Music making - The sound or the sequence? The tool or the result?

This has been a good thread! I spent a lot of years getting comfortable with different instruments and technologies and slowly edging them toward each-other as I understood what they could do over time. The grid I use took me around 4 months to even have a reliable routine for mlr or flinn to show up and make some noise. It took maybe the last handful of years to find out that if I was enjoying the process, I would have a really hard time wasting effort. I go in and out of integration with these things now depending on my mood and it always seems to be too much AND not enough.

"I really want to rewire here but use a separate controller there for this and if I … "

Even now I don’t think I could do much more with 3 control surfaces than I can with two. Or environments for the sake of process vs. gear. Maybe a loop station and light percussion. Or a grid and another control surface with velo and knobs. It’s really hard to juggle both. So… I’ve learned to be happy with playing around. And showing people that process and tinkering when I can. All I really want with the new gear is the ability to make more interesting and better stuff ( to me ) and song-wise is almost equally self serving. Spend some time learning PD or re-iterating on a drum rack… or … combing recordings for live looping. If it’s fun to explore then maybe I’ll remember how to do X if I need to… SerialOSC was a big hangup for me for example. So I didn’t touch the device for a while. Even qwertyMIDI can get you somewhere…

If you have the time ( to read this, even ), enjoy it, I guess. There is nothing wrong with new kit. Or the same old tricks that get you into that groove… my experience is ; " Yeah this knife kinda sounds like a triangle… "

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Really interesting thread. Self-imposed limitations seems to be the best way to go for me, since i can refocus myself on being creative with the tools i have and ENJOYING THE RIDE.


I am old but never seem to age musically. I am stuck for better or worse at a musical age of about 18. The good side of this is that I am constantly imprinted with new music. The song that gets me the most emotional is just a few years old, not something from the 80s.
But I am a perpetual beginner partially by design. But honestly would you rather be a master saxophone player, my first instrument, which I was good at, or keyboards/piano? Which I have been playing a couple of years.

I really like to make rhythm based music with no strong genre allegiances. This summer I finally found a workflow that clicked for this. Central to the setup was a mc909. I have sold a lot of “write mostly” sequencers. The DAW piano roll was always the least bad sequencing solution. Until the mc909. It is possible but not easy to edit midi in the 909, so I end up main,y replaying parts instead of tweaking them.

The project this summer was supposed to be to make house music of some kind. The kind that results from being played in sounds a certain way, very loose compared to drawn in beats.

All good. The very first mc909 I bought was unusably broken - pads, buttons, display. Instead of restoring it I bought another one. Try doing that with an MPC 4000 these days or a 3000 how about.

Now this one is showing signs of imminent death. I could buy another one but it is making me feel weird about relying on obsolete gear older than 20 years.

How do you deal with a certain workflow becoming indispensable or at least overpowering the musical situation? I can obviously go many different ways to replace the 909 in vague terms, but besides FL studio this is the first specific workflow item that has really effected my music. Is it weird to accept that centrality? Is it consumerist to put the acquisition of very specialized tools at the center of our art? What is the difference between a “very specialized tool” as consumer good and “musical instrument” ?

If you can I’d identify what it is about the mc909 that made it so essential to you, I have little doubt folks could make suggestions for alternatives. But given the somewhat Swiss Army knife like nature of groove boxes, you’ll have to help us understand why it worked well for you.

I highly recommend centering your practice on open source technology when technology is a critical piece. But I use a large amount of commercial software. I’m comforted to know that when it goes obsolete, at least it won’t go into any landfill.

I’m excited about the possibilities represented by a Raspberry Pi device. You can recreate almost any (digital) music technology on a low cost device, using open source software that you can repair or enhance yourself, which theoretically should make obsolescence impossible. That being said, you may require the assistance of a community such as this one to complement your strengths and provide skills you don’t posses yourself.

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Thanks for replying. I have been thinking about the mc909 to give you a good answer. The ergonomics are good, I am able to gradually figure it out and get good use out if it without knowing everything about it which is important. And things are arranged well.

The midi timing is basically as good as I can be, in and out.

The mute and fader setup is a great help for live tweaking. I wish all the tracks could be addressed at once but they are stacked 8 on 8.

The recording is very straightforward and the only negative is the inability to record over the running pattern and overdub, and this indeed is one of the things that make me look for other companion pieces.

This may sound weird or naive, but the sounds and drum sets are a huge asset. I think this opinion is very peculiar to me at this time. I have spent many many hours crafting sounds, and there was a period when I thought sound was superior to music. But now I love many, by no means all of the sounds. I really like having credible drum sets that have some genre and sonic identity, without having to hunt for them or make them. In most of the songs I have been working on, the beginning sounds rarely are the ones thst survive, and they are mostly replaced with sounds I make on external synths, but the ease of dialing through many different patches so easily to fit a part I played in is a huge productivity boost.
Edit - the fact that these sounds largely Hew to obsolete genre conventions is a plus. I have gigabytes of modern sounds on my ROMplers and vsts etc, but somehow the cheesiness of a lot of old sounds is reduced when their context fades away.

I like that I can visually edit patterns, though it is not as easy as the DAW.

I like the quantization options, but don’t like that they are batch based.

I like the real time parttern feature. At the right time during a jam I can play that with one hand and keyboard with another. Having fixed options at hand thst have been preselected to match the song, and indeed might be samples of the song, really helps reinforce the theme with little performative effort.

The pads are pretty good, not as finger drummy as I would like but they make up for it with their expressiveness.

I can’t articulate the final thought but somehow this creaky and increasingly obsolete groove box is the best all around quick composition tool I have found besides the DAW, with a big difference being that I can spend all my time standing up. I still use the computer, but not always, and it is not necessary since I now record to multitrack on sd card instead of to the computer, and then I suck the stems onto the pc after the fact if warranted.


That’s quite a love affair! I’d get the nicest one you can find and then use it with great love and care. And I don’t say that lightly. All of your concerns around commercialization and obsolescence of musical instruments are still completely valid. But you’re describing the very things I don’t think I could “clone”: subtle ergonomics. A large collection of small details that add up to something greater than the sum of the parts. A personal relationship. You don’t love a certain type of sequencer or a particular drum sound or any other single thing. You love the mc909.

I guess you could look at the mc707 and think about whether it works for you, but now you really are jumping on the upgrade treadmill, potentially. If you’re going to have to change workflow and ergonomics anyway, why constrain yourself to something so commercialized?

Our relationships with our instruments are potentially some of the most intimate relationships we might ever have, certainly with an inanimate object. Who am I to say what any one of us should play?


Ok so you endorse the 707? I am building a sequencer but that prototype will take months to get working I might just buy more expert sleepers es3s to plug into my lp32 Motu interface, It is the best I have been able to do in terms of latency from my computer. And these hardware sequencers all have some big drawback.

I wouldn’t endorse any gear, really. Like I said, it’s super personal.

But it does seem to be the most capable groovebox Roland has made yet? But that impression is based entirely on web articles and YouTube videos. I’ve never owned a groovebox of any kind.

I think if I was going to get one I’d probably go for the mc101 but that’s because I don’t need a groovebox for my studio desk (I love Ableton live) so the only place I’m likely to use a groovebox is in bed or on the go.

Yes I have tried a lot of hardware sequencers but only a couple have held my interest and none of those I would classify as a groove box, I am not really sure what that is, but to me it seems to be more in the realm of step sequencers which I cannot abide. Retreating back to the computer is the most likely outcome until I get my sequencer thing built or find something

Mc909 is a groovebox.

Ok that’s good to know. I just got an mpc 4000 to switch over to is that also a groovebox?