BMG and Erika, playing together as Ectomorph, are about to do a full double LP album release on Halloween. And what you get is a magnum opus of weird, improvisational madness with machines. It’s about time – for Ectomorph, and for techno.
The teaser alone should make you excited: Doctor Who on acid on Halloween on Detroit:
Mmmm, sweet 303 and Moog, you can still sound futuristic in the right hands.
Here’s the thing: any moderately successful genre will get sucked at regular intervals into an industry that wants to polish it up and make it predictable and repeatable. And so you need people routinely shaking up that predictability. In the case of Ectomorph, that’s keeping experimentalism alive by hauling a whole mess of gear to gigs and getting a little strange. Erika and BMG are both formidable on their own at this. Put them together, and it’s like hitching two locomotives to the front of the train.
Interdimensional Transmissions, their label, is likewise good at channeling sounds both spacey and groovy and bits in between.
So, it’s all remarkable that Ectomorph, born in 1994, hasn’t really gotten a full-length outing. Let’s presumably blame the challenge of how to make a live act a record. The act actually was the launch release for Interdimensional Transmissions back in 1995, but by design, limited itself to Detroit-only 12″ vinyl. Now, it gets a wide release, just at the moment when the techno world needs a little less Instagram fashion brands and a little more, you know, people getting freaky with machines because it’s damned “techno,” not “sportswear catalog.” Oops, was I ranting? Sorry.
Now, how do you capture a live act’s immediacy, but make it work pressing to vinyl? For Stalker, that formula is one that has always driven great techno records – something like this:
1. Find that truly perfect groove setup.
2. Hit record.
3. Don’t do more takes. (Everything here is reportedly one or two takes.)
I can talk to these two artists a little more about that. But there’s something of the essence of techno in this approach, and it’s tough to overstate. Look, there’s nothing wrong with tracks that get worked over or micro-edited or whatever. (Yes, I’m an IDM person. And OCD. And enjoy long hours in the studio turning raw materials into something completely different.) But the roots of techno as genre have more to do with that “hit record on some groove on some machines that gets your ass shaking” than any particular superficial features of the musical outcome.
The press will make a big deal about the gear itself, because that’s something a non-musician can see by looking at the table at a gig. But I think it doesn’t matter if the groove comes from a cobbled-together pattern in FL Studio and an ElecTribe. What may well matter is that “hit record on a groove that’s working perfectly and then don’t mess with it.”
In any event, these really are perfect grooves. (I’ve heard the full length version, too, and this is definitely a top 2018 release.)
I think it’s also fair to expect this to be a highlight of Amsterdam Dance Event (ADE), where weirdo-friendly groovy techno is pushing its way into the spotlight in an event known more for overstuffed European industry scenery. The Bunker had their outing here in Amsterdam yesterday with No Way Back party figures like Derek Plasaiko and Bryan Kasenic, and you get Ectomorph, aligned with Berlin stalwart Tresor, on Saturday, along with other fine techno improvisers. (Midwest techno’s flag is flying with the likes of Noncompliant Saturday, too.) Sounds good to me.
Dyktando aka Wiktor Milczarek is turning out dark, hard-hitting music and live sets that are brutally groovy. We got to join him in Sweden for our Conspiracy of Planets event – and to get a tour of his music, and the Polish scene.
Conspiracy of Planets was a debut event organized by myself with SONA [Pommes 94, Potent Pussy, GLUK] – her underground collectives (complete with a skate park) in Malmö Sweden getting mixed with Polish collective/label Brutaż, as represented by Wiktor. With the support of Inkonst, club and cultural center, we took over a Saturday night earlier this month.
And all of this meant the pleasure of, among other people, getting to know Wiktor, his unique approach to techno and live playing, and his perspective on the scene in Poland and beyond. Check out a hard-hitting live set from last year. (We’ll have his set from Sweden to share with you soon, too, hopefully.)
And his EP (under his real name) for the label:
Can you tell us a little about your relationship to Brutaz? How did you come to be involved in this collective?
So I was going to the Brutaż parties almost since the beginning. It was started by Piotr Kurek, Michał Libera, and Alessandro Facchini, in the club called Eufemia in the basement of the Art Academie in Warsaw. Then I’ve played once and together with Jacek (rrrkrta), starting to be much more involved in the party. Now I’ve released on Brutaż record label and I’m playing occasionally.
What’s the significance of that collective to you – has that shaped who you are musically?
Yeah, in a really big way. Not only because of what was happening at the parties, but also because we were talking a lot about records, artists, the way they were playing. We kind of have been discovering club music together. What was somehow unusual is the fact that most of us started with an experimental, noise, or modern classical music background and then went to techno, not the opposite.
Ed.: Well, yeah, I can relate to that bit! Maybe it’s the new thing.
Your sound I think is really powerful, really your own. How have you evolved to that point – or how is it continuing to change now?
I think I learned how to produce – and developed my sound – when I was doing my previous project called Souvenir de Tanger. I’ve also found my way of recording tracks, using a Tascam 644 cassette recorder. So almost all the music I make nowadays is just a one-take recording. That gives the opportunity to test ideas fast and also makes this punk-y sound.
I really enjoyed your live set. What’s your onstage rig; what are you playing with?
How much do you find you plan your sets ahead? Apart from practicing – do you have in mind a sense of what you’ll play? Have you parts pre-programmed?
I do have a prepared melodic structure of the set. I also have pre-made sequences of the different percussion parts (samples and DR-660) that I’m mixing one with another. With this, I’m improvising with MFB-522 and with the sound of Mopho.
You’d talked a bit about these elements from 80s Polish punk that you’re using – what’s the story there; how did you come to make use of those materials? What’s their significance to you?
My mother used to be involved in a Polish punk and post-punk scene in the 80’s. So I’ve been listening to this music since I was a child. She also has a lot of demo and bootleg tapes of really obscure bands, some of them I was sampling for this project. Some of those bands are really interesting, some of them not so, but the way how those tapes sound is really inspiring. Their sound quality is quite unique because of the sound equipment used to record them wasn’t the best and also tape degraded itself during the time.
One band to check out from Polish punk is WC – and yeah, Wiktor got some tapes from his Mom.
On some level, this seems like a split in electronic music – whether some of techno and experimental music continue to take on a punk aesthetic, right? Do you identify with that element in how play at all?
I think European techno has strong roots in punk and especially the post-punk scene. All those bands like Palais Schaumburg or A.G. Geige in Germany — also, the whole scene around Factory Records in the UK — were where many techno artists have started their music careers. So the binding is quite strong and it’s nice that some younger producers are trying to combine those two aesthetics. I find it kind of refreshing after those all years of chasing the perfect sound, that the opposite attitude starts to take over.
It’s also interesting to me to get to dig into Communist-era history of music, art, media, electronic arts … I find I’m doing this as an outsider, and have been personally inspired by what I’ve gotten to learn about Polish culture across these generations, but also that friends from the former eastern bloc are finding out more about one another’s histories, their own countries histories. This seems really different from a moment 20-25 years ago when it seems west and east were ready to just discard that past. Do you feel something has changed here? Are we somehow informing the new stuff we make partly by learning a bit more about what the generations before were doing?
I was born just after communism collapsed in Poland. So this is somehow an exotic past that is fascinating to explore. I think discarding the past is impossible – for many people, there’s still a need to align bills, making justice for people who were involved in the previous political system. (Basically, all of Polish politics you can describe with this conflict). I think what is quite unique for people of my age is the ability to making a less biased assessment of products of that era and rediscover them for our own cultural needs.
I know Polish society faces some real tension and challenge – well, as does my own American society, and it feels these are related. What’s the place of music for you in that sense? Is music something that can help you reach other people?
There is a big conflict in the Polish scene about how club music should be involved in politics. We in Brutaż are thinking that you can make some impact with music and parties. And because of a privileged position – in terms of cultural capital, the ability to reach many people – we should act. I don’t really believe in some magical power of music to change the world, but you can use it to build people’s awareness about political matters, or just to collect money to help people in need. It is, of course, working on a microscale, but it doesn’t mean that it’s not important.
Lastly, inside or outside Brutaż, who are other people from the scene around Warszawa or elsewhere you feel you relate to, that we should know?
Some of my favorite initiatives are:
Dunno. A great party and label run by Lutto Lento and Filip Lech, worth checking their last release of Aldona Orłowska. Polish pop-opera diva and a swimming champion)
To master sound design, no technology can top your own hearing. That’s the message from Francis Preve, who gave a gripping talk at Ableton Loop. Now we’ve got video – and more discussion. Nothing is sacred – not even the vaunted TB-303 filter.
It’s really easy to fall into the trap of trying to define specialization in the narrowest terms possible, chasing worth in whatever trend is generating it at the moment. But part of why I’ve been glad to know Fran over the years is, he has knowledge and experience that is deep and far-reaching, and that he adapts that ability to a range work. That is, if ever you worry about how to live off your love of music and machines, Fran is a great model: he’s built a skill set that can shift to new opportunities when times change.
So, essentially what he can do is understand sound, technology, and music, put them together, and apply that to diverse results. He’s quietly been a big part of sound design for clients from Dave Smith to KORG to Ableton. He teaches, and keeps up a huge workload of writing and editing. He’s run a label, been a producer, and made hit remixes. And now he has his own unique sound design products, Symplesound and his Scapes series, which act as a calling card for his ability to produce sounds and articulate their significance.
Francis isn’t shy about sharing his thought process. But as with his presets, that means you can learn that thinking method and then apply it to your own work. And that’s how we started at Ableton Loop, beginning with some listening.
Maybe most poetic: finding the same joy in teaching as you do in gardening.
About the 303…
There are a bunch of mini TED talk-style inspirational moments in there, but maybe the most quotable came in Francis’ take on resonance – and the TB-303.
But wait a minute – even if you love the 303, it’s worth listening to Francis’ analysis of why it sits at the edge between success and failure. (And actually, part of why I like the TB-303 personally is because I don’t feel obligated by anyone else that I have to like it.) Fran re-watched our talk and chose to elaborate for CDM:
To further explain my point, Nate Harrison’s Bassline Baseline is a wonderful historical analysis the whole 303 phenomena and why it was initially unsuccessful.
That said, I feel quite differently about the TB-03 and expressed this in my 2016 review for Electronic Musician. For starters, it expands greatly on the original’s synthesis parameters—adding distortion, delay, and reverb—which vastly broadens its tonal palette. These effects were also essential components of the “acid house” sound, as most 303 owners relied on them to beef up its thin, resonant flavor. The TB-03 also addressed the original 303’s absolutely opaque approach to sequencing, which resolves my other issue with the first unit (and the music it produced).
So, while I generally dislike the sound of envelope modulated resonant lowpass filters, I wanted to clarify my statements on the 303 and specifically the TB-03. It’s common knowledge that I’m a diehard Roland user and frankly, the TR-8S and System-8 are cornerstones of my current rig (as well as an original SH-101), but after 35 years, I still can’t find a way to enjoy the original 303.
Here’s actually where Francis and I agree – and I’ve taken some flak for saying I thought the TB-03 improves on the original. But that little Boutique often finds its way into my luggage when I’m playing live for this very reason, and I know I’m not alone. (And I do like the original 303 and acid house and acid techno – and I love cilantro, too, as it happens!)
Get more of Fran’s brain (and sounds)
Francis has a regular masterclass series for Electronic Musician. Of particular interest: delve deep into Ableton’s new Wavetable in Live 10 and the latest Propellerhead Reason instruments, the phenomenal Europa and Grain.
Since 2016, Francis has added sounds to:
– Ableton Live 10
– Korg Prologue
– Dave Smith REV2
– Korg Gadget
– Korg iMonoPoly
– Propellerhead Reason
– Xfer preset packs
– Various Symplesound products
New physical modeling sounds for AAS’ unique Chromaphone.
Serum is a heavyweight among producers; Fran’s got your tools for Xfer.
(Other clients over the years: Propellerhead, Roland, iZotope)
And this year, so far:
DSI Prophet X
AAS Solids Chromaphone 2 Pack (arriving next week – rather keen for this one; physical modeling in Chromaphone is great!)
System-8 and Roland Cloud Synthwave pack (with Carma Studios)
Xfer Serum Toolkit Vol 3 (summer release)
Major multi-platform Symplesound release
More Scapes based on field recordings (Fran is roaming with a camper van now) – he says he’s “cracked the code for recreating fire in Ableton”
Live 10 (literally hundreds of presets, mostly Operator and quite a few wavetables)
Korg Prologue, Gadget, and iMonoPoly
Dave Smith REV2
Xfer Serum Toolkit Vol 2 expansion pack -https://www.xferrecords.com/preset_packs/serum_toolkit_2
Scapes – https://www.francispreve.com/scapes/ (or your piece)
But the big hit is perhaps the one we debuted here on CDM:
Happy 303 day, everyone! Roland are up to something – if you head to the AIRA site, you’ll see a teaser for an announcement coming on Monday.
The image just shows some vertical-throw faders floating in fog, with colored LED backlighting. Yep, that’s what some of us dream of after too much time in the studio.
I’m going to guess that you’ll be able to make some educated guesses as to what this might be. 303 and 808 day – the dates marked by March 3 and August 8 – have brought some other AIRA and Roland Boutique launches. They haven’t aligned exactly with the gear associated with those dates, either. (That is, you aren’t just getting TB-303 gear in March and TR-808 gear in August, but stuff related to those products obviously feature heavily.) The rest, you’ll have to figure out.
The product launch is scheduled for Monday 5 PM Tokyo time, so 9 AM Berlin, 8 AM London, and… very early in the morning Monday in the USA.
Hope you’ll join us on CDM on Monday to find out more.
In the meantime, go ahead and guess… I always enjoy reading those.
We say “play” music for a reason – synths are meant to be fun. So here are our favorite live jams from the MeeBlip community, with our triode synth.
And, of course, whether you’re a beginner or more advanced, this can give you some inspiration for how to set up a live rig – or give you some idea of what triode sounds like if you don’t know already. We picked just a few of our favorites, but if we missed you, let us know! (audio or video welcome!)
First, Olivier Ozoux has churned out some amazing jam sessions with the triode, from unboxing to studio. (He also disassembled our fully-assembled unit to show the innards.)
The amazing Gustavo Bravetti is always full of virtuosity playing live; here, that distinctive triode sound cuts through a table full of gear. Details:
Again ARTURIA’s Beat Step Pro in charge of randomness (accessory percussions and subtle TB303). Practically all sounds generated on the black boxes, thanks Elektron, and at last but no least MeeBlip’s [triode] as supporting melody synth. Advanced controls from Push and Launch Control using Performer , made with Max by Cycling ’74.
Here’s a triode with the Elektron Octatrack as sequencer, plus a Moog Minitaur and Elektron Analog RYTM. That user also walks through the wavetable sounds packed into the triode for extra sonic variety.
Novation’s Circuit and MeeBlip triode pair for an incredible, low power, low cost, ultra-portable, all-in-one rig. We get not one but two examples of that combo, thanks to Pete Mitchell Music and Ken Shorley. It’s like peanut butter and chocolate:
One nice thing about triode is, that sub oscillator can fatten up and round out the one oscillator of a 303. We teamed up with Roland’s Nick de Friez when the lovely little TB-03 came out to show how these two can work together. Just output the distinctive 303-style sequencer to triode’s MIDI in, and have some fun:
Here’s triode as the heart of a rig with KORG’s volca series (percussion) and Roland’s TB-03 (acid bass) – adding some extra bottom. Thank you, Steven Archer, for your hopeful machines:
If you pick up the new Roland Boutique Series TB-03, you get more than just an emulation of the squelchy 303 bass synth. As with the AIRA TB-3 before it, the hardware is also a sequencer. So that means it’s capable of creating basslines for the internal instrument – or external gear, too. What’s special about the new TB-03 is that it both recreates the classic original 303 sequencer, and introduces a new, modern “reboot” of the same. Now we get to see how they differ in a pair of videos released by Roland.
First, let’s have a look at the recreation of the original.
To anyone who says that making a recreation of vintage hardware is boring, one reason to do so is precisely this. You get a unique way of thinking about melody that something like the pattern editor in Ableton Live doesn’t really give you. And it’s always there in hardware, too. If you’ve got a pair of headphones and some batteries, you can lie in bed and make up basslines, without Facebook notifications distracting you or anything like that.
And it’s the limitation of the 303 sequencer that’s interesting. It forces you to divide a melody into steps, as does any step sequencer, but also to separate the idea of melody from rhythm.
And, of course, accents and slides pair with the sound of the instrument to produce a unique sound.
Okay, so it’s classic, we’re done, move on.
Well, no — here, Roland have remixed their own vintage design. So now, have a look at Roland’s new step sequencing mode:
You still have the classic 303 panel layout, with that adorable and immediate access to different rhythmic values. (It really is a clever and economical design.) The difference is, now you can make sequences while the pattern runs, adding timing on the fly. You can hear results right away, and the whole process is more immediate. (You can still scroll through and adjust pitches if you want.)
I actually love that you get a choice of modes here. I think they’re both pretty easy to understand, and switching between them could be a way to keep from running out of ideas.
Oh, except every time I see that NORMAL MODE button, my head does this:
It’s worth saying that the original AIRA TB-3 was pretty clever itself, though, with that KORG KAOSS-like touch interface. I’m partial to the new TB-03 – I think the form factor, editing functions, sound, and overall functionality represent a better option. On the other hand, the original AIRA is still a good value, and could keep existing users happy or represent a nice buy on the used market.
But I’m really excited to get my hands on the TB-03 for an extended period of time (like, you know, maybe forever). Any day now. Just say the word, Roland.
One, two, three – Roland has finally made the 303 bassline, 909 drum machine, and VP-330 vocoder that so many people wanted. They’re small, they’re really affordable ($349-399), and they’ve got modern features. But after decades of remakes that strayed from the very things that made people love the originals, at last Roland has learned from their own legacy. So, let’s talk about what’s new and what, mercifully, isn’t.
Stop worrying and love the remake
First – I love ideas, but why not remakes? The 303 and 909 have recognizable and even boring or overused sounds, sure. But the whole point of musical tradition is using old sounds in unexpected ways. And these particular noises are recognizable for a reason – they’re expressive and they work well on PAs and in the instrumentation of certain kinds of music.
The same goes for the design. The 303 and 909 aren’t sounds that exist in a vacuum: they’re sounds that emerge from a particular interface. You could say the same of a grand piano or an electric guitar; you can’t separate the timbre from the way that timbre sits under your hands.
For some reason, though, it’s taken for now for Roland to at last hear all of us telling them this. The AIRA TR-8 was great, but it wasn’t a 909 (though I do love those faders). And the TB-03, while a fascinating bass instrument, was also something else – lacking the very hands-on control and particular sound architecture that makes a 303 a 303.
But here’s where I’ll say something blasphemous:
I think insisting on using the original 303 and 909, at their current used prices, is absurd. And not only that, but it cuts anyone who doesn’t have large chunks of disposal income out of the joy of using these instruments. That’s ironic for instrument whose legacy was built on being essentially undesirable – an unwanted machine that got into the hands artists who abused them in creative ways.
Don’t get me wrong: if you’ve got an original TB-303 or a TR-909, good for you, and enjoy! But with reliability failing and prices continuing to clime, this simply isn’t an option for a lot of people. (Ironically, it’s easier to make a 17th century viola da gamba last than electronic instruments, so we’re always going to have to deal with making new gear.)
What’s special about the TB-303 and TR-909 remakes is that they actually give you what you want. They give you the sound and the design. But they also do the other things you’d wish for – they’re convenient, they’re not expensive, and they have some modern additions that make them more usable and fun to play. (Hey, we deserve this. We’ve been waiting a while.)
Like the (already pretty good) TR-8 and other AIRA instruments, the new Boutique models are built on Roland’s Analog Circuit Behavior. ACB provides models of the individual components of the originals. The AIRAs were good; the new Boutique can build on ever better versions of those.
I spoke yesterday to a visiting member of Roland’s RPG team in Harajuku. I figured the TR-9 and TB-03 would mostly reuse ACB models from the AIRAs with some tweaks. Not so.
Instead, Roland says the new Boutique Series represent a massive amount of work on new models. The first AIRA TB-3 didn’t just make single oscillator 303 sounds; the AIRA TR-8 was built as an 808 model, but not really as a 909.
And these are more focused – the models for the TR-9 and TB-03 only model the 909 and 303 (as opposed to the multiple instruments modeled by the AIRA SYSTEM-1 and TR-8).
So these models, Roland says, are new. And what I can say is, you can hear it. I didn’t do side-by-side comparisons, but I think that’s almost not the point: both sound so good you want to keep using them, which is the idea. You’d be hard pressed to find a drum machine under $1000 as balanced as the TR-09, let alone one for this price; the TB-03 meanwhile is pure magic.
CDM got exclusive access to record some sounds earlier this week. This is me just screwing around, really. No added effects, apart from briefly some reverb on the TR-09 to demonstrate that you can route individual audio tracks to effects by choosing multiple outs over USB. And yes, I turned the TR-09 compressor up, so some of those bass drum hits are too hard – but nice that you can do that, actually. I promise some actual music soon; in the meantime, I think you’ll hear some of the unprocessed sound and agree that I have way too much fun with them.
Will these models exactly mimic one particular vintage machine? No — not least because individual models of analog gear can differ from unit to unit, and components age. But they do have the character of the original, and that makes them a starting point for further signal processing and musical use. They sound alive. I just want to try them on a big club PA before I really know how I feel about them; headphones are something different.
Apart from sound, you do finally get the original control layouts. So the TR-09 is a shrunk-down 909 — but as it happens, maybe the 909 was waiting for this all along. That same layout on the gargantuan original works perfectly in a small space. Tiny knobs with small clearance is itself a bit fiddly, so big-fingered people probably will want to look elsewhere. But if you can live with that, you get a compact machine.
And programming and sound control on the TR-09 does all the things the original did.
That’s the same with the TR-03 — at last. Now, I know some people who utterly hate the original 303 programming method, but it’s there if you want it. (There’s an alternative, too, if you don’t – see below.) Most importantly, the sound controls from the original are back. So you get dedicated filter, resonance, and envelope controls. That was missing on the AIRA, and it’s what makes the experience of playing a 303; you might as well ship a Corvette remake without a steering wheel as leave these out.
Little details like using TAP to write notes works, too.
And of course, the TR-03 is in a form factor scale that’s close to the original. That signature footprint has defined the entire Boutique series. At last, it gets to come home to the 303 that inspired it.
Improving on the original
From there, we can talk about improvements.
Metal cases. The build on these is, mercifully, not what you got from the AIRA. (No green!) That includes a metal case that even the original TB-303 lacked.
Docks. The special Boutique Series docks ship in the box for both the 303 and the 909. That lets you easily fold up the units for easier access. (If you want this dock without the keyboard, it’ll also be available for sale separately for use with the rest of the Boutique Series – perfect for people who hate mini keys.)
USB. Install an audio driver, and both TR-09 and TB-03 will stream audio to a computer.
96k, 24-bit sound. Unlike the original Boutique Series, these audio drivers support up to 96kHz, 24-bit audio streams. I’m particularly interested in 24-bit for dynamic range; that seems worth testing.
MIDI as well as CV. It’s the best of both worlds. CV/gate means you can connect to other vintage and modular gear and use analog signal control. But MIDI, not available on the originals, of course makes them far more flexible. There are both full-sized DIN ports and MIDI available over USB.
New to the 303, you get trigger input, too (see below).
Full MIDI CC. This is obviously especially cool on the TB-03 for some acid automation, but both units respond fully to MIDI CC control and send MIDI from the panel (for recording). I tried to get my hands on a MIDI implementation guide, but it’s coming.
Live programming. Patterns keep playing even as you mess around with modes and parameters, which gives the TR-09 and TB-03 unparalleled flow.
There are some unique features on each unit, too.
New to the TB-03
To me, the surprise of the TB-03 is that it’s all about the added onboard signal processing. A 303 on its own can be a bit dull, as in you eventually get tired of filter resonance. But the TB-03 packs overdrive, delay, and reverb onboard, too, which extends what you can do with it.
Overdrive. I’m sorry: you have no idea how good this sounds. The combination of overdrive with the filter opens up the whole character of the TB-03.
Delay. There’s also an analog-style delay with feedback, which also extends timbral range as well as opening up rhythmic effects. You can use it freely, or clock to external sync.
Reverb. This is hidden; I totally missed it at first. But you can switch the delay to a reverb. The guy from Roland I met loves the reverb. I don’t, because I love the delay. You can choose for yourself.
Step mode. This is a really fun way to enter patterns – officially “step mode” but everyone at Roland was calling it “simple mode.” Essentially, it lets you use the TB-03 panel as a normal step sequencer and get rid of the sometimes maddening 303 way of entering melodies. Shhh – I won’t tell your die-hard 303 friends. I slightly miss the AIRA TB-3’s clever touch surface, but the flexibility of the TB-03’s design and interface and (finally) dedicated knobs for envelope and filter make it more than worth it.
Trigger input. In addition to CV/gate, there’s a trigger in. It’s something of an SH-101 feature, and it means you can create interesting rhythmic syncopation – route the trigger signal from the SH-09 (or another sequencer) into the TB-03, and each trigger will advance the sequence. (Meanwhile, it’s clear that some sort of SH-101 Boutique Series remake is a no-brainer, as opposed to the weird PLUG-OUT thing that eventually shipped for the AIRA SYSTEM-1.)
New to the TR-09
Built-in compressor. The snare and bass drum each have an adjustable compressor. It sounded fairly transparent to me in a brief test (again, I want to get on a PA, which is where I think this might come in really handy).
There’s an LED. Yep, that’s convenient, and not on the original.
Breakbeats! Well, that’s what I was doing with them. You can add 32-note patterns via a modification key when programming.
Assignable audio outs. Okay, first, the bad news – you don’t get dedicated audio outs for each part on the TR-09. (Since it’s digital, not analog, I’m guessing you also can’t mod this the way you could on the KORG volca series.) But the good news – audio outputs are assignable internally via menus.
For analog, you’re limited, but you can hard pan parts left or right. Since they’re generally mono to begin with, that means you could split a signal and route a particular part or parts to outboard effects.
On a computer, you get more versatility – there are four assignable stereo pairs, plus the stereo mix. That also would mean you retain stereo panning information if you choose.
More pitch. Additional pitch controls are hiding behind that front panel, for parameters not available on the original.
Stereo. Stereo. You can now set panning for parts, too, either sent directly to the stereo mix (analog/USB) or included as stereo information in those assignable stereo outs.
Hit of 2016?
I think there’s no surer bet than seeing this hardware as a huge breakout hit.
They also represent a new direction for Roland. The company has a long history of messing about with its history. Names like Jupiter and Juno have appeared on products in the loosest sense, and the 303 and 909 in particular have been bastardized incessantly. Even the AIRA, while being a bit more reverent (and modeling components), still different from the original design.
For the first time, with the Boutique Series, though, we see Roland return to the original product conception. And while I’m a fan of innovation, I think that’s really healthy. The 303 and 909 aren’t just about a sound; they’re about a particular layout and workflow. You wouldn’t recreate a Steinway piano and change around the input and mix it up with a bunch of other sounds. (Actually, bad example, as we’ve seen that, too!)
But in this case, there’s something refreshing about the limitations of these instruments.
US$349 for the TB-03 (349€ before VAT)
US$399 for the TR-09 (399€ before VAT)
Both prices include the dock.
In stores in October.
CDM should be first in line for a review; we can also visit the ones hanging out here in Berlin if you need more hands-on questions.
Now, with the embargo lifted on new Roland gear, brace yourself for a lot of discussion. On some level, any comparison of a $349-$399 new gadget to anything before it is a bit silly – when original 909s start selling for three figures, let us know. And I think starting with a direct comparison misses the point: the TR-909 and TB-303 sound terrific, and you’re unlikely to record or play either totally dry. (Classic records, uh, used processing too, ya know?) Relax and go enjoy a great drum machine and bassline.
Of course, from the perspective of curiosity, though, why not compare? And I’m likewise keen to see what others think of these.
So, let’s have at it. Remember, this is all worth revisiting. Having talked to someone from the Harajuku office at Roland, in fact the team built totally new circuit models. They didn’t reuse the ones you’ve already heard on the AIRA TR-8 (as those sounds were sort of grafted atop an 808 model) or the AIRA TB-3 (which wasn’t strict with how it followed the 303 architecture). Roland says they were built anew. And unlike the AIRA, authenticity seems to have been more of a priority.
First, TR-09 and TR-909 comparisons:
And here’s a TB-03 / 303 comparison:
Plus, here we have some of the reviews.
Let us know what you think of these videos, if there’s anything you especially like or disagree with as far as the reviews, and if you spot more videos on YouTube etc.
You know a classic Roland 202, 303, 404, 606, 707, 808, 909, and whatnot can make techno. But in the hands of Andreas Tilliander, these vintage Roland boxes are like classical instrumentation. They can form delicate ambient ensembles, or dark, pounding rhythms. And far from being only a grid to switch on and off, they become improvisational tools that spawn live performances and organic sessions. It’s little wonder that Andreas goes by the moniker TM404 – the Swedish-born producer seems like he might have been raised by a family of Roland boxes rather than humans.
So, we took the opportunity to catch up with how Andreas is playing.
The time is right. TM404’s Acidub emerged middle of last month, a set of opuses on the objects, primordial excursions into rhythm and melody retold through hiss and shadows. The album is laid out along a curve, climbing out of darker, murkier origins into the groove of “Treso” and the angular melodies of “202/303/303/303/606/606” until arriving at the burbling conclusion of “303/303/303/606.” Andreas is unquestionably someone who can move a dancefloor – he can whip this gear out at Ibiza, and practice jams on the beach with batteries (thanks, Roland engineers). But it’s wonderful here to see the full range: he can also compose odes for headphones.
But a favorite of mine is “MC202” quartet. It’s gorgeous and delicate, a stand-out aria of the album. And we’re fortunate here on CDM to premiere its video, which watches it being played against loving images of the gear.
Here’s more – 303/303/303/303/303/606/606 played live:
“Fine,” you say, “but that’s just some prepared music videos. That says nothing about whether someone can play live.”
“Ah ha!” I say, “but FACT Magazine recently put Mr. Tilliander under time restrictions in their ‘Against the Clock’ series – you’ll be more impressed by that!”
Here we go beyond the x0x series and adds some Swedish engineering, in the form of Elektron. But it has that lovely, spontaneous feeling that only comes from playing live. FACT writes:
Using his trusted Roland equipment alongside modern gear including the Elektron Octatrack, Tilliander builds up an atmospheric acid house track in just 10 minutes with no laptop in sight.
“I don’t know if it was a good track but I guess that’s not the point,” Tilliander says. “I was trying to program the 303s while recording, which is strange for a listener to hear. It was good. There were some parts where I forgot to use different synths but there’s plenty anyway so, I’m satisfied.”
Good stuff. I actually think it’s not so much that Andreas uses vintage Roland gear that matters as that he focuses on a particular instrumentation, and works on the technique of playing that live – not forcing live playing where it isn’t needed, but exploring a clear set of ideas. And that’s the essence to me of live playing, and why it can open up some possibilities DJing alone can’t.
Do check out the record; it’s lovely. Out now on Kontra-Musik.