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SP-808 Test Drive
When I dropped off my Roland GR700 at a local music tech store/repair shop
(heh, if the repair bill is higher than the worth of the unit, I'll let
keep the darn thing! :)), they happened to have the Roland SP-808 on
Naturally, I took the opportunity to play with it a bit. What it
does is let you play up to four samples at once out of a selection of up
to 16 samples at a time. You select a pad bank, then watch the 16 trigger
pads light up as the samples load up. With a Hold button, you can have
the unit loop a sample.
Obviously, the kind of samples you want to work with here are not the
perfect tabla sample or that pristine Steinway piano, but rather phrases
of music such as a bass line, breakbeat, etc. I was disappointed when
told that you cannot playback and sample at the same time. I thought it
be great if one could play two phrase samples while sampling oneself
live bass at the same time, then work with the newly sampled bass line.
The filter knobs and D-beam are nice real-time features. The D-beam can
be set to one of three modes: Filter, Pitch, Sample Trigger. The D-beam
is a motion sensor that can detect movement in an oval-shaped area above
the sensor. Filter mode has the D-beam perform filtering effects. Pitch
allows one to use the D-beam to affect both pitch and playback rate of the
samples (like a DJ's turntable moves). Sample Trigger allows one to
different phrase samples using the D-beam. I had a lot of fun triggering
the D-beam by leaning into it with my head as well as waving around.
I was disappointed that I could not find a way to not have the D-beam
playback globally. In other words, I could not, for example, find a way
to use the D-beam to mess with a sampled vocal phrase without affecting
the playback of a breakbeat that was going on at the same time. I'd like
to be able to have a steady rhythmic foundation over which I could do
weird things to samples floating on top with the D-beam.
The SP-808 uses an interesting memory management concept. It uses a 100MB
Zip disk as virtual RAM instead of real RAM.
Overall, the SP-808 is a fun toy. I enjoyed pretending to be DJ Spooky
and a Chemical Brother (the demo samples being inspired by those artists).
I was however disappointed that it could not sample and playback at the
same time (now I'm beginning to understand Kim's point about dedicated
loopers and DJ-oriented gear beginning to converge but not being there yet)
and that the D-beam appeared to be always global. Keep in mind, though,
that I am not a DJ or remix artist myself; just somebody interested in
getting into that stuff at some point.