Computer Music

PROGRAMMING SYNTH DRUMS

Synthesised drums are such an integral part of today’s music that it’s hard to believe they were once so controversial. In the 80s, drummers were convinced that the bang-on perfection of the drum machine threatened their very livelihoods, and the Musicians’ Union responded by calling for a ban on both synths and drum machines. Obviously the idea didn’t take, and drum machines have since proliferated in ways the Union could never have predicted. Maybe they should have consulted Phil Collins or Warren Cann – both of whom cracking drummers who had no problem embracing the drum machine.

Mind you, Collins and Cann were sharing the stage with quaint analogue drum machines that emitted the kind of hissing, clattering sounds that could never have been mistaken for the real thing. By 1982, however, Roger Linn’s sample-based LinnDrum was in its second incarnation, and other manufacturers were following suit with machines designed specifically to alleviate the need for a drummer.

The Union needn’t have worried, though – it turns out drummers aren’t just good for being the butt of punchlines and stealing the singer’s girlfriend, but are essential for giving the drums a truly human feel as well. Nonetheless, the drum machine eventually went through almost exactly the same revival as the analogue synthesiser did.

When sampling took over, cash-strapped musicians snapped up obsolete analogue drum machines for pennies, incorporating them into then-innovative hip-hop, industrial and synthpop records, not to mention using them to define the sound of mid-80s goth. Sooner or later, people gradually began to realise that the very artificial quality that was initially seen as a liability was, in fact, a supremely evocative sound in its own right.

Luckily, the sounds made by those old machines can) and that stalwart of freeware synths, Crystal.

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