I ask you: what is the foundation for rhythmic electronic music? I suggest that the humble step-sequencer is the backbone of many of today’s musical genres and memetic evolutions. To have electronic rhythm, you need to start with a clock and go from there, dividing it into fractions and multiples. Then start assigning sounds to those divisions and you’re pretty much there- techno is happening.

I’ve been working on prototyping a sequencer-synth and in doing research, I’ve come across numerous projects that tackle this idea with great enthusiasm. Because a sequencer can drive any type of electronics, projects tend to fall into two categories: audio, or visual. Additionally, I’m seeing two main drivers for the sequence itself: the nimble arduino, and the CMOS 4017 Decade counter IC. I’ll survey here some of the finished projects to give an idea of what’s possible. Come with me, won’t you, on an exploration of the world of DIY sequencers.

First up, a few excellent audio sequencers:

basic arduino sequencer from nikolaosh on Vimeo.

This “basic arduino sequencer” by Nikolaosh is undeniably fun. Looks like four potentiometers controlling software synth parameters, with the Arduino doing the sequencing as well. Basic, but effective nonetheless. You can see more details and grab the code here.

BeatSequencer 1.0 from Kamil Garbacz on Vimeo.

This “Beatsequencer” by Kamil Garbacz also uses Arduino to drive a matrix of LEDs. Looks like the top row indicates the position of the step, while the bottom 3 rows indicate on/off status for the beep assigned to that row. A matrix of switches turns each step on and off, 808-style. It’s a very compact design with a minimal interface, but it seems to work.

cigarduino punk console from frogstar on Vimeo.

This “Cigarduino Punk Console” from frogstar has a lot of great elements- nice pulsewave synthesis from the Arduino and a fun cigar-box case. It’s a little light on the LEDs though- don’t we all like our sequencers to have big banks of LEDs pusling through their paces?

In the 4017 category, we’ve got this nice little box from Note!. It nicely marries the Atari Punk console to the 4017 running as a 4-step sequencer. Good glitchy tones get put through their paces.

This sequencer from 9volts really opens up the possibilities here- he’s using the 4017 synched to a drum sampler, triggering circuit-bent devices and controlling gating and filtering. That’s what I’m talkin’ about right there.

Visual sequences:

PAN PC + 555 + 4017 from h.cosas on Vimeo.

This experiment from h.cosas uses the 4017 to drive an LCD display with interesting results. Dig those color bars!

This LED pattern sequencer by WootsPC is very nice to look at- this should give you an idea of what can be done with a basic sequencer, some LEDs, and an eye for animation.

What I take away from all of these projects is the idea that a sequencer can drive pretty much anything, and the most fun and interesting projects lie not in the sequencer itself, but in what is driven by the sequencer.

I’d really like to see someone who combines these LED animations with a good sounding, nicely-interfaced sequenced synth that’s syncable to MIDI clock input, but I think I might have to build that one myself- I’m working on my own like-minded project, and I’ve realized I’ve got a ways to go before I’ll be satisfied with the results. In case you’re curious, here’s my little project as of two weeks ago. I’ve made some modifications since then, but you get the basic idea.

Is anyone else working on a sequencer project? Please post it in the comments and tell us what how it’s coming along.