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Ongoing History Daily: The first drum machine

Once upon a time, bands that wanted percussion in their music needed a real live human to keep the beat. That all began to change with an inventor named Ismail al-Jazari. He wrote a book called The Book of Knowledge of Ingenious Mechanical Devices.

It describes 50 mechanical devices as well as instructions on how to build them. Al-Jazari was fascinated by automata, machines that operated on their own. One such machine outlined in this book was something built on a boat featuring four robot-like musicians, a flutist, a harpist, and two tambourine players, all of which were powered by moving water and a series of gears and axles.

When turned on the robots played a tune with a rhythm track. By making small adjustments, the rhythm could be changed. Al-Jazari had essentially invited the first-ever programmable drum machine.

This was in the year 1206. More next time.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

Alan Cross has 37441 posts and counting. See all posts by Alan Cross

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