The Roland TR-808 is undoubtedly the most iconic drum machine of all time, but few would claim that its drum sounds anything like the real thing. To fix that problem, a German TR-808 fan has built his own version using robotically played actual drums, replacing the electronic clicks and braps of the original.
Moritz Simon Geist's MR-808 recreates 11 of the original TR-808's sounds, using solenoid controlled sticks and beaters driven by an Arduino microcontroller, which is in turn driven by a MIDI controller. Geist sets up his TR-808 style drum patterns on a PC running Ableton Live music composition software, which then runs the whole show. The sounds he included are the snare drum, bass drum, hi-hats, carabassa, clave, ride cymbal, hand claps, tom toms, and of course the famous cowbell.
Getting the sounds right was one thing, but to push his MR-808 over the edge, Geist added a light show, with white LEDs that strobe as each instrument is played. Check out the video to see the whole thing in action.
Now that it's complete, the MR-808 has become a focal part of the German electro-pop band The Science Fiction Children. What's not clear is whether they actually haul this thing around to live gigs, or if it only makes appearances in their videos. After all, it won't exactly fit in your backpack the way a regular TR-808 can.