'Nothing Sounds Quite Like an 808': Pop Music's Most Celebrated Kick Drum Circuit and its Ancestors

Kurt James Werner (Advisor)

Activity: Talk or presentation typesPublic lecture/debate/seminar


Talk given in the SARC/Music Seminar series.

Abstract: The Roland TR-808 kick drum is among the most iconic sounds in all of popular music. Analogue drum machines like the TR-808 produce simulacra of percussive sounds using electrical 'voice circuits', whose schematics I treat as a primary text to be read alongside their reception history. I argue that these voice circuits and their schematics are the key to recovering a holistic history of analog drum synthesis. In this seminar, I'll present a close reading of the TR-808 kick drum's voice circuit and a study of its conceptual antecedents, highlighting the contributions of hobbyists and hackers, circuit theorists, and commercial instrument designers. This analysis reveals that while some aspects of the TR-808's voice circuits are unremarkable, other aspects betray an ingenious sense of circuit design and a deep understanding of traditional instrument acoustics.
Period07 Nov 2018
Held atQueen's University Belfast, United Kingdom
Degree of RecognitionRegional