MR-808: Mechatronic 80s Drum Machine

MR-808: Mechatronic 80s Drum Machine. Roland

The Roland TR-808 drum machine is an icon of electronic pop music that has spawned countless software emulators. Tired of making music in the physically constrained but potentially limitless environment of his computer, Moritz Simon Geist has created the MR-808, a physical version of the classic drum machine that enables him to reproduce and sequence the original samples of the 808 with actual percussion instruments. A snare, bass drum, hi-hat, carabassa, clave, ride, clap, cowbell and three tom-toms played by electromechanical actuators are displayed in a wardrobe-sized cabinet which imitates the physical look of Roland’s drum sequencer from the 80s. Functioning as a miniature recording studio, the MR-808 houses the instruments in separate compartments placed behind transparent windows, leaving them visible to the musicians and the audience while keeping them acoustically separated from the stage, addressing the feedback issues that inevitably occur when trying to digitally process acoustic sounds in the loud environment of the dance club. At the same time the cabinet provides a puppet theatre-like setting in which the automated instruments act as characters in a mechanized dance of objects. Conceptually not so diverse from the musical automata engineered in the 18th and 19th centuries, the MR-808 could be viewed as an attempt to create a similar impression as the sensation once produced by the animated instruments of old, using contemporary musical idioms and imagery. The tiredness towards purely digital applications prompting the search for new physical output peripherals is here expressed by retracing the evolution of digital computers backwards towards the origins of automation in mechanical musical machines.

Matteo Marangoni