Introduced by the Roland Corporation of Japan in 1980, the TR 808 drum machine has earned its place in history as a pop culture icon. Having heavily influenced genres like hip-hop, techno, and house among countless others, the TR 808’s sonic characteristics continue to be sought after in music production today. In this article, we’ll learn about the TR 808’s history, followed by a tutorial on recreating its iconic sound using Eurorack modules. This article will also be of interest if you are curious about Eurorack drum processing or Eurorack drums in general.
TR 808 Frequently Asked Questions
Let’s start with some TR 808 frequently asked questions:
What is 808 Drum?
Even if you’re not familiar with the TR 808, you have likely heard references to the 808 in popular culture. “808 drum” can refer to the iconic TR 808 drum machine itself, or to its characteristic sound. The 808 became a staple in music production by the mid ‘80s.
What is an 808 kick drum?
The 808 kick drum or 808 bass drum is the lowest-frequency percussion sound produced by the classic Roland TR 808 drum machine. The 808’s kick drum sound gained notoriety due to its characteristic deep bass, with punchy distortion and a slow decay.
What is the 808 sound?
The 808 sound refers to the distinctive drum sounds produced by the Roland TR 808 drum machine from the 1980s. Early hip-hop producers loved the 808 for its rhythmic punch and booming bass. This led to the TR 808 sound becoming popular in hip-hop, pop, and electronic music. Today, with original TR 808 units becoming hard to find, the TR 808 sound is often recreated digitally for music production.
Who Made the 808?
The Roland Corporation of Japan made the 808 Rhythm Composer between 1980 and 1983. Roland was founded in 1972 by inventor and engineer Ikutaro Kakehashi who was known for his personal involvement in product development. The 808 was developed with Chief Engineer Makoto Muroi heading the team.
TR 808 Sound on Eurorack
Although original 808 units are now quite expensive, the original 808 sound can be imitated on your Eurorack setup using just a few modules. Here are some tips for 808 inspired Eurorack patching:
1. TR 808 Kick Drum / TR 808 Bass Drum on Eurorack
The original TR 808 used a resonant filter to generate the base frequency for its bass drum voice. You can set a resonant filter module to self-oscillate and feed its output to a distortion. With the flexibility of modular synthesis, you can even slow down the bass voice to blur the lines between melodic bassline and percussion. In our example, we used our Bonesaw Filter and Godeater bass distortion to achieve this effect. Use a sequencer’s gate-out to trigger an envelope generator set to a smooth sliding waveform. This envelope can be mixed with the sequencer’s primary pitch out before being sent to the filter’s frequency CV control to change the base pitch.
2. TR 808 Hi-Hat Sound on Eurorack
Take a noise source, such as the noise out from our Vivisect CV mixer, and feed it into a VCA. An envelope generator triggered by the sequencer can be used to control the Hi-Hat’s attack and release. Adjust EQ on the VCA output to accentuate the high frequencies. Our Tannhäuser Gates 4-channel mixer provides independent CV controllable VCAs, and EQ setting for each channel making it perfect for Eurorack drum processing applications such as this.
3. Eurorack Drum Mixing for Original 808 Sound
To complete our patch, we added some snares from the Erica Synths Pico Drums module. Again, the Tannhäuser Gates was used to add this signal to the mix. A versatile mixer is essential if you plan on creating rhythmic patterns on your Eurorack setup. Our Tannhäuser Gates 4-channel stereo mixer is designed to handle all kinds of audio signals in your synth patches. In our example, the module was used not only to mix the bass, hi-hat, and snare signals together, but also to shape them with its independent EQ controls. Adjusting the offset control for the VCAs also lets you get some break-up in your signal for a grittier, 808 like drum sound.
4. Going Further
Modular synthesizers are all about experimentation. You can take this basic patch further by adding more modulation sources to the Godeater and Bonesaw – start with our example patch and play around to find your own take on the iconic 808 sound on Eurorack!
Experimenting with 808 inspired sounds can be a great way to start building rhythmic patterns on Eurorack. Animal Factory Amplification Modules such as the Vivisect, Bonesaw, Godeater and Tannhäuser Gates offer unique sound shaping abilities to explore the sonic possibilities of Euroack as the ultimate sound design tool.