We were so happy to hear that music writer and filmaker Nelson George has created this short documentary on the legendary Roland TR-808 drum machine, which was a staple sound in such classic hits like Soulsonic Force‘s Planet Rock, Marvin Gaye “Sexual Healing” and many others. This sound defined an era of music. Enjoy.
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The sounds of the Roland TR-808 drum machine inspire musicians around the world, even though the device hasnt been made since 1984 and most of its avid users have never actually seen one. Join the conversation and tweet #THEBEAT to have your tweet featured on the Focus Forward website. Go tofocusforwardfilms.com/films/32/all-hail-the-beat to see the discussion. Check out more films in the Focus Forward series at vimeo.com/focusforwardfilms.
More about the Roland TR-808 from Wikipedia:
The Roland TR-808 Rhythm Composer was one of the first programmable drum machines (“TR” serving as an initialism for Transistor Rhythm). Introduced by the Roland Corporation in early 1980, it was originally manufactured for use as a tool for studio musicians to create demos. Like earlier Roland drum machines, it does not sound very much like a real drum kit. Indeed, because the TR-808 came out a few months after the Linn LM-1 (the first drum machine to use digital samples), professionals generally considered its sound inferior to sampling drum machines; a 1982 Keyboard Magazine review of the LinnDrum indirectly referred to the TR-808 as sounding like marching anteaters. However, the TR-808 cost US$1,195 upon its release, which was considerably more affordable than the US$5,000 LM-1.
Drum machines in general became an integral part of hip hop music as a cheap and simple way of producing a drum sound. The Roland TR-808 held specific appeal because of the ability of its bass drum sound to produce extremely low-frequency sounds. It also featured various unique artificial percussion sounds that characterized the TR-808: a deep bass kick drum, “tinny handclap sounds,” the ticky snare, the tishy hi-hats (open and closed) and the spacey cowbell. The Roland TR-808 would eventually be used on more hit records than any other drum machine, and has thus attained an iconic status within the music industry.