New Drum Machines: AC-DR Concept

By Soniccouture  |  04.11.2023

Drum machines from the 1980s seem to dominate dance music, hip-hop, chart pop and contemporary music in general.
Yet there seem to have been very few new examples of that genre which take advantage of modern sampling techniques.

The drum rompler /sample library is certainly ubiquitous, with hundreds of instruments offering different styles of ultra realistic acoustic drum kits – and in many ways it would be fair to say that these are the natural evolution of the ‘drum machine’, since the aim of those early models was to offer the most natural sounding accompaniment that technology could muster at the time; the ways in which they fell short have ironically become the sonic character beloved to producers everywhere. It is also true that there are now many recreations and modernised versions of the classic boxes, particularly the TR-808 and TR-909.

The common format of the classic drum machine has contributed many useful factors to rhythm production. For example, having only two ‘velocity’ layers – ‘Accent’ and ‘Normal’ – lends its own clean rhythmic compression to a drum track, freeing up space in the mix where all the myriad shades of true drum dynamics would have been. The static or almost static nature of the sounds themselves allow a timbral repetition and transient consistency which is attractive in a rhythm track, although far from ‘natural’. Step based sequencing gives an immediate & intuitive method for building layered rhythms.

AC-DR: Acoustic Drum Machine

We wanted to try to create something in the spirit of the original boxes – a new instrument using acoustic drum samples. Instead of the tiny, static samples of the LinnDrum or EMU Drumulator, we would be free to use as much recorded audio as we liked – but instead of trying to recreate a real drum kit, we would try to create something with the spirit of an 808 or 909.

This means an instrument designed for use in electronic music, that would fit into the same kind of productions and sonic spaces. Something that would offer an ‘analogue’ sensibility to digital drum samples by splitting them down into component parts for tweak-ability. Instead of the hundreds of velocity layers of the drum rompler, the dynamics should be narrow: just Accent and Normal. To add a sense of liveliness, the modern practice of ‘round-robin’ sampling would be employed; this is an crucial point, because where a LinnDrum type digital drum machine’s defining sound is the ‘machine-gun’ repetition of single hits, the classic analogue machines (808 etc) have an organic ‘chatter’ to them, where each hit is demonstrably a unique electronic event, with small variations in tuning and timbre. A modern drum machine should seek to re-create this appealing sense of life within very tight parameters: the round-robins must not be so audible that a minimal 4/4 repetition reveals obvious variation as this would be distracting in a production. The desired effect would be entirely subliminal, noticeable only when switched off..

Part II: ‘The Sampling Process’ – Coming Soon