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  TR-909 At a Glance
Click for larger view arrowReleased: 1983  Specifications
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Ab Wilson ( writes:
Well this drum machine has changed my life. Contrary to all the hype the most attractive thing about the eary TRs (606, 808, 909) is not the sounds (although the sounds are good), but the programming interface. 16 buttons for 16 steps in a rythm: select your sound, and then just put the beats exactly where you want them. So obvious, why has nobody copied this?

The 909 took this interface the furthest. Where the 606 and 808 only have a single overall accent, the 909 has separate accents for each part as well as the overall accent. The 909 also has shuffle for easier programming of swung patterns (on the 808 and 606 you have to program two bars of 6/8 to get a swung 4/4 pattern). And flam which is basically gives you another variation on each sound (good on a bass drum down beat).

The machine has been designed to be musical. So for instance when you put an accent on an open hi-hat beat you don't just get a louder open hi-hat, you get an accented open hi-hat. The sounds seem to interact with each other so that when you hit a cymbal and bass drum together it doesn't sound like a sequencer triggering two samples, it sounds like a drumming playing a stab (ok, a little electronic drummer in a large cream coloured box). This is why I really can't understand people sampling 909s. If you are going to use sampled drum sounds there are plenty of better things to sample than a 909 (a real drummer maybe?). If you learn to program it properly (which isn't difficult) you can come up with patterns on a 909 which simply wouldn't be possible using a sequencer and a sampler.

Comments About the Sounds:
All sounds have individual level controls with additionalcontrols available on the following sounds:Bass drum - tuning, decay, attack (attack seems to add anextra click sound rather than than controlling the actualattack time).Snare - tuning, tone (seems to be a lowpass filter but alsoaffects decay), snappy (seems to alter the white noise mixbut also affects attack).Toms - tuning and decay (tunning ranges for each tom overlapnicely - I've been using them for jungle basses).Hi Hats - separate decay for open and closed sounds.Crash cymbal - tunning.Ride cymbal - tuning.Subjectively the bass drum sounds cleaner and has moreattack compared to an 808, but the decay is not as long. Thesnare is very versatile. It can be low and fat, or high andthin, or low and thin/high and fat for that matter. Youcan have short and bright or long and dark or just about anycombination of the above. Turn snappy, tone and tunningright down and it sounds like a cardboard box.The toms when tuned down with a long decay sound like D&Bbass sounds, and when tuned up with a short decay likesynthetic congas. The rim shot is a rimshot (but it cutsthrough the mix). The handclap is remarkably lifelikeconsidering it's totally analogue.

(Thanks to Ab Wilson for this info.)

Links for the Roland TR-909
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The Patch King The Worlds Largest 3rd Party Synth & Sampler Developers. Thousands of New Sounds for Hundreds of Synths & Samplers. On Floppy Disks, CD-ROMS or Zip Disks. The Ultimate TR-909 site
With information on Trevor Page's homemade TR-909 clone! has information on a homemade TR-909 copy.
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