With full-blown computers as competition, how do you make sequencing with buttons irresistible?

While I was in icy Stockholm last month, I got a look inside Teenage Engineering’s studio, where their upcoming OP-1 instrument continues its gestation. The (literal) garage workshop is the sort of thing a lot of us dream of having: a room in which hardware and software design happen, on-site, simultaneously, with a small group of bright, zany, creative people. My timing (entirely unrelated to Teenage Engineering) happened to coincide with the creation of a new sequencer.

I almost hesitate to post these videos, as I suspect not everyone will get it right away from watching a YouTube demo. But the idea is, rather than sequencing with lots of menus or a big note grid crammed into a tiny screen, they’ve made the sequencer as compact conceptually as the device is small. It’s stunningly simple: you key in your sequence of notes, and adjust everything with the knobs.

For all the value of the touch interfaces I’ve been describing lately, it’s a sequencer you might actually practice, then perform. Muscle memory becomes part of the equation. Somewhere, I think, there will be people who will master the skill of “playing” the OP-1 sequencer. And to prevent the “squint at a tiny screen” phenomenon common on most hardware, they buck the prevalent trend. Instead of shrinking the graphics and enlarging the screen, they keep the screen small and enlarge the graphics. It’s impossible to convey in an early demo, but it made me want to retreat into a snowy cabin with nothing but a prototype and practice myself.

This isn’t just about inspiring gear lust, however. When you see a design that can reduce a musical activity to its most minimal activities, in a way that makes you want to practice and get better and using it, I think the design itself can inspire. It certainly makes me think about new ways of making sequencers with hardware and software. And since a sequencer is itself a kind of compositional game, working out how to design or play such a thing is engaging the act of musical composition.

Anyway, if none of this makes sense now, I promise to revisit it when the OP-1 is ready. And I’m happy to let the Teenage Engineers take as long as they want to get it right. More videos provide further glimpses of what they’re developing:

Here, it’s clear that the sequencing function can really center on the performance interface: it’s a sequence in the simplest sense, as in a sequence of notes, quite a lot like on analog sequencers:

Lastly, one more demonstrating the virtual tape feature:

Teenage Engineeringโ€™s OP-1 Instrument: Hands-on, Videos, Why itโ€™s Different

More (HD) video updates and news at the Teenage blog, all posted a short while ago:

  • Polite

    I love this design so much. This is the sequencer i didn't know i've always wanted.

    Everything they show us about this synth just makes it more and more unique. Which makes is something i want more and more.

    I hope that price point they were aiming for stays realistic.

  • getting one! especially after your review

  • Damon

    Just right on…

  • teej

    I already thought it was a work of art. the new demos make me think it's a stroke of genius. something genuinely new is always welcome. this little sucker looks to be shaping into something really special.

    I know I always say it but they really do have the best damn logo on earth. period.

  • eff dee

    want one so badly ๐Ÿ™‚

  • More IDM / dubstep / jungle / breaks types will lap this up.

    But does this have chromatic sampling? Does the Octatrack have chroomatic sampling?

    Someone needs to come out with a simpler, less expensive Spectralis-type box that step-sequences samples, leads, bass OR drums.

  • s ford

    That looks great!

    It has sampling doesn't? I WANT ONE NOW!


  • cobalt

    Great demo videos. This thing looks better and better.

  • I'm not 100% convinced yet.

    The design, the screen and virtual tape are really great, but the demos are not so impressive. Kind of limitated for the price.

  • B.Leo

    Don't forget that the word is that there will be more than one type of sequencer!

    <blockquote cite="http://www.teenageengineering.com/products/op-1/"&gt;
    The OP-1 will be shipped with several different types of sequencers. From step to… (More on this matter at the final release)

  • lu

    good to post smth. about the OP-1.
    otherwise i forget there's something i might want to take money aside for ๐Ÿ˜‰

  • J. Phoenix

    Ahhhhhh, gear lust. Ahhh, lack of funds. Ahhhh, gear lust.

  • feels like a thing you can have fun with.

  • megamaeng

    I'm with you Marco – this seems like something that I will actually get stuff done with and have fun with. I'm just not feeling it with the octatrack, maybe it's just too "serious"?

    Finally something that may help me get over my anxiety of having my sp1200 bite the dust. My failed encounter with the microsampler certainly didn't.

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  • Go with the gear lust, J. Phoenix. You can always figure out eating later.

  • niggles

    WANT!! yet conflicted. how much?

  • Adam Smith

    I'm pretty sure I don't need one of these, but if I were to receive it as a gift I sure as hell would not return it. I wonder if my wife reads this blog too.

  • ed

    can you load your own samples in?

  • @Ed – yes. Would be rather daft if not.

  • Cannot wait to get one of these!

  • Jordaan

    Looks nice. They should make use of those keys to control the step playback position of the sequencer.. either by assigning each key a specific number or dividing the keyboard in half and having keys on the right skip ahead steps and on the left return back by an assigned number.

    Here is a diagram of what I mean regarding key skipping (Key 0 is the center)

  • zero ref

    then it wouldn't look so pretty

  • eric

    OP-1 is from Stockholm and Octatrack is from Gothenburg…(two biggest citys in SWEDEN that is!)
    I think its very significant in their differencies…why?, Stockholm is more "trendy" while Gothenburg is more "underground".

  • @Eric: Indeed, I almost brought that up. ๐Ÿ˜‰ But I don't know who from each team is from where.

    Gothenburg is also Volvo's home, if you want to derive meaning from that.

    Jordaan — that's an awesome, awesome idea. That gives me some thoughts about how to play with a step sequencer I've been building. Can I, like, call it Jordaaning?

  • That screen is so sexy. And I can't wait to find out about the "wireless sync feature" that they hint at on their product page. Hopefully it uses a hackable protocol, if it's even real. Imagine using 2-3 of these at once. I would hardly need a laptop then.

    Too bad their technical demos seem to suffer from a lack of musicality. Right now they don't seem planned out at all. For instance, their demonstration of the shuffle-like "pattern change" sounds very sloppy.

    Another want: diatonic transposition. For example, a c-major triad transposes to a-minor instead of a-major. Wouldn't be too hard to implement.

  • Jordaan

    @Peter lol! no problem. Feel free to use the idea. I only ask to see the results ๐Ÿ™‚

    As for the name, Jordaaning doesn't sound sexy but I commend your efforts to give credit. My nickname was "A squared" because of my parents intentional misspelling of my name with two A's.. so maybe a variation of that? I'll leave it up to your creative mind!

  • The Duke Paul Atreid

    Looks retro-geek-sheeky + kinda' hard to use.

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  • Jonathan

    Any word on price?
    I keep hearing $799


  • s ford

    When will it be released?