LINN 9000

Roger Linn pretty much single-handedly established the concept of the digital drum machine with his pioneering and innovative LM-1 and LM-2 'Linndrum' in the early '80s and these two drum machines pretty much defined the rhythmic backdrop of the music of that era.

That achievement alone would have been enough to secure Linn's position in modern music technology history but he had other, more ambitious plans. He had a vision of user sampling and of multi-track, multi-channel sequencing... a much greater vision of what defined a drum machine. And so the Linn 9000 was born.

A highly adventurous project, Roger (inadvertently) pioneered yet another concept that we take for granted today - the 'workstation' where sampling, pattern creation and multi-channel sequencing are all handled in one convenient table-top unit.

In 1984, it was a truly ground-breaking piece of modern equipment - with 18 assignable, velocity sensitive pads it came with 8-bit drum and percussion samples on EPROM but with the sampling option installed, you could sample your own sounds and you could sequence these with Linn's legendary real-time groovy 'shuffle' quantise using the on-board 32-track sequencer. Linn saw no distinction between drum patterns and the sequencing of external MIDI sound sources and so it was possible (for the first time) to add musical phrases to the drum patterns and subject them to the same groovy quantise of the drum patterns - these rhythmic and musical passages (sequences) could then be chained to create songs allowing complex compositions to be realised from within one box. At the time, this was totally revolutionary and once again proved that Roger Linn was not only at the cutting edge of technology but was also providing what users wanted (at the time) - a self-contained, stand-alone drum machine/sequencer combination.

The Linn 9000 also had other innovations. For example, the hi-hat decay slider that allowed you to switch between closed and open hi-hats in real-time and the 'note repeat' function. There was also a floppy disk drive for storing sequences and samples. On the rear panel, the 9000 had extensive sync facilities (including a SMPTE option and a tape sync facility) and multiple audio outputs... this truly was a 'dream machine'!

It was also a dream machine for those who had paid the $5,000 asking price for it - they would dream that one day the damned thing would work!

Despite the fabulous possibilities it offered, the 9000 had more bugs in it than a condemned roach-infected tenement block and if you got through a day without it crashing, you were lucky! As you can imagine, this caused a lot of frustration for the owners who, by definition, were hi-end users often working in expensive studios. Linn endeavoured to fix the bugs but in 1986, the company folded with just 1,000 units having been produced.

However, the Linn 9000 story doesn't end there.

Following the demise of Linn the company, Linn the engineer/designer was invited to team up with the new kids on the hi-tech block, Akai Professional, and in collaboration with them, they developed the now legendary MPC60. This combined all the benefits of the original Linn 9000 in a sturdy, ergonomically designed case.

The MPC60 also brought new additions to the concept. The 9000's small 2 x 16 LCD was replaced by a tiltable 240 x 60 LCD, the number of sequencer tracks was expanded to 99 and sequencer memory was expanded to cope with more data. The pads had aftertouch as well as velocity sensitivity and the transport section was expanded to include a locator. Also, features that were options on the 9000 (such as sampling, SMPTE, etc.) were standard on the MPC60. MIDI connectivity was also improved to make the MPC the central focal point of any MIDI production environment.

Photo courtesy of Akai Professional

And all this came in at around the same price (or slightly less) than the original 9000.

However, as well as inheriting everything that made the Linn 9000 such a desirable piece of equipment, the MPC60 V1.00 unfortunately inherited many of the bugs and software problems that plagued the original Linn 9000. When the MPC60 was released in 1988, it was being bought in droves by top producers and artists of the time (Trevor Horn and Peter Gabriel to name but two) and Akai's tech support lines were inundated with calls from frantic (and often famous!) users who had just lost a morning's work to some fatal crash! This (understandably) gave the MPC60 a terrible reputation on the streets but people stuck with it because it was unique - the combination of user sampling with tight and 'groovy' multi-track sequencing and extensive MIDI, sync and audio connectivity was just too tempting to ignore. That the MPC60 was also incredibly easy to use was another factor in keeping even the most frustrated owners loyal to the cause!

Of course, the bugs were all ironed out in subsequent OS updates and the MPC60 went on to become a legend. The MPC's unique 'feel' was a big part of its success and it found favour in the emerging rap/dance music market of the time. Many hit records in any number of styles were made almost exclusively on an MPC60.

Today, of course, the MPC-series has moved on and we have the top-of-the-range MPC4000 that takes the concept to the next level and we have the 'budget' MPC1000 that is, perhaps, a bit more loyal to its roots but, either way, the basic philosophy of the Linn 9000 lives on in all of these products. Even those who use modern computer based sequencers and DAWs still prefer to use an MPC of one flavour or another to lay down their beats.