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Ikutaro Kakehashi, Engineer Behind Revolutionary Drum Machine, Dies at 87

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https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/03/arts/music/ikutaro-kakeshashi-roland-808-drum-machine-dead.html?action=click&contentCollection=obituaries&region=rank&module=package&version=highlights&contentPlacement=5&pgtype=sectionfront

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The impact of 808 was loud and lasting. Roland claims it is heard on more hit records than any other drum machine, including tracks by Michael Jackson, Prince, Marvin Gaye — whose 1982 song “Sexual Healing” was largely constructed with an 808 — and Kanye West, whose album “808s and Heartbreak” was named after it.

Beyoncé, Madonna and Eminem, among many others, have mentioned the 808 in lyrics.

The 808 was widely embraced in hip-hop, particularly after the release of “Planet Rock” by Afrika Bambaataa & Soulsonic Force in 1982. In “808,” a 2015 documentary about the device by Alex Dunn, Public Enemy’s producer Hank Shocklee said, “It’s not hip-hop without that sound.”

Introduced in 1980 and discontinued in 1983, the TR-808 — TR stands for “transistor rhythm”— was an analog device that made frankly artificial drum and percussion sounds: tinny handclaps, hissing high-hats, a dinky cowbell. But it was portable and could be programmed by untrained musicians, and with circuits that included the specific defective transistor, the 808’s bass drum sound held thunderous low frequencies that could shake up clubs.

With the tone and decay controls on the 808, the bass drum sounds could also be sustained and broadened to suggest subterranean melodies.

The sounds of the 808 continue to be heard in R&B, pop and electronic dance music, and they are starkly in the foreground in the current production style called trap.

Those 808 sounds, however, are likely to be sampled rather than generated by an original machine. Only 12,000 TR-808 Rhythm Composer units were made, because as semiconductor manufacturing improved, the distinctively defective transistor became unavailable.

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Surely they could have found a better photo of Kakeshashi. 

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Ikutaro-Kakehashi-Mein-Leben-fuer-die-Mu

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I've always considered the drum machine to be the Cheez Whiz of musical instruments. If a real drummer isn't used, the music is unlikely to be of any interest to me.

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"real drummer"....a drum machine is not a "fake drummer", it's a whole other thing. Those who use it or hear it as a "substitute" drummer are not using the imaginative part of their music-self.

That's a lot of people, including some big names, but the opposite of "real drummer" is not necessarily "drum machine". Find me a "real drummer" who can get that "Planet Rock" thing, the whole thing, the sound and everything.

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1 hour ago, Ken Dryden said:

I've always considered the drum machine to be the Cheez Whiz of musical instruments. If a real drummer isn't used, the music is unlikely to be of any interest to me.

I completely agree with this. The drum machine has destroyed the beauty of Black Music forever. I for one, welcome our robotic percussion Overlords!

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Let's put it this way: Michael Jackson, Prince, Marvin Gaye, Kanye West, Beyoncé, Madonna, Eminem, Afrika Bambaataa & Soulsonic Force, Public Enemy, etc., are not represented in my vast collection (which does extend outside of jazz). I despise drum machines.

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1 hour ago, sgcim said:

I completely agree with this. The drum machine has destroyed the beauty of Black Music forever. I for one, welcome our robotic percussion Overlords!

So,,,Black Music is forevermore ugly? I guess Black People will be too, unless they make something besides Black Music?

Otherwise, I can't trust any American "jazz fan" who doesn't have any Marvin Gaye records, not even What's Going On (which does not have drum machines). That's just weird.

I would say it's just wrong, but you know, that's not done these days.

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Who said black music is ugly? I have plenty of black music, I have never had any interest in some black artists. There is no requirement for anyone to own or like an artist just because it is politically correct to do so. As to "white" music, I also own no Beatles, Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen, Elvis Presley nor any Bob Dylan recordings. I buy what I want to listen to and not what others dictate that I should own and enjoy. 

The one need I might see for a drum machine is if the demands were far too great for a live percussionist or percussion ensemble to play.

Frank Zappa composed on a synclavier quite a bit in the 1980s as he claimed some of his works were too difficult for bands to play live. Yet near the end of his life, Ensemble Modern proved that they were up to the challenge. He appeared as a conductor on a few numbers as his failing health permitted. 

 

I'm not here to critique anyone's listening habits nor their music collections. But I don't consider the drum machine to be all that compelling an addition to the world of music.

 

 

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48 minutes ago, Ken Dryden said:

Who said black music is ugly?

Not you. It was the implied conclusion of the one guy's statement that the drum machine has destroyed the beauty of Black Music forever.

I'm like, ok, no more beauty, what's left? "Pretty", I guess? Maybe?

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To be perfectly honest, I like the sex machine better than the drum machine.

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Not you. It was the implied conclusion of the one guy's statement that the drum machine has destroyed the beauty of Black Music forever.

I'm like, ok, no more beauty, what's left? "Pretty", I guess? Maybe?

I read sgcim's comment as sarcastic (hence the "robotic overlords" thing), fwiw. Jim, as per your initial comment, I very much agree--whatever the initial application of the 808, its operative use is as a musical "tool." I think that the mechanics and sonics of archaic drum machine sounds make it virtually impossible to argue that something like the 808 is either a suitable substitute or replacement for a "real drummer"--the two entities don't correlate any more than an electric bass correlates to an upright bass... possibly less even, like the relationship between CGI and oil painting.

The Zappa/Synclavier comparison is instructive but not quite the same, since the application of said instrument in Zappa's music was to perform music that was more or less unperformable at a certain time. I wish I knew more and hope to learn more about the topic, but the early application of drum machines in popular music was a little more complex--it had to do with economics as well as practical mechanical application.

The kind of percussion parts you get on an early Beastie Boys or Run-D.M.C. album would have been playable by a handful of gifted percussionists in the 1980s, but you're talking about music that might be (a) manufactured in the studio for the purposes of providing perfectly looped/quantized backing for music that was largely vocal in emphasis, (b) meant to accord with the sonics of a particular sort of performance practice, and (c) often performed (either live or in the studio) by a limited number of musicians/producers. Also, consider the 1977 New York blackout that was said to have catalyzed early hip-hop--legend has it that people were looting for turntables and mixers, and not--for whatever reason--drum kits.

As a total aside and not meant to reflect on any of the conversationalists here, each of whom I know deserves a great deal of respect--but while jazz as a sound and institution has my heart, very little jazz of this century has captured my imagination like the most creative music in other major genres, hip-hop and dance music included. I do think it's funny that this (very well educated and listened) jazz forum frequently lapses into discussions about the validity of decades old production techniques. It's as if we spend more time discussing what we should do rather than what we did and what we will. RIP Ikutaro. 

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2 hours ago, Ken Dryden said:

 

 

Tough few seconds at the end of that clip...

Edited by rostasi

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Not just how could you do this with a "real drummer" (no you couldn't "real drums" are entirely too "big" to fit into this space. Believe me, I've heard it tried in clubs too many times, they got a live band and the people want to hear that kind of beat, so the drummer plays "that" and...no, it's not that), why would you want to even try?

And that then goes to why do you want to do this? Consider the physical feeling of a given sound in a given physical space, Sometimes a crowd feels right, sometimes elevation above/extrication out of the crowd feels even better. Especially when the crowd you're separating from is one you never really wanted there in the first place. Oh, feelings get hurt? Where?

Means to an end.

How many times has "The Beauty Of Black Music" been destroyed?

 

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As a needs to/but doesn't need to be said aside in an RIP thread, I can't really listen to Afrika Bambaataa anymore without thinking of the sexual abuse allegations--the second saddest part (the first being self-evident) being that they've cast a gigantic pall over some monumental and innovative musical contributions. 

As per your point, Jim--you could match the rhythms with multiple drummers but not the timbres, but that's really beside the point--it's more a matter of "why would you want to?" There are many musicians in the 21st century who trade in live approximation of less synthetic hip-hop feels--the Roots, Badbadnotgood, Glasper's projects, and so on--and it's never exactly the same thing. 

Conversely, there's early use of drum machines in a lot of improvised music and out jazz (not necessarily, apropos of this thread, the TR-808), and it's often for sonic effect rather than to mask the absence of acoustic textures. See:

 

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All I know is that i can listen to a radio show like across 110th Street on WKCR for four hours without changing the station, but when the hip-hop show comes on, the radio goes off.

I taught music in inner city high schools for about 20 years, and the first question I'd ask a kid who wanted to play drums in the band was, "do you play in your church?'

If the answer was yes, he was in. And the results were always great.

If the kid never played in the church, and just listened to Afrika Bambadboy (who was the leader of a street gang called the Black Spades in The Bronx, and had no musical background) and hip-hop, he played stiff as a board.

Oh yeah, you can get the people on the dance floor with that, but do you really want to listen to it?

Getting away from 'Black music', record producer John Simon is most proud of the fact that he has never used a drum machine, or even a click track on one record that he has produced. Real music has rhythmic nuances that are part of the expression of the artist. A programmed drum machine can't read a musician's mind and react to some nuance in time.

Drum machines have their use, but it's one of expediency; some continuous complex rhythm in a film score that lasts for an entire scene, techno music, etc...

But when you remove the drummer from R&B, and replace him with a soulless drum machine, you wind up with the corniest, stiffest music that has no tie to real black music, i.e. Gospel, blues, jazz, Soul,

This really hit me when they played the record of the year on 'Hot 97', the top 'Hip-hop and R&B station in NYC ten years ago. It sounded as stiff and square as some mickey mouse band playing the charleston. And that's all the kids wanted to hear then, and that's all kids are ever going to want to hear from now on, because we've let tech run the music, instead of the other way around. YMMV...

Edited by sgcim

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1 hour ago, ep1str0phy said:

As a needs to/but doesn't need to be said aside in an RIP thread, I can't really listen to Afrika Bambaataa anymore without thinking of the sexual abuse allegations--the second saddest part (the first being self-evident) being that they've cast a gigantic pall over some monumental and innovative musical contributions. 

As per your point, Jim--you could match the rhythms with multiple drummers but not the timbres, but that's really beside the point--it's more a matter of "why would you want to?" There are many musicians in the 21st century who trade in live approximation of less synthetic hip-hop feels--the Roots, Badbadnotgood, Glasper's projects, and so on--and it's never exactly the same thing. 

Conversely, there's early use of drum machines in a lot of improvised music and out jazz (not necessarily, apropos of this thread, the TR-808), and it's often for sonic effect rather than to mask the absence of acoustic textures. See:

 

Exactly - sound has meaning as sound. "We" should not even be giving this a second thought, especially since those second thoughts too often end up being in search of negation of reality instead of better understanding it. But round and round and round we go....that's how a rut get dug, I believe.

I mean, geez, Cathy, hire a fucking band, ok? Real instruments and shit.

 

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5 hours ago, Ken Dryden said:

Let's put it this way: Michael Jackson, Prince, Marvin Gaye, Kanye West, Beyoncé, Madonna, Eminem, Afrika Bambaataa & Soulsonic Force, Public Enemy, etc., are not represented in my vast collection (which does extend outside of jazz). I despise drum machines.

I agree with that, but Marvin Gaye didn't use drum machines, so it was part of the tradition of black music, not the goose-stepping dance music that people want to hear today.

Prince is okay, too.

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I sense that we're getting off on parallel tracks, but a couple of notes for consideration-

(1) I question both the utility and the reality of hard distinctions between the "tradition of black music" and "goose-stepping dance music." I think you'd be hard pressed to find an example of the latter that doesn't have some tangible relationship to the former. Afrika Bambaataaa and James Brown collaborated with one another. Virtually everyone Ken mentions in the above post recorded with a live band at some point or another. 

(2) Not all music that is aided by drum machines and other programming mechanisms operates under the kind of mechanical fixity that Bambaataa's (very important but also deeply archaic) music does. A drum machine is not "just" a tool that you program and press play on--producers dispensed with quantization as a necessary tool decades ago at this point. Samples are often performed in the studio rather than automated. Studio production that invokes sampling is not mutually exclusive from either live instrumentation or musical literacy, and the literature of this music is littered with people who are have coherent understanding of both worlds. 

This issue is twice as old as I am and I trust that no one on either side of this entrenchment is going to change his or her opinion at this point, but it needed to be said. 

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Drum machines not part of the "tradition of black music"?

Gotta protect dat natchal rittim y'all! Keep away from dem machines, they EVIL!!!!!!

 

 

 

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But on a serious note...

The "digital reality" has changed the collective "us", none of us has to change but good luck in stopping it. At some point, it's either adapt or withdraw. Either way you die in the end.

But if you're an attempting to be an enabler of knowledge rather than an enforcer of rules, you will find a way to engage, even if it diminishes - or reinforces - or both! - the certainty of your dogma.

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I knew the war was over when Stevie Wonder came out with, 'I Just Called To Say I Love You" in the 80s.

It was like he fell asleep, and the Pods did their body snatching. After that, 'it was all theater'.

I had my fun; I played with Bernard Purdie, Melba Moore, Sister Sledge, etc...

I just feel sorry for the kids who want to play today. 'Let My Children Hear the TR808?'

, I listened to HOT 97 everyday for 16 years- there's nothing there. I'm retired from enabling and engaging, I've got gigs all the way through Oct., but there are no TR808s involved.

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sgcim, you make a very compelling, substantiated arguement for your opinion on the subject of drum machines.

Do you think HipHop, Rap [not the same stuff? I don't know much about it] have done more bad than good for the Black American Music? What will happen in the future, will there be a reversal to the historically-Black musical roots, or the time has passed?

 

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5 hours ago, Dmitry said:

sgcim, you make a very compelling, substantiated arguement for your opinion on the subject of drum machines.

Do you think HipHop, Rap [not the same stuff? I don't know much about it] have done more bad than good for the Black American Music? What will happen in the future, will there be a reversal to the historically-Black musical roots, or the time has passed?

 

You can't reverse 'progress', although you'll be able to still hear that music on shows like 'Across 110th St.' on WKCR. It amazes me that I can enjoy the most mediocre song from back then, and am repulsed by most of today's over-produced music.

The Netflix series 'Luke Cage' had some very 'groovy' music in its soundtrack, but the inferior theme song (written by some hip-hop 'genius') reminds us where we are now.

As to whether Hip-hop has done more harm than good, for BAM, a book-length argument about that subject can be found in the book "A Hole In Our Soul".

I read with glee an essay by one of the white music critics who championed Hip-Hop, bemoaning the fact that everything has become 'hip', and now we're regularly hearing hip-hop grooves and rap in most TV and radio commercials! He ends the essay wondering if 'maybe we got it all wrong...'

As for the future, you can't go home again, and I for one, welcome our technological overlords...:lol:

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