MORE “INSTRUMENTAL INSTRUMENTS”

Last week, Red Bull Music Academy Daily re-booted their Instrumental Instruments series of features, which concentrates on key pieces of music-making hardware and software.

Amongst the flurry of features were two written by yours truly. Some may remember that I previously wrote articles for the series focusing on two pieces of kit with vastly different price points, both of which revolutionised music-making in the 1980s: Roland’s iconic TR-909 drum machine (whose percussive sounds formed the backbone of Detroit techno in its early years) and the Fairlight CMI (an early sampling computer favoured by big budget studios, the Art of Noise, Trevor Horn, Kate Bush and Peter Gabriel).

This time round, I’ve honed in on two machines that did much to help the spread of “bedroom music production” during the tail end of the 1980s and early 1990s: the Roland SH-101 and the Atari ST.

I first became aware of the prominence of the now sought-after “101” a few years back while interviewing early “bleep and bass” pioneers about the records they made at the turn of the ’90s. The monophonic synthesiser was easy to find during that period, and you could pick up a second-hand unit for less than £50. It was another one of Roland’s famous flops, having initially sold poorly when it went on sale.

It was intended to appeal to synth-pop musicians who fancied themselves as “keytar” players; in the end, it became a go-to synth during the DIY dance music boom of the late ’80s and early ’90s. Naturally, the story is explored in more detail – with quotes from those who have used it extensively – in the feature, which you can read by clicking here. Ironically, the synth is now one of the most desirable around, so much so that Roland has created an “updated” version as part of their “Boutique” line (the SH-01A) of instruments. Interestingly, I wrote the feature long before Roland announced they were bringing it back (it was initially submitted to RBMA in the summer of 2016).

 

As for the Atari ST, its’ immense contribution to the democratisation of music production has been largely overlooked in recent years. Remarkably, the ST was the first home computer to come with MIDI in/out ports as standard, though none of the developers can remember why. It may have been a “cover all bases” box-ticking exercise, but it was a wise move. It prompted earlier music software specialists such as Steinberg to develop programs with the ST in mind. Hence Cubase, arguably the most popular production package during that era, being developed for the machine.

Before the arrival of the Atari ST, making music on a computer was the preserve of those with access to big studios or underground enthusiasts. By the time the dance music revolution hit the UK and Europe, it was possible to make music at home with just an Atari ST, an outboard sampler and a few cables. Many would-be producers did just that. I’ll stop now, as I don’t want to spoil the feature, which you can read by clicking here.

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About mattanniss

Freelance writer, editor, copywriter and communications professional. Music obsessive. DJ. Sports anorak.

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