The C64 drum machine

That the Commodore 64 had one of the best sound chips of its era, is a known fact, making it (and its SID chip) a great tool to play electronic music. But what’s less known is that the C64 also could serve as one hell of a drum machine/computer.

Back in 1985, Compware released the “Drum-Kit”, which could turn your breadbox in a drum machine, with a sound quality that was quite remarkable.
They achieved this by first recording actual drum sounds and then putting the tone frequencies of the different types of drums in digital format to disk.
Once loaded on your C64, you could use the keyboard to hit those snare drums, hi-hats and cowbells (Christopher Walken would say you can never have enough cowbells).

The drum sounds however did then not originate from the SID chip, but from an additional piece of hardware that you had to hook up to the user port. This was basically a digital to analog converter, that you could attach on the other side to an amplifier or sound system.

The kit allowed you not only to play the drums via the keyboard, it also allowed you to program it as a drum machine. The software extended the Basic instruction set with some specific drum commands like “$B1”, which would trigger one of the pre-defined drums. As the regular Basic commands operate alongside this extended set, you could create a program like this that would provide a simple drum rhythm:
10 FOR T=1 TO 5: $B1: $P: $S1: $S1: $P: NEXT

To top it of, you could purchase some additional drum pads (those hexagons, or Simmons drums, you see in those clips of 80s electronic bands) that could be attached to the joystick ports and you could drum along to your favorite tracks.

Pretty neat I’d say and something I would love to have a go at!

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