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A brief history of the TR808 and the TR909

With only 1 week left til the release of the Roland AIRA series, the countdown has truly begun and after watching the teaser videos, there’s a slight air of excitement for the launch. Those following the AIRA saga will have seen hints that both the TR808 and TR909 could be part of the AIRA range, and for fans of these drum machines the expectation is high. We took a look at why these drum machines were so popular amongst musicians when they were originally released in the 1980’s.

Introduced in 1980, the Roland TR808 was one of the first programmable drum machines. Using analog synthesis to create its sounds, the TR808 featured a wide selection of drum sounds and effects and became an integral part of music production in the 80’s due to the fact it was a simple, affordable way to produce drum sounds. Whilst its competitors produced more authentic drum sounds,the TR808 was a popular choice with R&B, hip-hop, dance and techno producers due to its unique selection of effects. Crispy snare sounds, tinny hand-claps, its deep booming bass kicks, distinctive cowbell and trashy hi-hat effects all made the TR808 a major player in 80’s composition.

Famous users of the TR808 include Orbital, Aphex Twin, The Beastie Boys, Dr Dre, Ritchie Hawtin and many many more. Here’s a quick demonstation of the TR808 drum machine in action.

After witnessing the soaring popularity of the TR808,Roland decided to upgrade the product and released its successor, the TR909. Introduced in 1983, this partially sample-based, partially analog drum machine featured a 16 step sequencer and an upgraded drum kit with more realistic sounds than the TR808. Techno and house producers quickly took the TR909 under their wing and the collection of bass kicks and analogue sounds heavily featured in a new scene of heavy rhythm based tracks.

Watch the track below for an example of how the TR909 was typically used in techno music.

Now you’ve seen the TR909 in action, why not try it for yourself. The image below links to an online Roland TR909 emulator which allows you to experiment with the sounds and features of the TR909.

It’s pretty clear why the music industry is excited about the forthcoming release of AIRA and though we don’t yet know what new features will be unveiled, we’re expecting big things. The Roland AIRA range will be launched on February 14th 2014. To watch all the teaser videos and follow the countdown, visit the Roland Aira website.

Stefanie Chew

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