The Viscount R64 is one of the more mysterious drum machines we've ever sampled. There's little to no information about it online, and by some accounts there are less than 10 functional units left in existence 😳 (not to be confused with the later and more common model R64S). What we do know is that the R64 was released in 1980 by Viscount, an Italian, family-run manufacturer that began in the 1800s making accordions, and have since made everything from synths to bicycles!
The R64 has the functionality and limitations of a typical rhythm box, but sounds quite different, as it's sample based rather than analog. 12bit PCM samples, sourced mostly from acoustic percussion, give the Viscount a punchy quality more akin to a Lindrum or Drumulator than a CR78. But unlike these classic EPROM based machines, the Viscount sports analog sounding cymbal samples, giving the unit a unique, hybrid flavor all its own.... Like a lo-fi Lindrum crossed with an 808 🤤.
The Viscount ships with 64 factory patterns, and while you can't program your own, extensive mutes and volume knobs make these beats highly customizable. And because they're grouped seemingly at random (for example one knob controls the volume of Hi Hat, Bongo, Cowbell, Tom 1 and Rimshot all at once), they make for a myriad of patterns in interesting and often surprising configurations.
So we spent days jamming and figuring out our favorite loops and variations - ultimately recording all of the full factory patterns, and a bunch of stripped loops, tops, and breaks. In the process, we discovered a "secret" tuning pot and cymbal control inside the machine, so we made sure to capture various tunings as well.
In particular, we made a mission to showcase how well this machine does disco and dance music, and these loops do not disappoint! They sound and feel exactly as the machine does, and layer beautifully....crunchy and funky.
We've also included "repaired" versions of 150 of the loops. The percussion pot on the Viscount has a particularly noticeable noise on some loops, which is certainly part of its charm, but we were able to use some digital filtering to clean it up. The results are loops that sound nearly identical to the original, but without the noise - these loops will take to processing better, and layer more easily in a modern context.
Next, we set out to create a complete one shot library of the Viscount and take it into the 21st century - straight off the Mix Out of the machine into our recording chain. Using the volumes and mutes, we were able to record and extract every possible one shot from the Viscount's 64 patterns. We used the tune and cymbal controls to sample 5 different pitch variations and 6 different cymbal variations. For the shorter cymbals (functionally hi hats), we took 3 Round Robins of each variant, resulting in a much more lively and bouncy sound - just how they sound on the machine itself!
On certain hits we also took the Headphone Out, as there was a certain distortion and RMS boost that we loved. Lastly, we processed the kicks, snares, toms, and claps with outboard EQ, compression, and saturation to really bring a modern roundness and make them even more universally usable.
So, is the Viscount the Italian Lindrum?? Not quite - but the machine certainly captures some of the same punch and vibe, but with a distinctly more lo-fi twist. Between its snazzy, "analog" cymbals, awesome breaks, and lo-fi percussion sounds, the Viscount lives in a class of its own. It is an impossibly fun drum machine that simply bleeds italo disco, yet remains totally useable for modern genres as well. The Viscount is a joy to jam with, and we feel lucky to be able to share it with you! So fix yourself a Limoncello and dive in! 🥂 ✨