So from what I can tell, all you have is one box with a bunch of knobs that each have a sound associated with them. Already synced together with the beat. Then a second box that allows for a little bit of fine control on the noises the first box emits.
Since everything is already setup, all he’s doing is choosing which sounds to play at what time. And almost all of them would sound good together because they’re already synced.
While it does take some practice and some patience, and a little bit of creativity, the artist seems like more of a conductor than a musician. But it does look like fun. Too bad it takes the best part away from music, the solo. Brian, is there an equivalent to soloing in this art? Am I missing something?
The two devices you see here are both Roland synthesizers. There’s the TR-909 drum machine on top and the TB-303 “Transistor Bass” synthesizer on the bottom.
There are different knobs on each synthesizer. For example, the TR-909 knobs control volume, decay (e.g., how long until the open hihat sound fades), tone, and other variables that change how the instrument sounds. The TB-303 has similar knobs that change the modulation, envelope, and resonance which change the character of the sound without bending the pitch.
Each synthesizer also has a built-in sequencer. You step through, for example, 16 quarter notes to make a 4-bar pattern, and you can set several patterns for variation. The two synthesizers are synchronized so that they count beats at the same speed. For the most part the musician is just modifying volumes to bring specific instruments in and out, but here and there you can see him step to another pattern in which he’s programmed a little variation like a rapid snare drum flourish.
What I find most impressive about this video is the fact that the musician slaps together this perfectly workable and enjoyable song without the need for a MIDI sequencer like CuBase or Cakewalk. All the little imperfections (and occasional mistakes in timing) make it more “organic”. It’s more of a proof of concept than a finished product. I’m very impressed at how competent the musician is, how familiar he is with the knobs, and how keen is this display of dexterity. That takes lot of practise, forethought, and love.
I’m sure you, Mycroft, have tried this software before, but for those who have not I highly recommend piddling around with the now free ReBirth 338 synthesizer. This software emulates the Roland TB-303 and TR-808 which was the predecessor of the TR-909 shown in the video. Sequencing patterns on these devices is a very clunky, manual procedure and this is captured very nicely by ReBirth.
Oh, and as for your question about “soloing”, of course one could play notes on a keyboard instead of pre-sequencing them. However, I argue that this gentleman is already soloing by playing the “meta data” instead of the notes. He’s twiddling with the modulation of the sounds which provide variation, instead of playing a variety of notes. He’s playing the instrument instead of the song.
Interesting. I would love to play with those machines and see what weirdness I could produce. I’d be a lot more impressed if he changed times signatures and got himself out of full time. 4×4 is just so boring and I’m sure there are many people out there that do just that.
But I would argue that he is again conducting and not soloing.
4/4 isn’t so boring for everyone. I read a fascinating interview with one of my favourite DJs, Josh Wink, who said that some South American countries had great difficulty dancing to his 4/4 house music because they all listen to music like salsa and meringue in 3/4.
That being said, you can change the number of quarter notes per pattern on both these synths from anywhere between 1 and 32, I believe. This enables you to do any time signature including weird ones where 4 consecutive bars repeat in a 4/4 4/4 4/4 3/4 pattern, for example.
I’m sure your bestest buddy Kurzweil has some really interesting things to say about the nuts and bolts of analog synthesizers. I’m in the mood to go read some of it now.