TR808 The Down Beat of Innovation
Don Lewis Takes on the Vocoder
Percussion is the back beat, down beat, foundation for and expression of temperament in music. The evolution of Roland’s TR808 has been all that and more- its versatility inspiring new uses for the instrument, as well as a new genre of music.
Don Lewis’s involvement with the TR808 began with Ace Tone’s original version, the FR-2L, known as the iconic “Rhythm Ace,” which he first started using in the late 1960s to add electronic percussion accompaniment to his organ music.
Without external controls, Don would adjust circuitry manually for every new rhythm pattern for every song, sometimes adding parts and soldering them in place to achieve the sounds he desired.
So Much More than Words and Music
It is one thing to be called a pioneer, yet quite another to actually be one.
For Don Lewis, his decades-long contributions to the development of the synthesizer and related technologies like the vocoder qualify him as the real deal.
Starting in the late 1960s, Lewis consulted behind the scenes to drive synthesizer innovation for commercial use by Hammond and Acetone. In coming decades, he contributed to development efforts at ARP, Yamaha and Roland, working directly with electronics engineers in the lab and as a demo artist.
When the synthesizer movement evolved from a desire to replicate musical instruments to replicating voice in the early 1980s, it was only natural for Roland to bring Lewis in on the ground floor as they developed their first vocoder.
First Film Leads to Lifelong Friendship
In conceptualizing the 2004 NAMM museum concert film featuring Don Lewis and his electronic synthesizer “LEO,” Filmmaker Ned Augustenborg drew inspiration from Martin Scorsese’s film, The Last Waltz. “It’s a concert interrupted by a series of dressing room interviews- an inspired format,” Ned explains.
Ned Augustenborg: One Driven Documentarian
The Ballad of Don Lewis is a story which unfolds on film from the inside-out, thanks to the friendship that has developed between Filmmaker Ned Augustenborg and Synthesizer Pioneer Don Lewis.
Rest In Peace Mr. Kakehashi
It would be easy to entitle this opening blog entry, “The Man Behind the Movie,” but Ned Augustenborg is much more.
His unwavering motivation to keep the dream of bringing “The Ballad of Don Lewis” to the big screen over the past decade- despite personal and professional delays – could cause a lesser-driven director to permanently shelve it.
While producing the documentary “The Ballad of Don Lewis” (currently in post-production), one of the earliest trails led to Ikutaro Kakehashi and the story of his and Don Lewis's friendship and collaboration that covered almost 50 years. Mr. Kakehashi’s interviews and story became an integral part of the documentary, which provides historical context to the early development of Electronic Music. For me, the opportunity to meet, and interview, Mr. Kakehashi was truly an honor. I became aware of his deep commitment to music and and the artists whose lives he touched world over.
I've been busy with documentary proposals and grant related writing as of late. Everything seems to be falling into place. Our rough cut showing on April 16 is showing exceptional promise, due to the positive attitude and diligent efforts of Julie Lewis.