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.

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Alesis Quadraverb multi effects unit 1989 to 1994

Alesis Quadraverb multi effects unit 1989 to 1994 Alesis Quadraverb multi effects unit

In this case, for some odd reason, I didn’t buy another Yamaha product. It makes even less sense, as the Yamaha SPX-90, 900, 1000 multi-effects units were industry standards. Once again it came down to bangs to bucks, at least in terms of the specs on paper. I recall the sales guy at the store telling me that the Yamaha SPX-1000 “gets records made”. For some reason, that bit of rhetoric pissed me off, and I think I may have partially bought the Quadraverb out of spite.

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Korg SQD-1 sequencer 1989

Korg SQD-1 sequencer 1989 Korg SQD-1 sequencer

This sequencer looked great on paper, and was a fine example of specs and packaging versus practical application. Not only did it have double the memory of the QX-21, but it also could save the information onto these odd floppy disks called “quick” disks. Also, it just looked like it would be a better device than it turned out to be. Unfortunately, it had fewer editing capabilities, so it seemed to make more sense to synch both machines up and bounce QX-21 data onto the SQD-1. In theory this should have worked, as I’d been able to synch up the QX-21 and multiple drum machines in the past. Not so, however. There was a horrific lag between the devices, and it’s sole purpose turned out to be the completion of “Dare”. After that, I attempted to use it to back up a few ideas onto quick disks, with a 30% chance that they would load up the next time.

I’m not sure, but I might have traded it for a bag of powdered milk.

Tascam 464 four track recorder 1991-1992

Tascam 464 four track recorder 1991-1992 Tascam 464 four track recorder

It was an amazing bit of luck to have access to this, and we used it to record the vocals for 11 of the tracks on the CD. Possibly because I was paranoid that I might wreck a piece of gear that belonged to “Nivek Ogre”, I treated it with great reverence, and it served me well. This is not to say that I had a lot of success in terms of the quality of the results, but getting the vocals recorded without breaking the machine was a success in itself. The EQ had one semi-parametric band, which was a handy way for me to make the vocals as shrill and horrible as I possibly could. Mission accomplished!     

Roland D-10 1989-2000s

Roland D-10 1989-2000s Roland D-10

Martin bought this keyboard pretty much at the same time as I got the TX16W, so I was far too in love with my new sampler to be blown away by it, though at the time, I kind of should have been. Once you figured out how to access all the features, it was essentially an 8 instrument synth module, controller keyboard, drum machine, and sequencer all in one unit. The drum and synth sounds could be reasonably good, particularly if you compared them to my previous Yamaha gear.

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Atari 1040 ST/Creator 1991-1998

Atari 1040 ST/Creator 1991-1998 Atari 1040 ST/Creator

Other than the TX16W sampler, this was the “brains” of T4M for the duration of the most active period of the band, from 1991 to 1995. With a comparatively (to the QX-21) whopping potential for up to 32 MIDI tracks, an intuitive graphic interface, an honest-to-goodness mouse control, and for our purposes UNLIMITED MIDI event memory, Creator was a significant leap as a compositional tool. Prior to the integration of software multi-track digital audio workstations (DAWs), it was the absolute go-to program for sequencing. One of the first things I did was transfer files from the QX-21 into Creator and - get this – save them to floppy disk. I never looked back. To this day, both Gabriel and I still compare the effectiveness of contemporary DAW MIDI sequencing environments to Creator. Many of them are very effective and probably better, but subjectively lacking in the magic.

A point of dubious interest, the file names needed to be 8 characters or less, so working song titles tended to be very short, most of which became the final titles on the CD.  

Sequential Circuits Pro One 1991-1992

Sequential Circuits Pro One 1991-1992 Sequential Circuits Pro One

Ogre lent this synth to Gabriel, and in retrospect, I have no idea why I didn’t use it - possibly because anything that didn’t have a MIDI plug on it was dead to me, but I was a great fool. Had I had any sense, we could have cooked up tons of good sounds on it, and then sampled them.

I’ll leave the overview to Gabriel.

@Gbrl says: "This was a brilliant machine. It was the kind of synthesis that I was actually comfortable with . A lot of the percussive sounds on 'Plague' were actually synthesized and sampled from the Pro One. Probably bass sounds are what we should have used it for more, but those were different times... actually there's no excuse, we should have used it for more bass sounds, period.

The only problem was this particular one had a problem with the keys. No idea why, but they worked intermittently, and never had very good feel. Still, would cheerfully kill to have one now."

Akai S900 sampler 1991-1994

Akai S900 sampler 1991-1994 Akai S900 sampler

Initially loaned to Gabriel by Ogre, I bought one later. I sort of wished I’d bought a second TX16W instead.

The S900 (1986) came out two years before the 16W (1988), and it was essentially the first inexpensive and most popular “professional” sampler on the market, so I assumed that it was superior on all fronts. Compared to the 16W, the S900 was far easier to work with in terms of editing and…well, everything. On the down side, it was limited in terms of the number of possible simultaneous instruments (polyphony), as well as the over-all efficiency in terms of sample quality. Basically, I could just pack more sounds into the TX16W than the S900, which was what mattered most on my budget. Alas, the overwhelming advice I had received was that an S900 was the best deal, and this is why you should never, ever trust musicians, salespeople, musicians who work as salespeople, or salespeople who play music.

After a year, the disk drive on mine died, and it was probably traded for cigarettes.

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.