The Roland TR-808, often simply referred to as the "808," is a legendary drum machine that was introduced by the Roland Corporation in 1980. It's one of the most iconic and influential electronic musical instruments ever created, particularly in the realms of hip-hop, electronic dance music (EDM), and various other genres.
Here are some key features and aspects of the Roland TR-808:
Sound Generation: The 808 generates its sounds using analog synthesis. Each drum sound (kick, snare, hi-hats, etc.) is produced by analog circuitry rather than samples, giving it a distinct and characteristic sound.
Drum Sounds: The TR-808 features a variety of drum sounds including bass drum, snare drum, hi-hats (open and closed), toms, rimshot, clap, cowbell, and cymbals. These sounds are synthesized rather than recorded samples, which contributes to its unique sonic character.
Sequencing: The 808 includes a built-in step sequencer, allowing users to program patterns by individually specifying which beats to trigger for each drum sound. This sequencing method was revolutionary at the time and became a fundamental aspect of electronic music production.
Pattern Memory: The machine allows users to store patterns in its memory for recall later, making it suitable for live performance as well as studio use.
Interface: The TR-808's interface consists of knobs and buttons for programming patterns and adjusting parameters such as tempo, tuning, and volume for each drum sound.
Influence and Legacy: Despite its initial commercial failure upon release, the TR-808's unique sound and affordability led to its adoption by producers in various genres, most notably hip-hop and electronic dance music. Its booming bass drum, in particular, became emblematic of the hip-hop genre and remains widely used to this day. Its influence can be heard across countless hit records and has become a staple in modern music production.
Cultural Impact: The 808 has transcended its status as a mere musical instrument to become a cultural icon. It's been celebrated in songs, documentaries, and even has a day dedicated to it (August 8th, or 8/08). The machine's sounds have become synonymous with certain musical styles and continue to shape the landscape of popular music.
Despite being discontinued by Roland in 1983 due to poor sales, the TR-808's influence has endured through the years. Its sound has been emulated in software plugins and hardware clones, ensuring that its legacy lives on for generations of musicians and producers to come.
At the time of its launch in 1980, the Roland TR-808 was priced at around £695 GBP in the United Kingdom but today these rare and iconic machines change hands for thousands of pounds!
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