Sunday, April 1, 2018

Roland TR-606 Drumatix drum machine and TS-404 Multitrax sequencer ad, Keyboard 1983


Roland TR-606 Drumatix drum machine and TS-404 Multitrax sequencer full colour advertisement from page 49 in the August 1983 issue of Keyboard Magazine.

I've already posted a scan and blogged about Roland's popular first ProForm advertisement that launched the TB-303 and TR-606, so I thought I'd focus more on the TS-404 in this 606/404 ad.

Within a year after launching the first two pieces of music gear that made up their "ProForm Series" - the TB-303 and TR-606 - Roland realized the hits they had on their hands. In particular, positive response in regards to the simplicity of the TB-303 sequencer led Roland to deliver on their promise to bring more ProForm gear to market by announcing a multi-track TB-style sequencer to go along with the bass synthesizer and drum machine.

Roland is known for re-purposing their cases to help keep costs down, and they've definitely kept that philosophy with all three ProForm products. As can be seen in the ad photo, the TS-404 kept the simple and clean TB-style sequencer on the lower half of the case, but replaced the main synth controls at the top of the case with multi-track sequencer functionality in the form of "Track" buttons and corresponding LED lights. CV and Gate labels indicate that each Track has its own set of CV/Gate outputs situated on the back. Slick!

The result - an awesome four track sequencer that looks absolutely smashing next to its older TR-606 sibling.

And it doesn't just look gorgeous. Its just about as dreamy to program. A Roland representative at the time remarked "If programming and editing one TB-303 sequence was easy, then programming four TS-404 sequences is four times as easy."

I found the TS-404 programming instructions in an article that appeared in the September 1983 issue of CV/Gate-Love Magazine called "The TS-404: Release yourself from your cumbersome Fairlight sequencer software". The guide matter-of-factly states that when using their simple 37-step programming and editing guide, "even someone with only a Doctorate in Astrophysics will be up to speed making Yazoo-style tracks in no time".

An amazing machine, but unfortunately, MIDI had just launched and was gaining steam quickly,  eventually stopping the sales of the TB-303, TR-606 and TS-404 in their tracks (pun intended). Many ended up sold in store blow-out sales and later dumped in pawn shops around the world. And while the TB-303 and TR-606 ended up becoming famous soon afterwards in the hands of acid house producers around the world, the TS-404 became generally recognized within a lesser well-known genre of techno called Banjo-Tech.

This fad of integrating banjos with TS-404s began in Belgium around 1992 and quickly spread to a small city in Canada called Regina. Owners would send their four-string banjo and TS-404 to a guy in Keflavik, Iceland. Known as the GodFerret mod, the integration with the banjo effectively destroyed the TS-404 in the process but resulted in an instrument that had one very unique sound when the four strings were played directly through the four tracks of the sequencer.

But unlike acid house which spawned many sub-genres and is still going strong today, the unique sound and genre of BanjoTech faded soon after, and the few rare TS-404s that never were GodFerreted are coveted by the few lucky owners that have them.

Shame I'll probably never be able to get my banjo GodFerreted.  :(