2.2.4 Roland SP 555 Creative sample workstation


Being both sampler and effect-machine, the Roland SP 555[1] has functions that overlap the Repeater loop machine and the Lexicon effect machine, but it has a very different structure. It has a lot of different functions and I will focus on what is important for me now with this machine, and at the same time look at how it is complementary to the instruments it overlaps with.

Pre –recorded sound library with easy access

Pre-recorded sounds are accessible in a quite different way here, than on the Repeater: the Repeater loop-machine operates with numbers on a display, selected one at a time by turning and pressing a knob, and playing a maximum of four loops at the same time. This Roland machine has 16 sounds for each of the 10 banks (8 of them stored on memory cards), assigned to 16 pads ‒ so it is faster and easier to find and play back the samples. Also, the Roland has an option for playing back a sound “one time only”; it does not automatically loop the sound like the Repeater does. As mentioned before, the consequences of this for me are that most of my pre-recorded sound samples are played back from this machine.

Organising sounds

Some different “setups” of sound-samples are designed for specific projects, but I also have “palettes” that are possible sources for improvisational use in several projects (as demonstrated in Chapter 3). As with the Repeater, I have to remember the sounds as numbers and banks, and this can sometimes be a challenge. The grouping of sounds that belong together has been one of my strategies here, and it is also important to prepare and remember (“go through the sounds”) during the hours before a performance

Pads and control functions

When triggering pads on the Roland, there are three options for playback: the sample can be played back once, it can be repeated as a loop, or you can select “Gated playback”, which makes the sound stop when you release the pad. This last function is especially important because of the percussive effect that you do not get with faders on the Repeater, and using “on and off” will not give the same sensation as the gated pad-function. The pads can also, if selected, be pressure-sensitive. The pads as controllers, especially when triggered in “gate” mode, give a very physical feeling of playing (more than just controlling).

Example II, 2:


 Filter and D-beam control

The effects on the Roland Machine can be assigned to each sound sample, and also to everything that is routed from my mixer and into the machine. One of the effects I use quite often is the EQ filter-effect called Super Filter. By using 3 knobs, I can choose between four types of filters[2] and adjust the cut-off frequency and the amount of peak in this area.  Like all the effects on this machine, this is a very “rough” type of processing, and my choices are also very “rough”, with the most important being the variation in sound and the kind of transformation that the filtering gives. It is also an effect that I use sometimes instead of the volume control to make the sound fade in and out. In addition to the filter-effect that can be assigned to each sample, there is an option for filtering the total sound of all the samples and sounds by using a so-called “D-beam controller function” in “filter” mode. I can then control the cut-off frequency by moving my hand over a sensor on the machine after selecting a pre-programmed filter (assigned to the pads). The movement of my hand produces quite a different effect and sensation than when using the knobs.

Example II, 3: With Michael Duch double bass (see 4.2.4).



Other effects

As mentioned earlier, I use the Lexicon effect machine for different reverbs, delays and pitch-shift effects. The effects I use from the Roland are the more extreme ones, which I do not have on the Lexicon, e.g. the Ring Modulator, the Slicer, the DJFX Looper, the Fuzz and Overdrive (more about this in Chapter 3). Alternative sources for producing these effects could be more specialised effect-boxes (one dedicated to each effect), or also possibly plug-ins in Ableton Live. More specialised effect-boxes might sound better, but for the time being I have placed priority on having a user-friendly setup, and I will return to this later on.


As described here, the Roland has some qualities that complement my setup, and this is primarily due to the structure of the machine. Both the pads as controllers and the visual oversight serve to make this an important instrument, especially for working with pre-recorded sounds.  As with live recording and the playback of loops, I find the Repeater to be more suitable for intuitive operations, especially when working with several layers. (For me, the live sampling -operation does not seem to be quite as easy on the Roland if you want to make more than one loop with overdubs “on the fly”[3]).


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[1] This is my second machine of this kind, from 2009. It replaces the BOSS SP 303, a much similar, but smaller machine, with fewer features and less memory.

[2] Filter types: Low pass filter (LPF): passes the frequency region below the cut-off. High pass filter (HPF): passes the frequency region above the cut-off. Band pass filter (BPF): passes the frequency region around the cut-off. Notch filter (NTF): passes the frequency regions other than near the cut-off.

[3] To record and play back several loops in realtime on the Roland, you have to do more than just push the record-button twice and select another track, as is the simple operation on the Repeater. It can be done in two ways, both of them demanding several buttons to push. So, it is just slightly more complicated, and for me that means that I will usually be selecting the easiest and fastest method.

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