Helmet Man Clinic: MachineDrum Sampling

The sampling option of the Elektron MachineDrum UW (mkI/II) has left many users confused. It took me quite a while to get my head around the way sampling/playback works, and coming from a MPC perspective didn’t make things any less confusing.

While the MPC over the years have always been a sampler, the MachineDrum is a drum synthesizer at heart. Every instrument of a MachineDrum kit is generated by an instrument referred to as a machine. This means that the sample/playback instruments also fall into the machine paradigm, and this is where it tends to get complicated. (The guys at Elektron sure knows how to create inspiring quality instruments, but writing manuals are a different story…)

In this clinic, I would like to shed some light on how to use the sample engines, known as RAM machines, of the MachineDrum to advantage, and emulate how we would cut up a beat on the MPC.

Basic setup

For this setup, I have a turntable hooked up to my MachineDrum through a mixer. You need a mixer or a RIAA converter as you can’t connect the turntable directly to your MachineDrum. If you don’t want to use a turntable, just hook up any sound source such as an iPod, computer or similar.

Machines, machines

The first thing to grasp, is that it takes two different machines to work with samples: Play machines and Record machines. In the UW, we have two of each, R1, R2, P1 and P2. These actually go in pairs, so the P1 machine will always play back the sound clip recorded by the R1 machine, and the P2 machine will likewise play back the sound clip recorded by R2.


So, to have sample clip playback, we add a playback machine to our kit. Press KIT and selectm1button EDIT, and make sure that you’re in EXTENDED mode. Holding FUNCTION, select M1 to be the instrument track of choice, and select the RAM-P1 machine for track M1. EXIT out of the KIT menu when you’re done.

OK, so now we have a sample playback machine on track 13 (M1). This can be programmed just as the other machines, and every step will play back the sound clip recorded by the R1 machine. At this moment, it will probably be empty, thus making no sound.

Recording a sample

To record a sample, we need a RAM-record machine. m4-buttonPunch up the KIT EDIT menu again, and select the RAM-R1 machine for track 16 (M4). Now, select the SYNTHESIS display mode, and I’ll walk you through understanding the parameters of the R machine.

There are four basic things to grasp when it comes to R-machines:

  1. They are volatile, meaning that they do not retain the sample in memory after power off
  2. They always sample to the same slot (R1 to slot 1, R2 to slot 2) meaning that every time R1 is sampling, the previous contents will be erased
  3. They start sampling when triggered, and
  4. They can sample from the audio inputs, or the audio currently being produced by the MachineDrum (known as resampling) – or a mix of both!

r1-paramsThe sample source is controlled by the parameters MLEV and ILEV, meaning M(ain output) LEVel and I(nput) LEVel.  If you have your turntable hooked up to your MachineDrum as described earlier, we want to turn down the MLEV fully, and up the ILEV. This will mix no resampling signal with maximum input signal to the R1 machine.

Resampling is the magic key to sonic mayhem. But let’s keep it simple before diving into the deep end, so we’ll just sample whatever audio we have on the inputs for now!

The parameters CUE1 and CUE2 makes it possible for us to listen to the source/sampled material. If you’re feeding your MachineDrum audio now, you can listen to it by gently increasing the CUE1 parameter. Try it!

Sample at length

The LENgth parameter is actually tempo related. By turning it up to 127, you will sample one bar of audio at the current tempo setting. Turn it up, and try to match the tempo of the MachineDrum to the beat you’re planning to record.

Assuming that you have audio at the MachineDrum inputs, all you need to do to sample, is to trig the R1 machine.

Yes, it’s really that simple. Assuming your MachineDrum is stopped, just hit the M4 button on the downbeat, and the R1 machine will sample two bars of incoming audio. You can check it out by hitting M1 (the P1 machine) !

In the next article, Helmet Man will guide you through rearranging beats MPC style.


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