Forgotten Artifacts: TERR’s Gritty and Sweet TR-606

Forgotten Artifacts explores the vintage gear found in studios around the world. This month, rising Brazilian talent TERR reveals her love and appreciation for the Roland TR-606.

Everyone loves the TR-808 and the 909, but all too often people forget about their little brother, the TR-606.

The TR-606 was released in 1981 as a companion to the classic acid inducer, the TB-303. These machines were initially designed for pop and rock artists to act as a substitute for drummers and bass players. All in all, the TR-606’s sound landed so far from its intended plan that the only people that wanted them were the electronic music pioneers that were looking for new sounds and technologies. While the rocker majority wanted nothing to do with the TR-606’s metallic tones, the techno and house crowd were more than satisfied with the ridiculously low priced machine and its promise of endless sonic possibilities.

I’ve used it a lot on my records. I love the way it sounds. It’s gritty and synthetic, but at the same time, its output can be sweet and delicate. Everyone who’s handled a drum machine for some time knows very well that over time, their soul and unique personality traits start to become embedded in the instrument.

The 606 snare is stunning — classic and crispy. I sometimes saturate it a bit with the Avalon compressor, and it gets it perfect. The low and high toms are also beautiful and a bit nostalgic, perfect for some cute robotic grooves. And I love the hats and the cymbal. Of course, they don’t sound like “real” hats or cymbals, but you can have lots of synthetic fun with them. The cymbal is discreet and elegant, so I use it a lot at the beginning of a track’s arrangement. You almost can’t hear it, but it’s there.

The only TR-606 sound I’ve never used seriously on a record is the kick drum. I usually change it out for one that is stronger and more present. It’s also useful to hook it up to pedal effects: reverbs, delays, and saturation to make the sounds still more exciting and unique.

Similar to its 808 and 909 brethren, the TR-606’s sounds are constructed using old school drum machine “pattern” writing, which is much simpler than today’s infinite drum processing possibilities found inside any DAW. It’s an interesting way of working — thinking of different patterns for different parts of the song, and switching them back and forth with the touch of a button.

It originally had no MIDI (just a SYNC connector to make it work with its brother, the mighty TB-303). But nowadays, it’s easy to buy a SYNC/MIDI converter and connect it to the rest of the studio. It’s also an ideal drum machine for fast jams because it’s so straightforward and practical. You turn it on, program it in seconds, and it’s ready to rock.

TERR’s new 12″ Energy Sync is out now via Phantasy Sound.

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