Yamaha TX81Z synth module 1988-1996

Yamaha TX81Z synth module 1988-1996 Yamaha TX81Z synth module

Compared to the disappointment of the FB-01, this unit was far more useful. It was capable of playing multiple sounds simultaneously, and it could load DX100 sounds. It also had additional editing options, which allowed more complex waveforms than the DX100. It was still a step down from the Yamaha DX7, but it received heavy usage. It was also home to one particular preset sound known as “lately bass”, which still turns up in music to this day.

In retrospect, the decision to use these sorts of four operator fm synths was entirely economical. Had I any sense (or more money), I most likely would have chosen other options. That being said, the brittle and harsh sounds of these synths became part of the overall sound of T4M, like it or not.  

Yamaha FB-01 tone module 1987-1988

Yamaha FB-01 Tone Module 1987-1988 Yamaha FB-01 Tone Module

This was theoretically sort of like 8 DX100s in a box, however it was temperamental and ended up pretty useless. The preset sounds could not be altered unless one had access to editing software. At one point I transferring some of my choicer DX100 sounds onto the FB-01 using a borrowed computer, but something was lost in the data transfer, and many of the sounds ended up sounding far less impressive. Buying the TX81Z later remedied the situation.

Yamaha QX-21 sequencer 1987-1991

Yamaha QX-21 sequencer 1987-1991 Yamaha QX-21 sequencer

This was my core sequencer from 1987 to 1991. With 2 tracks and about a 6000 midi event memory, it could barely hold enough MIDI information for a complete song. Similar to the DX100, song data could be stored onto cassette tape, a silly and often unreliable means of archiving songs. Many good (and not-so-good) ideas vanished into the limbo of corrupt data. My lack of musical skill, and the simplicity of the device lent well to writing repetitive patterns and relatively mechanical sounding music. After 4 years of working with it, that became a fundamental aspect of the way I put music together.

Yamaha MT-2X four track 1988-1994

Yamaha MT-2X four track 1988-1994 Yamaha MT-2X four track

The MT-2X was a garden variety entry-level 4 track cassette recorder, similar to the Tascam models that were coming out at the time. After years of being banged around, transported in a suitcase with little or no padding, and being exposed to cigarette and fireplace smoke in our basement studio, the erase head ceased to function. I could play recordings back, but not record. Essentially, this rendered the 4 track close to useless, but we still used it as a mixing board/playback only device.

In many cases the simple bass and treble controls were our primary means of EQing our mixes.

By 1990, I had periodic access to other 4 track machines, so I never bothered to have the MT-2X repaired. In retrospect, the partial death of the MT-2X put a significant damper on the creative process for most of 1990-91

Yamaha RX-17 drum machine 1988-1990

Yamaha RX-17 drum machine 1988-1990 Yamaha RX-17 drum machine

In terms of songwriting, this drum machine bridged a gap prior to the purchase of the TX16W sampler in 1989. Besides finally having access to drum sounds, this was the first device I worked with which was, as a default, pattern based (as opposed to linear) much like Creator, the computer sequencing program we later used on most of our material. Also similar to later sequencing programs, it had a “piano roll” screen where midi notes could be visualized and altered. This sort of stuff was really impressive after using the two character LED screen on the QX-21. In terms of visualizing and editing MIDI notes, this piano roll environment has remained the standard on most MIDI sequencing programs right up to the present day.

I wouldn’t say I was ever in love with the sounds on the RX-17, but it was at the very least, an education. The limitations and the dullness of the preset drum sounds did result in some improvisation, and I got some decent results by distorting the drums once in a while. ►Drums from "Fixture"

Yamaha DDS-20M sampling delay pedal 1988-1989

Yamaha DDS-20M sampling delay pedal 1988-1989 Yamaha DDS-20M sampling delay pedal

This foot pedal was significantly cheaper than the digital multi-effects units available at the time, and it had an added bonus that when dynamically changing delay times, the pitch of the delayed sounds would smoothly change pitch. I was a big fan of this particular effect. Some digital delay units had a tendency to click and stutter when the delay times were changed.


Yamaha DX-21 1992-1994

Yamaha DX-21 1992-1994 Yamaha DX-21

The DX-21 is basically a blown-up version of the DX-100, with full sized keys, and additional storage. The editing and programming is identical to the 4 operator FM synthesis in the DX-100.

Gabriel purchased the DX-21 and went deep into the same sound designing rabbit hole as I did back in the late 80s. We both had a similar attitude in that we tried to make sounds on it that it wasn’t really designed for. I purchased my DX-100 shortly after playing a Roland D-50, and found the DX-100 lacking. In Gabriel’s case, he probably would have probably done better with a few nice analog synths.