Yuri Suzuki celebrates 303 Day with digital reworking of classic Roland synthesizers
Pentagram partner and sound designer Yuri Suzuki has collaborated with Counterpoint to celebrate #303 Day. And as part of the festivities, he has digitally reworked some of the most famous synthesizers made by the cult manufacturer, Roland.
For the uninitiated, 303 Day is a series of monthly celebrations based around Roland, which appropriately kicked off on the third of March. This year marks the 50th birthday of the brand beloved by the likes of electronic musicians - including Aphex Twin, Orbital and The Chemical Brothers - so to celebrate, Yuri and the team have reworked some of Roland's machines into interfaces that can be played on digital devices.
The machines in question include Roland's classic SH-101 analogue synth, which has been added to the TB303 and TR808 synth interfaces. Fans of Yuri will be familiar with these synthesizers as they originally first appeared in his very popular 808.303.Studio project.
Known as a hard-hitting monosynth – meaning it can only play one note at a time – the SH-101 is suited towards lead lines that cut through the mix or powerful bass lines which support the rest of the music. And thanks to its source mixer, the SH-101 can provide multiple different waveforms that can be blended and layered in various ways.
But whether or not you're familiar with the inner workings of a Roland synthesiser, Yuri and the team have made the interface fun and accessible to anyone, thanks to a simple graphic design. Simply fire up your laptop, smartphone, or digital device of your choice, and you've got everything you need to start making incredible electronic sounds. Users are even encouraged to record their creations, download them, and share them on social platforms.
"Roland synthesizers and drum machines provide a huge inspiration for making music," says Yuri. "All instruments are unique and behave differently, but the excitement of making music with these instruments is almost like orchestrating a mini robot band; bass, drum and lead. Roland50 Studio is a little taste of this. You can share your music with the world while inspiring others to compose and explore the electronic music field."
News of the digital adaptation will be music to the ears of synth fans who missed the boat the first time around. Roland's SH-101 was discontinued in 1986, although it was rediscovered in the 1990s when its versatile features and lower price point made it the instrument of choice for producers of dance and electronic music. During the '90s, it earned its place as a key sound of the dance scene, and thanks to Yuri and the team, it's even more accessible than ever.
The digital reworking is clearly a labour of love, not least because Yuri himself is a longtime user, collector and fan of Roland synths. In fact, he has even added several playful touches to the online experience to get a true-to-life SH-101 feel. For example, when you click the play buttons, you hear the recorded physical sound of the button being pressed on an original machine. Plus, the record function metronome countdown is from a real 303.
Speaking about his connection to Roland synthesizers, Yuri adds: "I remember the first time I ever saw Roland gear was from my dad, who had a leaflet about the first Kraftwerk concert in Japan, around 1980. There was a one-page Roland advertisement in there, I think for the System 100-M and MC-4. From Kraftwerk, I wondered how I could produce this type of music, and the answer was right there."
Has your appetite for all things Roland been whetted by this digital reimagining? You're in luck. Celebrations for Roland's half-centenary will continue over the next six months to fully tell the story of its iconic machines and the musicians who brought them to life. And if you can't wait for more, Yuri has already curated a playlist featuring the SH-101, TB-303 and TR-808, which you can listen to here.