“God Said Give ‘Em Drum Machines” is the story through the eyes of a documentary team that grew up in Detroit – and with time running out, they’re short of their funding goal. Happily, you have the power to change that.
Behind all the history and legend, there’s always a human story of how things happen. What’s appealing about this film above others is, it’s not just one icon or one machine, but the relationships between the artists that takes the spotlight. And, it’s at last a film about Detroit’s influence from Detroit’s perspective – not just the European scene where the genre eventually turned into a runaway financial success.
The requisite originators all star – Juan Atkins, Kevin Saunderson, Derrick May, Eddie Fowlkes, Blake Baxter, and more – so this is definitely one I look forward to watching.
Of course, funding independent film is these days a major ordeal, particularly for American filmmakers. And so it’s disheartening to see that with days running out on crowd funding, the filmmakers haven’t made their very modest funding goals. There are some lovely benefits in there – just US$5 gets you an exclusive mixtape – so I hope you’ll get the chance to give this a nod.
Motor City natives Kristian Hill and Jennifer Washington are looking just for the finishing funds to put this out.
I asked Jennifer to walk us through some stills from the film, so here’s an exclusive gallery for CDM.
Young child at Movement Festival, Detroit.
Motor City, now.
Cover of Record Mirror, June 1988.
The Scene Dance Show, Detroit, circa 1983.
Cybotron’s vision of future cities, 1983.
Blake Baxter plays those drum machines.
Kevin Saunderson, Derrick May, Juan Atkins.
Juan Atkins, Eddie Fowlkes.
Classic Transmat label, illustrated by Alan Oldham.
At the turn of the 21st century, one Detroit duo was way ahead. Almost two decades later, the world is revisiting Drexciya and their imagined underwater future – the time is right, and the deepest insights come from James Stinson speaking in his own words.
Drexciyan Cruise Control Bubble 1 to Lardossan Cruiser 8 dash 203 X!
Drexciya, the underground electro duo of the 90s, is enjoying a new resurgence … wait, make that the underwater electro duo enjoying a new submergence? Anyway, cue the Tresor Records re-release, the Resident Advisor spot, the works.
And if you’re not already immersed in this duo’s work, now is a great time to discover or rediscover them. The electro tracks are raw, powerful, grimy, totally Detroit, and in these deadly-serious techno times, unafraid of their own irreverence. “Aquabahn” is sexy and totally, wonderfully, ridiculous:
(They’re not totally kidding, though; everyone I’ve talked to from Underground Resistance has talked about being genuine Kraftwerk fans.)
“Afrofuturism” as a term got applied after the fact (to Drexciya as to the likes of Sun Ra and Juan Atkins). When Drexciya’s 1997 release “The Quest” came out, this was just plain futurism in the words of its creators. But in the liner notes, their journey to imagine an underwater utopia spells out the connection to African-American diasporas and discrimination in overt terms.
From The Quest liner notes – diasporas to global techno to underwater worlds and African return.Source.
The Quest, 1997.
Drexciya were not prone to doing interviews. But apart from being a great musical voice, the late James Stinson, revealed in phone interviews from around the end of the project, had a great voice and articulate vision. And while an under-the-sea world of dreams might seem a preconceived conceit, Stinson says it all came naturally out of the vibes of the music. “We flow with the current,” he told Andrew Duke in 2001. And then he expands on how the concept and life flow out of that, and how water figures into the music.
Listen to him about trying the impossible, ignoring what is supposed to be in music – a perspective that seems in perpetual need in creative life. The whole half hour with journalist Andrew Duke is worth hearing. That’s appropriate, too, as Stinson encourages people to get beyond needle drops and listen to whole tracks and the whole world of Drexciya:
The guy talks about the feeling of music being like the sensation of sitting in a liquid chair made of water. And equally great questions. (“What’s it like to ride a manta ray?”)
Spirit of the underground? James Stinson sums it up perfectly: “Anywhere. Sewer. Underwater. Swimming pool. In the middle of a swamp. In a back alley somewhere … we’ll appear anywhere.”
(This is doubly interesting to me, as a friend from Tehran has recently staged an underwater concert with hydrophones, singing underwater – partly as a way to get around prohibitions on female performance in the country. Stinson was onto something with the radical possibilities of underwater music.)
For still more words from the source: in 2002, shortly before his death, James Stinson talked to Liz Copeland, with tracks driving away in the background:
“Just give me the music; forget all the other stuff,” he says. “People need to … dig more into themselves and pull it out, and be more of who they are, and believe in what they do. Don’t worry about what other people are doing.”
Resident Advisor recently summed up all of this in a ten minute video, drawing heavily from those two interviews:
Another navigational chart to the music came in 2012 from the ever-reflective Philip Sherburne, who reviewed an anthology that year and also sums up the music as more than just “electro”:
Adapting the lurching rhythmic template of 1980s electro-funk acts like Man Parrish, Cybotron, and Jonzun Crew, Drexciya emphasized the depth-charge qualities of a booming 808 kick, and the electric-eel jolt of a zapping filter sweep. But it went deeper than that. The music was punctuated by cryptic interludes and scraps of code … Drexciya weren’t just trafficking in metaphor and affect; they were telling a story.
It’s also worth reading this interview from 1994 in UK zine The Techno Connection, by Dave Mothersole, republished by fan page Drexciya Research Lab. Yeah, it’s 1994, but it’s easily just as relevant in 2018, though it seems now with the Detroit originators hot as ever on the international scene, it may be time to go back to the surviving Underground Resistance members to hear their current take on the landscape and the word “techno.” As for learning to mix better, even when there’s no 4/4 kick, uh — yeah, we can all listen to that one; that can’t be wrong!
More listening – even Spotify are into this now:
From Función Binaria, a full mix (tracklisting on SC:
It’s also great that Tresor are re-releasing seminal works, including Drexciya – ‘Neptune’s Lair’ – (Tresor.129)
is out November 30th, 2018 on 2LP vinyl. (In time for Hanukkah, even.)
It’s a gift, really, to get to go buy that vinyl and set it on a record player. I do also come back to what Stinson says about originality, though. So maybe the best way to honor the Detroit – Berlin connection is, perversely, to listen, take this in, listen end to end (record players are nice for that), let your mind get altered, and then forget all that and take that energy and vibe and go make your own thing.
And certainly everything’s better down where it’s wetter and all that jazz.
Fan art, Jim McCormack. Also via Drexciya Research Lab. Go check that.
For more Drexciya obsessions, follow Drexciya Research Lab on Blogger(!) and Facebook:
Just as recent electronic music trends have brought back taste in classic synths, they’ve resurrected classic effects brands, too. So it’s worth taking note of how Eventide is part of the new flagship Moog One.
It seems this has been brewing some time. When it comes to music manufacturers who began in New York and New Jersey, there’s Moog and there’s Eventide. (Well, and Electro-Harmonix, or Steinway if you want to get creative.) Founder Richard Factor: “I knew Moog before he was Moog.” That story, in Richard’s booming voice:
Eventide Engineer Tony Agnello also had a running friendship with Bob, say the manufacturers. This project brought the current Eventide team together with Cyril Lance, chief engineer at Moog, and his development group.
So, what do you get in the Moog One package?
There are five effects:
Those are the latest algorithms, as you’d find in the Space and H9 pedals, as well as the H8000 and H9000 hardware. You also get this nice display with tons of parameter controls.
These effects are available on the master bus. (The Moog One also has in-line effects for each synth.) So the reverbs can sit on those sends – the Moog One’s dual mono sends with stereo return, or single stereo send with stereo return.
If you spend a lot of time with Eventide effects, you’ll hear a lot of Eventide effects in productions. So integrating them with a synth – meaning signal path and routing are available via integrated controls (plus you need fewer cables) – that makes sense. And Moog need to sell users on the Moog One’s higher price point – it’s really a kind of studio in a keyboard. It’s just that unlike digital workstations of recent decades, which buried a lot of the actual synthesis, this one puts the synthesis at the front.
Think of it as the BBC Radiophonic Workshop of the east: the Polish Radio Experimental Studio produced unparalleled electronic sounds and inventions for decades. Recognition of those accomplishments is growing – and now Ableton are collaborating to produce a free pack of sounds and tell the PRES story.
Vital stats on this project:
Who’s behind this: Poland’s national cultural institution Instytut Adama Mickiewicza (IAM) commissioned the library from Ableton and contributors.
Where do the sounds come from: Works made at the studio by composers Krzysztof Knittel, Elżbieta Sikora, and Ryszard Szeremeta, 1970s-80s, comprise the original sound material.
Who built the pack: Project coordinator Michal Mendyk worked with Ableton Certified Trainer Marcin Staniszewski.
What’s in there: 300 sounds, loops, and effects organized into Drum Racks, plus custom Effect Racks, all pre-mapped with macros (making them easy to use with Push or other controllers)
Check out the pack and a full article on the studio and its history at Ableton’s site (plus more on Marcin Staniszewski and his music):
Lots more links there, but the history to me is the most compelling. Paralleling the hot-and-cold relationships of experimental sound and music technology in East Germany and the Soviet Union in the same period, there was a precarious relationship of electronic sound to the government in Communist Poland. Michal Mendyk tells the story of studio founder Józef Patkowski to Ableton:
Paradoxically, a couple of years earlier, it was Sokorski who introduced social realism and radical political and aesthetical censorship in Polish art and culture. He was famous for having said about Witold Lutosławski, one of the leaders of Polish music vanguard that “he should be thrown under a tram”. So, in 1957 the same guy was responsible for creating the most experimental music centre in the whole Eastern Europe! He later said that Polish Radio Experimental Studio was his way to redeem his previous sins. This is one of many example of how paradoxical cultural and intellectual life in an authoritarian system can be.
Here’s a great documentary on the studio:
And for an imaginative take on the studio’s work, see our previous story:
Deep in the Arctic Circle, the USSR was drilling deeper into the Earth than anyone before. One artist has combined archaeology and invention to bring its spirit back in sound.
Meet SG-3 (СГ-3) — the Kola Superdeep Borehole. You know when kids would joke about digging a hole to China? Well, the USSR’s borehole got to substantial depths – 12,262 m (over 40,000 ft) at the time of the USSR’s collapse.
The borehole was so epic – and the Soviets so secretive – that it has inspired legends of seismic weapons and even demonic drilling. (A YouTube search gets really interesting – like some people who think the Soviets actually drilled into the gates to Hell.)
Artist Dmitry Morozv – ::vtol:: – evokes some of that quality while returning to the actual evidence of what this thing really did. And what it did is already spectacular – he compares the scale of the project to launching humans into space (well, sort of in the opposite direction).
vtol’s installation 12262 is the perfect example of how sound can be made material, and how digging into history can produce futuristic, post-contemporary speculative objects.
The two stages:
Archaeology. Dima absorbed SG-3’s history and lore, and spent years buying up sample cores at auctions as they were sold off. And twice he visited the remote, ruined site himself – once in 2016, and then back in July with his drilling machine. He even located a punched data tape from the site, though of course it’s difficult to know what it contains. (The investigation began with the Dark Ecology project, a three-year curatorial/research/art project bringing together partners from Norway, Russia, and across Europe, and still bearing this sort of fascinating fruit.)
Invention: The installation itself is a kinetic sound instrument, reading the coded information from the punch tape and operating miniature drilling operations, working on actual core samples. The sounds you hear are produced mechanically and acoustically by those drills.
As usual, Dima lists his cooking ingredients, though I think the sum is uniquely more than these individual parts. It’s as he describes it, a poetic, kinetic meditation, evocative both intellectually and spiritually. That said, the parts:
Commission by NCCA-ROSIZO (National Centre for Contemporary Arts), special for TECHNE “Prolog” exhibition, Moscow, 2018.
Curators: Natalia Fuchs, Antonio Geusa. Producer: Dmitry Znamenskiy.
The work was also a collaboration with Gallery Ch9 (Ч9) in Murmansk. That’s itself something of an achievement; it’s hard enough to find media art galleries in major cities, let alone remote Russia. (That’s far enough northwest in Russia that most of Finland and all of Sweden are south of it.)
But the alien-looking object also got its own trip to the site, ‘performing’ at the location.
It’s appropriate that would happen in Russia. Cosmism visionary Nikolai Fyodorovich Fyodorov and his ideas about creating immortality by resurrecting ancestors may seem bizarre today. But translate that to media art, which threatens to become stuck in time when not informed by history. (Those who do not learn from history are doomed to make installation art that looks like it came from a mid-1990s Ars Electronica or Transmediale, forever, I mean.) To be truly futuristic, media art has to have a deep understanding of technologies progression, its workings, and all the moments in the past that were themselves ahead of their time. That is, maybe we have to dig deep into the ground beneath us, dig up our ancestors, and construct the future atop that knowledge.
At Spektrum Berlin this weekend, there’s also a “materiality of sound” project. Fellow Moscow-based artist Andrey Smirnov will create an imaginative new performance inspired by Theremin’s infamous KGB listening device of the 1940s – also new art fabricated from Soviet history – joined by a lineup of other artists exploring similar themes making sound material and kinetic. (Evelina Domnitch and Dmitry Gelfand, Sonolevitation, Camera Lucida, Eleonora Oreggia aka Xname share the bill.)
To me, these two themes – materiality, drawing from kinetic, mechanical, optical, and acoustic techniques (and not just digital and analog), and archaeological futurism, employing deep historical inquiry that is in turn re-contextualized in forward-thinking, speculative work, offer tremendous possibility. They sound like more than just a zeitgeist-friendly buzzword (yeah, I’m looking at you, blockchain). They sound like something to which artists might even be happy to devote lifetimes.
For another virtual trip to the borehole, here’s Rosa Menkman’s film on a soundwalk at the site in 2016.
Related (curator Natalia Fuchs, interviewed before, also curated this work):
Novation bieten schon länger Synthesizer, Grooveboxen und eben auch analoge polyphone Synthesizer an. Wie kam es dazu und wer steckt dahinter?
Novation? Wer sind die eigentlich? Einige haben vielleicht Chris Calcutt kennengelernt, der nette Mensch mit dem Bart auf der Superbooth? Aber es sind schon eine ganze Gruppe von Menschen, der Bekannteste ist vermutlich Chris Huggett. Er entwickelte auch den Wasp und den OSCar und, was viele eher nicht wissen, er war später auch am Akai S1000 beteiligt. Für Novation hat der dem Peak und der BassStation 2 zu ihrem Glanz verholfen und es sind trotzdem doch mehr Leute hinter Novation.
Novation Synthesizer – die Geschichte im Video
Ben Rossborough, Jerome Meunier, Nick Bookman und Danny Nugent und zu meiner Überraschung Nick Batt sind mit im Team der Erzähler. Hier wird doch eher emotional gesagt, wie das früher war, wie es jetzt ist und was und warum sie das tun was sie tun.
Es geht um Depeche Mode, David Voorhaus, Boards of Canada, Jarre, Vangelis und viele mehr. Aber auch Junos, SH-101, Minimoog und die kleinen Korgs, die vielen polyphonen Synths wie Memorymoog, Jupiter-8, Prophet-5, CS-80
Der einzige kleine Fehler ist der, den ihr sowieso finden werdet, dass ein MS20 statt eines MS10 zu sehen ist, Nicks erster Synth. Inzwischen sind das ja alles keine alten Männer, sondern wir alle genau so alt, ne? Es ist aber ganz eindeutig eine Gruppe lachender Menschen, mit denen man sich identifizieren kann.
Und natürlich geht es um VCOs, VCFs und VCOs. Viel mehr muss ich nicht schreiben, hier sind 37 Minuten Farbfilm zur allgemeinen emotionalen Stabilisation:
It’s a kind of love letter to humanity – and strikingly personal, both in the music and imagery, finding some hopeful part of the current zeitgeist. Don’t miss the new “Lovesong” video, made by music producer Max Cooper in collaboration with artist Kevin McGloughlin.
There’s a lot of bombast both in mainstage electronic music and in music videos – shouting being one way of attempting to get above the din of media in our world. But what’s engaging about “Lovesong” is that it does feel so intimate. There’s the unaffected, simple chord line, wandering around thirds like a curious child, slow fuzzy beats ambling in and out with just enough bits of sonic icing and flourish. And the video, composed of a stream of user-submitted faces, manages to make those faces seem to gaze back through the screen. It’s where we’ve come at last: the visual effects aren’t so gimmicky any more, but seem more natural first language. (Compare the fanfare with which Michael Jackson’s “Black or White” arrived – see below.)
That is, while this video is surely fodder for design blogs and … well, this one … I suspect it’ll spread passed by one person to another, more on the human level suggested by the video.
The visual work, by the way, comes from fellow Irishman and animator/filmmaker Kevin McGloughlin, a self-taught artist and director. Here’s what Max and Kevin have to say for themselves:
“My new album, one hundred billion sparks, is out today, so it seemed a good day to also launch the music video which you created. The whole thing is built from photos which were submitted by those of you who listen to my work, so many thanks for that, and I hope you can spot your face in there!
The topic itself was a difficult one to approach, as so much popular music is written about love that it seems to have become more of an exercise in sales than anything authentic. So it’s a topic I’ve always avoided, but one that came naturally during the process of creating this album about the mind and what creates us, especially with the arrival of a new tiny person at the end of the writing period.
I chatted to Kevin McGloughlin about how we could visualise the idea in a general sense, and we decided that imagery of the human face would be the way to do it. Kevin had the great idea of setting up a platform for the viewers of the video project to submit their own photos to build it from, so as to make the video a personalised, and more meaningful rendering of the love song. Then Kevin worked his magic with the photos creating a beautiful complex blending and processing of stills. Many thanks again to all of you who submitted your photos, and I recommend scanning through to find yourself in there and getting screenshot. It’s amazing how much is going on when you slow down the video to look at the individual frames too, hats off to the awesome Kevin McGloughlin once again!”
– Max Cooper
– – –
“I am completely honoured to have worked directly with so many people for this global portrait.
It was a great experience of collaboration and though some of the images are less prominent than others, each and every image was as instrumental and important as the next in creating the final piece.
When Max told me about his vision for ‘Love Song’, “love of the species”
I immediately had the idea to include real people and real moments in the video.
We asked for submissions and images flooded in from people all over the world, and work got under way.
This video is like a postcard for me. Something for all the people involved.
Big thanks to all the collaborators and to Memfies who aided us in the compilation of all the initial images.”
– Kevin McGloughlin
That idea of “love of the species” recalls for me one of my favorite texts, associated with a street corner in my hometown of Louisville, Kentucky. It comes from Catholic mystic Thomas Merton, but it’s universal enough that the Dalai Lama took it as a title when visiting the city. (And it’s partly about getting away from superficial religiosity.)
“In Louisville, at the corner of Fourth and Walnut, in the center of the shopping district, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all those people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers. It was like waking from a dream of separateness, of spurious self-isolation in a special world, the world of renunciation and supposed holiness… This sense of liberation from an illusory difference was such a relief and such a joy to me that I almost laughed out loud… I have the immense joy of being man, a member of a race in which God Himself became incarnate. As if the sorrows and stupidities of the human condition could overwhelm me, now I realize what we all are. And if only everybody could realize this! But it cannot be explained. There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun.”
“Spurious self-isolation” is certainly an idea that music producers will find familiar, not only monks. But even though it’s not always easy, it’s great when we can find our way to wake from the dream of separateness and find love again – and we’re lucky to have music for those love songs.
Most of us never got to know Leon Theremin (Lev Termen) or hear him play live. But we can take in his great grandson continuing the tradition of playing his invention – and Peter Theremin’s music is just as hauntingly human.
The Theremin has a special role in music history and the birth of electronic sound. Its sounds were among the first to suggest that electronic, not only acoustic, instruments could be expressive, that its electrical utterances could be like a human voice. It’s history is bound up with the history of US-Soviet relations, and the shaky relationship of electronics to espionage (and, in turn, the Communist sphere’s oscillating position on how acceptable electronic music would be). And is if that weren’t enough, the instrument also inspired Bob Moog to create synths, forever altering the course of the synth’s evolution.
But even with so many other choices now, there’s something uniquely pure and arresting about the Theremin’s sound and dead-simple design. And so among various international artists and in particular Russians carrying on that tradition, Peter Theremin (Петр Термен) is the one who literally carries on the inventor’s name. His music lives up to that, and then there’s the fact that he unmistakably carries some of the same DNA.
I got to here Peter play most recently last week at Moscow’s Synthposium, within walking distance of a lot of Theremin history in the Russian capital (not to mention the US Embassy where Maestro Lev once bugged the US Ambassador’s office, Trojan Horse style. (We really need to build one of these in a workshop. Anyone tried that?)
That performance is online:
“The Swan” as played by Clara Rockmore is one of my favorite Theremin performances ever, and Peter comes pretty darn close in his rendition for BBC Music:
Following his VKontakte page is the best way to dig through his music, if you don’t mind a little Russian text here and there – a login isn’t even needed. (VK is a social network mostly popular in Russia, where it’s based.)
The story of electronic music making is ultimately a human one, even as those humans work with machines. So as the Bob Moog Foundation plans a Moog museum and expanded education, we share seven images from the archives that follow a thread through that history.
The Bob Moog Foundation is a non-profit American organization dedicated to continue the legacy of its namesake. And now they’re expanding their educational project for kids, the Dr. Bob’s SoundSchool, which uses sound technology to teach engineering and science as well as culture. Plus they’re raising funds to create a physical Moogseum. And to do that, they’ve got some classic instruments to give away as fundraising items in a raffle (details below).
There are tons of amazing images and artifacts now in the foundation archives. But let’s examine a few that capture a set of moments across that history. Thanks to Bob’s daughter and Moog Foundation Executive Director, Michelle Moog-Koussa, for sending these to CDM. (Captions also courtesy Michelle.)
Roger Powell and Bob Moog with custom modular controller designed by Bob for Roger, at Radio City Music Hall.
Roger donated this controller to the Bob Moog Foundation, and it is now part of their archives and will be present at the Moogseum.
Bob Moog fixing Patrick Moraz’s Polymoog in Switzerland.
Bob Moog and Less Paul with the LAB Series Amp.
Bob Moog, Suzanne Ciani, Roger Powell, UIW.
Bob Moog, Herbie Hancock, Will Alexander, NAMM.
Bob Moog lecturing at University of Michigan about Alwin Nikolias’ first commercially available Moog synthesizer.
Chick Corea and Bob Moog, Asheville Civic Center.
About that raffle:
A Memorymoog, Moog Source, and Moog Rogue will be offered as first, second, and third prizes, respectively. The Moog Trifecta Raffle marks the first time in the Foundation’s history that it is offering more than one raffle prize.
The raffle begins on August 27, 2018 at 12:01am EDT, and ends on September 24, 2018 at 11:59pm EDT, or when all 5500 tickets sell out, whichever comes first. Tickets are $25 each or five for $100, and can be purchased here: http://bit.ly/MoogTrifectaRaffle
Funding raised from the raffle will be used to expand the Foundation’s hallmark educational project, Dr. Bob’s SoundSchool, and to help fund its newest project, the Moogseum, which was announced last week. The Moogseum, a planned interactive, immersive facility that will bring Bob Moog’s legacy and the science of sound and synthesis alive for people of all ages, will be located in downtown Asheville, NC. It is expected to open in April 2019, with an online Moogseum to follow later that year.
All three synthesizers were built in Moog Music’s Buffalo, NY factory in the early 1980s, have been fully restored, and are in excellent technical and cosmetic condition with minor flaws typical with vintage instruments.
The Memorymoog, serial number 1460, has an estimated value of $7,500. It combines six voice polyphony to create a unique polysynth with three voltage controlled, articulated oscillators. Each voice has its own 24dB voltage controlled filter. It is often referred to architecturally as six Minimoogs, and is renowned for its rich sound.
The Memorymoog being offered has been retrofitted with a sequencer and MIDI capabilities, normally found only in Memorymoog Plus models. It has been meticulously serviced by vintage synth specialist Wes Taggart, a lauded technician for Memorymoog restoration.
The Moog Source is a 37 key, two oscillator synthesizer with unique features such as patch memory storage, flat-panel membrane buttons, single data wheel assignment, and more. It has two voltage controlled analog oscillators and the legendary 24 dB Moog filter. The unit being offered is serial number 2221 and has an estimated value of $2,400. The Source has been used by such legends as Tangerine Dream, Jan Hammer, Depeche Mode, Devo, and Vince Clarke.
The Moog Rogue is a compact, two oscillator monophonic synthesizer often referred to as “small but mighty” for its legendary powerful bass sounds. Versatile and user-friendly enough to be used as the Taurus II Bass Pedal synth, the Rogue has been used by Will Butler of Arcade Fire, Vince Clarke, Peter Gabriel, Jonny Greenwood of Radiohead, Howard Jones, and more. The unit being offered, serial number 4462, has been restored by acclaimed restoration house Tone Tweakers, and is valued at $2,000.
No moment cements the TR-808 as a sex symbol quite like its role in “Sexual Healing.” And we may have a producer who found the actual drum machine used in the song.
As “Sexual Healing” opens, it’s just a slow, dry groove on this futuristic Japanese electronic box with a whisper over top. Then, that silky smooth keyboard part and crisp, funky bassline weave in together with the vocals. It’s deceptively simple stuff – and totally potent, proof of what electronic sounds can do.
That makes the TR-808 used in the track a genuine part of music history – even if at the time, it was just an inexpensive box. But where is that TR-808 now? We may have an answer.
None other than famed pioneering Belgian producer Kris Vanderheyden (best known as Insider, among other aliases) tells Roland and CDM that he’s got this very machine in his studio. Drum machines can’t talk (no soul and all), but Kris relates the story:
When I started out as a musician in the late 80’s, I was looking for some analog gear. New equipment was expensive but you could get good deals second hand.
I initially got my Roland TR-909 which I swapped for 5 mix cassette tapes – incredible huh? But back in those days it wasn’t such a big deal to own one.
Later on, I came across a guy named Eric who played in a New Wave band and was recording at Studio Katy in Belgium. The studio was only 5 miles from where I grew up. Eric and his band used to book the studio at night for financial reasons and Marvin Gaye was booked there during the day while recording his album “Midnight Love.”
One day, Eric left the band’s (his) Roland TR-808 at the studio and Marvin came in and started to play around. The rest is (“sexual”) history.
I bought that machine for one hundred and twenty dollars ($120.00). It’s just priceless now…
The story checks out – Midnight Love, including this single, was recorded at Studio Katy, Ohain, Belgium. This would appear to be validated by references in interviews in the 808 Movie, as well.
Take a look at Kris’ shots of the machine:
Kris’ story is a familiar microcosm of the 808’s role in music. But it also says something lovely about creativity and the toys we use, generally. It’s not that the TR-808 is a priceless invention. It’s a readily accessible, affordable machine that gets you into a flow. That’s certainly how I feel messing about with the 808’s latest successor, the TR-8S – and I mean that. As I got to hear from Susan Rogers at SONAR in June, creativity is this special state of mind. These devices can get us there, and then become something more.