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
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: