It’s amazing what synthesizer and drum machine manufacturers (such as Casio, E-mu, Ensoniq, Kawai, Korg, and Roland) were producing back in the in the mid 1980s. It was the very dawn of MIDI for commercial digital instruments and the MIDI integration was sometimes more advanced than what’s offered on today’s hardware sound modules.

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This is the reason why it’s so much fun to dust off this vintage gear and discover not only what was possible more than 30 years ago but also to learn what these classic sound modules can teach us today about MIDI implementation. In this exploration we can discover new uses for MIDI and also how to fold vintage sound modules into our contemporary music production workflow for truly unique sounds and ideas. 

It’s so much fun to dust off vintage gear and discover not only what was possible more than 30 years ago but also to learn what these classic sound modules can teach us today about MIDI implementation. @erikhawk Click To Tweet

Case in point, the Sequential TOM drum machine from 1985. Dave Smith and his team at Sequential Circuits were pioneering MIDI implementation and the Sequential TOM, with its distinctive 8-bit sampled drum sounds, had seriously advanced MIDI functions for the time. In this video I explain these advanced functions and also demo the Exfade cartridge that’s packed full of classic drum machine samples.

Then, I produce a beat using the TOM’s built-in MIDI sequencer, record the audio into Ableton Live as a multitrack session, and share it with a former student of mine. He goes by the name EyeWill Create, and he syncs up the Ableton Live session to a table full of modern sound modules and has a jam that even includes David Hasselhoff and K.I.T.T. on Knight Rider. It’s truly a collaboration of the old and new!