✯ Mike's Site

I salute you, MMT-8

Few pieces of gear are, on their own, really inspiring. Even the worst gear has its merits, but even the best sounding stuff isn't enough to be a wellspring of creativity. Ableton Live comes to mind, as well as the truly unique Novation Circuit, a cheap groovebox with no screen that I love almost as much as a family pet.

Lately I've been digging an old school piece of hardware that probably sounds the least likely to fall into this category. The Alesis MMT-8 is technically not a sequencer, but an 8-channel MIDI "recorder" and playback machine. It really does work a lot like an 8-track tape machine, but with MIDI data instead of audio. That means that it can control up to 8 devices by either playing notes, triggering their own sequencers, sending program change, and transmitting CC data. It's become the central master of my setup, and though it has its faults, it's so refreshing to get away from the computer for real that I'm itching to get on with writing new music.

It's a strange design that could only come out of the late 80s, like Knight Rider. It shares the lazer-zap shape with its brother the HR-16 (precursor to the most successful drum machine of all time, as well as the strange flip-up panel on top that contains an abbreviated user manual. Oddly, that shape does have the advantage of fitting a Korg Volca really nicely.

Alesis MMT-8

The first "issue" with the machine is that it doesn't have a very accurate clock. It's slow by about a whole BPM. If you want to be tempo-accurate, you need something else to send the data. On its own though, it has a pretty solid clock, though it purely transmits what was recorded into it, so if you want some unique feel or timing with "character" you'll need to trigger other sequencers. I'm just dreading when I play a show and someone comes up to me to say "I bet you thought you were playing at 74 bpm but that was really 73." They're out there. I'm sure of it.

The one workflow issue it has is a lack of overdubbing. If, for instance, I want drums and hi hats to be on the same track, I have to play the whole mess at once. Potentially a challenge, and more or less impossible if I want some kind of CC data at the same time. So those have to go on different channels. That being said, I have yet to feel like I need more than 8 channels. And when I do, I'll probably just find another MMT for about a hundred bucks. It does have extremely detailed editing capability as long as you're willing to do it on a 2-line LCD screen with squishy rubber buttons.

It's remarkably fast and intuitive once you're in there, and that has always been the most important thing to me in a creative tool. Get me punching in notes and feeling the song, not thinking about how a thing works. And it's rare to get that along with the immediacy of hardware.

So, Alesis MMT-8, I salute you.