Roger Linn is known as the inventor of the modern drum machine. In 1979 Roger Linn introduced the LM-1 Drum Computer. The LM1 was the worlds first programmable, sampled-sound drum machine. The LM-1 was soon succeeded by the LinnDrum, Linn9000 and eventually the MPC 60. These Roger Linn innovations are the blueprint for the 16 pad, real time midi sequencing and sampling drum machine.
In our interview with Roger Line we had the opportunity to discuss his departure with AKAI, the LinnDrum II, the LinnStrument and his thoughts on the new line of MPCs.
INTERVIEW with Roger Linn
Tell us a bit about how the idea came about to create the modern drum machine back in the 1970’s?
RL: I was a guitarist and songwriter and while making song demos, the hardest part to play and record was the drums. Simple drum machines existed at the time but had two problems: 1) they had a poor sound, and 2) they weren’t programmable. I had been learning about electronics and computers, so I made my own.
Did you ever think MPC would be used in the way that it is used today, given the fact that it has become the defacto hip hop equivalent to the rock and roll guitar?
RL: Some parts I expected. For example, I introduced loop recording, timing quantization and swing into my first machine because these would speed the creation process, and that has been embraced. But I did not predict sampling of loops. In fact, the first MPC contained only 13 seconds of sampling time because I felt this was adequate for sampling drum sounds. Of course it is also true that sampling memory was very expensive at that time.
What brought on the split between Roger Linn and Akai?
RL: Akai went out of business and the assets were purchase by Numark, headed up by a very unscrupulous fellow named Jack O’Donnell. Once he bought Akai, he immediately stopped my royalty payments, refused to take my calls and had his lawyer send me threatening letters. I checked around and learned that he has a reputation of being a real bastard, so given that challenging him would have been long and expensive, I let it go.
What are your thoughts on the more recent lines of MPCs (the stand alone boxes and the new hybrid controllers)?
RL: From what I’ve seen, Akai seems to be making slight changes to my old 1986 designs for the original MPC, basically rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. By comparison, my new Tempest is a truly unique drum machine created for the way people make music today instead of how it was made 20 years ago.
What advice would you give to aspiring electronic instrument inventors and DIYers?
Tell us a bit about the LinnStrument.
RL: Software synthesis–subtractive, additive, FM, granular, waveguide, physical modeling and others–has evolved to a very high level of capability for musical expression. However, if you try to use a MIDI keyboard with one of these synthesizers to play a convincing sax, violin or clarinet solo, you’ll know that a MIDI keyboard is very poor at capturing subtle human performance gestures. This is because it’s basically an array of speed-sensitive on/off switches. LinnStrument is a highly expressive input keyboard that senses each finger in three dimensions at high speed and at high resolution, polyphonically. I hope it will replace the MIDI keyboard and bring an expressive electronic instrument voice to music.
On your site it says “During development, we realized that we really needed two products– the all-digital LinnDrum II and the analog Tempest for Dave’s analog synth customers.” How did you come to the conclusion that there should be two different products?
RL: Because one product would be too expensive. For example, the MPC never had analog synthesis, so why should I force MPC-style players to buy an expensive analog drum machine? That said, Tempest is an amazing product and the first drum machine that is truly a performance musical instrument, given its pair of position and pressure-sensitve touch strips and 90 panel controls. It’s wonderful to make a machine that can capture subtle performance gestures–all in real time without ever stopping the beat– thereby allowing each musician to develop and express his own personal performance style. And while sampling has its merits, a sample is always a fixed, immutable snapshot of a sound that can’t be changed much. By comparison, Tempest’s synthesized voices have over 160 parameters that can change at any time, so your subtle performance gestures can make a huge variety of subtle movements in the sounds, and the analog voices have an extraordinary fat sound compared to anything that must pass through a D/A converter.
When will the LinnDrum II finally be ready for prime time?
RL: Unfortunately, I don’t yet have a ship date nor estimated price, largely because the maker of the needed pressure-sensitive, multi-touch sensor I was planning to use for both LinnStrument and LinnDrum II was purchased by Amazon and shut down a while back. However, a new maker of such an input surface has emerged in the market so I’m hoping this will speed up the schedule.
What, in your words, is your legacy?
RL: I made electronic musical instruments a little better than before.
What is up next for Roger Linn?
RL: My current focus is LinnStrument and LinnDrum II.