rolandmodule100

With widespread reports that Roland will soon have a new modular product, it’s worth remembering: Roland has done modular before.

That legacy carried the name System-100. The original 100 semi-modular lineup of the late 70s, and the Synthesizer-101, might actually be more relevant today than it was when it first shipped. The clever concept here was to put a full-featured monosynth with a keyboard at the center, then add modules around it. That seems to make loads of sense to me, as it creates a playable instrument that can nonetheless be patched for more creative sound design options. The full line even included speakers, in a triumph of all-in-one industrial design; the modular components and speakers interlocked into a single cabinet.

Producer Björn Fogelberg jams a bit with the 101’s sample & hold circuitry, for a sense of what this beast is like to play. And have a listen to the sound: you could argue that this is one of the best-sounding instruments Roland ever built.

The 100m is probably a more appropriate model for whatever is coming from Roland next, but check out the stunning industrial design on the original System 100. This might inspire a custom Eurorack cabinet with keyboard, or two. Photo (CC-BY Notreshuggie.

The 100m is probably a more appropriate model for whatever is coming from Roland next, but check out the stunning industrial design on the original System 100. This might inspire a custom Eurorack cabinet with keyboard, or two. Photo (CC-BY Notreshuggie.

The 100 was followed by the System 100m starting in 1979, produced through 1984 – see the vintage Roland ad at top for a look at what the modules were like. And here we have something that would look very much at home among Eurorack module offerings today; the design and layout are even similar. The 100m was a true modular system, rather than a semi-modular design as the Synthesizer-101 and companion components were. The notion was, as with today’s modulars, that you’d combine individual components into the instrument you wanted – oscillator, amplifier, mixer, envelope, filter, modulation, and so on.

There are some clues in the 100m line of what we might see in future from Roland. Apart from distinctive look and feel and interface design conventions, Roland’s 100m had some signature sound processors. The Ring Mod, Phase Shifter, and Sample & Hold might each make some appearance – and some sort of sequencer would be a no-brainer too.

Roland’s somewhat confusingly-named AIRA SYSTEM-1 made a nod to that history, though the actual design had nothing to do with it. I think whatever may be next from Roland will have something to do with the 100m. (And I can speculate freely, as I know nothing.)

But the 100m is worth a look, either way. Here’s a play on it filmed at the University of Huddersfield:

And, of course, don’t forget the mother of them all, the expansive System 700. While less likely to be a model for the AIRA offerings, it is a reminder of the days when Roland’s flagship synths were covered in patch cords.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: if only these beautiful antiques could have neon green on them, AIRA style. Okay, no, that’s probably not at all what you’re thinking.

But I think the sound modeling guts of the SYSTEM-1 have some real potential for more instruments from Roland. And I think the design of the 100/100m could well be a legacy worth building on. Any Roland entry into modular is unlikely to disrupt the existing boutique makers: part of the allure of modular is finding unique designs and archaic analog circuitry and digital code, the very opposite of what a builder like Roland represents. But if Roland has done a good job with this design, there’s no reason the two couldn’t coexist.

That might not strike your fancy if you only know the recent Roland, and haven’t really dug into some of the sounds the AIRA SYSTEM-1 can make (in its original, default mode), or if you don’t know the history of the System-100. But… if you do, you just might be watching for what happens at Roland’s booth at Musikmesse. Just days left, so get your advance speculating / ranting / trolling in now, while you still can.

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  • wetterberg

    If they decide to go System 100 I’d be perplexed. If they go 100m I’d be in love. I’m a huge fan of the SH-2, and sound-wise I’d say it’s pretty similar to the system 100, so there might be good things to pick from both systems… Hmm.

  • wetterberg

    If they decide to go System 100 I’d be perplexed. If they go 100m I’d be in love. I’m a huge fan of the SH-2, and sound-wise I’d say it’s pretty similar to the system 100, so there might be good things to pick from both systems… Hmm.

  • angstrom

    Come on, while we are fantasizing lets dream bigger … All 6 cabinets of a system 700, for €999 RRP

    😉

  • angstrom

    Come on, while we are fantasizing lets dream bigger … All 6 cabinets of a system 700, for €999 RRP

    😉

  • heinrich zwahlen

    I had a 100 M back in 81 and was even performing with it using Rolland’s MC4 digital sequencer. The whole rig was still quite portable and could be easily expanded or scaled back. I’d definitely be game to get one again!

  • heinrich zwahlen

    I had a 100 M back in 81 and was even performing with it using Rolland’s MC4 digital sequencer. The whole rig was still quite portable and could be easily expanded or scaled back. I’d definitely be game to get one again!

  • James Husted

    It is hard to see these large companies getting into making modulars again, not impossible but to me not very likely. Although the modular scene is growing every day (especially Eurorack), modulars in general are NOWHERE near as popular (or sell nearly the same numbers) as almost any standard semi-modular or desktop EDM box. There is just not enough money in it. And even if they were to make a modular, I can’t see where they could bring anything unique to the table. They would just have standard modules and nothing exciting. The market is already glutted with filters and VCOs and your standard modules. They would never gamble on making anything as innovative and cutting edge as say MakeNoise, Harvestman or many of the other small Euromakers. One can argue that maybe a Roland 100m filter would be unique enough to some purist out there, but there are plenty of clones of old filter designs out there already. And for VCOs – a ramp wave is a ramp wave- if it is not distorted, it has the same spectrum as any other ramp wave VCO out there, that is physics. Same with most vanilla modules. I am no snob about modulars, if it is a cool module, I really don’t care who made it. I just don’t see the big production synth companies gambling on exciting unique designs. I bet they would also fall into the old trap that killed off modulars in the old days too – making unique mechanicals that make it so their modules only work in their cabinets etc. I hope I will be proven wrong.

  • James Husted

    It is hard to see these large companies getting into making modulars again, not impossible but to me not very likely. Although the modular scene is growing every day (especially Eurorack), modulars in general are NOWHERE near as popular (or sell nearly the same numbers) as almost any standard semi-modular or desktop EDM box. There is just not enough money in it. And even if they were to make a modular, I can’t see where they could bring anything unique to the table. They would just have standard modules and nothing exciting. The market is already glutted with filters and VCOs and your standard modules. They would never gamble on making anything as innovative and cutting edge as say MakeNoise, Harvestman or many of the other small Euromakers. One can argue that maybe a Roland 100m filter would be unique enough to some purist out there, but there are plenty of clones of old filter designs out there already. And for VCOs – a ramp wave is a ramp wave- if it is not distorted, it has the same spectrum as any other ramp wave VCO out there, that is physics. Same with most vanilla modules. I am no snob about modulars, if it is a cool module, I really don’t care who made it. I just don’t see the big production synth companies gambling on exciting unique designs. I bet they would also fall into the old trap that killed off modulars in the old days too – making unique mechanicals that make it so their modules only work in their cabinets etc. I hope I will be proven wrong.