Bass Uh Hi hat Uh 808: The History and Importance of the Roland TR-808

Apple Music is set to release an exclusive subscribers-only documentary and album to pay homage to one of the most connecting, ubiquitous and quietly mystifying machines in all of the music industry: the Roland TR-88. From Phil Collins to Pharrell to Kanye to Damon Albern, musicians and producers have been lining up behind the ever-holy Roland machine. They will all agree: there is some intangible inherently buried within a Roland 808 that cannot be reproduced, replicated or imposed by any other machine.

The drum-kit keyboard started to make its way into music production in the early 1980s. Back then, it  was engineered to help studio musicians create demos. Between 1980 and 1983, 12,000 units of the Roland TR-808 were made. By 1984, however, the Linn LM-1 hit the shelves with notably superior sound and sampling abilities than the Roland. So, for those that could afford it, the Linn LM-1 became the market leader in programmable drum machines.

But the Roland TR-808 was cheaper, $1,195 compared to the $5,000 Linn LM-1. And the Roland TR-808, though lesser in quality, could produce more distinctive same low-frequency sounds: the deep bass kick drum, the small handclap sounds, the ticking snare, hi-hats, and spacey cowbells. These crucial differences kept the popularity of the Roland TR-808 among hip hop artists for several years after it ceased production.

The TR-808 and its 1983 successor, the TR-909, had a 28-year journey to fame, one that wandered through the subterranean of nearly every music genre: electro, techno, pop, and regional hip-hop. It is the versatility and uniqueness of the machine’s sound that has allowed for this chameleon-like activity. The machine can play single songs of up to 768 measures in length, or, rather, it can play up to 12 songs of 64 measures in length. The TR-808 can also divide each quarter note into 3,4,6, or 8 steps. What does this mean in layman’s terms? That the TR-808 can perform extremely complex rhythms that even the best drummers cannot accurately replicate. And its the machine’s kick-drum, and it’s gloriously artificial handclaps, and the echo-laden claves that create allow for intricate grooviness. On an almost immeasurable amount of pop songs, you can find the friendly TR-808.

Take Marvin Gaye’s “Sexual Healing” and give it another listen.

Or there is Afrika Bambaataa’s Planet Rock. The song samples a Kraftwerk’s “Trans-Europe Express” over the TR-808 kicks and hi-hats.

Unsurprisingly, new waves bands are 808-users too. Like here, where David Byrne is lying to you. That’s not a tape playing the background mix to “Psycho Killer.” It’s Chris Frantz, somewhere buried in the back, fiddling with an 808.

Any of the remaining 808s on the market today sell for upwards of $2,000. It’s a low-stock, high demand economy for something no other musical machine can produce. It’s got the industry and soul longevity in tandem with the versatility to travel from genre to genre that keep producers constantly coming back to the 808. Egyptian Lover, the L.A. producer behind the L.A. dance and rap scene uprise in the 1980s, swears by the perpetual grandeur that the machine brings. Lil Wayne on ‘Nymphos’ describes similar feelings about the 808 bass, spitting “Make the control room boom like an 808.” Outkast’s Big Boi does the same, with ” But I know ya’ll wanted that 808/Can you feel that B-A-S-S bass?” on 2003’s ‘Way You Move.’ Kanye mentioned his use of the TR-808 in the very title of his 2008 “808s and Heartbreaks” — though it was later revealed that he was actually using both the TR-808 and TR-909 for most of the album’s production.

Apple Music’s upcoming release of the documentary, “808” is something to subscribe for. It will draw you into the deep, most buried parts of the machine’s history from a surprising range of greats. The trailer can be found below.

In Memoriam: Mr. Leonard Cohen

When Leonard Cohen was 32 years old, he told his good friend, Adrienne Clarkson (the 26th Governor General of Canada) that poetry was, in many ways, analogous to polishing shoes. When she questioned his remark, he explained: “If you want people to have shiny shoes, you want to write those very good kinds of instructions.”

That phrasing —  “very good kinds of instructions” — feels  like an inadequate description of Cohen’s lifework. The Canadian-born, first-poet and second-musician was one of the greatest songwriters of our time, his only competition being with other greats like Dylan, Cash, and Williams. His songs were marvelously specific and contextual, yet always close enough to the imagination to be understandable. Cohen sang of long nights spent over red wine and cigarettes. He sang of his women lost and won, found in the misty halls of the Chelsea Hotel #2 or his moments spent next to the naked, the beautiful Suzanne. For all of the intertextuality that Cohen’s songs held, he never waned far from the truth that he understood. He was a famous lover of women who had a certain obsession with sexual love and the concurrent bodily pain of loneliness.

“Woman is the context of a man’s life. A man is the context of a woman’s life. That’s all we’re doing,” he told Clarkson in a 1989 interview. What love is, he continued, is the act of writing a song, endearment by endearment, touch by touch.

 

"Hallelujah" by Leonard Cohen

 

No one can try to discuss Cohen’s songwriting prowess without mentioning his most well-known and respected masterpiece, the song that almost killed him: Hallelujah. Cohen wrote about 80 drafts verse for the song. One writing session at the Royalton Hotel in New York is remembered, when the writing of the song reduced Cohen to his underwear, banging his head into the ground. The original version of the song, as recorded on his Various Positions album, mentions several more biblical references than the most famous versions of the song.

Malcolm Gladwell recently discussed the song’s rise to fame. On his podcast, Revisionist History, Gladwell walked listeners through the agonizingly long time it took for Hallelujah to reach even mild fame. After taking Cohen a total of five years to write the song, the record companies didn’t like it. In 1984, CBS Records passed on Cohen’s album with the original “Hallelujah.” “It barely makes a ripple,” says Gladwell. And it’s true: Cohen went back and made edits to the song. He cleaned up the first verses, made it longer and darker, and shipped it back to the record company. It was eventually recorded, but not until musician John Cale reproduced the song did it start to seep into popular culture.

Cale reexamined Hallelujah, as most musicians must when approaching the delicate creation of another artist. He brought a level of vocal somberness and deep sincerity that Cohen couldn’t. Following Cale, with an electric guitar this time, Jeff Buckley brought up the song to even greater, inexplicably famous heights. With Buckley’s weepy, heart-wrenching musing of the song, “Hallelujah” reached equilibrium in both of its expression: as a poem and as a song.

With age, Cohen’s voice became more and more of a gravelly baritone. With age, his musicality did not change. He played simple chords on an acoustic guitar or chords on some cheap piano. At some points, or at most points, Cohen was anything but prolific. He spent years struggling to write something with strength, though it was those songs who were quickly transformed into the most celebrated, most beloved songs he would create. Among his 14 studio albums, there aren’t meant gold-plated hits. But there are miles and miles of poetry, of misunderstanding and understanding, of sex and love and everything in between, with wine and cigarettes and the moments shared in between.

Album Review: Vulfpeck’s The Beautiful Game

“Some say the unexamined life is not worth living. Well, the unexamined thought, it’s not worth thinking” – Jack Stratton

Let’s try and forget about all that comes with Vulfpeck besides their music. Let’s try and ignore for a moment the genius of their branding: the impeccable attention to detail and genius in creating their own typography. Try and forget their heavily acknowledged success in crowd-sourcing all of the finances for their albums. Let’s try and forget that they (but mostly Jack Stratton) have a treasure trove of hilarious, eccentric and character-based YouTube videos to match their music that make them so goddamn lovable. Let’s try and forget that Joe Dart could be (is) one of the best bassists of our time. Let’s just try and ignore Theo Katzman’s extraordinary, repeated ability to write a nearly perfect pop song. And let’s try and ignore that Woody Goss is a walking, talking funky carnival pianist who plays for perfection. Let’s not let Jack Stratton’s gorgeous kneecaps distract us. Let’s try and forget about how magical it feels to show someone to Antwaun Stanley and “1612” for the first time. Or what “Rango III” can do to your nerve-endings, try and ignore that, too. Or that Bernard Purdie — THE Bernard Purdie, THE world’s most recorded drummer, THE inventor of the world-famous “Purdie shuffle” — played with them at two of the band’s four sold-out shows at Brooklyn Bowl and Summer Stage in New York City this summer. And, with all our might, let’s try and forget about that  first-round review of the album published by the Michigan Daily earlier this week.  For a moment, let’s just try and focus: let’s talk about why Vulfpeck’s most recent masterpiece, The Beautiful Game, is a nearly perfect album.

Let’s go song by song, beginning with the Klezmer clarinet solo in The Beautiful Game’s first track,  “Sweet Science.” Found here is one of the most hauntingly beautiful album openers to be found on a 21st century album. Michael Winograd, a klezmer music aficionado from Brooklyn, NY, draws listeners and fans in with what avid fan and OG Vulfpeck aficionado, Madeleine Chone, calls “a mournful, beautiful Jewish tribute to open up a deliciously funky musical present.” A better description can’t be found. It’s also important to note here to recognize how truly awesome, or rather how applaudable and original it is, to see the inclusion of such a niche musical genre enter a popular music space.

Tempo change, we’ve arrived at “Animal Spirits.” It’s the cute, older cousin of another one of Theo Katzman’s lyrical pop hits, “Back Pocket.” Woody Goss with the tingaling keys, Dart’s giving us the deep, deep bass. The Jackson 5 inspiration cannot be denied. Stratton said it himself in a recent YouTube video: “You don’t need a PhD to know that this is similar to the ostinato rhythm that Louie Shelton is playing on the Jackson’s 5 ‘I Want You Back.’” No, no you don’t need a PhD to realize that, in the same way that you don’t need a PhD to realize this song is nothing sort of pop greatness. There are quippy, kind-of strange lyrics about astrology charts and mutual Facebook friends, sure. But isn’t that half the fun of any other song? Production aside, isn’t music about making something that is given to everyone your own? Aren’t we allowed to assume what we want about the meaning of the 16 mutual friends they share? Yes, yes we are. Vulf graduated from the same high-bar university as the writers of this paper did: they are smart, and they are clever. So expect something original that is also in line with their branding. Or just put your headphones in and groove, goddamnit.

“1 for 1, DiMaggio” is similarly strange in its conception and lyricism. I don’t know anything about baseball, but I know the passion that lies within it (go Cubs). The back and forth between Vulfpeck-regular,  University of Michigan native and one of the best soul voices around today,  Antwaun Stanley, and Jack Stratton is quippy, clever, fun and backed by an instrumental that Vulfpeck has been teasing for too long. It’s a sports disco song – what a fantastic thing.

With “Dean Town” all the ladies and men in the room drop their pants and jaws.Here we get the man, the myth, the legend: the Joe Dart, a bassist god serving up some deep-dish dirty traveling basslines for three minutes and thirty three seconds. In this song you find the funk that makes Vulfpeck so beloved. The drums in the back, Woody’s keys bouncing in halfway through, mind-exploding by the three-minute mark because Dart is still going, still carrying that bassline. Here is a song that many are categorizing as one of the best Vulf tracks yet, and I agree.

From just one listen it’s easy to assume that “Conscious Club” is the brainchild of the band’s informal leader and hopefully the father of my children, Jack Stratton. An instrumental of “Conscious Club” was previewed in Vulfpeck’s 2015 album, The Thrill of the Arts. In its full conception, Stratton’s song is marrying Cheryl Lynn to King Floyd to  some fantastical groovy operatic dream he once had of a German funk club with the entry password, “Ich bein Dart.” Laura Mace, a destined-for-greatness soul singer, makes her Vulfpeck debut in this track, balancing out the rich monotone of Stratton’s explanations. Historically, funk isn’t a magnet for storytelling. The best funk was first made for the foot-tapping, hip-shaking, and buttcheek-slapping. But somehow, in a way that only Vulfpeck could, this song does both.

Lovechild of the Vulfpeck boys, fellow University of Michigan grad and a phenomenal musician in his own right, Joey Dosik appears on the album as well. His alto sax solo highlights the high tempo, James Brown-esque seventh track, “Daddy, He Got a Tesla.” This one is a funk lover’s dream: Dart carrying some sexy bassline, Pegasus Warning and his intermittent, perfectly pitched scatting, Goss and that piano solo at minute two… we’re sitting there whispering “yes,” “oh,” “baby,” “give it to me.” Sexual innuendo implied: good funk is for some the sonic equivalent to getting some.

“El Chepe” is one of the two funk trance tracks on the album that we haven’t seen from Vulf before. Here is a low volume exploration of a track that is diving into something a little less funky than we’re used to from the Vulfpeck boys. “Margery, My First Car,” is similar in this, highlighting the variety of funky smoothness that Vulf had been hiding. Christine Hucal’s ethereal vocals ease us into a low tempo, layered track that brings back instrumental fourth track from the band’s 2013 EP, My First Car.

“Cory Wong” is funky as all hell. In the classic Vulfpeck fashion, it sounds too good to be true: too natural and free-flowing to be anything other than improvisational. Just like “El Chepe,” and frankly every other track on this record, there are educated musicians who have honed in on technical skills to create Donald Fagan-like levels of perfection.

Any critical review of artistic expression will always and forever require context. Forming an argument around something when you aren’t educated in it, especially when it is something that is highly respected and enjoyed, is a disservice to both the artist and critic. Because how are you to judge something you don’t understand? Constructive, respected criticisms aren’t based on feeling alone.

You don’t have to like Vulfpeck, and whether or not you listen to them at all is completely your prerogative. You have your right to free speech and all. But help yourself out and walk into the lion’s den with a chair.

Also if you don’t like Vulfpeck, you’re wrong. Ich bein Dart! – MZ

A Gigmor Interview with Brother Mynor, a lo-fi hip-hop musician

Gigmor talked to Sam Johnson, the 23-year-old Aussie behind the lo-fi hip-hop/electronic – or rather, just eclectic and cool –  music of very interesting track names. Read below for the interview and his music:

1. How old are you, how long have you been doing music, and when did you decide to start diving into the possibility of a music career? 

 I’m 23 and have been making music since my first day off after I finished high school, so just over 5, pushing 6 years. I think I started taking music much more seriously during my time doing an Audio Engineering Degree at JMC Music Academy, although it was the reception I got on the track “Tom Cruise Eats a Continental Breakfast” that really pushed me into the music scene. I guess I’ve never really thought about music as a career, more as a passion project. I spend more time making music than actually working in my career so I guess it probably is one now whether I like it or not. 

2. How did you find your sound? You are electronic music  but you tap into (or at least sample hip-hop and rap in a way that’s reminiscent of Tomppabeats and Doc Heller) a lot of different genres. How did you get there? What musicians inspired/inspire you to get there and stay with it? 

Defining the genre I make is always a bit of a challenge, but I would say my foundation is more in hip-hop than electronic. When people ask me how to find more music like mine, I usually tell them to google lo-fi hip-hop, so if you had to call it anything I’d say call it that. The fact that there isn’t a concrete name yet is an awesome thing though, it shows how new, exciting and broad the genre is. Like any genre you get a lot of people who make similar stuff, but I am constantly amazed with the depth, complexity and variation I hear from everyone’s music. I guess it’s one of the reasons I feel so free to play with any genres or sounds I feel like using, because the community is so accepting of anything as long as you’re carrying the spirit of hip-hop with you. 

I had been jumping around a few different genres before I found ‘my sound’. I had been experimenting with dub and more straightforward electronic music before a friend of mine suggested I play around with some hiphop rhythms as he thought my tracks would really suit it. I straight up called him an idiot and even felt a little insulted as I had no intention of doing hip hop at the time. But, being bored and not having many other ideas, I gave it a go and I instantly fell in love. It was one of the most important lessons I ever learnt in music, that even if you don’t like the advice or criticism someone gives you, you have to take a step back from your feelings and really listen to what everyone has to say. As much as you make it for yourself, music at the end of the day is for everyone, or at least anyone who wants to listen.  It was a couple years of playing with some different sounds until I released “Tom Cruise…” which was the first track I felt really encapsulated what I wanted to do with my music. 

In terms of inspiration I’d say one of my earliest inspirations was Hominidae, who I pray everyday comes back with some new music soon. Some more well known inspirations include Teebs, Ras G, Flying Lotus, Lapalux, Tomppabeats, Saito/Fumei, eevee, Bilo 503, bsd.u….the list is just too long! I’d have to give the biggest thanks to Borealism though, as not only was his music one of the biggest creative explosions for me, but he has been one of my biggest supporters from day one. Honestly I wouldn’t be where I am today without him and his belief in me and the music I make. 

3. Explain the song names, please. They are brilliant. 

I’m not too sure when the idea to make an album with those names initially came from, I think it started when I was looking at how big an influence anime is in the scene, and I thought it would be a cool twist to direct that theme back at the western entertainment world. My design brief I presented to Inner Ocean Records was that I wanted to humanize people who feel so distant from us, remind people that celebrities are humans, with human needs, desires, jobs, chores, goals, problems etc. I also think it created a story right off the bat that the listener could run with in their head. It kind of grounded the tracks somewhere a bit physical, since the nature of vocal-less instrumental hiphop can sometimes feel a little ephemeral and disconnected. Also celebrity names are eye catching! The benefit it gave to promoting the tracks was a nice side effect I didn’t plan. 

At the end of the day I make music because I love the process of creating a cohesive album with its own themes, story and vibe. I try to transcend the ‘what you hear is what you get’ and give the listener something to dissect a little more. Seeing how Flying Lotus and Lapalux create themes around their full length LP’s is super inspiring and the Celebrities idea kind of let me run away with my own theme. 

4. Where do you see yourself going next? Touring? Is this a side job?

Lately I’ve been mainly focusing on finishing my next album Passionfruit Falls, which is 98% done and will be released on vinyl, cassette and digital through Inner Ocean Records and Nekubi towards the end of 2016. On the side I’m also prepping some new singles and releases to be dropped in the coming months. I’m also playing live shows in Melbourne through most of November and will be playing with Tomppabeats and Where Two for their awesome Australian tour (big thanks to Beat Lab for hooking that all up). I’m looking into traveling to America early next year too as I’ve been offered some shows up there, but I don’t earn much money through music so we will have to see how my wallet is doing around that time. 

If you love music it’s always gonna be full time. Everything else is a side job.

An Interview with Shana Halligan, an electronic and soulful singer

 

Gigmor sat down with up-and-coming electronic/R&B artist Shana Halligan to discuss the trajectory of her career, her writing process, her inspirations, and what’s new in the studio. Shana is an independent, electronic/R&B artist based in Los Angeles, CA. Read up on what is new with her below:

 

So, first things first, how did you learn about Gigmor. What has your experience with it been like?  

My manager turned me onto it. I was originally working with an agent who was laid off from his agency, so I had to go and look for alternatives in the meantime. Gigmor was a great way to do that, to fill extra space in my schedule with gigs nearby. I also had a publicist who recommended Gigmor. It has a good name around town, too, so I just got going on using it.

 

How did you get started in the music industry? Where did it all begin for you?

I was raised by wolves! I kid – I grew up in a family of musicians. I have been exposed to it since I could talk. I have been singing on commercials and all kinds of things like that since I was a kid, which eventually morphed into songwriting. I tried to go another route for a little while and took a detour from the music; I started working at banks or restaurants or on the music production side of things. But I eventually accepted my fate and went back to music.

What is your songwriting process like?

When I was going in-and-out of record deals, I didn’t write on my own too much. A lot of the time I was singing what others were writing for me, or songs that had already been written. But around the age of 19 things started to change for me. I started sitting down at the piano and writing on my own, and it all took off from there. I started to fall more in love with the music that I could create on my own. That’s where I started to build the craft, and get closer to the sound I wanted.  I take a lot of influence from soul and R&B, and I grew up listening to the classics like Sarah Vaughn, Billie Holiday and Grace Jones. I work to focus my music so that it does have a raw sound of something from the past with electronic undertones. I see a lot of artists doing this together: the mixing of the new and old like that. It makes it more about the vocal and the sultriness less than a huge production style.

What artists have been inspiring you recently?

Like I said, I’ve always been touched by artists like Sarah Vaughn and Billie Holiday, but more current artists that I love right now are Flume, James Blake and AlunaGeorge.  I also really look up to Marian Hill, or I love their music rather. I was touring with a French band, Morgan Kate, for a while and that was a huge inspiration for me because I tapped into the power of being a strong and sensual woman without comprising your integrity.

You can find Shana Halligan’s newest album, Back to Me, can be found here and is also available on iTunes, Spotify, Amazon, and Google Play. Don’t forget to check out Shana’s profile on Gigmor, here!