Skip

Roland TB-303
June 8, 2010 7:51 PM   Subscribe

The Silver Dream Machine: The synthesizer that accidentally changed the world.
posted by gman (42 comments total) 45 users marked this as a favorite

 
the lucky few who managed to work out how to program the notoriously difficult to program bass emulator, found the sound it gave wasn't that of a realistic bass at all but often a buzzing lifeless drone, sometimes sounding quite random and not musical at all

Big up the failures and cast-offs! And for some reason, people wonder what I see in electronic music. The distortion worms its way into your brain. It's often the stupid-simple tunes that get you hooked, but Josh Wink - Higher State of Consciousness (1995, and that's late in the game), The Joker by Josh Abrahams (also 1995) ... brain worms like none other. (I'm still at a loss as to what all the hub-bub is over most guitar-based pop tunes.)

How to program a TB-303 - it is ridiculously complex to program. But if you don't have the floor/closet space, TB-303 Emulation for Reason V4.
posted by filthy light thief at 8:08 PM on June 8, 2010 [2 favorites]


For the past couple of weeks, I've been assembling a TB-303 clone, the open-source x0xb0x. With the purchase of a few circuit boards and tons and tons of parts from electronics distributors, I dreamed of being able to program my own acid house.

Alas, I've failed. Once assembled, my x0xb0x technically works and can be programmed -- all the lights light up where there should be light -- but there are no acidic bleeps and bloops emitted. I've spent the past several nights checking voltages, bias, continuity, and signs of other damage, but to no avail. I'm sure, out of the hundreds of components that comprise a TB-303 or a x0xb0x, one of mine was defective, and I'll be damned if I can hunt down which one it was.

And now, as if to mock me, you post this. (sigh)

The 303 really is a fascinating machine in just how badly it did its intended job, compared with just how awesome its unintended sound -- the sound that changed electronic music -- was.
posted by eschatfische at 8:12 PM on June 8, 2010


YES.
posted by archivist at 8:13 PM on June 8, 2010


Oh yeah. Time to dig out the Hardfloor. Nice post, thanks!
posted by carter at 8:21 PM on June 8, 2010


But if you don't have the floor/closet space,

Thanks to a comment on the blue I've spent the last couple of days mucking about with Rebirth on my phone. It's almost unusable due to the button size, but still fun.
posted by pompomtom at 8:31 PM on June 8, 2010


Did anyone else turn all of the Youtube clips in the article on at the same time? No? Just me, huh? Well, carry on then.
posted by friendlyjuan at 8:36 PM on June 8, 2010 [2 favorites]


I like this one
posted by dydecker at 8:47 PM on June 8, 2010


Friendlyjuan: Did anyone else turn all of the Youtube clips in the article on at the same time? No? Just me, huh? Well, carry on then.

Yes! I got a pretty bad ass jam going just turning stuff on and off, also going over to the youtube pages which has dozens of other songs to muck around with. I WAS AN ACID HOUSE DJ GOD!!!
posted by Skygazer at 9:02 PM on June 8, 2010


They say you shouldn't judge a book by it's cover. By that reckoning, you certainly shouldn't judge a synth by it's cheap plastic casing.

You know, its/it's is one of my grammatical pet peeves, but damned if this guy isn't consistent - he used "it's" EVERY SINGLE TIME in this article. He picked his pony and rode it all the way, by God! Gotta give him some credit for that, I guess.
posted by rkent at 9:49 PM on June 8, 2010 [4 favorites]


It's like how Dave Davies "invented" distortion by taking a razor to his speakers. The history of Music is filled with stories like this... human soul shines through!
posted by MeatLightning at 9:52 PM on June 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


I was coming of age in Chicago in the mid-80s, and I have to say, I just took it for granted that everyone, everywhere was listening to this sort of music, and found it kind of old hat at the time -- some days I felt like it was all 88.7FM ever played (and, once I became a DJ on 88.3FM, like most of the other "wizards" there I avoided the stuff like the plague.) Nice to get a little of the actual history behind it. Nice post.
posted by davejay at 9:59 PM on June 8, 2010


The 303 has its place in music history, but maybe it gets put on a bit of a pedestal when there is so much other great music being made with novel software and hardware synths.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:08 PM on June 8, 2010


I had a x0xb0x a few years back. Built it, played with it for several months, sold it for a bunch of $$. I might have to build another one.
posted by MillMan at 10:23 PM on June 8, 2010


Blazecock, while there it's an exciting time for synths, most of the recent developments have been in virtualizing analog rigs, and nothing that could be said to be the backbone of an entire musical sub-genre. Perhaps the Monome, or Ableton Live, but neither of those two are stand-alone synths.
posted by lekvar at 10:38 PM on June 8, 2010


I have a x0xb0x myself. Waited on the waiting list like forever. Built it. And now it mostly sits. It is, however, a great little tool to have around to help interface old synths. Unlike the original 303, the x0xb0x has connections for the modern age… and the not-so-modern age.
posted by readyfreddy at 10:39 PM on June 8, 2010


I'm pretty sure the Roland corporation invented techno by accident. The 303s brother is the TR-808 which was also initially rejected for not sounding like a real drum set. Only to be picked up when the price was low enough for regular people to buy. My current box, a Korg emx1, was half price when I got it. Software setups have come a long way, but nothing beats tweaking knobs and pressing buttons.
posted by hellojed at 10:45 PM on June 8, 2010


The 303s brother is the TR-808

actually it's the tr-606; the 808 is more of a cousin, but you're right, its all about the knob twiddlin' goodness.

I love the stories about boxes of 303's just being thrown away because no one would buy them.
posted by archivist at 10:50 PM on June 8, 2010


@archivist that's how i got mine. the owner responded to my query on usenet. He was going to throw it out. It was sitting in his garage in a box of childrens' toys. He sent it to me along with a 606, still in box, for the cost of shipping, before eBay had ruined the vintage synth treasure hunting fun for everyone.

but in the essence of contributing, here's the goods:

Nate Harrison's TB-303 BASSLINE Documentary

The shape of things that hum: TB-303
posted by Señor Pantalones at 1:07 AM on June 9, 2010


I've never liked any sort of electronic music as such, but I really like this post.
posted by cthuljew at 2:37 AM on June 9, 2010


This ain't no Roland Jupiter 8 or Synclavia Nord Lead to look at

Synclavia Nord Lead? Is there any connection between these two?
posted by Life at Boulton Wynfevers at 2:55 AM on June 9, 2010


Also, shouldn't that be Synclavier?

OK, I'm going to shut up now...
posted by Life at Boulton Wynfevers at 2:56 AM on June 9, 2010


I was 20 in 1988 but I never worried about the origins of this music. I just danced in awe from Friday night to Saturday evening non stop. Thanks for this, brought lots of confusing memories!
posted by samelborp at 2:57 AM on June 9, 2010


this FPP is about an online emulator with a 303 among other other coold gadgets.
posted by valdesm at 3:08 AM on June 9, 2010


Quick shout-out to one of the best album-titles of all time: 101 + 303 + 808 = Now Form A Band
posted by Hogshead at 3:20 AM on June 9, 2010


Synclavia Nord Lead? Is there any connection between these two?

No, but the Nord Lead was by a company named Clavia.
posted by acb at 4:47 AM on June 9, 2010


big fish, little fish, cardboard box.

get out your glo-stix and white gloves, we're off to a field on the M25.

RAVE ON
posted by the_very_hungry_caterpillar at 5:03 AM on June 9, 2010


I did a some gigs a few years back with techno/rock crew Buffalo Daughter, who liked using a 303 live. As their drummer, it was my task (for 1 or 2 songs) to play along to their pre-programmed 303 sequences. Now, I love the sound of the 303, but, damn, the tempo fluctuated like crazy, and it was a real bitch to try to lock with. I think it might've just been that particular unit, maybe it was dying or something. But it was kinda hellish playing along with that thing.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:10 AM on June 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


@eschatfische It might be a component or just something really hard to find like a cold solder joint that looks good.

I'd built dozens of complex kits when I offered to build something "simple" for someone if they bought the kit. "No good deed goes unpunished." Put together per instructions, exactly, didn't work. Really annoying. Didn't have all the parts to swap out. Manufacturer unknown. Red face.

You can "sniff" around for what's happening to the audio with a cap on the end of a piece of wire plugged into an amp (connect grounds). VCO got power and trigger? No audio out: it's in that section somewhere. Else:it's getting lost.

Best hope would be if you can beg or borrow a scope - and another x0xb0x (preferably with owner) to compare. Best wishes.
posted by Twang at 5:16 AM on June 9, 2010


When is the Casio SK-1 going to get its moment in the sun?
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 5:43 AM on June 9, 2010 [2 favorites]


Because sometimes, filthy & nasty are exactly the sound you want.
posted by Goofyy at 5:54 AM on June 9, 2010


@Life at Boulton

Also, shouldn't that be Synclavier?

Actually, no. It's Clavia Nord. Synclavier is another beast altogether.
posted by readyfreddy at 6:21 AM on June 9, 2010


Actually, no. It's Clavia Nord. Synclavier is another beast altogether.

Ah, of course--should have been able to work that out for myself. Thanks, readyfreddy.
posted by Life at Boulton Wynfevers at 7:10 AM on June 9, 2010


Flapjax apparently doesn't have MIDI.
posted by hellojed at 7:17 AM on June 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


Wait, wait...they have Rebirth on the iPhone? I really could have used this back in February!
posted by malocchio at 8:01 AM on June 9, 2010


As nice a sound as you get from a 303 (and I did love it in the hands of Ultramarine and 808 State, among others), I think it's crippled the electronic instrument industry for decades now, almost as badly as the Moog low-pass "ladder" filter. We've come so far from the wretched button-and-menu distancing and lifeless sample player architecture of the eighties, bringing knobs and muscle memory and joyous modular flexibility back into the fold, but we're still a bit hamstrung by business models that value the old familiar warmth of a 24db lowpass filter (or 18db, in the case of the 303) over pressing onward.

Hell, if we'd emulate the Oberheim Xpander, even, with multimode filters and matrix modulation, we'd be doing well, but people just get stuck on squishy resonant filter sweeps, and really amazing architectures, like the insane-filter gear from E-Mu's final golden age, end up in the bin or are only available to the very, very wealthy.

It's as if people went and saw Jimi Hendrix playing live, and, stunned by the glorious madness of his boundary-destroying playing, went away resolving to one day play the exact same thing he played exactly the way he played it...ummm...wait, that's exactly what happened, for the most part.

The 303 was great because it was a shitty little cheap plastic thing that people who couldn't afford better gear bought, played with, experimented on, and pushed until something great came out of it. Now it's time to find the next shitty little cheap plastic thing that musicians can afford and push it over new boundaries.

Perhaps the Android/iPhone/iPod Touch/netbook running csound, if people will stop using these tools primarily to emulate another generation's cheap plastic shitty thing.
posted by sonascope at 8:25 AM on June 9, 2010 [2 favorites]


When is the Casio SK-1 going to get its moment in the sun?

There's a certain set of musicians (mostly circuit-benders) for whom the SK-1 is the holy grail. Unmodified SK-1's are increasingly hard to find, and the prices on e-bay are getting silly. They cost as moch now as they did when they were first introduced in 1985.
posted by lekvar at 10:16 AM on June 9, 2010


Alas, I've failed. Once assembled, my x0xb0x technically works and can be programmed -- all the lights light up where there should be light -- but there are no acidic bleeps and bloops emitted. I've spent the past several nights checking voltages, bias, continuity, and signs of other damage, but to no avail. I'm sure, out of the hundreds of components that comprise a TB-303 or a x0xb0x, one of mine was defective, and I'll be damned if I can hunt down which one it was.

Reverse engineered & kit assembled & sold by an ex-girlfriend of mine. Beyond her technical expertise she also excels in support for her customers. Get on her forums & ask for help troubleshooting it. You might even see if there's anybody local to you who can take a look at it. If there is a defective part, I'm sure she'd be happy to replace it for free.
posted by scalefree at 12:55 PM on June 9, 2010


Perhaps the Android/iPhone/iPod Touch/netbook running csound, if people will stop using these tools primarily to emulate another generation's cheap plastic shitty thing.

Oh god, csound. *shudder*. I am PRIMARILY a software developer... and just couldn't do anything with csound. I've always been a much better DJ than producer, and still struggle with the barrier between what's in my head and what I can make most synths and software produce.

But nowhere was that barrier more insurmountable than with csound.
posted by flaterik at 5:02 PM on June 9, 2010


It has always struck me funny that:
1. Sometimes the most goofy things turn into icons. The TB-303 is a great example of a flaw turning into a feature.
2. A lot of the acid riffs sound like what the Bassline does after you change the batteries. Sometimes that munged memory provided some real sonic information/inspiration.

( I have a 303 and a 606. I love them both but love Ableton 8 studio more. It's great living in the future...)
posted by djrock3k at 6:53 PM on June 9, 2010


The SK-1 is worth something? Like I needed another reason to be mad at my mom for throwing stuff out.
posted by nev at 7:13 PM on June 9, 2010


Like I needed another reason to be mad at my mom for throwing stuff out.

Old hardware like the Casio SK-1, or "video game" wristwatches, or early Sony Walkmans… those will become valuable like the thousands of comic books and baseball cards thrown away by past generations of parents.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 5:41 AM on June 10, 2010


The SK-1 is worth something?

Nope. Nothing at all. You should just give it to me so I can properly dispose of it for you.

*rubs hands greedily, twirls mustache*
posted by lekvar at 2:58 PM on June 10, 2010


« Older Plebeian Lives and the Making of Modern London   |   Liberal and Democratic Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments



Post