Pounding the beat with a huge mechanical version of Roland's TR-808 drum machine
By Paul Ridden
November 8, 2012
If you're a fan of 1980s music, then there's a very good chance that you'll already be familiar with the electronic beats provided by what's widely regarded as the drum machine that started it all, Roland's TR-808. It set the mood for Marvin Gaye's Sexual Healing, fired shots at David Byrne in the concert movie Stop Making Sense and was the inspiration for the naming of the band 808 State. In his own homage to the iconic device, electronic music tinkerer Moritz Simon Geist has mechanically reproduced 11 of its key sounds using real instruments played by robots within the supersized, wall-filling frame of the stunning MR-808.
Moritz Simon Geist says that he became a little bored with digital production processes used to create today's electronic music, so decided to make something a bit more physical. The MR-808's monstrous 3.3 x 1.7-meter (10.8 x 5.5-ft) wooden case sports huge 808-like thermoformed buttons along the bottom and dials up the left side, and inside its compartments sit a real snare drum, kick drum, hi-hat, cabasa, clave, ride cymbal, hand-clap, three toms and a cowbell.
XLR connectors are used to hook up the instruments to a Mosfet array power unit capable of switching up to 50 A per channel. Two 19-inch, 550-watt switching power supplies ripped from a computer server act as the power supply.
Motor and solenoid actuators triggered by power electronics and an Arduino microcontroller pound the beats to music written with Ableton Live. Instrument latencies are controlled with Max MSP, a Motu MK828 is used as a MIDI-out interface, and high-power white LED lights pulsate as each instrument is played.
The MR-808 made its public debut at the Media Arts Festival CYNETART in Dresden-Hellerau, Germany in October. It is also a rather large member of the experimental band Science Fiction Children.
The following video shows the impressive beast in action (warning: strobing lights).