Zoë Blade\'s notebook

Roland System-100M

The System-100M was a small modular synthesiser made by Roland in the late 1970s through to the early 1980s. Judging by contemporary brochures, it seems to have somewhat been designed to work with the MC-4 MicroComposer, by connecting the MC-4's four CV outputs to two pairs of 100M oscillators.

I've only used a cheaper clone, so can't comment on its sound or stability. However, it looks like the clone I'm using copies the System-100M's layout quite faithfully, albeit shrunken down to Eurorack format, and it's fantastic. What the clone lacks in an especially rich or characterful sound, it makes up for with convenience: the filters and VCAs alike have three-input mixers for both the audio and CV inputs, so you can easily route together a fairly complex patch with the minimum of wires and fuss. This user interface was very well designed.

It's also very economical with space, something the clone accentuates. In the 16HP that crams in the same two ADSR envelope generators that Doepfer's A-100 manages, it also sneaks in a bonus LFO. The 16HP that houses the ring mod, sample & hold, and noise generators sneaks in yet another bonus LFO. Voltage controlled LFOs, no less. It's very densely packed with useful features. I especially recommend the 172 module's phase shifter.

Quotes

On the single Angel Face that I did for Shock, I played all the instruments myself, and that's the way a lot of electro-music is going. In fact, everything was done on the MicroComposer, and I only used the SDS5 Drum Synth, the SDS3, and the Roland System-100M with it. The 100M for me is one of the best synthesisers on the market, with so many control functions available independently, whereas most synths only have one or two LFOs to do all the modulating.

— Richard Burgess, Landscape, 1981[1]

The Roland System-100M is an almost ideal introduction to the world of modular synthesis. It can be hard work at times, not to mention a little frustrating, but your reward will be sounds that are far more complex and satisfying than your average mono-synth can produce, and some of these sounds may indeed be unique to you.

— Ian Boddy, 1984[2]

There are things I can do with it that are so frighteningly good, especially now that I have a MIDI to CV interface for it. I'm still amazed at its power. For example, the flexibility of the system allows me to get the most brilliant oscillator sync sound. This is done by syncing both VCOs to fight against each other, and then let them also frequency modulate each other. The sound that produces is superb, but it's only monophonic, so I then sample and loop it. Suddenly I have an analogue polyphonic sound which nobody's ever heard before! It really is astonishing!

— Ian Boddy, 1986[3]

Obviously, it starts with an oscillator and an amplifier, and if you want to alter it, you put it through a filter. Ignoring the rules beyond that means ignoring the boundaries. The best thing about it is that it's modular and it uses a patchbay, so you can send things back on themselves and get, like, analogue feedback, you really can... You can do cross-modulation, too. It's pretty good for external sound sources, as well. You can stick anything through the noise, and the filters... We've got two CV gates for it, so we can synchronise it like MIDI. It's primitive, but it's a way of controlling it.

— Jack Dangers, Meat Beat Manifesto, 1993[4]

Summing up, I have to say that I find the Roland 100M to be as versatile, expandable and affordable a system as you can get without going the DIY route.

— Chris Carter, 1995[5]

Components

Model Type Released Description
110 Module 1979 VCO / VCF / VCA
112 Module 1979 Dual VCOs
121 Module 1979 Dual VCFs
130 Module 1979 Dual VCAs
140 Module 1979 Dual ADSR envelope generators / voltage controlled LFO
150 Module 1979 Ring mod / white and pink noise / S&H / voltage controlled LFO
180 Keyboard 1979 32-key controller keyboard
181 Keyboard 1979 49-key controller keyboard
190 Rack 1979 3-module rack
191J Rack 1979 5-module rack
131 Module 1980 Output mixer / tuner
132 Module 1980 Dual CV mixers / dual CV sources
172 Module 1980 Phase shifter / audio delay / gate delay / LFO
182 Module 1980 Analogue step sequencer
184 Keyboard 1981 49-key 4-note controller keyboard
165 Module 1983 Dual portamento
173 Module 1983 Four CV gates / six multiples
174 Module 1983 Parametric EQ

Notable users

References

  1. Landscape Explored Electronics & Music Maker, Nov 1981
  2. Roland System 100M Electronics & Music Maker, Mar 1984
  3. Ian Boddy: Phoenix Sound On Sound, Dec 1986
  4. Message In A Sample Music Technology, May 1993
  5. Roland System 100M Sound On Sound, April 1995
  6. The Aphex Effect Future Music, Apr 1993

Documentation

Catalogues

Service notes