Music sequencer

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A music sequencer (or audio sequencer or simply sequencer) is a device or application software that can record, edit, or play back music, by handling note and performance information in several forms, typically CV/Gate, MIDI, or Open Sound Control (OSC), and possibly audio and automation data for DAWs and plug-ins. [note 1] [1]

Application software computer software designed to perform a group of coordinated functions, tasks, or activities for the benefit of the user

Application software is software designed to perform a group of coordinated functions, tasks, or activities for the benefit of the user. Examples of an application include a word processor, a spreadsheet, an accounting application, a web browser, an email client, a media player, a file viewer, an aeronautical flight simulator, a console game or a photo editor. The collective noun application software refers to all applications collectively. This contrasts with system software, which is mainly involved with running the computer.

Music form of art using sound

Music is an art form and cultural activity whose medium is sound organized in time. General definitions of music include common elements such as pitch, rhythm, dynamics, and the sonic qualities of timbre and texture. Different styles or types of music may emphasize, de-emphasize or omit some of these elements. Music is performed with a vast range of instruments and vocal techniques ranging from singing to rapping; there are solely instrumental pieces, solely vocal pieces and pieces that combine singing and instruments. The word derives from Greek μουσική . See glossary of musical terminology.

Musical note sign used in musical notation, a pitched sound

In music, a note is the pitch and duration of a sound, and also its representation in musical notation. A note can also represent a pitch class. Notes are the building blocks of much written music: discretizations of musical phenomena that facilitate performance, comprehension, and analysis.



Modern sequencers

Atari ST + TerraTec-Profimedia Midi Smart TMS3.jpg
1980s typical software sequencer platform, using Atari Mega ST computer.
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Today's typical software sequencer, supporting multitrack audio (DAW) and plug-ins (Steinberg Cubase 6 [2] )
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User interface on Steinberg Cubase v6.0, a digital audio workstation with an integrated software sequencer.

The advent of Musical Instrument Digital Interface (MIDI) and the Atari ST home computer in the 1980s gave programmers the opportunity to design software that could more easily record and play back sequences of notes played or programmed by a musician. This software also improved on the quality of the earlier sequencers which tended to be mechanical sounding and were only able to play back notes of exactly equal duration. Software-based sequencers allowed musicians to program performances that were more expressive and more human. These new sequencers could also be used to control external synthesizers, especially rackmounted sound modules, and it was no longer necessary for each synthesizer to have its own devoted keyboard.

MIDI electronic musical instrument industry specification

MIDI is a technical standard that describes a communications protocol, digital interface, and electrical connectors that connect a wide variety of electronic musical instruments, computers, and related audio devices for playing, editing and recording music. A single MIDI link through a MIDI cable can carry up to sixteen channels of information, each of which can be routed to a separate device or instrument. This could be sixteen different digital instruments, for example.

Atari ST series of personal computer models

The Atari ST is a line of home computers from Atari Corporation and the successor to the Atari 8-bit family. The initial ST model, the 520ST, saw limited release in April–June 1985 and was widely available in July. The Atari ST is the first personal computer to come with a bitmapped color GUI, using a version of Digital Research's GEM released in February 1985. The 1040ST, released in 1986, is the first personal computer to ship with a megabyte of RAM in the base configuration and also the first with a cost-per-kilobyte of less than US$1.

Synthesizer Electronic instrument capable of producing a wide range of sounds

A synthesizer or synthesiser is an electronic musical instrument that generates audio signals that may be converted to sound. Synthesizers may imitate traditional musical instruments such as piano, flute, vocals, or natural sounds such as ocean waves; or generate novel electronic timbres. They are often played with a musical keyboard, but they can be controlled via a variety of other devices, including music sequencers, instrument controllers, fingerboards, guitar synthesizers, wind controllers, and electronic drums. Synthesizers without built-in controllers are often called sound modules, and are controlled via USB, MIDI or CV/gate using a controller device, often a MIDI keyboard or other controller.

As the technology matured, sequencers gained more features, such as the ability to record multitrack audio. Sequencers used for audio recording are called digital audio workstations (or DAWs).

Multitrack recording process of mixing individual sound sources to a single recording

Multitrack recording (MTR)—also known as multitracking, double tracking, or tracking—is a method of sound recording developed in 1955 that allows for the separate recording of multiple sound sources or of sound sources recorded at different times to create a cohesive whole. Multitracking became possible in the mid-1950s when the idea of simultaneously recording different audio channels to separate discrete "tracks" on the same reel-to-reel tape was developed. A "track" was simply a different channel recorded to its own discrete area on the tape whereby their relative sequence of recorded events would be preserved, and playback would be simultaneous or synchronized.

Digital audio workstation electronic system designed primarily for editing digital audio

A digital audio workstation (DAW) is an electronic device or application software used for recording, editing and producing audio files. DAWs come in a wide variety of configurations from a single software program on a laptop, to an integrated stand-alone unit, all the way to a highly complex configuration of numerous components controlled by a central computer. Regardless of configuration, modern DAWs have a central interface that allows the user to alter and mix multiple recordings and tracks into a final produced piece.

Many modern sequencers can be used to control virtual instruments implemented as software plug-ins. This allows musicians to replace expensive and cumbersome standalone synthesizers with their software equivalents.

A software synthesizer, also known as a softsynth or software instrument, is a computer program or plug-in that generates digital audio, usually for music. Computer software that can create sounds or music is not new, but advances in processing speed now allow softsynths to accomplish the same tasks that previously required the dedicated hardware of a conventional synthesizer. Softsynths are usually cheaper and more portable than dedicated hardware, and easier to interface with other music software such as music sequencers.

An audio plug-in, in computer software, is a plug-in that can add or enhance audio-related functionality in a computer program. Such functionality may include digital signal processing or sound synthesis. Audio plug-ins usually provide their own user interface, which often contains GUI widgets that can be used to control and visualise the plug-in's audio parameters.

Today the term "sequencer" is often used to describe software. However, hardware sequencers still exist. Workstation keyboards have their own proprietary built-in MIDI sequencers. Drum machines and some older synthesizers have their own step sequencer built in. There are still also standalone hardware MIDI sequencers, although the market demand for those has diminished greatly due to the greater feature set of their software counterparts.

A music workstation is an electronic musical instrument providing the facilities of:

Drum machine electronic musical instrument designed to imitate the sound of drums or other percussion instruments

A drum machine is an electronic musical instrument that creates percussion. Drum machines may imitate drum kits or other percussion instruments, or produce unique sounds. Most modern drum machines allow users to program their own rhythms. Drum machines may create sounds using analog synthesis or play prerecorded samples.

Types of music sequencer

Music sequencers can be categorized by handling data types, such as:

Analog sequencer

An analog sequencer is a music sequencer constructed from analog (analogue) electronics, invented in the first half of the 20th century.

Mix automation

Modern digital audio consoles or mixers use automation. Automation allows the console to remember the audio engineer's adjustment of faders during the post-production editing process. A timecode is necessary for synchronization of automation.

Software effect processor

A software effect processor is a computer program which is able to modify the signal coming from a digital audio source in real time.

Alternative subsets of audio sequencers include:

A typica DAW (Ardour) Ardour-screenshot-big (tracks, mixer, x-fade - brighten).jpg
A typica DAW (Ardour)
Digital audio workstation (DAW), Hard disk recorder — a class of audio software or dedicated system primarily designed to record, edit, and play back digital audio, first appeared in the late 1970s and emerging since the 1990s. After the 1990s–2000s, several DAWs for music production were integrated with music sequencer.

In today, "DAW integrated with MIDI sequencer" is often simply abbreviated as "DAW", or sometimes referred as "Audio and MIDI sequencer", [7] etc. On the later usage, the term "audio sequencer" is just a synonym for the "DAW".

A typical loop-based music software (Cubase 6 LoopMash 2) Cubase6 LoopMash 2 loop remixer (brighten).jpg
A typical loop-based music software (Cubase 6 LoopMash 2)
Loop-based music software — a class of music software for Loop-based music compositions and remix, emerging since late 1990s. Typical software included ACID Pro (1998), Ableton Live (2001), GarageBand (2004), etc. And now, several of them are referred as DAW, resulting of the expansions and/or integrations.
Its core feature, pitch/time manipulation allows user to handle audio samples (loops) with the analogy of MIDI data, in several aspects; user can designate Pitches and Durations independently on short music samples, as on MIDI notes, to remix a song.

This type of software really controls sequences of audio samples; thus, possibly, we can call it an "audio sequencer".

A typical Tracker software (Milkytracker) Milkytracker Instrument.jpg
A typical Tracker software (Milkytracker)
Tracker (music software) — a class of software music sequencer with embedded sample players, developed since the 1980s. Although it provides earlier "sequence of sampling sound" similar to grooveboxes and later loop-based music software, its design is slightly dated, and rarely referred as "audio sequencer".
A typical groovebox (Akai MPC60) providing sampler and sequencer Akai MPC60.jpg
A typical groovebox (Akai MPC60) providing sampler and sequencer
Phrase sampler (or phrase sampling) — similar to above, musicians or remixers sometimes remixed or composed songs by sampling relatively long phrases or part of songs, and then rearranging these on grooveboxes or a combination of sampler (musical instrument) and sequencer.

This technique is possibly referred as "audio sequencing".

A typical beat slicer (Cubase 6.0 Sample Editor) Cubase6 Sample Editor beat slicing - Amen break.jpg
A typical beat slicer (Cubase 6.0 Sample Editor)
Beat slicing — before the DAW became popular, several musicians sometimes derived various beats from limited drum sample Loop by slicing beats and rearranging them on samplers. This technique was popularized with the introduction of "beat slicer" tool, especially the "ReCycle" released in 1992.

Possibly it may be one origin of "audio sequencing".

Also, music sequencer can be categorized by its construction and supporting modes.

Realtime sequencer (realtime recording mode)

A realtime sequencer on the synthesizer Sequential Circuits Six-Trak front.png
A realtime sequencer on the synthesizer

Realtime sequencers record the musical notes in real-time as on audio recorders, and play back musical notes with designated tempo, quantizations, and pitch. For editing, usually "punch in/punch out" features originated in the tape recording are provided, although it requires sufficient skills to obtain the desired result. For detailed editing, possibly another visual editing mode under graphical user interface may be more suitable. Anyway, this mode provides usability similar to audio recorders already familiar to musicians, and it is widely supported on software sequencers, DAWs, and built-in hardware sequencers.

Analog sequencer

An analog sequencer Korg SQ-10.JPG
An analog sequencer

Analog sequencers are typically implemented with analog electronics, and play the musical notes designated by a series of knobs or sliders corresponding to each musical note (step). It is designed for both composition and live performance; users can change the musical notes at any time without regarding recording mode. And also possibly, the time-interval between each musical note (length of each step) can be independently adjustable. Typically, analog sequencers are used to generate the repeated minimalistic phrases which may be reminiscent of Tangerine Dream, Giorgio Moroder or trance music.

Step sequencer (step recording mode)

Elektron MACHINEDRUM SPS-1.jpg
A step rhythm sequencer on the drum machine
Firstman SQ-01.png
A step note sequencer on the bass machine

On step sequencers, musical notes are rounded into steps of equal time-intervals, and users can enter each musical note without exact timing; instead, the timing and duration of each step can be designated in several different ways:

In general, step mode, along with roughly quantized semi-realtime mode, is often supported on the drum machines, bass machines and several groove machines.

Software sequencer

Software sequencer is a class of application software providing a functionality of music sequencer, and often provided as one feature of the DAW or the integrated music authoring environments. The features provided as sequencers vary widely depending on the software; even an analog sequencer can be simulated. The user may control the software sequencer either by using the graphical user interfaces or a specialized input devices, such as a MIDI controller.

Typical features on software sequencers
Numerical editor on Tracker
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Score editor
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Piano roll editor
with strip chart
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Audio and MIDI tracks on DAW
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Automated, software studio environment including instruments and effect processors
Cubase6 LoopMash 2 loop remixer (brighten).jpg
Loop sequencer
Cubase6 Sample Editor beat slicing - Amen break.jpg
Sample editor
with beat slicer
Cubase6 VariAudio vocal pitch editing.jpg
Vocal editor
for pitch and timing


Early sequencers

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Barrel with pins on a large stationary barrel organ
Music roll
on barrel organ

The early music sequencers were sound producing devices such as automatic musical instruments, music boxes, mechanical organs, player pianos, and Orchestrions. Player pianos, for example, had much in common with contemporary sequencers. Composers or arrangers transmitted music to piano rolls which were subsequently edited by technicians who prepared the rolls for mass duplication. Eventually consumers were able to purchase these rolls and play them back on their own player pianos.

The origin of automatic musical instruments seems remarkably old. As early as the 9th century, Persian inventors Banū Mūsā brothers invented a hydropowered organ using exchangeable cylinders with pins, [8] and also an automatic flute playing machine using steam power, [9] [10] as described in their Book of Ingenious Devices . In the 14th century, rotating cylinders with pins were used to play a carillon (steam organ) in Flanders,[ citation needed ] and at least in the 15th century, barrel organs were seen in the Netherlands. [11]

Player piano (1920) controlled by piano roll.
RCA Mark II Sound Synthesizer.jpg
RCA Mark II (1957),
controlled via wide punched paper roll

In the late-18th or early-19th century, with technological advances of the Industrial Revolution various automatic musical instruments were invented. Some examples: music boxes, barrel organs and barrel pianos consisting of a barrel or cylinder with pins or a flat metal disc with punched holes; or mechanical organs, player pianos and orchestrions using book music / music rolls (piano rolls) with punched holes, etc. These instruments were disseminated widely as popular entertainment devices prior to the inventions of phonographs, radios, and sound films which eventually eclipsed all such home music production devices. Of them all, punched-paper-tape media had been used until the mid-20th century. The earliest programmable music synthesizers including the RCA Mark II Sound Synthesizer in 1957, and the Siemens Synthesizer in 1959, were also controlled via punch tapes similar to piano rolls. [12] [13] [14]

Additional inventions grew out of sound film audio technology. The drawn sound technique which appeared in the late 1920s, is notable as a precursor of today's intuitive graphical user interfaces. In this technique, notes and various sound parameters are trigggered by hand-drawn black ink waveforms directly upon the film substrate, hence they resemble piano rolls (or the 'strip charts' of the modern sequencers/DAWs). Drawn soundtrack was often used in early experimental electronic music, including the Variophone developed by Yevgeny Sholpo in 1930, and the Oramics designed by Daphne Oram in 1957, and so forth.

Analog sequencers

Buchla 100 series at NYU.jpg
Earliest commercially available analog sequencers (bottom) on Buchla 100 (1964/1966) [15]
1st commercial Moog synthesizer (1964, commissioned by the Alwin Nikolai Dance Theater of NY) @ Stearns Collection (Stearns 2035), University of Michigan.jpg
Moog sequencer module (left, probably added after 1968) on Moog Modular (1964)

During the 1940s1960s, Raymond Scott, an American composer of electronic music, invented various kind of music sequencers for his electric compositions. The "Wall of Sound", once covered on the wall of his studio in New York during the 1940s1950s, was an electro-mechanical sequencer to produce rhythmic patterns, consisting of stepping relays (used on dial pulse telephone exchange), solenoids, control switches, and tone circuits with 16 individual oscillators. [16] Later, Robert Moog would explain it in such terms as "the whole room would go 'clack - clack - clack', and the sounds would come out all over the place". [17] The Circle Machine, developed in 1959, had dimmer bulbs arranged in a ring, and a rotating arm with photocell scanning over the ring, to generate an arbitrary waveform. Also, the rotating speed of the arm was controlled via the brightness of lights, and as a result, arbitrary rhythms were generated. [18]

Clavivox, developed since 1952, was a kind of keyboard synthesizer with sequencer.[ verification needed ] On its prototype, a theremin manufactured by young Robert Moog was utilized to enable portamento over 3-octave range, and on later version, it was replaced by a pair of photographic film and photocell for controlling the pitch by voltage. [17]

In 1968 Ralph Lundsten and Leo Nilsson had a polyphonic synthesizer with sequencer called Andromatic built for them by Erkki Kurenniemi. [19]

Step sequencers

Wurlitzer Sideman (1959) disc sequencer.jpg
Electro-mechanical disc sequencer on early drum machine (1959)
Eko ComputeRhythm.png
Eko ComputeRhythm (1972), [20] [21] one of the earliest programmable drum machines
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Firstman SQ-01 (1980), [22] one of the earliest step bass machines

The step sequencers played rigid patterns of notes using a grid of (usually) 16 buttons, or steps, each step being 1/16 of a measure. These patterns of notes were then chained together to form longer compositions. Sequencers of this kind are still in use, mostly built into drum machines and grooveboxes. They are monophonic by nature, although some are multi-timbral, meaning that they can control several different sounds but only play one note on each of those sounds.[ clarification needed ]

Early computers

CSIRAC played the earliest computer music in 1951 CSIRAC-Pano,-Melb.-Museum,-12.8.2008.jpg
CSIRAC played the earliest computer music in 1951

On the other hand, software sequencers were continuously utilized since the 1950s in the context of computer music, including computer-played music (software sequencer), computer-composed music (music synthesis), and computer sound generation (sound synthesis). In June 1951, the first computer music Colonel Bogey was played on CSIRAC, Australia's first digital computer. [23] [24] In 1956, Lejaren Hiller at the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign wrote one of the earliest programs for computer music composition on ILLIAC, and collaborated on the first piece, Illiac Suite for String Quartet, with Leonard Issaction. [25] In 1957 Max Mathews at Bell Labs wrote MUSIC, the first widely used program for sound generation, and a 17-second composition was performed by the IBM 704 computer. Subsequently, computer music was mainly researched on the expensive mainframe computers in computer centers, until the 1970s when minicomputers and then microcomputers became available in this field.

In Japan, experiments in computer music date back to 1962, when Keio University professor Sekine and Toshiba engineer Hayashi experimented with the TOSBAC computer. This resulted in a piece entitled TOSBAC Suite. [26]

3C DDP-24 computer card rack side.jpg
3C DDP-24 computer card rack.JPG
DDP-24 S Block (expansion card rack unit) that is assumed the A/D converters used for GROOVE (1970) by Max Mathews.

In 1965, [27] Mathews and L. Rosler developed Graphic 1, an interactive graphical sound system (that implies sequencer) on which one could draw figures using a light-pen that would be converted into sound, simplifying the process of composing computer generated music. [28] [29] It used PDP-5 minicomputer for data input, and IBM 7094 mainframe computer for rendering sound. Also in 1970, Mathews and F. R. Moore developed the GROOVE (Generated Real-time Output Operations on Voltage-controlled Equipment) system, [30] a first fully developed music synthesis system for interactive composition (that implies sequencer) and realtime performance, using 3C/Honeywell DDP-24 [31] (or DDP-224 [32] ) minicomputers. It used a CRT display to simplify the management of music synthesis in realtime, 12bit D/A for realtime sound playback, an interface for analog devices, and even several controllers including a musical keyboard, knobs, and rotating joysticks to capture realtime performance. [28] [32] [29]

EMS at MIM Sequencer.jpg
EMS Sequencer 256 (1971), branched from Synthi 100.

Digital sequencers

In 1971, Electronic Music Studios (EMS) released one of the first digital sequencer products as a module of Synthi 100, and its derivation, Synthi Sequencer series. [33] [34] After then, Oberheim released the DS-2 Digital Sequencer in 1974, [35] and Sequential Circuits released Model 800 in 1977 [36]

Synclavier1 JB.jpg
Synclavier I (1977)
Fairlight green screen.jpg
Fairlight CMI (1979) supporting MCL (sequencer)

Music workstations

In 1975, New England Digital (NED) released ABLE computer (microcomputer) [37] as a dedicated data processing unit for Dartmouth Digital Synthesizer (1973), and based on it, later Synclavier series were developed.

The Synclavier I, released in September 1977, [38] was one of the earliest digital music workstation product with multitrack sequencer. Synclavier series evolved throughout the late-1970s to the mid-1980s, and they also established integration of digital-audio and music-sequencer, on their Direct-to-Disk option in 1984, and later Tapeless Studio system.

Fairlight II Page R.png
Page R on Fairlight

In 1982, renewed the Fairlight CMI Series II and added new sequencer software "Page R", which combined step sequencing with sample playback. [39]

Yamaha's GS-1, their first FM digital synthesizer, was released in 1980. [40] To program the synthesizer, Yamaha built a custom computer workstation designed to be used as a sequencer for the GS-1[ citation needed ][ failed verification ]. It was only available at Yamaha's headquarters in Japan (Hamamatsu) and the United States (Buena Park).[ citation needed ]

Standalone CV/Gate sequencers

While there were earlier microprocessor-based sequencers for digital polyphonic synthesizers, [note 4] their early products tended to prefer the newer internal digital buses than the old-style analogue CV/Gate interface once used on their prototype system. Then in the early-1980s, they also re-recognized the needs of CV/Gate interface, and supported it along with MIDI as options.

In 1977, Roland Corporation released the MC-8 Microcomposer, also called computer music composer by Roland. It was an early stand-alone, microprocessor-based, digital CV/Gate sequencer, [41] [42] and an early polyphonic sequencer. [43] [44] It equipped a keypad to enter notes as numeric codes, 16  KB of RAM for a maximum of 5200 notes (large for the time), and a polyphony function which allocated multiple pitch CVs to a single Gate. [45] It was capable of eight-channel polyphony, allowing the creation of polyrhythmic sequences. [46] [41] [42] The MC-8 had a significant impact on popular electronic music, with the MC-8 and its descendants (such as the Roland MC-4 Microcomposer) impacting popular electronic music production in the 1970s and 1980s more than any other family of sequencers. [46] The MC-8's earliest known users were Yellow Magic Orchestra in 1978. [47]

MIDI sequencers

In June 1981, Roland Corporation founder Ikutaro Kakehashi proposed the concept of standardization between different manufacturers' instruments as well as computers, to Oberheim Electronics founder Tom Oberheim and Sequential Circuits president Dave Smith. In October 1981, Kakehashi, Oberheim and Smith discussed the concept with representatives from Yamaha, Korg and Kawai. [48] In 1983, the MIDI standard was unveiled by Kakehashi and Smith. [49] [50] The first MIDI sequencer was the Roland MSQ-700, released in 1983. [51]

It was not until the advent of MIDI that general-purpose computers started to play a role as sequencers. Following the widespread adoption of MIDI, computer-based MIDI sequencers were developed. MIDI-to-CV/Gate converters were then used to enable analogue synthesizers to be controlled by a MIDI sequencer. [42] Since its introduction, MIDI has remained the musical instrument industry standard interface through to the present day. [52]

Personal computers

In 1978, Japanese personal computers such as the Hitachi Basic Master equipped the low-bit D/A converter to generate sound which can be sequenced using Music Macro Language (MML). [53] This was used to produce chiptune video game music. [26]

Moog Song Producer (1983, SN 1366, MIDI & CV-Gate interface for Commodore 64) on Lab Series SynAmp prototype (1978, SN E0471), at Cantos Music Foundation in 2009.jpg
Moog Song Producer (1983) MIDI & CV/Gate interface on SynAmp

It was not until the advent of MIDI, introduced to the public in 1983, that general-purpose computers really started to play a role as software sequencers. [42] NEC's personal computers, the PC-88 and PC-98, added support for MIDI sequencing with MML programming in 1982. [26] In 1983, Yamaha modules for the MSX featured music production capabilities, [54] [55] real-time FM synthesis with sequencing, MIDI sequencing, [56] [55] and a graphical user interface for the software sequencer. [57] [55] Also in 1983, Roland Corporation's CMU-800 sound module introduced music synthesis and sequencing to the PC, Apple II, [58] and Commodore 64. [59]

The spread of MIDI on personal computers was facilitated by Roland's MPU-401, released in 1984. It was the first MIDI-equipped PC sound card, capable of MIDI sound processing [60] and sequencing. [61] [62] After Roland sold MPU sound chips to other sound card manufacturers, [60] it established a universal standard MIDI-to-PC interface. [63] Following the widespread adoption of MIDI, computer-based MIDI software sequencers were developed. [42]

Milkytracker Instrument.jpg
Tracker software

In 1987, software sequencers called trackers were developed to realize the low-cost integration of sampling sound and interactive digital sequencer as seen on Fairlight CMI II "Page R". They became popular in the 1980s and 1990s as simple sequencers for creating computer game music, and remain popular in the demoscene and chiptune music.

Visual timeline of rhythm sequencers

Welte Style 6 Concert Orchestrion No.198 (1895) - Assembly 06 (brighten, transformed & clipped).jpg

Mechanical (pre 20c)

Nuvola arrow right.svg
Joseph Schillinger and the Rhythmicon.jpg

Rhythmicon (1930)

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Wurlitzer Sideman drum machine (inside).jpg

Drum machine

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Seeburg Select-A-Rhythm.jpg

Transistorized drum machine (1964)

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Eko ComputeRhythm.png

Step drum machine (1972)

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Linn LM-1 Drum Computer.jpg

Digital drum machine (1980)

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Movement Computer Systems (MCS) Drum System II (or Percussion Computer II), circa 1981, United Kingdom - Knobcon 2014.jpg

Groove machine (1981)

Nuvola arrow right.svg
Fairlight II Page R.png

"Page R" on Fairlight (1982)

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Milkytracker Instrument.jpg

Tracker (1987)

Nuvola arrow right.svg
Cubase6 Sample Editor beat slicing - Amen break.jpg

Beat slicer (1990s)

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Spectrogram editing (1994)

Cubase6 LoopMash 2 loop remixer (brighten).jpg

Loop sequencer (1998)

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Polyphonic note separation & manipulation.jpg

Note manipulation on audio tracks  (2009)

See also


  1. On of TechTarget (, an author seems to define a term "Sequencer" as an abbreviation of "MIDI sequencer".
    • Margaret Rouse (April 2005). "Define sequencer". ( TechTarget. Archived from the original on 2015-06-27. In digital audio recording, a sequencer is a program in a computer or stand-alone keyboard unit that puts together a sound sequence from a series (or sequence) of Musical Instrument Digital Interface ( MIDI ) events (operations). The MIDI sequencer allows the user to record and edit a musical performance without using an audio-based input source. ...
  2. Automation parameters on the DAW are often interoperable with MIDI messages (Control Changes (CC) or System Exclusive (SysEx); in that case, it can be controlled in real-time via pre-assigned MIDI messages generated by MIDI controllers or MIDI sequencers, etc. And even more, on the several DAWs, automation parameters are explicitly recorded as MIDI messages on their embedded MIDI sequencers. (See Price 2006)
  3. The term " audio sequencer " seems to be relatively new expression and seems to be not clearly defined, yet. For example, "DAW integrated with MIDI sequencer" is often referred as "Audio and MIDI sequencer". However, in this usage, the term "audio sequencer" is just a synonym for the "DAW", and beyond the scope of this article. In that case, please check Digital audio workstation.
  4. In 1974-1975, Australian computer music engineer Tony Furse developed the MC6800-based Qasar M8 with a software sequencer MUSEQ 8, with a minimum price of $8,000. In 1976, it was licensed to Fairlight Instruments Pty Ltd., and eventually Fairlight CMI was released in 1979. (For details, see Fairlight CMI)
    Also in 1975, New England Digital released original microprocessor-based ABLE computer (utilizing mini-computer architecture) as a future migration target of Dartmouth Digital Synthesizer. Their commercial version of digital synthesizer, Synclavier I was first shipped in 1977. (For details, see Synclavier)

Related Research Articles

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Electronic musical instrument musical instrument that produces its sounds using electronics

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An analogsynthesizer is a synthesizer that uses analog circuits and analog signals to generate sound electronically.

Sampler (musical instrument) musical instrument

A sampler is an electronic or digital musical instrument which uses sound recordings of real instrument sounds, excerpts from recorded songs or found sounds. The samples are loaded or recorded by the user or by a manufacturer. These sounds are then played back by means of the sampler program itself, a MIDI keyboard, sequencer or another triggering device to perform or compose music. Because these samples are usually stored in digital memory, the information can be quickly accessed. A single sample may often be pitch-shifted to different pitches to produce musical scales and chords.

Steinberg Cubase Digital audio workstation

Cubase is a digital audio workstation (DAW) developed by Steinberg for music and MIDI recording, arranging and editing. The first version, which was originally only a MIDI sequencer and ran on the Atari ST computer, was released in 1989. Cut-down versions of Cubase are included with almost all Yamaha audio and MIDI hardware, as well as hardware from other manufacturers. These versions can be upgraded to a more advanced version at a discount.

Steinberg Media Technologies GmbH is a German musical software and hardware company based in Hamburg with satellite offices in Siegburg and London. It develops music recording, arranging and editing software, notably Cubase and Nuendo. It also designs audio recording and MIDI hardware interfaces and controllers and iOS music apps including Cubasis. Steinberg created several industry standard music technologies including the Virtual Studio Technology (VST) format for plug-ins and the ASIO protocol. Steinberg is a wholly owned subsidiary of Yamaha.

Sequential is an American synthesizer company founded in 1974 as Sequential Circuits by Dave Smith. In 1978, Sequential released the Prophet-5, the first programmable polyphonic synthesizer, used by artists including Michael Jackson, Madonna, and John Carpenter. Sequential was also pivotal to the development of MIDI in 1982, which synchronizes electronic instruments by different manufacturers.

MIDI controller

A MIDI controller is any hardware or software that generates and transmits Musical Instrument Digital Interface (MIDI) data to MIDI-enabled devices, typically to trigger sounds and control parameters of an electronic music performance. MIDI controllers usually do not create or produce musical sounds by themselves. MIDI controllers typically have some type of interface which the performer presses, strikes, blows or touches. This action generates MIDI data, which can then be transmitted to a MIDI-compatible sound module or synthesizer using a MIDI cable. The sound module or synthesizer in turn produces a sound which is amplified through a loudspeaker.

Sound module electronic musical instrument without a human-playable interface, operated using an externally connected device, e.g. a MIDI controller

A sound module is an electronic musical instrument without a human-playable interface such as a piano-style musical keyboard. Sound modules have to be operated using an externally connected device, which is often a MIDI controller, of which the most common type is the musical keyboard. Controllers are devices that provide the human-playable interface and which may or may not produce sounds of its own. Another common way of controlling a sound module is through a sequencer, which is computer hardware or software designed to record and play back control information for sound-generating hardware. Connections between sound modules, controllers, and sequencers are generally made with MIDI, which is a standardized protocol designed for this purpose, which includes special ports (jacks) and cables.

Buchla Electronic Musical Instruments

Buchla Electronic Musical Instruments (BEMI) was a manufacturer of synthesizers and unique MIDI controllers. The origins of the company could be found in Buchla & Associates, created in 1963 by synthesizer pioneer Don Buchla of Berkeley, California. In 2012 the original company led by Don Buchla was acquired by a group of Australian investors trading as Audio Supermarket Pty. Ltd. The company was renamed Buchla Electronic Musical Instruments as part of the acquisition. In 2018 the assets of BEMI were acquired by a new entity, Buchla U.S.A., and the company continues under new ownership.

Dave Smith (engineer) American audio engineer and inventor

Dave Smith is an American engineer and musician and founder of the synthesizer company Sequential. Smith was responsible for the first commercial polyphonic and microprocessor-controlled synthesizer, the Prophet-5, and later the multitimbral synthesizer. He is also referred to as the "Father of MIDI" for his role in the development of MIDI, now a standard interface protocol for electronic instruments and recording/pro audio equipment.

The timeline of music technology provides the major dates in the history of electric music technologies inventions from the 1800s to the early 1900s and electronic and digital music technologies from 1917 and electric music technologies to the 2010s.


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    "Subotnick suggested that using a light source to control sound might be promising. ... Later he [Buchla] turned this into an electro mechanical sequencer by introducing step relays and a dial. ... Buchla, like Moog, realized that voltage control ... But Buchla was after something different; ... Buchla was led to the electronic sequencera device that later was used to make much influential pop, rock, and dance music. A sequencer produces predetermined control voltages in a cycle or sequence and can endlessly recylce ..."
    Note: for a sequencer using a light source, see "Circle Machine" on #Analog sequencers and Raymond Scott#Electronics and research.
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  7. MusE – The open source sequencer, MusE is a MIDI/Audio sequencer with recording and editing capabilities ...
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Further reading

List of papers sharing a similar perspective with this Wikipedia article: