- Geeta Dayal
One of the first programmable drum machines in popular use. The TR-808 “Rhythm Composer” (“TR” stands for “transistorized rhythm”) was issued by Roland in 1980. Its release came shortly after the release of the Linn LM-1 Drum Computer, which was the first drum machine to use digital samples. The Roland TR-808, in contrast, used analog synthesis to produce a quirky range of sounds. The machine was generally considered to be inferior to the Linn LM-1—the drum sounds it produced were thinner and less authentic—but its much lower price tag and colorful, easy-to-use interface gave the TR-808 mass appeal. A number of popular songs in the early 1980s employed the TR-808, including Marvin Gaye’s “Sexual Healing,” Cybotron’s “Clear,” and Afrika Bambaataa’s “Planet Rock.” In 1983, Roland released the TR-909, a drum machine similar to the TR-808 that included MIDI capabilities and more memory. The TR-808’s distinctive presets—in particular the heavy, deep kick drum, bright-sounding snares, “cowbell,” and handclap—became classic sounds in hip-hop, techno, electro, R&B, and house music....