Roland MC-8 Micro-Composer

Vintage Roland MC-8 Sequencer Archive

Ralph Dyck: My Commercial Life using my handmade sequencers prior to the MC-8

Ralph sends this brief memoir of making commercial music with home-brew gear in the 1970s:

I earned most of my living in the ’70s by doing films for the NFB (National Film Board of Canada) and commercials for GGP (Griffith Gibson Productions) and directly for agencies like J. Walter Thompson etc. Here’s an account of three spots for CPAIR (Canadian Pacific Airlines, still the best I ever flew to LA). They made the most money for me because I got residuals from them through the union every 3 months, for as long as 2 years!

The first version of CPAIR was interesting in that all I had was a logo, ‘Orange is Beautiful’, so I spent 1/2 an hour at the piano and came up with the full melody, it just flowed out of me. This is 1975 at Little Mountain Sound and I was using Sequencer #2, handmade. I used a lot of arpeggios with a flute-like sound because I didn’t have a good string sound, it was the best I could do at the time. I hired a real drummer, my friend George Ursan but all the rest is my handmade Sequencer and my handmade Synthesizer. The ending logo was sung by two singers, who ended up making more money than me, through ACTRA! They got residuals as well, I got leader’s scale and a fee for arranging plus residuals, still pretty good. (The following spring I bought my BMW 2800 CS coupe, Polaris Silver, what a car, a money sink…)

CPAIR Versions 2 and 3 using Sequencer #2 were done at Singwell Studios in 1976 where I was located for 6 months. Because I forget details easily it’s possible that CPAIR Version 3 was done on the MC-8 in 1977 at Total Sounds West- I forget the timeline. Joani Taylor sang the ‘Orange is Beautiful’ logos. I’m playing a Fender Rhodes on V2, and Roland electronic piano on V3. By this time I was using a Roland System 700 modular, and I used Solina Strings throughout. I had real flute and drums because I had a budget for a change. Those commercials kept me solvent for a year or two.

These were highlights of my commercial life at the time and they certainly used my sequencers, I’m just not sure if the MC-8 was used for the last one. Actually, producing commercials was right up my alley, they had to be very precise in time and message, they were something I could handle, not like writing a symphony!


January 16, 2013 Posted by | Interviews & Articles, Music | 2 Comments

Ralph’s SYNCBOX – Roland SBX-80 Prototype

While this isn’t directly about the MC-8, I feel this is an interesting bit of music tech history that ought to get out there nonetheless. Ralph Dyck shared a bit of info about his involvement developing another revolutionary product, the Roland SBX-80 sync box:

We’ve talked about the MC-8 and MC-4 but they are pretty dumb when it comes to interacting with the world. It’s fine if one is recording solo like I did, everybody had to adapt to the sequencer, not the other way around. I had been working in ’79 on the Denise McCann disco album and a number of times the problem came up whereby we wanted to put the synth and sequencer on later… Impossible! So, that stayed in my mind and later that year I met David Paich and Steve Porcaro from Toto. The idea of synchronizing with live music became our number one topic. So… I made an analog phase locked loop device designed by Chris Huntley, my synthesizer guru. I tried it out with Steve from Toto and it was okay but it was analog, and drifted. That was enough though to whet my appetite for a better solution. I discussed the problem with my buddy Peter Dunik and I’ll remember this always, he thought for 15-30 seconds and said “why don’t you record clicks on tape and play them back through the box and memorize the interval timings then the next time play the click back into the box and reconstruct all of the timings and synchronize the systems!!!” That was worth a world wide patent! Peter wrote the code for the RCA 1802 processor to emulate a phase locked loop and it was brilliant, I took his algorithm for the memorized clicks and did the coding for that. We had extreme success. Toto made an anvil case for the Syncbox prototype #1 and still have it in storage somewhere. Check out Toto 4 and look at the liner notes and you will see the phrase “God bless Peter Dunik’s Algorithm”. A first for Rock and Roll bands! The sequencers were a thing but the synchronization of the sequencers to human beings was much, much more important (in my books).

Ralph also sent along an example of the Syncbox in use:

I produced an album for Michael Saxell in ’83. I’m sending a track that uses the MC-4 and JP-8 and the 2nd prototype Syncbox. Jim Vallance is on drums. There’s a synth solo plus a bassline. I had Jim do a click track with a cowbell on every track for the album so that I could use the MC-4 later if required, as it turned out it was for one song only, “In and Out.”

The Syncbox was in memory mode whereby on the first pass it would memorize the timings of every click interval then later would send out a completely perfect sync tone to the MC-4, as perfect as the drummer was playing the original click track.

February 27, 2010 Posted by | Images, Music, Technical, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

YMO Programming the MC-8 in the Studio, 1979

Thanks to Zilog Jones and PinWizz for pointing me to a video of YMO in the studio in 1979:

PinWizz says:

There is a video of YMO members programming [“Behind The Mask“] on MC-8 back in the day! Album credits say “Computer programming by Hideki Matsutake“, so it must be him pushing the buttons in this video as well. The second (moody) piece which they code in video is “Insomnia” from the same album. Third song featured here is called “Solid State Survivor” as the album itself. Perhaps the best known song of YMO is “Rydeen,” but it is not in this video.

You can also see YMO here a couple years later, programming the MC-4:

As a side note, Matsutake also had his own recording project called Logic System. Here’s one track from Logic System’s 1981 LP, which featured lots of MC-8 sequences:

February 20, 2010 Posted by | Interviews & Articles, Music, Videos | 1 Comment

From Paul Horn’s “Jupiter 8” LP: “Transitions” by Ralph Dyck

Ralph sent along an mp3 of a Paul Horn piece he’s especially fond of, which he wrote and produced using the Roland MC-4 and Jupiter-8. It’s called “Transitions.” Ralph says it was his only “hit,” and that he received airplay royalties from it for years afterward. The “Jupiter 8” album has never been released on CD, but “Transitions” was included on Paul Horn’s “Traveler” CD.

Ralph also sent this video of “Transitions” being produced in the studio:

February 4, 2010 Posted by | Music | 4 Comments

Roland MC-8 Factory Demo Program – Bach Invention

This is another of the demo programs provided in the Roland MC-8 manual. This time it’s a Bach Invention, played back on a Roland SH-101 synth (not seen in the video). The first part of the video is specifically designed to bore you with stunning footage of me entering the channel 1 CV data for the first 3 pages of the 10-page score. Be thankful that I didn’t decide to include the entire CV/Step/Gate data entry process for the entire score. In the 2nd part of the video, you hear the entire mixed piece, played back in sync with the MC-8 displaying the CV data for channel 1.

Here’s an mp3 of just the music:

And here’s the program data for anyone who might have an MC-8 to load it into:

After posting this video, I was informed that Yellow Magic Orchestra featured this very same demo at the very end of the show during their 1980 world tour. You can hear their version here:

February 2, 2010 Posted by | Files, Music, Technical | Leave a comment

Ralph Dyck’s “Modern Zodiac,” 1973 & 2009

Ralph sent along a couple of mp3s of a piece of music called “Modern Zodiac” which he wrote for a show at the MacMillan Planetarium in 1973. The first is the original version, featuring Ralph’s home-brew modular synth, sequenced on his Digital Sequencer V1:

In Nov. 2009, he rigged up his old modular to a modern computer running Cubase via a MIDI-CV interface to record a new version of “Modern Zodiac:”

He also sent along the original score:

Note that in the original recording, Ralph extended the piece by programming the score in reverse in the middle, and then reprising the forward version at the end. The 2009 version omits the reversed part and the reprise.

February 1, 2010 Posted by | Music | Leave a comment

Ralph Dyck, Roger Linn & FSK Sync

Ralph recently shared this bit of information with me:

To make our systems compatible sync wise I showed Roger Linn how the FSK worked which he implemented in the LM-1 drum machine. I wound up using the LM-1 for an album with Paul Horn called Jupiter 8. I used the MC-4 and JP-8 for that album.

This definitely answers a question I had about how the MC-8 & LM-1 were synchronized on Human League’s “Dare!” album! I’ve been in touch with Martin Rushent, and will hopefully feature an interview with him here soon!

In the meantime, Ralph sent along a couple more mp3’s with this explanation:

In the early ’80s Roland US had a studio on La Cienega Blvd which I put together, it had an MC-4 and System 100 and a Teac multi-track. I did demos for Roland for the AES shows etc, I ‘m attaching two recordings that I did where Roger Linn provided the drums and guitar as well. These are really good examples of synchronization¬† of the¬† two systems.

February 1, 2010 Posted by | Music, Technical | Leave a comment

Ralph Dyck’s MC-8 Arrangement of “Yesterday” by the Beatles

Ralph sent me a fantastic mp3 of an arrangement of The Beatles’ “Yesterday” that he wrote and programmed on the MC-8 in 1977, for demonstration purposes. Again, he shows the degree of nuance and expressivity that the MC-8 was capable of, even if it mostly ended up being used by most producers to churn out stiffly metronomic parts. The synth used was most likely a Roland System 700 modular.

February 1, 2010 Posted by | Music | Leave a comment

Early use of MC-8 by Chris & Cosey

Also, view this interview w/ Cosey, wherein the MC-8 gets a passing mention.

January 27, 2010 Posted by | Music, Videos | Leave a comment

Ralph Dyck Sequencer Program Data Example: “Directions”

Ralph sent along an mp3 andprogram data sheets for a short piece of music he realized on his home-brew digital sequencer. Ralph says: “This is for a CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) Recording in ’75. The tune is called ‘Directions’. The program sheets were my own, well before Roland.” Music and images are copyright Ralph Dyck and registered by SOCAN Canada.

January 27, 2010 Posted by | Images, Music, Technical | Leave a comment