1. Roland CSQ-100

// Here are a few of my absolute, hands down, all time, true loves. Not the kind of love that leaves me rolling around, aching on the floor because I miss it so much, but the kind of love that shows on my face, and makes us dance.

Fig.1-2 ROLAND CSQ-100
Basic CV/Gate sequencing. No proper clocking, no din sync, just an internal clock and a step input. Two sequences only to either switch between, or alternate (thru). The TR-808 is stepping its cv sequence with its cowbell trigger output. It’s all happening now, and mostly by beautiful accident.

Fig.3-4 ROLAND CSQ-600
Four sequences, din sync, and a step input as well as a scheme to clock the CR-1000. The TR-808 cowbell trigger out is clocking both the CSQ and the 582 sequencers. The CSQ-600 is playing the SH-2 and the 582 is playing the filter input. Endless, live, living, real time, accidental, glorious house music.

I need to bring these treasures to the club, or the field, the beach and the forest and get everyone together in such a serious way. I’m half-ccinated, the other half is on the 23rd and then I’m available. Not until it’s safe.
But oh baby, baby, baby I can’t hardly wait.

2. Roland CSQ-600

// Three Roland SH-101 synthesizers, one TR-808 Rhythm Composer, and two CSQ sequencers and we wouldn’t ever have to stop dancing. No effects, no EQ, no midi, no brain but mine.

I know, I know, I do know that the SH-101 has an arpeggiator, as well as one of my favorite sequencers inside of it – so really I could have done this with just the SH-101 alone, but what I love about the CSQ-600 is that it has 4 sequences which can be selected and de selected to play in any order. The CSQ-100 only has two, but still.

I diagramed everything for us above, but here’s what’s happening in the clip below:

The CSQ-100 is connected to CV/Gate in and out of SH-101-1 (top) and trigger 1 from the TR-808 is stepping it forward with each pulse sent. This allows me to hit load, enter any notes I like, press reset, and the pattern on the 808 will advance the sequence. To adjust the rhythm, I adjust the AC pattern on the 808.
The CSQ-600 is connected the same way to SH-101-2 (blue) and trigger 2 (CP) so it’s pattern can be different than the baseline.
Trigger 3 (CB) is connected to the EXT TRG input of SH-101-3 (bottom) and this allows me to clock the arp and the sequencer with everything else (see fig.3).
I double the time of this clock in fig.3 and you can see how the number of pulses also advanced the SH-101 sequencer just like it does the CSQ.

Now aren’t I blessed to have such a gorgeous collection of vintage classics that I use every day, restored myself, and make fantastic records with? Yes. Yes I am. Don’t think I don’t kiss the ground with gratitude every single day, because I do. But… check this out… we can do exactly this, no exceptions, with the Boutique SH-01A, TR-08, and the A-01. These are not antique techniques. They are possible and affordable today.

For me, the contrast between limitation as a force of creativity, and one knob per function performance/composition just endlessly delights me, engages me, and makes me dance.

3. Roland MSQ-700

// We really didn’t understand the TR-909 until it was already gone. It’s nearly impossible to imagine life before house music, but in 1983 we weren’t threatening to “house you.” Honestly we didn’t really know what we were doing, but we’re weren’t ready and we couldn’t quite feel it yet.

It took the TR-707 and the TR-727 to raise questions about that other one, the bigger one. Then it was on.

Have you seen my love letter to the TR-909? Check it. I think you’ll dig it. My love letter to the TR-808 isn’t terrible either.

This is the future. The MSQ-700 was the first midi sequencer (if does DCB too) and the only thing wrong with it is that you can’t edit your work, and it doesn’t mute or un mute its tracks while it’s playing. What I wouldn’t give for the skills to update this firmware.

But as you can see, for me, limitation is a function of creativity. What exactly does that mean?
I diagramed it for you above, but let me explain what’s happening in the clip below:

The MSQ-700 as the master clock, there are two tracks recorded for the Boutique JU-06A that I switch between (have to stop to change tracks) and that’s connected via MIDI. The TR-909 is also connected to MIDI clock, and it’s triggering the SH-101 sequencer from its rim shot/trigger output. The TB-303 is receiving din sync from the MSQ-700.

The composition comes from using the level controls on the 909 to bring in drums and take them out, using the sliders and arpeggiator on the JU-06A to make more of the sounds over time, the SH-101 is both played and the sequencer is also played to the manual pulse rhythm in the 909. The 303 is a wonderful counterpoint to everything.

This is just happening. There’s no “sequence” per se. It’s the way I really love to work, and how I get the most out of my gear. They collaborate, and work together to have a life of their own. Like life, it’s all about relationships.

Time is nothing. I love you.

4. Roland MSQ-100

// So then MIDI. Right? One cable to control everything! I think that once I’d finally gotten my spaceship converted from CV/Gate, synch jones, trigger and DCB to a completely midi rig I just sat there for a decade and felt really depressed. Midi is a useful tool, but it also seemed to rob me of many of the creative things about synthesizers that I loved. It turns out – 35 years later – that this isn’t MIDI’s fault. It was my own failure to use these new tools creatively and explore them. Remember, we make the music, it doesn’t make us.

This is an example of a live on the fly composition using just MIDI between instruments.
I diagramed this technique for us above, but here’s what’s happening here:

The Roland MSQ-100 is playing a multi tracked sequence. The muting/un muting each track is done on the instrument themselves – this could also be done on the mixer if that’s easier. I like to put my hands on things so this works well for me.
The MSQ-100 can record on 16 midi channels at once, but there is only one track. This means that the first take is step written and the rest are technically overdubs, but they can also be played all at once if you’re up for it.

I step wrote the baseline from the JP-08 (ch 2) and then overdubbed keys from the JU-06 (ch 3) and then played a counter to the baseline with the JX-03 (ch 4).
The Oberheim DX is just receiving clock in from the second out of the MSQ.
It’s sounds are adjusted on the instrument itself.

Nothing automated, no constraints apart from the basic loop being static,

There is really something magical about doing it all with our bare hands. Accidents happen, things surprise us.
Rather than trying to get it all done inside a little device, I want to get out of here, I want to fly. I want to break free of picky little constraints and ticky little pages and make a big fucking mess out loud with you.

Maybe perfectionism is a state of fear. A head trip to be abandoned. Sometimes diabolical mistakes turn into some of the most wonderful moments. Moments we miss when we’re not here.

5. Roland MC-500

// How do we know what we don’t know? Sometimes it seems like we barely acknowledge what we actually know, not to mention all the handsome doofus’ on TV saying categorical things to placate, and shut us up. Do they know they’re lying? Do they know they don’t know?

I was so wrong about the Roland MC-500. I first encountered it in the 80’s and just hated it. To me it was a cash register that forced us to type in our whole song and then stand there like a dweeb while played back and then stopped. Boy, was I wrong.

The MC-500 is an open-ended architecture (it’s a sysex librarian, a patch library, a SMF converter, a rhythm pattern library, a playlister, several versions of a sequencer, and more), stately, capable, and expandable sequencer, with rock solid timing which allows us to do pretty much whatever we would like to do with it. It’s really fantastic (can you hear me chewing on my hat right now?)

I suspect my initial (30 year) resistance was that the MC-500 can be a bit counter intuitive, and it’s operations are quite precise. That asks us to understand notation, time signatures and that can be a bit off-putting to a hairy young person who just wants to make music immediately!

I diagramed this for you above, but here’s what’s happening in the clip below:

The Roland MC-500 is connected via midi output 1 to the midi input of the Boutique JP-08 (ch 2), which is connected from its out to the midi in of the JU-06A (ch 3).
The output of the JU-06A is run back to the MC-500 midi input to record notes (K-25M attached).

Midi output 2 from the MC-500 is sending midi clock to the TR-707 which is set to receive midi sync.

The MC-500 with the Super MRC loaded can load 8 tracks plus a Rhythm pattern. The tracks are mutable and un mutable in real time.

This is just a 4 bar sequence with 2 tracks. These can be as long and elaborate as you like, in fact, like the MSQ-100, each of these tracks may contain 16 different midi channels and so sky’s the limit really. I’ve kept it simple because I like simple things and would prefer to do as much as possible on the instruments themselves. For me, the sequencer is a clock, a framework, I am the music, and the synths are the sounds.

6. Alesis MMT-8

// I got my hands on an MMT-8 in the 80’s on 24th and Fair Oaks. My friend Damien came home with it (we actually tried to share a submarine style 1 bedroom flat for a minute) and he said “check this out”. Once we figured out that it didn’t make any sound, we connected things to it, and made a song. That evening completely changed my life. I made a career of live performance and for nearly 20 years exclusively used this technique to perform 100% live all over the world.

It’s diagramed above for you, but here’s what happening in the clip below:

MMT-8 #1 is midi out to the in of MMT-8 #2. From there it goes out of MMT-8 2 into the Boutique JP-08, and out of there into the Oberheim DX (with Electrongate’s midi kit installed) and finally out of the DX and into the CV.OCD which converts CV and Gate for the MC-202.

This arrangement is very simple. Bass on MMT-8 #1 track 1, chords on track 2, a little melody on track 7 and a trill on track 8.
MMT-8 #2 has a clap track on track 1. This so so I can turn it on and off without having to change drum patterns.
The beat comes from the DX, the bass from the 202, and the rest is the JP-08.

What’s fun about this is real time arrangement, as opposed to pattern based arrangement. The MMT-8 has 99 patterns and the DX has a bunch too, but where’s the fun in standing around changing patterns? I like to get inside the song, arrange it however I want and make spontaneous and surly changes in this moment right now. If people dig the beat, let’s play the beat for as long as we can get away with it, then bring in the bass, or break to just chords. It’s a living, breathing arrangement which isn’t static at all.

I love the MMT-8. I wish Alesis would make them again. They don’t even need to “improve” them. I’d just be delighted with a couple brand new ones.

This concludes my little adventure through sequencers for live, improvised electronic performance. We covered a lot of ground, and I really enjoyed making these clips and diagrams and writing it up for you.

Make music, learn all you can, play live, join me!


  1. rolandsh1000:

    All that chunky metal & plastic side-cheek goodness in this era of Roland!

  2. maxbrank:

    I love mine, it sounds fat and nonchalant and even a lot of people tell me to sell it, it’s hard for me to accept that roland cloud 808 could have this fatness and randomness . Every time I used it it’s killer, my track is credible.

  3. enoughstatic:

    Fantastic arrangement!

  4. hellodryan:

    Sounds amazing

  5. squarepulse:

    what a nice combo!

  6. donmiguelb:

    This. It is so big. Idea. Concept — these are the tools that cities used to hear themselves — people would have feelings together, then make noise, Then they would move during the noise. Here’s what — that’s all history. These stories (you are telling me a history, like Herodotus, except it’s about the videos I would see after I hacked our cable as a kid ,, black and white, shot in Berlin or somewhere Brutalist, and I thought it was boss). I like these so much — that’s what I mean. Now they seem precious as well.

  7. donaldport:

    * fire *

  8. sophie818:

  9. vintagesynthmuseum:

    Killin it

  10. john topley:

    It’s never sounded so good. It never gets old.

  11. todd powers:

    Beautiful!! ♥

  12. 21stcenturyburnout:

    Love it! I want to add a Roland voice to my eurorack. Have you played around with the 500 series Modules? Although, I do feel like I need a SH-101 kind of voice, and there are a few options out there.

  13. regxelle:

    Sounds gorgeous Sunshine!!! Inspiring always!!! ♥

  14. subxtort:

    I tapped to listen to this as my three day old son was next to me and he was instantly at attention and focused on the audio coming from my phone.

  15. danielkibbee:

    That sound – Right there

  16. worksgondo:

    That’s a great-looking, great-sounding setup. I’m actually test-driving the software versions on Roland Cloud right now. They sound fantastic and will hold hands with Boutique and System-8 hardware if you have them, but they really put the CPU to work

  17. droiddominion:


  18. oscar:


  19. Sector 7:

    I could listen to these for hours

  20. wackerburg:

    I always say “it’s the indian and not the arrow.”

  21. eric_noooooooovak:

    Incredible tones

  22. candyflipbali:

    ♥ ♥ ♥

  23. predictionmusic:

    Really amazing stuff. I really believe limitation is where creativity strives and the most this proves it, Beautiful sounds

  24. stephanie_alysha:

    I think most people are so inherently freaked out about not knowing anything that they have to pretend they know somethings so they don’t freak out as much

  25. Bijan:

    Dance party, please!

  26. sonique musique:


  27. othertrevor:

    Yessss! Good work once again.

  28. f_bohmann2:

    fantastic love story! i have an mc500 as well, this post reminds me to use it more. thanks for this! plus: lovely sequence!

  29. joshua bandy:

    All these arrangements you’re posting are fantastic. Are any of these turning into finished works? Another record maybe?

  30. violentenemusic:

    ♥ ♥ ♥

  31. tfomusic:

    I love my MMT-8. It was my first sequencer before I ever used a computer to sequence. I still have my original from the 80’s.

  32. kjell vistad:


  33. Fac35:

    Lovely stuff. Funny, I’ve been doing a similar concept using the Teenage Engineering OP-Z as the sequencer. The results aren’t as good as yours, but great fun to be had.

    Thanks for the always interesting site – it’s an inspiration and clearly a labour of love.