The Drum Computer (or Percussion Computer) from Movement Computer Systems is a very rare British made drum machine made circa 1981 – the era where drum machines were moving from preset patterns to programmable instruments. It is estimated that only 30 or so units were produced. The instrument combined analog synthesized drum sounds (Simmons style) and digital 8-bit sampled drum sounds (LinnDrum style). There were seven voice cards, each with two drum voices giving a total of 14 (preset) drum voices. Each drum voice could be switched between either the analog (synth) or digital (sample) mode and has its own Volume and Pitch-Sustain control knobs. The most prominent innovation was its programmable computer-like interface which allowed graphic editing and sequencing of patterns (but not sounds) via a monochrome display. The instrument was equipped with numerous outputs for audio and trigger input/output per voice and data storage bus to a cassette tape.
Two models are known to exist: the MK1: a two-piece unit in which the monitor was separate from the rest of the machine, and the MK2 (released in 1983) which integrated the CRT monitor and had an orange (or black) case. In 1984, the MIDI specification was added to the MK2, along with an additional 8-track sequencer, battery backed memory and a floppy disk drive.
Well known users of the MCS include David Stewart of the Eurythmics (on tracks such as “Sweet Dreams”), Phil Collins, The Thompson Twins, Human League, Thomas Dolby, Kajagoogoo, Japan, Willian Orbit, Chemical Brothers and Vince Clarke. Despite its innovative and versatile interface the MCS lost out to overwhelming competition from Linn, Simmons and Oberheim partly due to cost (approximately 1981 (MKI) and 1983 (MKII). Both retailed at £1999.00 ) and inferior sound quality and the MCS was discontinued around 1984.
“Movement was John Dickenson. He previously played keyboards with Greg Lake in a band called ‘Shy Limbs’ as well as many other groups. I met him shortly after he moved from Bournemouth to Somerset here in the UK and I started doing some engineering and session work in his new Movement Studios. We were working on the recording of his album which was called ‘Divided We Stand’ by King Harry (which was John plus 2 of his old friends plus various local musicians contributing). This was released in 1977 just as the punk movement took off here in the UK which virtually killed the album stone dead. Timing eh?
A friend of mine also did a lot of technical work for John. His name was Dave Goodway and he was the guy who designed the Movement Drum Computer and wrote all the software for it. I’m not sure of the exact date of the development but Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart were spending time with John after the breakup of the Tourists and before the Eurythmics came to fame. That would put it during 1980. It was about the time that the Linn Drum was first developed. If I recall, several big stars of the day had Movement drum computers – Eurythmics, Thompson Twins and Pete Townsend spring to mind and I think Pink Floyd also used them. In fact most people had several as they were quite unreliable because the technology was still very new. I had one in my own studio for a few months which belonged to the Thompson Twins while it waited for a new display.
Models for sale were generally finished in orange but some of them had black cases and some others had wooden cases. I can’t remember if the different case types denoted any specification changes or whether it was just customer choice. I don’t know how many units were produced but it would have been a relatively small number.”
1David Crabb, Movement employee, quoted from ‘Studio Electronics’ website: https://studioelectronics.biz/scrapbook-drummachine/
- 1David Crabb, Movement employee, quoted from ‘Studio Electronics’ website: https://studioelectronics.biz/scrapbook-drummachine/