The early 80s proved to be a revolutionary era for science and sonic fictions. Hollywood blockbusters like Bladerunner and Tron explored humankind’s ambivalent relationship toward the ‘hyperreal’ and synthetic, whilst audio technologists wholeheartedly embrace a cybernetic future soundscape. The 80s also saw the introduction of Roger Linn’s groundbreaking drum machine, the Linndrum, sparking a new body-music revolution – the mechanised genesis of sample-based genres spanning hip-hop to EBM.
Synthesised rhythm boxes ruled supreme, even with Motown heroes like Marvin Gaye popularising the TR-808 drum machine in classics like ‘Sexual Healing’. Drum machines rapidly dominated the market, while swathes of obscure, though no less intriguing drum synths, started to sell across the globe, creating an exciting shift in pop music.
As an archive of emulations of classic drum synths, the REAKTOR User Library has proved a treasure trove, from fictional re-imaginings of lost relics to new REAKTOR Blocks modules offering a path to engineering new percussive realities in an age of vaporwave. Here are a few of our favorite curated picks.
FROM SEQUENCED DYSTOPIA TO MOTOR CITY HOMAGE
Aerofuse is a slightly modded iteration of REAKTOR‘s original ‘virtual analogue’ drum machine. This easy to navigate, six-voice sequenced drum synth offers an astounding array of tonal options, including combinations of virtual analogue, FM and noise-oscillators. Over a decade since its original iteration, Aerofuse has yet to be bettered. For those interested in ‘classic’ subtractive synthesis and step sequencing, it’s a wonderfully flexible instrument, and a great educational tool. Presets range from dinky ticker-box patterns to rubberised bass wubbs and subs.
Techno Drum Machine
Extending the ‘analogue drum synth’ template, Techno Drum Machine is an intuitive tool for exploring a classic paradigm. Familiar TR ”X0X” voices are tweakable here, and the addition of ring-mod, sample-rate and filtering options allow for radical manipulation of orthodox oscillators. Perhaps more “CR78” than “909”, the thoughtful inclusion of some usable snapshots afford hours of fun – particularly when driven through a little parallel compression or overdrive. Mapped to an external controller, Techno Drum Machine could well form the basis of an entire live performance.
Part Soviet secret research-project, part 80s video-game, SOKOLOV CompuRythm is a lovingly designed art piece. Loaded with sounds from a Commodore64 computer, this unique drum-synth is inspired by the futurist experiments of a cold-war Eastern Bloc. Driven by four independently sequenced parts, its gritty 8-bit sounds can be sequenced and manipulated into chip-tune bedlam. Glorious licks, pops, hums and dust seem almost ‘soldered’ into the code here. It’s hard not to be impressed by the inspired monochromatic GUI of this machine, whilst a huge snapshot list (with names like “Radioactiv”) pays homage to a distinguished Krautrock lineage.
The Hyroglyphicus Drum Synth
Similarly, The Hyroglyphicus Drum Synth oozes unadulterated EBM / Industrial mojo. A ridiculous array of vintage beat-boxes are sampled here, whilst a synth engine generates original throbbing percussive gristle. Resplendent with multitude snapshots, it’s an exercise in curated bunker-funk; an industrial-techno goldmine.
Niji Drums and Block Drum Pack
Budding beat-makers truly relish the power of Reaktor Blocks to extend the functionality of traditional drum synths. Relish the curious non-linearity of euclidean sequencing? Fancy a side order of drifting oscillators – or perhaps crackly line hum with your code?
Niji Drums and Block Drum Pack both offer a satisfying entry-point into ‘bread and butter’ percussive building-blocks, perfectly suited for modular integration. Inspired by the sound of a classic 80s drum machines, these are ready to patch into more extravagant ensembles like Niji Solutions, which incorporates elegant mix and sequencing power.
Humdrum and Euclidean Drum Grot
Humdrum explores a smattering of Michael Hetrick’s finest EuroReakt percussive blocks, drawing from a collection of over 90 bespoke contributions to the Reaktor User library. Drawing inspiration from contemporary modular synthesis, Hetrick’s blocks bear testament to the author’s status as a DSP wizz and educator par-excellence.
Euclidean Drum Grot utilises the amazing Euclidean Rotator by Martin Wood, offering a patch that creates chaotic patterns. If Euclidean sequencing proves baffling, this ensemble inspires, nonetheless, by virtue of it’s compellingly ‘musical’ chaos generation, whilst crackle and bit-crushing blocks imbue immediate vintage charm.
8 WAYS TO JACK
Due respect is due for the stunning army of percussive-ensembles coded by Reaktor Library hero, Ba. Beige utilitarian faceplates should not dissuade the discerning user here – these eight-plus ensembles kick like mules stranded in a Berghain metaverse. Ba’s demurely named TR-608 satiates a lust for an unholy tryst betwixt beatbox classics, whilst God’s Beatbox and Dirty Groovy are stone-cold cybernetic classics. The low-slung pattern presets of the latter call to mind I:Cube or Funkstörung’s dopest forays into blip-hop.