Roland were always pioneers of the rhythm box. From their early attempts as Ace Tone right through to their (semi-programmable) CR78, they were always pushing the boundaries of what a drum machine should be.

It was the TR808, however, that made people sit up and listen. For the first time, here was totally programmable drum machine that allowed you to create your own rhythms almost without restriction (and not a samba in sight!).

However, there was a problem - the sounds.

They were distinctly 'electronic' and whilst many marvelled at the advanced programming possibilities, the same people also scoffed at the quality of the sounds on offer. Of course, some artists embraced the technology and used it for what it was... a source of progammable electronic rhythms.

The 808 enjoyed marginal success on the occasional record (Marvin Gaye's 'Sexual Healing' for example) but it wasn't a runaway success for Roland when it was released. What didn't help the TR808's fortunes at the time was that it wasn't cheap and few people could justisfy the expense of $1,000 for artificial, synthetic drum sounds. I certainly couldn't.

The TR808's fate was sealed, however, with the release of the LinnDrum two years later in 1982... a programable drum machine with 'real' drum sounds.... how could the 808 compete? It just couldn't and the TR808 all but sank without trace.

Until the birth of techno that is.

Believe it or not, there was a time when you couldn't give an 808 away and they were available in second-hand shops and the classifieds for silly prices. In the absence of any alternative, impoverished pioneers of the techno scene bought these cheap beatboxes and used (and abused!) them on their tracks. With the runaway success of this new musical style, the TR808 was suddenly fashionable.... in fact, its use was so widespread, you'd be forgiven for thinking that some law had been passed somewhere that made it compulsory to use an 808! But as well as fashionable, the 808 also became expensive and something that once languished in the window of a second-hand shop for $50 was now fetching upwards of $1,000 or more.

The 808's popularity continues to this day and still features in one way or another on a high percentage of records of varying musical styles and genres. However, more often than not, the sounds you hear will probably be samples of the original.

There's a lot to be said for using the original though. For a start, you get the 808's original 'sequencer' with it's rock solid timing. You also have a load of controls to play with to modify the key sounds such as kick and snare and, of course, multiple outputs to treat these sounds on a mixer.

Having said that, using samples of the original is very convenient and whilst you lose the ability to tweak the sounds in the same way as the original, it could be argued that once in a sampler, you can actually do more with the sounds plus, of course, you have full velocity control of the sounds. Using samples also means that you can integrate these sounds into a modern music making environment more easily.

What is interesting, however, is how little variation there is on the original and whilst some of the sounds offer variable tuning, the range is minimal and nothing that cannot be achieved on a sampler with little (or no) effect on the original sound. Probably the most variable sound on the 808 is the snare drum where you have control over the tuning and also the balance of noise against the pitched 'tone' of the sound (using the curiously labelled 'SNAPPY' control). I have gone some way to recreate this using velocity crossfade:

Low velocity will trigger a sample with a low 'snappy' setting... medium velocity will trigger a sample with a 'snappy' setting of around halfway.... higher velocity will trigger a sample with a full-on 'snappy' setting.

So, rather than using the sampler's lowpass filter to emulate this effect as is often the case in other sample libraries, you are actually triggering authentic samples from the original at different velocities.

Two snare drums are available - a low pitched one and a high pitched one. Both use the velocity crossfade technique described above.

Other samples feature variations made on the original (for example, kick drum, hi-hats and cymbals) and I have chosen versions that best represent the sounds in question.

The samples are mapped out across the bottom two octaves with the drums spanning C1-B1 and the 'percussion' spanning C2-B2.

I have normalised all the original samples for optimum dynamics.