My MC-8 is ailing at the moment, which means that when I turn it on, it does it own bit of “micro-composing.” Here it is connected to my Sequential Pro-One synth.
It’s been quite awhile since I’ve posted anything new here, but I’m thinking of selling my “blue meanie” MC8 (one of two MC8s that I own), and decided to look around the net to see if anyone had worked out how to fabricate a new data cable for it (since it didn’t come with one when I bought it). Lo and behold, I found this article. That’s alot of soldering…
MC8s rarely come up for sale, so I generally take note when they do. Recently an oddly-colored one appeared on eBay- instead of the usual brown top, it had a blue top. Also, the serial number on this one was 600000. It’s definitely earlier than my other MC8, which is serial number 680904. Since the bidding was very slow up until the last day, I decided to place a bid myself just to make sure it sold for a decent amount. Well, probably mostly due to the fact that it was missing the crucial cable that links the sequencer to the interface, it ended up selling for chump change, and I won it (if only inadvertently) for $224.50! I definitely don’t need TWO of these things, but what the heck. I received the unit the other day, and I’m convinced that the blue paint job is factory, though I’ve never seen another like it. It has the full 16k memory (additional memory could be purchased as an expensive daughter board). Also, it has a two-prong power cable instead of three prongs. There may be other differences lurking inside. I don’t know what serial number these started at, or how the numbering scheme worked, but given that only a few hundred of them were ever made, I’m sort of fantasizing that maybe 600000 could mean this was the first one off the line…? Who knows… If you own an MC8, please leave a comment here with the serial number and memory capacity, and also of course whether you have a blue one like this.
I fired it up using the cable from my other MC8, and it appears to be working OK. I’m not really sure what sort of use I’ll get from this one other than as a collector’s item, so I suspect I’ll probably have a cable fashioned for it and eventually put it back up for sale. We’ll see. It’s too bad this came up only after Ralph passed, or I’d probably have had it shipped directly to him, since he hadn’t owned an MC8 in decades.
I was very shocked and saddened to receive an email from Jeff Van Dyck yesterday announcing the passing of his father, Ralph Dyck, on May 20th, due to a sudden stroke (coincidentally on the same date that Ray Manzarek passed). Readers of this blog will, of course, be very familiar with Ralph as the “godfather” of the Roland MC8 Micro-Composer, but to most of the music world he remained an unsung hero. Ralph’s primary background was in jazz and commercial music, and I got the sense that he never quite understood the full extent of the influence of his innovations in the realm of electronic pop music production. Suffice it to say that the Roland MC8 provided the definitive blueprint for the way that we work with modern sequencers. Initially Ralph was a bit tentative about sharing too much with a complete stranger (albeit an enthusiastic one), but I think I won him over by laboriously keying-in a piece of his called “Odd Rhythms,” which appears as a demo sequence in the MC8 owner’s manual.
Over the few brief years that I was in touch with Ralph, we corresponded on a great variety of topics, both music-related and not. He was always very interested to hear of the goings-on in my world, and always very proud to share his story as well as proud-papa stories of his son Jeff’s work. In more recent emails, I had noticed a definite tone of anguish as he struggled with various health issues. He was working on restoring his old synthesizers, but was finding the work increasingly difficult and frustrating. Nevertheless, I’m happy that he was able to have one last go at what was clearly one of his passions in life, and I hope that others will be able to step in to finish the restoration work that he started.
My only regrets are that I never got a chance to meet Ralph in person, and that I was not able to document his story more completely while he was still with us. Being a mere amateur/fanboy myself, I had attempted to find a qualified music tech journalist to take on the task and write a proper article, but nothing came of those efforts. Ralph had even entertained the idea of writing his own memoir, but again, it was not to be. Hopefully what I’ve cobbled together here will suffice for now.
Jeff is organizing a wake for Ralph, which will be open to the public. I personally am unable to attend, but I encourage attendance by any music technology enthusiasts who are able to. Ralph was clearly concerned about documenting his legacy in some way, and certainly got a kick out of knowing that there were people out there who knew of him and appreciated his contributions to the development and culture of electronic music.
Where:Billy Bishop Legion1407 Laburnum St Vancouver BC Canada(604) 738-4142When:Saturday June 15th, 20131pm-4pmThere will be some snacks and a couple of drink tickets per person. Jeff be presenting a slide show at 2pm and opening the mic for speeches afterwards.
Ralph had a great view from his apartment in Vancouver, and he often sent me photos taken out of his window. As an avid hiker, I always enjoyed receiving these. Here’s just one:
Rest in peace, Ralph, and thank you again for shining a light into the future for us.
Ralph sent along this nice newspaper clipping from 1972!
Click on the picture to read the original article, about the making of “I Feel Love.” Note, however, that “I Feel Love” pre-dates the MC-8.
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.
I thought I’d post a pic of the box my MC-8 came in. Note that this box came inside a bigger Roland shipping box, which you can see in the unboxing video I posted previously. Note the stamp that says “With OM-8 Optional Memory.” This is the memory board that came factory installed in the interface unit, which considerably expands the standard on-board memory.
Oh yes, that was all me. That is entirely MC-8. Rusty Egan brought the group and the song and I programmed everything in my home studio and recorded it at Mayfair Studios in South Moulton St. with John Hudson engineering. It was the System 100Ms with the 10x gate modification on the bass line for sure. I did all their recordings and I wrote the rest of the songs with various members. Rusty and I wrote the B side in about ten minutes at my house – RERB – our initials – very imaginative – but it still gets played in clubs to this day. I loved this group they were so outrageous, this was a very fun time both personally and creatively.
Watch this space soon for an exclusive interview with Richard on his use of the MC-8 on Landscape’s “From The Tearooms Of Mars To The Hell-Holes Of Uranus!”
- Roland MC-8 Sequencer Malfunction w/ Sequential Pro-One Synth
- Making a Roland MC-8 Cable
- Low Serial Number “Blue Meanie” MC8
- RIP Ralph Dyck, Sept 28, 1941 – May 20, 2013
- Ralph Dyck: My Commercial Life using my handmade sequencers prior to the MC-8
- Interview: Richard James Burgess of Landscape
- Ralph Dyck Reunited With Another Long-Lost Synth Creation
- Ralph Dyck’s 1970s Home-Brew Synth Rescued from Pawn Shop
- 1972 Newspaper Article about Ralph Dyck & His Modular Synth
- Giorgio Moroder w/ MC-8 & System 700 via Sound On Sound Magazine
- Pea’s MC-8 Electro-glamour shots
- Ralph’s SYNCBOX – Roland SBX-80 Prototype