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Working 9-foot TR-909 drum machine goes on display

It has a big sound, and Roland's TR-909 drum machine has certainly left a large sonic footprint on the history of electronic music, so it's perhaps appropriate that Edinburgh-based arts collective Ray is celebrating 30 years of the instrument by creating an oversized 9-foot replica.

Six times the size of the original, this playable sculpture, designed by project leader Brendan McCarthy, has a tensile steel and aluminium frame supporting a wooden outer shell. It can be assembled and taken apart in minutes, but is said to be tough enough to take a beating.

The guts of the machine, which were assembled by Sam Healy (of psych-rock groups North Atlantic Oscillation and Sand), recreate part of the original 909's interface using off-the-shelf Roland gear. There are a dozen PD-8 drum trigger pads fitted under the spring-loaded buttons, which feed into a TD-12 drum brain.

This in turn sends MIDI data to an Aira TR-8. When interacted with, the sculpture not only pounds out 909 sounds via the TR-8, but also relays the MIDI data to a projection system synchronised to the beat. The more complex the rhythm, the more intricate the visuals.

The result, according to Ray is: "A hands-on behemoth wired for sound and vision. An interactive monument to electronic music."

The 9-foot 909 is appearing at this weekend's Green Man festival, and will also be at Bestival on 4 to 7 September. You can see it in action in the video above, and find out more on the Ray Tumblr.

Ben Rogerson

I’m the Group Content Manager for MusicRadar, specialising in all things tech. I’ve been playing the piano, gigging in bands and failing to finish tracks at home for more than 30 years, 20 of which I’ve also spent writing about music technology.