Category Archives: How Music is Made

Play beats like a pro with a virtual Roland TR-909 drum machine

There’s a Roland TR 909 virtual drum machine floating around on the internet, but it can┬ábe hard to track down.

Its address is, a name that doesn’t sound anything like “drum” or “roland.” I found it through @reaktorplayer on Twitter:

Screen Shot 2016-01-10 at 11.06.00 AM

On the “HTML-909 Rhythm Composer” you can click on any part of the drum machine you want, selecting bass and snare drum, hi-hat, hand-claps, crashes and rides, for 16 slots. Once you select those, you can pick the tempo and pattern, then save your creation or trash it. I’m still figuring it all out, and my creations are a bunch of gibberish, but it’s a hell of a lot of fun just to mess around with.

The Roland TR 909 drum machine is pretty revered and it’s been used by artists like Aphex Twin, Phil Collins, Moby, 808 State, Chemical Brothers, The Prodigy, RZA and Daft Punk.

Some have gone so far as to create a giant physical machine for really large people.

Roland 909 drum big.jpg

The virtual drum machine was created by Teemu Kallio, a software developer from Finland who lives in Berlin.

The virtual Roland drum machine was just one of his projects, and he describes it aptly: “The Roland drum machine is a legendary drum machine from the 1980s and one could say it’s a keystone of techno music. I decided to make a replica of it using HTML 5 and audio API.”

His bio shows no indication he’d ever create a kick-ass drum machine, proof that musical inspiration and creativity can be found anywhere:

I’ve graduated from University of Helsinki at 2010 where I studied Computer Science and Mathematics. I’ve been working over 7 years in IT industry and last 4 years I’ve been building web and mobile applications with HTML5 technologies.

Thank you, Teemu, for giving us the power to be our own Phil Collins.

Thanks to @reaktorplayer too.

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Filed under Demos, Drumming, How Music is Made, Music News, Sound, Techno, Uncategorized, Virtual drum machine

Go back to the beginning: Find out how the “Doctor Who” theme song was made

Remember that guy with the colorful turtleneck and scarves? Of course you do. It’s Doctor Who.

Who? yeah, that guy played the fourth installment of Doctor Who.

Who? yeah, that guy played the fourth installment of Doctor Who.

I remember Doctor Who while growing up in the 80s. It was either go play out in the sun or sit and watch PBS — that weird channel that talked about Easter Island and Amelia Earhart– Wait, that was the Leonard Nimoy-hosted “In Search Of….”, but I digress.

In_Search_of_Title_ScreenBack to the music. I mostly remembered the Doctor Who theme song– it made me feel uneasy, yet I wanted to hear it and find out more. By the time I heard it, the original was tweaked a bit, but still the same. Never a big fan of the show itself, but the music stayed with me.

Now, has uncovered an archived video on how the “Doctor Who” theme song was created.

Picture a time before Stereo sound — it’s that dark.

The song was created by Dick Mills and Delia Derbyshire of the Radiophonic Workshop at the BBC. Ron Grainer is the one who wrote the song but left it to the Workshop to actually put it together. The short video explain how the song was put together using tape loops, inspiration from the black and white graphics, and verbal cues.

doctorwho bwDerbyshire mentions words from Grainer like “filtered white noise,” “clouds,” and “winterbubble,” and thought the “swoops” in the graphic indicated sound waves. According to Derbyshire, it was done on quarter-inch mono tape.

The song begins with whooshing, machinery-like sounds, and that steady beating, undulating bassline that is so characteristically science-fiction, somehow. Then that weird high-pitched sound just swoops in — “oooweeeoooo.” You also hear bits of what sound like Tie fighters from Star Wars flying back and forth. (you might not hear that)

Ron Grainer Dr. Who sheet musicIt’s ultimately creepy but cool and gives an immediate otherworldly vibe, which of course is the point of the song and the show. Another genius thing about the song is that it’s memorable enough, yet contains enough space that you can insert your own imagination into it.

Listen to the original “Doctor Who” theme song on Youtube, and watch the clip at

Also check out the 80s version of the theme song– it’s slightly changed, but more synthesized.

What do you think the theme song sounds like? “Whooshes”? “White noise?” “X-Files”?

Drop me a line and let me know.

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Filed under Documentary, How Music is Made, Science Fiction, TV theme songs