest update.

Speaking of the SYSTEM-8, that platform also got a boost with the US$19.99 Synthwave library, designed by our friend Francis Preve along with Jim Stout, showing off some of the retro Roland sounds you can get out of this engine. And in case you didn’t get the 80s / 90s nostalgia flowing yet, their promo video will do it for sure:

It covers the Juno-106 and Jupiter-8 engines as well the SYSTEM-8’s own original modeled synth engine. Of course, what’s nice about this is you then have access to the sounds in both software (Roland Cloud) and hardware, and then you get hands-on tweakability on the hardware – so you can start with one of these presets and then shape it a bit.

Synthwave for Roland System-8

All of this says something about value in 2018 instruments. It’s not just about the new gear when you take it out of the box, but the value over time. (See also major firmware updates lately from Novation and Elektron, among othes.) Add in the JX-3P, and maybe that sound library, and the SYSTEM-8 is really maturing into a lovely bit of kit.

The SYSTEM-8, now with JX-3P sounds on top of Juno-106 and Jupiter-8 (plus its own original engine).

And yeah, maybe some people will be disappointed about no new gear, but… that STEP LOOP. That JX-3P. Not paying for either. So, hey, like:

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Immerse yourself in Rotterdam’s sonic voltages, in the WORM laboratory

It’s dubbed a “Waveform Research Centre” – and Rotterdam’s gear-stuffed WORM laboratory is a science fiction playground for voltages, making music and visuals alike. Let’s go inside.

Dennis Verschoor is a mainstay of the Rotterdam experimental electronic scene, with some decades of artist experience to his name and the legendary Noodlebar performance series. Filmmaker Steve Guy Hellier joins Thonk’s Steve Grimley-Taylor to produce a short film about him and this amazing space: (thanks, Sonic State, hat tip)

From the description:

I first met Dennis whilst I was in the WORM studio on an artist residency in 2017. The WORM studio is like a geological trip through electronic music’s history but I was about to travel even further back. Strange ghostly tones emanated from the old vocal booth next door, it was this space that Dennis had filled with mid 20th century audio test equipment, going back to the roots of audio electronic experiments before commercially available instruments from Moog or Roland, before keyboards, back to Stockhausen, Else Marie Pade, Daphne Oram, Raymond Scott and the like. Why now? is this the logical conclusion of Mark Fisher’s cultural hauntology? do we end up back at the source? the sound of past futures? For Dennis it seemed more a way to dodge the hipsters, and invite collaboration.

Dennis and I had a friend in common Steve Grimley-Taylor, a lover of all things electronic and sound related (founder of Thonk.co.uk). When I expressed the idea of making a film about Dennis, Richard Foster from WORM kindly agreed to let us. This is a short film about Dennis, his journey and his room.

Steve Guy Hellier 2018

You know what time it is, kids? It’s gear pr0n, time. Some waveform pics to get your Friday night started right.

WORM Rotterdam is also a great all-encompassing event venue.

The WRC has its own Facebook page:

https://www.facebook.com/Waveform-Research-Centre-1157781711025359/

Information on the Sound Studio:

https://worm.org/spaces/sound-studio/

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Yep, you can go virtuoso with ROLI – DiViNCi, Alluxe show you how

You may have met ROLI’s Seaboard and Lightpad Blocks – the squishy performance controllers for computers and mobile. But all these promises about futuristic instruments aside, can you really wail on them? Computer says yes.

Finger drummer virtuoso DiViNCi is an absolute monster on these things. It reminds me of a couple of hyperactive drummer friends I grew up with, rapping on tables, only this actually works as a live performance. And whatever genre you’re into, this proves that if your ideas happen to be, you know – fast ideas – you can make them happen. Watch:

There’s actually a lot going on there, so even more useful than drooling over this performance demo is watching step-by-step as he pulls apart his live setup. He came to the jam without a plan, but … then that means some planning in setup, to make this function well as an all-in-one, one-man-band rig. This involves setting up some keys in advance, and configuring sounds, so that the setup is out of the way and he can lose himself and jam – even literally with his eyes closed.

ROLI’s hardware – for the moment, at least – doesn’t make any sound on its own, so it’s necessary to dig into the ROLI Dashboard to connect the hardware with software. That software in turn got some updates, recently, if you haven’t checked in on it lately.

It’s important to DiViNCi’s set that he combines the talkbox and the Blocks-controlled software instrument. Let’s check in, too, with Laura Escude aka Alluxe, and her “future classical” setup. Laura is someone special, in that she’s not only built a career as a solo musician and electronic instrumentalist, but also as a high-powered teacher and consultant, setting up live shows on the biggest imaginable scale for the likes of Kanye West and others. (She was also just added to the lineup at the next Ableton Loop in her home city LA in the fall, so see you all in California, hopefully!)

That said, it’s really Laura’s own performances that are the most personal. Instead of the ultra-compact Blocks, here she uses the Seaboard RISE keyboard controller – still my personal favorite. (Just squishy enough, more room to play on, but not so big that you can’t tote it around… and unlike the very first Seaboard, not too squishy. Squishy – technical term, hope you’re keeping up.)

She works with Ableton Live to set up sounds so the instrument can work through her setlist and stay expressive as she focuses on other stuff – like singing, for example.

That’s an interesting way of doing it, by the way – so it’s program changes in Live, triggered inside clips, triggered by follow actions. (I’ve been procrastinating doing a story just on how to manage different sounds in Live sets … it’s time.)

Some more resources:

Use Seaboard RISE with Kontakt

Use RISE with Apple Logic Pro and Equator

My Seaboard artist stories

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The mixing powers in MOTU audio interfaces are now on iOS, Android

High-end audio interfaces often have the equivalent of virtual mixing desks packed inside. But most of us fail to take advantage of that, because it means switching to a software window. MOTU just put its console on iOS and Android – and that makes life way easier.

MOTU’s interfaces are popular for their I/O configurations and reliability in common use cases. And they’ve always been one of the leaders when it comes to packing mixing functionality inside.

But… having to access mixing features from desktop software is frankly a pain. You know the drill: you’re in your DAW. Now you switch over to some mixing app. Then you fumble around with your mouse trying to find what you need. You can’t adjust more than one fader at a time, because you can only mouse around to one at a time. Then you need to switch back to your DAW.

In fact, half the time, it seems this ritual takes place because you’ve accidentally set some setting wrong in said mixing app and need to go back and fix it.

So that’s why MOTU’s Touch Console is a very big deal. It isn’t the first remote-control touch app for music gear. But it fits a very popular set of audio interfaces in a very crucial set of use cases.

Touch Console runs on iOS and Android smartphones and tablets, so you’ve likely already got gear it can use. And it gives you access to the full 4-channel mixer in your interface. That means you effectively have a full mixing desk on the go wherever you can bring your MOTU box.

And apart from basic mixing, you get:
12 buses, with 7 stereo aux buses
Effects (4-band parameteric EQ, dynamics processing, reverb
A model of the vintage LA-2A – the legendary tube compressor or “Leveling Amplifier” as Teletronix called it

Compatible MOTU boxes: 1248, 16A, 8M, 112D, 828es, UltraLite-mk4, UltraLite AVB, Monitor-8 and Stage-B16, plus the 8pre-es. (8pre-es already has that pre-installed; everyone else will get a free firmware update, which you can install online or offline.)

Here’s an overview:

And here’s a look at how the effects work. You might want to mute the cheesy hold music, but … the interface looks fluid and slick:

By the way, if you’re on RME, they have a wireless app for their TotalMix app, plus an app with FX support. RME’s offering is crude by comparison, though; MOTU deserves credit for building something from the ground up that feels touch native. (Also, RME is iOS-only – it’s nice to see MOTU support Android.)

Touch Console [MOTU.com]

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You’ll be able to buy those Roland 808 sneakers soon, plus a new pair

As spotted earlier, the TR-808 is getting an official pair of limited edition running shoes from Puma. Now there are details on how you can buy them – plus a second design.

#808day is on its way – that’s the 8th of August, of course. Roland have announced some new hardware on that date in the past – and it seems a no-brainer that’ll happen again this year. But additionally, the Japanese music gear maker has partnered with Puma to roll out both the previous design of TR-808 inspired shoes plus one new design. Both draw aesthetic cues (and colors, in particular) from the 808 drum machine, but the shoes themselves are different:

The RS-0 Roland, the one we saw first, is an intentionally 80s-style sneaker design that “reboots” the 1980s Puma R-series shoes.

The RS-100 is a more modern design:

That is, expect more retro-looking materials on the RS-0 and something a bit more modern on the RS-100.

Now, readers did tell us they wanted to buy these shoes. It seems there is actually a global launching coming on 8/08. Both shoes are EUR 110 in Europe; in the USA, the RS-0 is pricier at US$130 while the newer-looking RS-1100 is just $100. You’ll be able to get them both online at puma.com and in PUMA stores.

Or, well, you can if you didn’t already spend all your money on music gear. Oops. Top tip: get some duct tape, and strap the boxes from your last to Eurorack modules around your feet. Solved!

Now, I’m no shoe expert – I have feet, and I can tie my laces (poorly). So I’ll let the copy from the press release speak for itself, since it’s written in elegant soft-core shoe-pr0n prose, as if you’re going to actually eat the shoes. Here you go:

The upper of the RS-100 Roland features a vibrant orange suede Formstrip with white reflective edges amidst a combination of white-red pebble leather, black ripstop nylon panels and yellow suede. PUMA and Roland branding can be found on the tongue label, the footbed and the anodized metal hangtag. “Rhythm Composer TR-808, Computer Composer” is printed on the heel. A PUMA and Roland logo is printed on the footbed while the outsole features lines that mimic the lights on a synthesizer. All colors and detailing represent ‘80s retro hues found on a Roland TR-808 drum machine.

Unveiled last spring, the RS-0 Roland, also inspired by the game-changing TR-808 drum machine, features premium leather black upper, micro perf vents, 6mm flat, reflective laces, reflective midsole details and signature TR-808 colors – red, orange and yellow – on the Formstrip. Familiar notes like “Rhythm Composer” and “Bass Drum” accent the midsole while the orange hue continues to the translucent rubber outsole. PUMA and Roland branding can be found on the tongue label, footbed and the anodized metal hangtag.

And yes, to any would-be haters, what can I say? I know. Drum machines have no sole.

Shoe photos GO!

Previously:

The Roland TR-808 is getting its own pair of Puma shoes

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Korg Monologue editor joins a huge collection of tools for synths

KORG’s Monologue owners will want this one: the keyboard gets the slick editor treatment of developer Momo Müller. Edit, automate, and store parameters from a plug-in or standalone app.

Momo has been going through all the top hardware and adding editor tools, with interfaces that mimic the actual hardware. That includes the Monologue’s predecessor, the Minilogue, plus popular choices like the Roland Boutique line and KORG volca series. The Monologue is a special addition, though, given this instruments’ microtuning support.

Since it’s available as a plug-in, this can be useful to automating controls and saving settings for hardware with your projects. (That’s much better than that feeling of opening up a project with MIDI tracks and trying to remember what the hell the outboard synth was meant to sound like, though that … uh … sometimes leads to happy accidents, I guess!)

Features: X/Y control, sound bank access, and the ability to save on the synth itself or as VST preset files.

32-bit and 64-bit versions available, standalone, VST, and Audio Unit. Mac and Windows.

Price: 5.90 €

https://korg-monologue-midi-editor.jimdofree.com/

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Novation Circuit 1.7 adds song mode and more, in yet another update

Every time you think, okay, that’s the last update for Novation’s Circuit – there’s another one. What started as a simply entry-level groove box continues to evolve.

Version 1.7 is out now. As with past updates, you can get it by connecting your Circuit and heading to Novation’s Web hub for content, updates, and managing your own creations, Novation Components.

Find it here:
https://components.novationmusic.com/circuit/new-pack

New in this build:

Chain patterns, make songs. It’s called “Pattern Chain Sequence,: and it lets you chain together up to 32 patterns into a chain… or even chain chains into more chains, for 16 chains of patterns, then select any order you want. You can also use this live as you play by appending patterns.

Tied/drone notes. Each step can be tied to another, all the way into long drones.

Nudge off the grid: Each step gets 1-5 ticks delay, or use Synth Micro-Nudge “create new, more complex rhythms like triplets across the beat.”

Novation Circuit updates … they just keep going … and going … and going …

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Arturia DrumBrute Impact: smaller size, bigger sound, $349

Talk about less is more. The Arturia DrumBrute impact is sure to be a hit at US$349 for a packed analog drum machine – but its newfound focus and re-built sounds also make it more fun to play.

Fitting a drum machine into a smaller size and cutting the price this low does mean taking some things out. But it’s what’s left in that may make people find the DrumBrute Impact appealing.

Arturia has been trying their hand at drum machines for a while. It began on the software side, with the Spark series, but the workflow and functionality of that line never seemed to grab users quite like with Native Instruments’ Maschine or Ableton Live combined with Push, to say nothing of people who want to get away from the computer and use some hardware. The DrumBrute was promising, packing some novel analog sound circuitry together with workflow features from Spark and BeatStep Pro, but its sound felt like a work in progress. (Case in point: my studio neighbor has one and loves it, but he mutes the kick and replaces it with something else. Making drum machines is hard.)

So, that’s the surprise of DrumBrute Impact. The “impact” which I thought was just smart marketing for it being small and cheap actually is a clue to the fact that the Impact has all new circuitry inside. It’s the Arturia brain here, but the soul has been upgraded.

Finally, Arturia have made something that doesn’t just feel like another Roland TR drum machine. And that’s good, because much as I love the TR, having only that color is a bit like having a Wurlitzer but no Rhodes. But simultaneously, it also sounds like a new set of sounds you want to use, without requiring you to invest a huge amount of money in those sounds.

The result: this thing hits really hard. That matters. We’re humans. We like things that go thud. We can feel it. This isn’t theory; it’s visceral.

The sound engine:

You get a full complement of parts, each analog and with controllable parts. “Analog” remains something of a marketing hook, but the important thing about these parts is you get a set of sounds you can manipulate directly. That means:

KICK: pitch and decay
SNARE 1: snap and decay.
SNARE 2: tone and decay.
TOM: pitch, switch between high/low.
CYMBAL: decay.
COWBELL
CLOSED HAT: tone
OPEN HAT: decay (mute linked to the open hat)
FM DRUM: carrier pitch, decay, FM amount, and mod pitch.

I’ll work on some videos and music in the coming days. Drum machines are all about taste, so you may differ, but I liked each one of these sounds – which is really hard to get on a new machine. (The TR has a huge advantage based on familiarity, too. None of us can really say what we’d think of it if someone brainwiped us and we hadn’t heard any the music made with Rolands over the years.)

More importantly, you get a huge range as you twist the encoders on these, with a sense of power across that range rather than that usual feeling of … okay, this is the sweet spot and the rest is shite.

Snare 2, for instance, can sound like a rimshot or a clap, even, depending on where you adjust it, and lots of things in between. Tom Low easily doubles as a kick with a darker color. The cowbell is an exception, but it’s a nice grown-up homage to Roland.

It’s really the FM voice that’s the big winner, though. And it’s clear you could not only cook up some unexpected percussion with it, but also hack it into a usable, potentially weird if you want, FM bass synth.

Features:

If you want lots of I/O, well… come on, this thing is $349. But you still do manage a mono mix out, four separate outs for parts, and dedicated clock in/out, MIDI in/out, and USB.

Arturia could have made this a fairly dumb box that’s just a sound engine, but they crammed a whole lot of powerful features for playing into it, as you might expect from some of their past outings. So you get:

Step sequencing with 64 patterns (64 steps each)
Song mode for chaining patterns
Polyrhythms (set each track to its own length)
Swing, either global or per-instrument
Random pattern variations
Pattern looper, beat repeat
Real-time rolls (with that touch strip again)
Multiple sync options: Internal / MIDI / Clock, including 1PPS, 2PPQ, DIN24, and DIN48
Per-drum accents

There’s even a metronome that automatically overrides itself on the main out when you plug in headphones.

You don’t have easy MPC-style note repeat, which I personally prefer to those touch rolls, and the drum pads are basic (though you get one for each part, unlike the more expensive Roland TR-8S). Other than that, it’s hard to complain.

One surprise is the distortion circuit. It’s nice, and adds some dirt, but I almost expected something raunchier. Anyway, it’s useful to have, and you can always run those outs through some distortion pedals and really go nuts. I did run it through some light effects and delays, and it sounds unreal.

I mean, what’s to say? This thing is going to sell like crazy. $349 / 299 €. Preorder now, full availability in August.

It’s turning out to be quite a summer for hardware drum machines, with the ongoing success of the Elektrons (and some updates), the breakout hit Roland TR-8S, the coming boutique MFB TanzBar II, and now this as your cost-effective choice. If you’re still failing to play drum machines live or writing dull drum parts, you have no excuse.

https://www.arturia.com/products/hardware-synths/drumbrute-impact/overview

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