Electro Tools of the Trade – Alesis HR-16:B
The Alesis HR-16:B was my first piece of “modern” MIDI gear, keeping in mind that modern was circa 1992. I think I got this used at C&C Music in Hazleton (it was originally made in 1989).
This unit could be used a number of ways: in real time, playing the pads (plastic, not rubber, and not very responsive), via Patterns or Songs (strings of patterns), or just as a sound module fed by other MIDI gear. For the most part I used the first two methods. It would be some time before it was possible for me to use a computer to trigger the sounds via a sequencer. Even after I got into Cakewalk, it was just more hassle than it was worth, and I had already begun to use either real drums, hand percussion or loops.
The small screen made it somewhat difficult to program, so I never got too fancy with the patches. Out of the box, they sound pretty good for some forms of music. Not exactly appropriate as a backing to acoustic guitar (my main instrument), but still lots of fun. In a sense, the drum sounds dictated the style of many pieces I wrote while using it, including some techno-rock-ambient type stuff with dark lyrics. NIN was just coming out around this time. Some of the HR-16:B sounds are very reminiscent of Pretty Hate Machine, an album that had a profound impact on me as a musician, regardless of what my acoustic-guitar-playing persona might imply.
Data backup was via cassette as I recall, similar to early Commodore and Tandy computers that used audio signals to back up data on tape (think the bastard child of Morse code or fax tones). Though the Alesis is limited by today’s standards, and programs like Propellerhead’s Reason run circles around it, I could just never part with this black beast. Some of the patterns I created would be nearly impossible to recreate on another machine, even with better sounds, and even with the exported MIDI data. There is just something about the timbre of these patches that makes them special. The idea is to one day go back and re-record the 4-track tunes that used this machine, and see how I can merge it with other techniques I’ve learned over the years (like much better vocals, guitars, etc).