The rise of “in the box” production has advanced many aspects of music production, and in the process brought the possibility of producing music at a high level to the masses. I’m a big fan of the modern DAW and the amazing software that is currently available to both bedroom producers and pros alike.
That said, I am still a fan of some more “archaic” formats, such as MIDI and Sysex, and I sometimes regret the fact that very new producers will probably never know how powerful a deeper understanding of these technologies can be in a creative context.
One of these vintage tools is the trigger or gate signal. These were generally pre-MIDI and essentially were a voltage signal that could be output from a hardware device. These signals would be sent to other hardware devices as a way of synchronizing playback of the various devices.
An extension of this was that these signals could be used to advance a sequenced set of notes by one note in a sequencer with each trigger that the sequencer received.
The classic Roland drum machines included a trigger out that was associated with the Rim Shot as in the image of the TR-909 here.
So, a technique would be to program in a series of notes on something like the Juno 60 or SH-101 and then program in a rhythm pattern using the Rim Shot on the drum machine. With each trigger from the drum machine, the synth would step to the next note in the sequence, and once it reached the end of the sequence, begin again.
The result is that a producer could create an interesting progression of notes on the synth by simply manipulating the pattern of the Rim Shot trigger notes on the drum machine (these could be muted and still trigger the sequencer, so it was a matter of taste if they were actually heard or not). In fact, it is believed that one of the most famous bass lines in dance music was created this way by Larry Heard when he created “Can You Feel It”. Synthmania have kindly demonstrated how he would have done this with this nice video.
But what about the modern “in the box” producer? I was interested in finding out how a producer without a hardware sequencer or drum machine might be able to replicate this process. Fortunately, someone has kindly developed a great Max4Live plugin for Ableton Live users and it’s free! (I am hopeful that for those of you who aren’t using Ableton you will be able to find a similar type of plugin for your platform).
I’ve done a quick video demonstrating how this great free plugin called Live.Stepper can be used to emulate the classic trigger / gate sequencer technique below. My take – this is a great free plugin and it plugs a gap that exists. Kudos!
I hope some of you enjoy exploring this classic technique and come up with some great patterns!