Friday, May 8, 2009

TR-505...Why Do I Love Thee?

On this, the last day of the I Love Analogue Blog 80s PCM
Drum Machine poll, I pause to reflect, on my favorite 80s PCM drum
machine, the Roland TR-505.

Your first question may be, why do I like it? There's so much hooplah
about other Roland drum machines from the 80s, like the 808,
909, and 606. The answer is, I don't really know. I started
cutting my teeth in the 80s on remixes by Ivan Ivan who used the 505
almost exclusively. It really was THE drum machine for crass remixes for everyone
from Echo & The Bunnymen to Gene Loves Jezebel. It's got a great,
solid kick drum sound, and a real "Thwacky!" snare. To be honest, most people just
used it for the kick drum sound, but Ivan Ivan and Shep Pettibone went
beyond that, and brought its percussion to the forefront. You know, those high-tuned
8bit sounding Congas and Agogos. Joseph Watt, the DJ/Producer behind the
remix service used this device incessantly.

So that's the main reason, then. Instead of buying a 505 back in 1990, when they were
cheap, I got an R5 instead. A more full featured drum machine for sure, but the
sounds were a little bit too clean, a little bit too punchy, and to be honest, the only
sounds I used were the solid kick and tight snare, which were no doubt ported directly
from the 505. The 505 is great as a sound module, too, because it's small,
the sounds themselves are velocity sensitive, and let's face it, totally unrealistic.

So why don't I own a TR505? The answer is twofold. First of all, as much as I love
the late 80's pop/dance sound, I don't really work in those parameters anymore, although
I've studied them so well, I can make those records in my sleep these days. Those who have
heard my songs probably still think that I make those kind of records, and you're mostly right.

They're a little overpriced these days, to be sure. Because of the way they're structured mechanically,
it's quite easy to go in there and circuit bend the hell out of it,(see below) which I'm not interested in, since
I really like the way it sounds straight out of the box (with a bit of reverb/delay-is that an oxymoron?)

And if I want glitchy, I have a Korg Electribe ER1. Also, I've since graduated to a Roland R8M,
which has the 505 kick, snare, hihats, and percussion built in. I've seen them on Ebay for
starting prices as high as $150, which is stupid, unless you're wanting to Frankenstein it. I just
want a nice, clean, little white box. More like a trophy than something I actually could (or should) use.

So, the answer, I guess, is that I'm not going to buy a 505. Ever. As tempting as it is,
I really don't need one. I really like the way the kick drum sounds on my Jomox Mbase 01 and
I've got snares aplenty on my R8M. I can still dream, though, right?

Here's a nice video of the 505 doing what it does best, making cheesy-ass 80s beats.

Have a good weekend, and be sure to vote for your favorite PCM drum machine in my poll.
I'm a sick, sick, puppy.

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