History of Techno Music - The Synths And The Samples PT II
Part II - 1990s to 2000s
The Growth And Evolution Of Techno Music Production.
From Samples To Synthesis, building on the previous decades foundations in pioneering electronic music the 90s saw an explosion of music technology, going from a largely analog, hardware based setup to the introduction of digital synthesizers, romplers, and digital "analog modelling" synths alongside computer software based midi sequencers which were starting to gain gaining traction.
As technology trickled downwards, previous decades 'new' became this decades second hand, lowering the entry price for many new and existing musicians.
Advances in memory chip production and costs also saw introduction of a new breed of sound source material become more mainstream via the dedicated sampler.
With the ability sample seemingly any sound and ability to save samples and build libraries of samples (aka sample packs) a new market opportunity arose, initially as friends sharing wav samples and sample libraries on floppy disc to commercial outlets being set up catering to early Techno producers looking for high quality samples.
Specific Techno sample packs along with other genres such as Trance, Hip Hop, many other sample packs began to materialise via dedicated sample pack producers such as Zero-G whom established in 1990 and with distributors such as Time and Space, whom, established in 1997 were both early pioneers in the aftermarket sample pack industry and led way through the 90s sample pack revolution.
Whilst sample packs were still in their infancy through the decade, they eventually became additional commercial outlets for musicians as well as bringing producers opportunities for new sounds and experimentation and effectively making it easier for amateur and bedroom Techno producers to get started in Techno music production.
Not only was it a decade marked by huge transitions of equipment, new synthesizers, samplers and methods of music production responding (or creating) changes in public culture and audience saw many spin offs from Techno, including House, Rave, Jungle, later Drum & Bass as well as the now ubiquitous Trance genre and eventually the emergence of the Big Beat genres of the 2000s
The introduction of sampling based methods along with synth/sample workstations provided a wider palette of sounds to draw from and helped provide pad, string and piano sounds helping push Techno into different territories.
Let's explore some of the key players in Techno production through the 90s.
Entering the market just a few years after the TR-808 and after falling out of favour with traditional bands as a true replacement drummer, in which it was often marketed, TR-909s were quickly snapped up by aspiring electronic musicians via the second hand market.
Not as rounded or disco sounding as the 808 brother, the TR-909 had a sharper character to it sounds, solidifying its Techno prowess and earning itself a place as dance musics favourite drum source, and later, literally defining the drum sound of the House and Trance genres.
Unlike the TR-808, the TR-909 also came with full midi implementation, featuring midi in, out and thru; Further expanding its possibilities, capabilities and later solidifying electronic music productions place into the coming of age computer based setups.
Akai S900 / S950
Professional level sample quality and rates, relatively good sampling time, midi implementation, synth like envelopes and built in floppy for saving and loading samples and included direct sampling inputs.
The Akai S900 and later S950 with it's enhanced memory and ability to hold 99 wav samples introduced a new world of sound sources to electronic music producers and opened up the the ability to save their own and also load other peoples sample libraries and sample packs.
These new breed of sampling instruments set the standard for all samplers which followed and spawned a whole industry of aftermarket sample packs and sample libraries.
Producers were now able to borrow sounds from others or directly sample other records ensuring Techno and other genres such as Trance, House and Hip Hop ripped through clubs and popular culture of the 90s.
Prices of new and used computers came down and a popular choice in early 90s music production was the Atari ST - with in-built midi ports it allowed direct sequencing of drum machines and synthesizers. Dedicated sequencing software such as Emagic Notator and Steinberg Cubase creating a new breed of Techno producer allowing them more flexibility, options and ways to generate and harness their sound.
Later, PC would go-one to gain the market share in computer based sequencing whilst dedicated sequencers such as the Akai MPC still retained a relatively large foothold, particularly in the Hip Hop circles.
While it has virtually the same synth engine as the Juno-60, the 106 added extensive MIDI control making it one of Roland's first MIDI-equipped synthesizers.
Featuring digitally controlled oscillators it was amongst the final analogue synths bridging the late 80s early 90s gap of transitioning from true analog to analog "modelling" - ushering in an era trend towards the digital based machine.
- Polyphonic 6 voice
- 1 DCO per voice: pulse, saw, and square
- 1 LFO
- High pass and low pass filter
- ADSR, level and gate
- Memory - 128 patches
Roland Alpha Juno 1 / 2
Following on from the Juno 106 successes Roland Alpha Juno played a huge part in Techno through-out the 90s. Featuring digitally controlled oscillators, and crucially 64 user saveable / loadable patches.
Later becoming absolutely ubiquitous with the hard house hoover sound.
- Polyphony - 6 voices
- Oscillators - 1 DCO per voice: Pulse, Sawtooth, Sub, noise waveforms. 1 sub-oscillator.
- Effects - portamento, chord memory, transpose, chorus
- Memory - 64 User, 64 preset with backup to cassette.
- 24db analog lowpass filter
- ADSR Envelopes
- Bend and LFO modulation.
Roland W-30 Sampling Workstation
Expansive midi capabilities, a plethora of available sounds both in-built and via aftermarket, it served as an excellent master keyboard, sound source, sampler, sequencer and synthesizer in one and being the early instrument of choice by groups such as The Prodigy.
Massive capabilities and along with the Roland D-50 it was a definite enabler for sample pack industry growth.
Excellent variety of sounds but most notable were those M1 Techno chords, Pianos and Strings. It provided PCM sampling based sound sources with synth like flexibility and control.
It also came with full Midi implementation and its own sequencer which presented sync and sequence capabilities with other gear.
- Polyphonic with 16 voices
- Oscillators - 4MB PCM waveforms including 144 multi-sampled sounds
- Digital multi-effects: reverb, delay, overdrive, EQ, chorus, rotary speaker.
- Filers - Variable Digital Lowpass Filter
- 3 independent ADSR envelopes
In an Era being dominated largely by Digital synthesizers the Novation releases the analog Bass Station in 1993. The Bass Station represented a return to old with true analogue filters and (digitally) controlled oscillators. (DCOs)
The Bass station could emulate many of the fabled Analog synths of the previous decade such as the Minimoog, The TB-303 and the Sequential Pro-One and featured hands on controls and modulation and saveable presets.
2 Years later Novation would later go on to release a rack version with more features and preset locations and in 1997 released the Super Bass station featuring Sub oscillator, ring modulator and noise generator.
- Oscillators - 2 DCO's with pulse and sawtooth.
- 1 LFO (random, triangle, and sawtooth waveforms)
- 2-pole or 4-pole switchable; 12dB resonant low-pass.
- 2 ADSR envelopes: Env1 controls VCA, Env2 controls the vcf;
- 7 user patches.
Rolands JP-8000 Music Synthesizer built on pure DSP analog modelling technology, combining what Roland described as large sound of vintage analog synths but with the flexibility of digital technology and full MIDI capability.
The JP-8000 featured 38 front-panel knobs and sliders for powerful real-time control, and a unique 'Supersaw' oscillator which emulated the sound of multiple detuned sawtooth oscillators.
The Supersaw underpinned the JP-8000s popularity and popular in Techno circles it did for Trance what the TB-303 did for Acid Techno back in the late 80s early 90s - and with the addition of a built in Arpeggiator - it oversaw the evolution of Techno and forked genres such as Trance.
The synth also featured on-board FX and patch saveable memory with aftermarket JP8000 presets and patches becoming popular in the aftermarket community.
- Polyphonic 8 voices
- 2 Oscillators Saw, Square, Triangle, Super Saw (7 detuned Saws), Triangle Mod, Feedback OSC, and noise.
- Filter - Resonant 12/24dB/oct low pass / band pass / hi pass; ring modulator
- Effects - Onboard digital delay and chorus
- 128 preset patches, 128 user patches, 64 performances, 64 user performances
Access Virus A
Made in Germany and first released in 1997.
Featuring an edgey, robust almost dark sound, high quality on-board effects and multi-timbral functionality it became the mainstay for many a Techno and Electronic music producer.
Being the first of many iterations the A was an instant classic and featured on literally countless Techno and Electronic tracks of the late 90s.
- Polyphonic 12 voices
- 2 Osc per voice plus 1 Sub-Osc: Sine, tri, saw, variable width pulse, oscillator sync. 1 FM Mode: 64 digital FM spectral waveforms.
- 2 LFO per voice with tri, saw down, square, sample/hold.
- 2 independent resonant filters; lowpass, hipass, bandpass, band reject, parallel, split & 2 serial modes with up to 36dB/voice (6-poles), overdrive/saturation.
- 2 ADSTR envelopes per voice
- Effects - Up to 22 simultaneous effects: 4 Chorus effects, Global Reverb/Delay, Vocoder
Propellerhead Re-Birth RB-338
A pioneer in early software synthesizers, Rebirth by Propellerhead Software literally paved the way for software synthesizer solutions for 90s electronic music producers.
Released in December 1996 and for its time offered highly authentic recreations of Roland TR-909, TR-808 and TB-303 - the quintessential Techno producers toolbox.
It was a hit, putting 'Propellerhead' on the radar of many electronic musicians and becoming popular amongst bedroom producers who still couldn't afford costly, dedicated hardware setups.
Rebirth RB-338 laid the groundwork for many more iterations of software synths to materialise and likewise was instrumental in solidifying another musical industry - the software based Sampler and Synthesizer.
In Part III of our next instalment through the 2000's we follow the journey of hardware synthesizers, explore the growing software synthesizer industry and look at the impact of expanded sampling and sample packs had on Techno and Electronic Dance Music.