Wednesday, June 26, 2019

HAPPY 626 day! Roland TR-626 advertisement, 1988 / 626 ReBirth Mod

Roland TR-626 advertisement / TR-626 ReBirth Mod - HAPPY 626 day!

Well, I don't have a lot of TR-626 marketing material (you can read the original TR-626 ad blog post here.), but I wanted to celebrate the awesomeness of 626 day somehow. So I decided to merge it in with one of my recent fascinations: Propellerhead's ReBirth.

And what better way to combine these two fun activities than by creating a mod that substitutes the 808 and 909 drum machines in ReBirth with  ----- THE HORROR!!!! ----- a TR-626.

That's right, dammit. Deal with it.   :)

I've wanted to learn about making mods for ReBirth as far back as I've known mods existed - how to change the drum sounds, how to change the graphics, all of it. And it turns out the 626 is almost a perfect drum machine to port over because the number of sounds it contains matches pretty well with the number of sounds that the 808 and 909 modules in ReBirth contain. Its definitely not a perfect match (as you'll see) but it works.

Update: Reminder - I'm using ReBirth 2.0 and mod was created for V2.

Diving right it, I quickly learned there are quite a few limitations/idiosyncrasies that determine just how the sounds could be mapped out. The big ones included:

1. The basic functionality of each drum machine can't be changed. So, the top half (the 808) had to function similarly to the 808 in ReBIrth, and the bottom half (the 909) had to function similarly to the 909. So, for example, instrument selection on the top half could be done through something like that 808 dial, while the bottom half of sounds had to be selected through the buttons.

2. The template image file can be modified, but they need to be kept at the exact widths and heights, so the placement of all the dials and selection buttons can't really be changed. And dials had to be there, even if they ended up having no effect on the sound (more on that below).

3. Some sounds that have "Tune" dials, are actually just different samples. For example, the "Tune" dial for the 909 low/mid/high toms change the pitch of each respective tom sample. But the "Tune" dial on the TR-909 bass drum actually consists of four different samples, each with different amounts of low end. Efficient programming - but less variation for the 909 bass drum. BUT this opened up the possibility of slotting more than one sound into that drum selection.

Based on these "rules", I mapped out the TR-626 sounds across the two drum machines like this:

The actual TR-626 allowed a lot more control of each sound - for example, tuning of each instrument - and so some functionality was lost depending on where I decided to slot in the 626's sounds.  There's a lot riding on that selection!

So, let's look at each drum sound in more detail to see what I did.

TR-626 bass drums (slotted into 909 bass drum): 

As mentioned earlier, the 909 bass drum "Tune" dial is actually made up of four samples. So, I could slot the two 626 bass drum sounds here. This gave me two extra sample slots, so I added reverb on to those two 626 bass drum sounds to create the two extra samples. So, I renamed the "Tune" dial to  "SND" and with it you can select between these four sounds.

Original 626 bass drum 1
Original 626 bass drum 2
626 bass drum 1 w/ reverb
626 bass drum 2 w/ reverb

The rest of the dials for the bass drum work as expected: "Level" controls volume, "ATT" simulates faster attach by adding high end to the beginning of the sound and "DEC" (decay) increases the envelope time of the sound and is most audible on the reverb tail of the two extra drum sounds.

TR-626 snare drums (slotted into the 909 snare drum):

The 909 snare drum in ReBirth is slightly more intricate than the bass drum - and is a really good example of how the programmers cut some corners to try and get as many variations of the 909 snare into ReBirth with limited processing power.

The final sound of the 909 snare in ReBirth is made from a layered combination of five samples from the "Tune" dial that give the drum sound more bottom end, and three samples from the "Snap" dial which incrementally adds more of that higher frequency 909 snare "noise" we all know and love to the final sound. The "Tone" dial seems to be adjusting the length of the envelop for the "Snap" samples.

I decided the easiest thing to do would be to insert the three TR-626 snare drums into the sample slots of  the "Tune" dial and label it "SND". Then I just used silence in the snap settings so that dial, and its corresponding "Tone" dial wouldn't have any effect on the snare drum sound in any way. The dials still appear because you can't turn those off, but I did relabel them "---" to indicate they didn't do anything.

As mentioned, the "Tune" dial has space for five samples, so along with the three original snare sounds, I added reverb to Snare 1 and Snare 3 and put those in the other two slots. So, the 'SND" dial can select between these five sounds:

Original 626 snare drum 1
Original 626 snare drum 2
Original 626 snare drum 3
626 snare drum 1 with reverb
626 snare drum 3 with reverb

The only other dial that functions is "Level", affecting the volume of the sound.

TR-626 low, high muted and high open congas (slotted into the 909 low, mid and high tom)

I've put the low, muted and open congas next to the snare drums. They fit well here and the "Tune", "Dec" and "Level" dials works as they should - although there isn't much decay adjustment on the mute and open high congos since they are such short sounds anyways.

TR-626 rim shot, clap, closed hi hat, open hi hat, crash cymbal and ride cymbal (slotted into the same spots as the 909 sounds)

Made sense to slot the same percussion sounds from the TR-626 into the rim shot, clap, hi hats, crash and ride cymbal spots. "Level", "Dec" and "Tune" dials work as they should.

TR-626 low timbale (slotted into 808 bass drum)

This was an easy replacement of the sample - "Level" dial adjusts volume,"Tune" dial takes out hign-end of the sample, and "Dec" shortens or lengthens the envelop of the sound.

TR-626 hi timbale (slotted into the 808 snare drum)

This was a trickier one. The 808 bass drum "Tune" dial automatically eq's the one sample, but the 808 snare drum sound is made from five samples under the "Tune" dial and three samples under the "Snap" dial.

So, to emulate the "Tune" effect of the low timbale, I created five different hi timbale samples that enhanced or cut some high end from the original sample. There was no use for the three sample slots used for the "Snap" dial, so I just replaced with silence for those and removed the snap label.

"Level" dial affects volume as it should.

TR-626 low, mid and high toms (slotted into 808 tom/conga switches)

Made sense to put the two sets of 626 toms into the switchable 808 tom/conga slots - one set when the toggle switch is in the down position, the other set with the toggle switch is up. "Level" and "Tune" dials work as expected.

TR-626 shaker, clave, low and hi agogo (slotted into the 808 rim shot, clap, clave and maracas switches)

These might have been the four hardest choices to make since it would mean that only two of the four sounds would be available at any one time. In the end, I chose to put the shaker, clave, low and hi agogos into these slots.

"Level" dials work as expected for each sound.

TR-626 cowbell, cup cymbal, china cymbal and tambourine (slotted into the 808 cow bell, cymbal, open and closed hi hats)

The last four percussion sounds of the 626 were slotted into these last four 808 spots.

All corresponding"Level" and "Dec" dials work as expected. The "Tone" dial for the cup cymbal removes bass frequencies of the sample as it's turned.

And that's that!

Is it perfect. Definitely not. But all in all, it was a fun little project and a great way to learn how the programmers of ReBirth managed to cram so much goodness in an efficient manner and how they cut corners to maximize processing power.

A nice balance, I'd say.

I've put the mod (for use with ReBirth 2) up on Google Drive until I get a chance to send to one of the ReBirth mod sites.

Here's a short video of my 626 Mod in ReBirth.  :)

Monday, June 17, 2019

Alesis 1992 "Alesis Product Line" product catalog


Alesis "Product Line" 7-panel two page colour product catalog from 1992.

So, I uploaded these scans as two long pages, and also segmented them out to higher res scans of different panels depending on content flow. Basically an experiment to see what works best. 

Surprisingly, I've only ever posted one other ad from Alesis - a Christmas ad for the HR-16 and MMT-8. But I was recently intrigued by my own MMT-8 and thought I'd share my little experience. I could have posted a number of earlier marketing promo pieces that feature the grey MMT-8, but I kinda love my black MMT-8 so I specifically dug into the vault and chose this brochure because of it.  Besides the MMT-8, it includes a great summary of Alesis' gear from 1992 - drum machine, mixer, effects and their ADAT. All fantastic gear for a great price at the time.

Anyways, about the MMT-8...

A few days ago, I was scrolling through Twitter when I saw this tweet from Peter Kirn:

Well, there's two things I love in one sentence! The Alesis MMT-8 sequencer and Shawn Rudiman.


Side note for Rudiman fans: Just found out he's releasing a new EP on Tresor Records. From the page:
"The studio is Rudiman’s vehicle, the weapon and the balm. From synthetic wonders to dark-warehouse drum missives, Autonomic Pilot proves once again Rudiman as a master of his craft. Tresor Records is proud to welcome his new work into the world."


I jumped over to Peter Kirn's article on the CDM Web site called: "Post Album Techno: 9 years of live sequence data, from Shawn Rudiman". As Peter puts it -
"Shawn has taken the plunge and dumped years of live performance practice from his backups, in an irrationally specific media archaeology experiment for techno nerds." 
And specific it was! Each of the 12 live sets on the album called "Finest Quality, Big Time Data" are from the MMT-8's data tape audio back-ups. That's right. Not the audio. The DATA. I you try to listen to the tracks, it's just that screechy 90's dial-up modem-like sound for four or five minutes.

Brilliant! It's like he posted it just for me.  Okay, not just me - it's also for the eight other people that also purchased the "album" so far.

To me, that's one of the most interesting things about this release by Shawn. He knew when he posted it that it had a very narrow audience and hence was obviously a very limited money-maker. But from a promotional standpoint, it's a fun and interesting exercise aimed directly at us "techno nerds".

And exercise I did!

Unfortunately I had just packed up *all* my studio for a temporary move (over 200 synths, drum machines and sequencers into 250+ feet of 4' wide bubble wrap, 20+ cases and 25 carry-totes) so I had to find that MMT-8 first. Luckily, it only took about half an hour to find it and get it out of its bubble-wrapped sleeve. The power supply was somewhat easier to find since I have a healthy addiction to label makers.

So I plugged it in, and hoped for the best. Sure enough that lovely little screen lit up bright!

It turned on!

Next, I needed to figure out how to restore the audio data. One of the great things about the MMT-8 is its ease of use, and the fact that most of the directions on its use can be found on the flip-up lid on the top of the MMT-8.
flip-up instructions
So, with the instructions on how to restore pattern and song data identified, I dug out an audio cable and plugged one end from the headphone output of my laptop and the other end into the "tape in" port on the back of the MMT-8. I then pulled up the Shawn Rudiman's Bandcamp page, entered the correct key combo on the MMT-8 to start the restore process, and hit play on the Bandcamp page to get the first set of audio data playing.


I tried different volume levels.

Still nothing.

I tried downloading and playing the MP3 file from the computer. Nothing. Uncompressed WAV files. Nothing. Stereo cable. Nothing. Mono cable. Nothing. Mono->Stereo cable. Nothing.

Anger sets in.

Then I had an idea. I pulled up the Bandcamp app on my Android tablet, plugged the audio cable into the headphone jack and hit play.

Boom! The screen on the MMT-8 indicated it was restoring the data.

I had forgotten how fussy tape backups/restores could be. And not just fussy. But time-consuming. And so it was four minutes and fifty-seven seconds later the MMT-8's screen returned to normal and I started looking for parts (what Alesis calls patterns).

00. 01. 02..... 16 - jackpot - "Deep Techno-2"!

But now for problem #2. All my synths were packed up! What do I connect to the sequencer to see what exactly was restored?

I got an idea.

What if I play each track, one by one, from that first pattern on the MMT-8 while sync'd up and recording into Propellerhead Reason?

And that's exactly what I did:

The great thing about this method is that it created a nice visual reference of the MIDI data and I could get a better idea of what might be a percussive, pad or bass-type track. I then created a new instance of Kong, Thor or any of Reason's other great instruments (or VSTs!) and copied over the midi data from the track. Voila!

It also helped that I contacted Shawn to let him know I had managed to pull in one of his sets and he gave me a few more tips and hints about his workflow. Thank you Shawn!

So now I bet you want to hear something. Well, that's gonna have to wait because I have a few more Alesis brochures to post yet!  :)