Early analogue sequencers?

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kk994
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Early analogue sequencers?

Post by kk994 » Tue Aug 13, 2013 9:11 pm

Hello,

I am looking for some information and I thought the good people on vintage synths might be able to help me. I would like to know a little more about early sequencers.

I don't know much but what I have is:

Raymond Scott - Circle Sequencer
Moog 960
Arp Sequencer (1050?)
Korg SQ 10
Buchla Sequential Voltage Source - not sure what date this is or if Morton Subotnik used one.

Any other ideas on classic sequencers?

What was the first MIDI based sequencer that acted as a serious threat to analogue sequencers... Was is Cubase or Logic on the Atari, or was it something like the Alesis MMT8, or inbuilt sequencer like those found on the MPC60, or were analogue sequencers never really that big in the first place and the first sequencer your ordinary joe soap musician saw a computer based thing.

There is information out there but it is dispersed and I am looking for some people that may have owned or used these sequencers or were making music around that time.

Thanks

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Re: Early analogue sequencers?

Post by Z » Tue Aug 13, 2013 10:34 pm

Analog sequencers went out of vogue when digital sequencers (with CV & Gate) arrived on the scene but became popular again along with the analog and modular renaissance. From what I recall, Kraftwerk contracted Doepfer to produce an analog style sequencer to work with MIDI, thus the MAQ 16/3 was born. I remember seeing photos in Keyboard of black face panel MAQs.

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Re: Early analogue sequencers?

Post by nathanscribe » Wed Aug 14, 2013 12:24 am

Sequencers were originally capable of limited numbers of steps - maybe 8, 12, 16 - unless you chained them. But digital sequencers with memory that still worked with CV & Gate added features like longer sequences (several hundred notes, perhaps), step or real time recording, and selection between phrases. MIDI meant that sequencers (still hardware) were geared up for polyphony, multitimbrality (that is, multi-channel output) and disk storage. It also allowed control of any MIDI parameter, not just a small number of CV channels. Gradually features like looping, and cut & paste appeared, and then computers took over somewhat. The Atari ST was really big back in the mid-late 80s, as it had built-in MIDI ports. Not many people had PCs back then compared to the more affordable micros like the ST. It wasn't till the 90s that PCs started to dominate, and useful hard drive recording on multiple channels for relatively affordable amounts was around the mid-90s - I remember a local studio paying thousands for an 8-channel HD Soundscape system, run from Win 3.1. This was back when recordable CD was very pricey indeed and tape was still the norm in modest independent studios.

Aside from the simple analogue step sequencers you've listed, the next stage (ie., digital control over analogue) included machines like the Roland MC-8 (based on a prototype by Ralph Dyck, who died recently) and subsequent MC-4, and the CSQ-600. These evolved into things like the MC-202 and TB-303. Roland's MIDI sequencers began with things like the MC-500, but they also made some models for their DCB system as used on the Juno-60 and Jupiter-8 (eg., the JSQ and the MSQ-700).

Yamaha hit the ground running with the QX-1, a massive beast with a 5 1/4" floppy drive and 8 MIDI outputs and a generous alphanumeric keyboard for step time entry, as well as realtime recording. New Order were using these around 1984.

Synchronisation also changed over time. Early step analogue models were trigger-based, but gradually faster pulse trains and tape sync were incorporated, and then FSK and MIDI clock. Korg developed a 48ppqn clock train, Roland used 24ppqn (aka DIN Sync or Sync24), and devices like the Garfield Minidoc were available to connect these different systems. The CSQ used an audio-frequency clock train to sync units as well as the above. The QX-1 uses FSK, and MIDI clock.

Once computers took over form hardware sequencers (which still had the advantage of portability and sometimes simplicity, software being generally more fully-featured with the possibilites engendered by the interface) devices like MIDI file players came about, which would play back disks of pre-arranged MIDI data, as well as the Workstation synths like the M1 or sampling machines like the W-30 (not to mention the much earlier Fairlight, which was ahead of the pack along with the Synclavier and PPG units, all predating the workstation as it became known) which incorporated sequencers into their synthesis/preset engines and keyboard-laden bodies. Adding effects meant one keyboard could do everything (well, so they said).

Gradually computers became capable of handling audio, and the DAW as we know it began to emerge.

Hope that's useful and leads you to more investigation. :) As Z says, now things are more encompassing, and people use all kinds of stuff. It's all good.

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Re: Early analogue sequencers?

Post by kk994 » Wed Aug 14, 2013 3:34 pm

Thanks Z and Nathan for the informative and thoughtful replies.

Can I try to summarize my thoughts and see if you agree with the general outline.

5 types of sequencer:

Analogue - predominantly 50's - 70’s with a current revival
Hybrid Analgoue/Digital standalone - predominatly mid 80’s to mid 90’s (Doepfer MAQ 1993 although the EMS SEQ 256 is 1971 and the Roland MC-8 is 1975?)
Inbuilt sequencers (303,202,mpc60) - predominantly mid 80’s to present
Computer based sequencers and DAW's - predominantly late 80’s (cubase on Atari 1989) to present (dominant)

The fifth type I am not sure if it is a separate type or not but analogue style mono sequencers on tablet and phones such as those made in lemur or something similar? Or the fifth could be more modern sequencers such as the dynamic sequencer used by Hermutt Lobby's BeatSurfing app, or sequencers based on different input such as gestural control, or the use of different types of sensor.


Would the above sound about right as a general outline of the development of sequencers? Do you know of any developments on the world of sequencers that I should know about?

Thanks again

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Re: Early analogue sequencers?

Post by Z » Wed Aug 14, 2013 4:17 pm

I would say:

1. Analog CV pattern sequencers

2. Digital CV linear "song" sequencers

3. Digital polyphonic proprietary communication bus sequencers (Oberheim DSX, Roland JSQ, SCI PolySeq)

4. MIDI linear sequencers (hardware or software)

5. MIDI pattern sequencers

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Re: Early analogue sequencers?

Post by nathanscribe » Wed Aug 14, 2013 5:48 pm

Yep, broadly. The dates are a little out. Linear digitally-controlled analogue-output sequencers were definitely a late 70s-early 80s thing, and the proprietary systems were a touch later but still around the same period. The QX-1 which I think came out in 1984 was linear, you can record whole albums on it if you like but it's not pattern-based so isn't going to float anyone's boat for live improvisation. I don't know what the first MIDI pattern-based hardware sequencer was, but I'd be interested to know how the idea developed in hardware in tandem with the software equivalents.

You can still download Voyetra Sequencer Plus Gold, by the way... runs under DOS, and if you have a soundcard with a joystick port, that's where you get your MIDI out. Building an interface is simple.

Here's my QX-1. It's hooked up to the RX-11 drum machine here using MIDI clock, and synced to Logic via pre-recorded FSK. Programming is carried out by typing in the note values and lengths etc. Once you get used to it, it's a pretty speedy system for simple pieces.
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Re: Early analogue sequencers?

Post by Z » Wed Aug 14, 2013 6:33 pm

nathanscribe wrote: I don't know what the first MIDI pattern-based hardware sequencer was, but I'd be interested to know how the idea developed in hardware in tandem with the software equivalents.
All I can think of is the Alesis MMT-8 which came out around '87. Was my first hardware sequencer (got mine around '89). Before that, I used a couple of programs on my Commodore 64 (can't remember what they were). I used that MMT-8 until getting a 386 lappy around '92 running DOS Cakewalk 3.0 and Drummer 2.0 (cool GUI pattern seq) which I'd make patterns with and import into Cakewalk. But I've been strictly hardware since the late 90s.

My predicament right now is to figure out which sequencer(s) I want to use in my set up - they all have their pros & cons.

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Re: Early analogue sequencers?

Post by synthroom » Wed Aug 14, 2013 9:48 pm

nathanscribe wrote:I don't know what the first MIDI pattern-based hardware sequencer was, but I'd be interested to know how the idea developed in hardware in tandem with the software equivalents
My copy of Fairlight Page R manual has a date of July 1983 on it.

The Rev 1.2 Fairlight General Interface manual has a date of March 1985. The General Interface has the MIDI ports for the Fairlight Series IIx - the IIx came out in 1983, but I suspect the MIDI interface was some time after that. . Not sure when Rev 1.0 of that manual would have been produced.

The Fairlight IIx with the MIDI interface was certainly one of the first MIDI-based pattern sequencers.
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Re: Early analogue sequencers?

Post by madtheory » Wed Aug 14, 2013 10:12 pm

The Fairlight Page R was definitive, and pre MIDI. It inspired a lot of subsequent computer based sequencers. One interesting "feature" was that it was 8 monophonic parts. Correct me if I'm wrong synthroom, but I think if you wanted a polyphonic part you had to use the other sequencer page. From what I've read in interviews over the years, the Synclavier sequencer was way behind in usability, for a long time. Of course that could be down to personal preference.

The Linn drum was definitive as well. But did the Paia had a similar pattern chaining type of system? Anyone?

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Re: Early analogue sequencers?

Post by synthroom » Wed Aug 14, 2013 11:06 pm

Page R is "monophonic" in that each track can only play one note at a time. Each of the eight tracks represents each of the eight voice cards, and each voice card could only load in one sample. So monophonic, yes.

But if you wanted to do two (or more) voices with the same sample loaded into them, you were free to do so. So you could, as an example have three tracks with the same sound, and the other 5 tracks with another sound, giving you 3 voices and 5 voices for the two sounds. Chords would then be split across each of the tracks, giving the appearance of a polyphonic track.

I've not used the older Page 9 sequencer, other than playing back stuff that's on the disks that came with my IIx, but it was for recording and playing of performances in real-time, with no editing possible. You made a mistake, and you had to replay/rerecord that track. But again, it could play more than one sound polyphonically by loading the same sound into mulitple voice cards, and recording each track separately. LIke-wise with the Music Composition Language sequencer - same deal with the same sound loaded into multiple voice cards to get polyphonic sequencing.

You mention the LinnDrum, but I think you mean the Linn LM-1 DrumComputer, and not the LM-2 LinnDrum. The LM-1 had the same style of programming of patterns and songs, entered in real time or step-wise.

I've no ideas on the PAIA drum machine.

One interesting trick that could be done with Page R - if you had a note that had to play across from one pattern to the next, you could not get it to do that using two patterns as it stops each note when the end of the bar is reached. So the workaround is to double the length of your pattern/bar - that is, if the two patterns were in 4/4, you would make a new pattern to replace them that was 8/4, and then the longer note would play into the second half of the 8/4 pattern.
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Re: Early analogue sequencers?

Post by madtheory » Wed Aug 14, 2013 11:10 pm

I'm always mixing up the Linns, thanks.

So in Page R, can you overdub, say, a live 3 chord trick onto your programmed backing? Second question- can you run Page R and page 9 simultaneously?

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Re: Early analogue sequencers?

Post by nathanscribe » Wed Aug 14, 2013 11:28 pm

synthroom wrote:You mention the LinnDrum, but I think you mean the Linn LM-1 DrumComputer, and not the LM-2 LinnDrum. The LM-1 had the same style of programming of patterns and songs, entered in real time or step-wise.
I've never been able to work out how to program my LinnDrum in step mode. I don't even know if it has one. I have seen the advert claiming it possesses it, but I don't know if that was a ROM upgrade or only on later s/no.

Anyway, I think drum machines are a slightly different kettle of fish, even if they took advantage of the same advances in technology. I don't know of any drum machine that is programmable but does *not* work with patterns, except a very few real oddities.

Good call on the Fairlight - technically software :D

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Re: Early analogue sequencers?

Post by synthroom » Thu Aug 15, 2013 12:38 am

madtheory wrote:I'm always mixing up the Linns, thanks.

So in Page R, can you overdub, say, a live 3 chord trick onto your programmed backing? Second question- can you run Page R and page 9 simultaneously?
Second question - I don't think so as you can't load both Page R and Page 9 at the same time.

First question - I'm not sure. You can have Page R playing with one track selected and play that one track - giving you real-time playing of that one track while the other 7 tracks are being played by the sequencer. I'm not sure how you would select more than one track at a time. Need to check the manual, but I suspect you cannot play 3 voices live while Page R plays the rest.

Is there a video you're referencing that shows something like what you asked about?
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Re: Early analogue sequencers?

Post by synthroom » Thu Aug 15, 2013 12:40 am

nathanscribe wrote:
synthroom wrote:You mention the LinnDrum, but I think you mean the Linn LM-1 DrumComputer, and not the LM-2 LinnDrum. The LM-1 had the same style of programming of patterns and songs, entered in real time or step-wise.
I've never been able to work out how to program my LinnDrum in step mode. I don't even know if it has one. I have seen the advert claiming it possesses it, but I don't know if that was a ROM upgrade or only on later s/no.
I'll have to double check my LM-1 to confirm there is a step mode. Perhaps I'm wrong...
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Re: Early analogue sequencers?

Post by madtheory » Thu Aug 15, 2013 8:30 am

synthroom wrote:Is there a video you're referencing that shows something like what you asked about?
No. I'm thinking of the Art of Noise demos that are on "What have you done..." There's a lot of examples of Anne Dudley improvising over a programmed backing. I guess they would've just recorded that to tape. They seem to have used tape sync a lot as well, on some stuff you can hear that there are more than 8 Page R parts. So I guess the tape sync could also be used to reprogram one of the Page R part afterwards?

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