ZX81, retro computers/sequencers

This discussion was created from comments split from: what pro artists use Mutable Instruments?.

@portervance: That is taking membrane synth and computer interfaces to a whole new level of dedication if that were true. Not that the ZX-81 doesn’t look sleek, but looks aren’t everything.

ZX Spectrum Orchestra really take it to the next level. They even do visuals for their live shows on the Spectrum…


I bought a cheap faulty ZX81 recently. It was the membrane that needed replacing, quite a simple task. I’d never used one and it took me ages to tap in a 5 line basic program from a book.

Vince Clark used to use some software that allowed programming on the BBC micro then transferring the sequences to the Roland MC-4 sequencer.

ps. anyone who is in the UK and into the chip music scene should check this festival out:


Reminds me I should do something with that stack of MC6809s I salvaged from some old medical gear recently.

They’re used in some old arcade games? Defender, Joust, Sinistar, and Robotron: 2084. Fairlight CMI series 2 as well.

Fairlight clone? :slight_smile:

I still have a C64 lying around, though I mostly use for gaming. There used to be an interface from Steinberg for the C64 and one from Sequential Circuits called Model 64.

Only one? I have about 4 or 5 and a C128. Repairing old micros seems to have become another hobby. Done a few C64s, Oric 1, ZX81 now.

But the problem you tend to find is not being able to obtain the more exotic parts, the custom chips in Atari machines for instance, I have a dead Atari 400 that probably needs a new ANTIC chip.

Oh dear … that reminds me that I have about five BBC micros lying around, and (I think) three MIDI interfaces for these …
Maybe I should connect one of these to my Ambika and/or eurorack ? Old meets new … but I would need to get into 6502 programming again …

I bought a Beeb as I’d never owned one. I recently replaced the PSU filter capacitors as these are known to fail in a plume of smoke.

Added a GoSDC device so all the discs can be stored on an SD card, no more floppies :slight_smile:

Did the very same thing - all those floppies take far too much space !

One could even go fully retro :slight_smile:

oh man… that Acorn system looks gorgeous!
Anyway yeah SD on vintage computers is the way to go. It’s also the solution to most vintage samplers with floppies…

I can cope with not having presets on a synthesizer but not having them on a computer is a bit too retro for my tastes. I know, you can theoretically save programs to tape ( I spent a lot of time doing that back in 1982). The ZX81 as the first computer I actually owned, and my first significant DIY but I don’t remember it particularly fondly.

i still use a c64 with MSSIAH for SID synth duties, and a amiga 1200 as a ghetto 8bit drum sampler (poor mans SP1200).

I have that Commodore 64 FM expander somewhere with the full size keyboard. I don’t remember it being very good :slight_smile:

I wrote my own drum machine on a VIC-20 in Forth. Then, a couple of months later I wanted to add triplets - couldn’t read my own code :stuck_out_tongue: As I recall, it sounded pretty good though.

I don’t miss the old days. With software like Nodal and Numerology available, I don’t look back much. Still have that VIC in the garage somewhere…

@mmarsh: Funny, I wrote a drum machine in Forth too, to run on a Z80-based MicroBee (a very good Australian kit computer from the early 1980s) - Forth was available in ROM. It just spat out bytes to the Centronics parallel port, which drove a self-designed module for my Digisound-80 that converted the bits into 10V gates (with blinking LEDs) - indicated by an arrow in the photo attached. I looked at it the other day, and was amazed that I ever built it… But by twiddling bits or bit shifting them and clocking them out to the gates, some wicked rhythms could be created.