“Groove” WHAT ?
“Groove Gear,” is an umbrella term of electronic musical instrument. Beyond creating or changing sound directly, they, they serves as “music performance automation tools,” by where single/simple gestures leads to play/stop/switching of repetition, edits, and/or mutations of sound far beyond “one touch, one sound” of traditional instruments like drums, piano, etc.
Some common points include:
- “drum machines” – preset or user-created patterns and/or sounds are chosen, changed, mixed and matched. This allows the human “drum machine-ist” to pre-programmed everything beforehand, or steer among patterns for live jamming, while The Machine handles all the “busywork”.
- “MIDI sequencer” – extending from the “drum machine,” but for controlling various installer or remote instruments. Many MIDI Sequencers include ‘drum machine’ features, but also extend toward sequencing pitches for chords and/or melodies. Organizing layers in tracks and patterns, one can plan and edit together compositions, or jam between preset or user-created resources.
- “Looper” – motifs of musical performance are captures in audio memory and repeated, allowing one to perform perform/elaborate/improvise along with these repetitions. Popular among beat-boxers, guitarists, and such. Looper tools s with overdubbing, live editing, and/or control of multiple loop tracks allow the the looped sounds to permute variations into musical song-structures and/or improvisations.
- “Arpeggiator” – a classic synth tool where, where the player can simply press keyboard notes of a chord, and the machine plays these as an arpeggio, repeating through the notes in some (adjustable) order, speed, and/or rhythm. More advanced arpeggios can generate compellingly complex motifs steered by single-finger note play. Quickly blurring the line between “live” and “canned” music control.
Since my primary instrument is the drums, I’ve been continually fascinated by these options as “performance prosthetics”… not just to “add more” musical layers or play with inhuman speed/precision/etc… , but as ways to create and control sound with greater nuance and novelty than may be conceived from the obvious cause/effect world of traditional live instrument performance.
While making breakfast, it dawned on me that I have owned over almost THREE DOZEN “drum machines” (devices that can create rhythmic patterns or loops from analog synthesis or digital samples). Yet, while being in half-dozen bands and a dozen recordings in which I’ve written/rehearsed/recorded on live acoustic drums, I’ve only (so far) had ONE recording project (PowerLoader) that was based around programmed rhythm.
Why do I (continue to) spend so much time/money/energy on something with so little application to show for it ?
I developed my musicality/literacy/voice on the drum kit (in middle school), almost 10 years before actually buying my first drum machine (in college), so studying them was never about need or a creative prop. I just immediately found it empowering, curious, and sometimes confusing to be able to relax my body and exercise my drum-literacy and hear the sound (and see the blinking) of the results. The ability to set up a familiar pattern, then make
literacy side of my and not about “know your enemy”… just pure curiosity to understand what kinds of imitation, robotics and automation existed in my world.
Yes, drum machines have no soul; I’ve sold mine many times over. Yes, samplers and other “fake instruments” are cheating; that’s why I’m WINNING !
This page/article is a growing archival log, and work in progress. Many entries may remain unfilled as I muddle through appropriate media, memories, and motivation to keep this “updated”.
I originally started this curation just for the relatively narrow umbralla of “drum machines”, as they were a neatly compartmentalized hobby, seperate from my time and space on the drum-kit. Of cousre, howveer, as my passion for “music machines” grew, it expanded and intermingled with my drumkit, so my umbrella for “groove gear” has expanded toward, “any tool for playing with sound rhythmically”, including:
- Effects processors (rack units and even some pedals) WHICH CAN …
- that work in beat/tempo: following some MIDI clock and/or tempo-tap input. Give me rhythimc subdivisions to simple static/sustainging sounds to impart rhythmic motion with chopping/throbbing/swirling goodness.
- Effect processors hat can loop audio or otherwise freeze sound for such effecting and/or re-sampling
- pitch-shift sound chromatically, pushing anything into “melodic” territory.
Deep Jargon for Categorical Grouping and Distinction
Somewhere between psychology and engineering lies the behavioral study of “usability,” and the more mechanical design aspects of User Interface (UI) design. I’ve seen a fascinating spectrum of different ways that drum machines tackle the tasks of shaping sounds, creating patterns, stringing patterns into “songs” for automated playback, or driving the whole thing for spontaneous live performance, so I realize I should offer some background and specific terminology into the major distinctions that may make one drum machine work (and play) different from another.
- Performance Type:
- “sound sequencer” : stores patterns that trigger individual sounds, with or without real time “tweak-able” control of these sounds. Here, “musical e expression” comes at two levels; editing of the pattern, and control of the individual sounds.
- “phrase sampler/looper“: These devices capture the sound of performance directly. Layers of music performance (i.e. beat-boxing, playing guitar) or playback (i.e. sampling), can be captured, layered etc. Here, the “musical expression” is more tied to how audio layers were created/controlled separately, and how audio playback might be controlled (play/stop, speed up/down, time-stretching, etc).
- Event Sequencing method(s): some machines only offer one method, others by multiple.
- “sTRip,” : Originally popularize by Roland’s “TR-” series machines, a strip of 16 lit buttons allows one to see and register events in one bar at a time of one part at a time. Can be slower but more precise to
- “Step Input,” A pattern is created by stepping through available time-spots, and registering note event(s) at each, working in NON-real-time, you step forward, backward, erase, and skip around. You can also put in many notes of a chord or various voices at one moment without having to wait for the next pass around
- “Realtime Input”: while the sequencer cycles through the (looping) patter, press a voice-specific button to register that sound at that moment. Intuitive to “play” your parts, allowing multiple voices to be recorded together, but doesn’t allow you to edit anything but “live sounds now,” so this can be tricky plan or prepare (changed) parts to bring in later.
- Velocity Sensitivity: can the device the dynamics of soft- and loud taps of real-time playing or otherwise encoded dynamics into MIDI “velocity” in the sequence, and intensity characteristics of the sound ? If so, HOW ?
- Recording Control:
- “ReStart” some real-time-recording machines require you stop everything, enter a “record mode,” and only allow you to work on that pattern until you stop, and resume “play mode” to switch among patterns
- “Fluid Recording” would allow you to jump freely between Compose (record) and Perform (play) modes while jumping between patterns.
- Effects: many machines process the initial sound with analog/digital effects, to create more depth of sound, or expressive real-time control
- reverb or echo can add ambient depth. If sounds can be selectively mixed into a reverb or delay buss (a ‘sub-mix’), we have finer sound control.
- filters: can change the tone; cutting highs and/or lows. Filters allow for anything between subtle coloration to wild expressive “wah”/”bow” effects upon the source.
- Real-time Controls: popular options beyond start/stop buttons or individual voice pads include
- knobs/sliders to mix/filter/warp the sounds and/or effects.
- control inputs, for foot switches to send discrete messages (“start”, “stop”, “tap”, “next”…). I have yet to see a drum-machines with an CV/Expression pedal input jack for continuous control (i.e. “volume” or “wah”).
- In addition to triggering sounds or controlling step-events, can the buttons also …
- mute individual voice parts ? This allows allows a pattern to be varied and deconstructed by live performance.
- Switch between patterns on the fly ? To allow for vamping and jamming without predefined part lengths.
- Allow for destructive editing, such as real-time erasing specific events or clearing whole parts ?
- Change sequence length(s) ? Changing all parts together, or individual parts (to create poly rhythms).
- “Motion sequencing” AKA “Parameter Locking” AKA “Knob Automation” … this is where some machines might allow the “Realtime Controls” that define/express the sounds might sequenced along with, but seperate from, the Notes/Events that trigger the sounds. This allows:
- simple, sustiaing sounds to form moving, rhytmic sweeps/throbs/stutters/etc…
- producing more varied succession of sounds on a single “track”:
- automating knobs alone, then playing/iprovising motifs through the rhtyhms or animations imposed by looping automation
(URL to personal reivew page)
(URL to relevant”Bad Gear” episode)
|Akai||MPC Live (mk 1)|
|Akai||XR-20||“digital drum machine”||e-drums, practice tool|
|Alesis||DM-Pro||electronic drum module||trigger-MIDI converter, live e-drums, sample source|
|Alesis||SR16||“programmable drum machine”|
|Alesis||Trigger IO||trigger-MIDI converter||live e-drums|
|Bastl||Micro Granny||sampler, looper,|
|Boss||SP-202||“Dr Sample”||samples, loops|
|DOD||D-12||Dimension Rack Sampler / Delay||looper|
|Electro Harmonix||SuperEgo||“Synth Engine”||drones, rhythm effects w/ HX-stomp|
|Elecrix||Mo-FX||beat-sync rack effects||effects, looper|
|Elektron||MonoMachine SFX-60 (mk2)|
|Elekron||OctaTrack DPS-1 (mk1)|
|Empress||Zoia||“modular synth / fx pedal”||effects, looping, sequences|
|Future Artist||Midi Looper||4 track MIDI loop|
|Future Artist||MIDI Platform||MIDI routing, plugin-based processing,|
|Gibson||EDP+ (Loop IV)||“echoplex digital plus”||looping|
|Korg||AM-8000r||“ambience modeler”||rack effects|
|Korg||electribe EA-1||“analog modeling synth”||drones|
|Korg||electribe EM-1||“music production station”||beats, drones|
|Korg||electribe ER-1||“rhythm synth”||beats|
|Korg||electribe ES-1||“rhythm production sampler”||beats|
|Korg||electribe ESX-1||“music production sampler”|
|Korg||electribe e2s Sampler||“music production station” (review of e2, non-sampler)||sampling drum machine / synth / sequencer|
|Korg||KO-Pro||“dynamic phrase synthesizer”|
|Korg||NTS-1||“programmable synthesizer kit”||drones, arpeggios, effects, looping|
|Korg||PX5-D||Pandora practice effects/trainer|
|Korg||PXR-4||portable multi-track studio|
|Korg||R3||virtual analog synth/vocoder|
|Korg||Radias||virtual analog synth/vocoder/rompler/etc|
|Korg||Volca Bass||“anaog bass machine”|
|Korg||Volca Keys||“analog loop synth”|
|Kurtzweil||Event Station||rackmount trigger-MIDI converter / sequencer||“drum-peggiator”|
|Lexicon||MPX-1||“multiple processor FX”||looping, rhythm-FX|
|Line 6||HX-Stomp||guitar multi-efector||Looper, synth, rhythm-FX w/ SuperEgo|
|Megadrum||Pro 32||trigger-MIDI converter, live e-drums|
|Novation||Circuit (mk1)||clip-based synth/sample groovebox|
|Novation||MiniNova||“analog modeling synthesizer”||vocoding, vocal FX|
|Quasimidi||Sirius||“GrooveSynth” , phoneticher spectral transformator||drums, keys, drones, vocoding,|
|Rane||MP26||Club mixer w/ Flex FX||USB sound card, routing|
|Red Sound||SoundBITE micro||DJ looper||looping, effects|
|Roland||D2||“groovebox”||rhythms, sample sources|
|Roland||PM5D||“personal music assistant”||drum machine, sample sources|
|Roland||SPD-6||e-drums, practice tool, sample source||2004||2005|
|Roland||TMC-6||“trigger-MIDI converter||live e-drums|
|Roland||VP-70||vocal pitch-to-midi, pitch shifting, MIDI key-harmony|
|Sound Sculpture||SwitchBlade GL||rack guitar effects-loop||16×16 Matrix Mixer|
|Tascam||DR-44||portable field / multi-track Recorder|
|T.C. Helicon||Blender||portable headphone mixer||6×4 stereo matrix mixer|
|T.C. Helicon||Perform VE||“vocal sampler / effects “||vocal processing, key-pitching, phase vocoding,|
|T.C. Helicon||VoiceLive 3||vocal effector / looper|
|T.C. Helicon||VoiceTone Create XT||portable vocal effector|
|Teenage Engineering||PO-32||“Tonic”||virtual-analog Drum Synth / Sequencer|
|Teenage Engineering||PO-33||“KO” “Knockout”||PCM Sampler / Sequencer|
|Teenage Engineering||PO-35||“Speak”||speech encoder/synth (phase vocoder) / Sequencer|
|Yamaha||AN-200||“desktop synthesizer”||beats, drones, sample source|
|Yamaha||DD-3||“digital percussion practice instrument”||sample source|
|Yamaha||QY-10||“music sequencer”||beats, sample source,|
|Yamaha||RS-7000||“music production studio”, like RMX-1 with a sampler||sequencing, FX, sampling|
|Yamaha||SU-10||“sampling unit”||sampling, beats, live FX|
|Yamaha||SU-200||“sampling unit”||sampling, loop chop/remix, drones, FX|
|Zoom||MRS-8||“multi-track recordign studio”||beats, recording,|
|Zoom||MRT-3||“micro rhythm track”||beats, drum machine, sample source|
|Zoom||MS-50g||“multi-stomp”||mult-effectcs, drones, looping|