It goes without saying that the Roland TB-303 revolutionised electronic music – as the cornerstone of acid house, in many ways it lit the touch paper for the house and techno scene as we know it today.
Back in April 1982, however, the jury was out as to whether the 303 was a worthy accompaniment to other recently-released Roland synthesisers, such as the widely-used TR-808, or whether it was a step too far for the Japanese manufacturer – let’s not forget, it’s original use was as a robotic supplement for a bass guitarist.
In 1982, Tony Bacon of Electronics & Music Maker put it to the test, in an article preserved for posterity on the excellent Muzines archive.
“One of the most interesting little boxes to be seen and heard at the recent Frankfurt musical instruments fair was Roland’s new TB303 Bass Line machine, designed to some extent as a partner-in-rhythm for the not-quite-so-new TR606 Drumatix drum machine, although more than useful on its own,” is Bacon’s initial appraisal of the new machine.
While the experience is somewhat clunky – “Roland have once again crammed an awful lot into a small space, so this initial confusion is really to be expected” – of particular note is the 303’s “inherent insistence on mathematical order”, as Bacon describes it, which, as we know, would come in handy several years later as Chicago and Detroit producers began constructing their first 4/4-based tracks.
“As with the 606 drum machine, you really have to write things down at an early stage to get the best from the 303 — you can if you like use it for off-the-cuff bass lines in a sequencer-like fashion, but for anything beyond very basic use you have to plan out what you’re going to do before even switching the machine on,” Bacon explains.
“Playing with the 303 for a few seemingly wasteful hours — making a few mistakes, losing a few programs, swearing once or twice, etc — helps you understand that things which seemed like stupid idiosyncracies at first are merely the machine’s inherent insistence on mathematical order. Once you grasp this basic notion, the 303’s potential can be more fully realised.”
And how… 🙂
The full article can be found here.