Up to this time, synths, sequencers and drum machines
were notoriously difficult to interface, especially when connecting
instruments from different manufacturers. Whilst you could get round
the various incompatibilities, it was a headache.
Some manufacturers had attempted to overcome this - Roland with
the DCB (Digital Control Bus) and Oberheim with their 'System'.
However, these were pretty much proprietary interfaces that only
worked with the manufacturers' own products. What Dave Smith proposed
was the 'Universal Musical Interface' (UMI) that would be fitted
as standard on every product so that any equipment from any manufacturer
could be used together. It was quite an achievement, not so much
technically (electronically, the interface is relatively simple
and inexpensive) but just in terms of just getting all these major
manufacturers to agree. The original proposal went through a significant
number of revisions before being renamed and becoming the MIDI standard
we know today. Several prominent Japanese musical instrument companies
became involved in engineering the final version and it was a truly
international co-operative venture. Nowadays, of course, we take
MIDI for granted and use it for everything from playing and sequencing
multiple synths and modules on different MIDI channels to synchronisation
to patch dumps and more.
The DrumTraks was Sequential's first digital drum machine and the
first one to feature this new-fangled interface. However, it also
featured the 'old' sync interfaces for connecting to pre-MIDI equipment
- as such, it was an ideal bridge for using older instruments in
this new world of MIDI. This new interface also meant that (for
the first time) you could trigger these drum sounds from a MIDI
keyboard with full control over velocity (as was typical of the
day, the DrumTraks' pads were not velocity sensitive). At the time,
this was nothing short of magic!
The DrumTraks came with thirteen sounds and each one could be individually
tuned and mixed - in fact, tuning and levels could be stored within
a pattern to that it was possible to automate pitch changes and
also level (and hence dynamics). Sequential made great use of this
facility in their promotional material referring to "gorilla
claps" - the handclap sound radically transposed down!
The DrumTraks also had six individual outputs to which any of the
thirteen sounds could be assigned for processing and manipulation
on an external mixer. Even though they were only 8-bit, the sounds
were pretty good too and remain popular even today.