RIP Berlin synth, drum machine legend Manfred Fricke of MFB

Manfred Fricke was democratizing analog machines for music and pioneering Berlin electronic invention over 5 decades – years ahead of this city becoming known for such things. We’ve lost him this month.

Known as founder of Berlin machine maker MFB, Fricke was an innovator across multiple eras, from the ground-breaking, beautifully simple and affordable 301 and 501 drum machines to this generation’s futuristic Tanzbär family and formidable Dominion 1.

He has been a friend to the whole community of synth makers in Berlin, and helped build the foundation for unique and original designs and the folks who gathered round them.

Andreas Schneider writes for Stromkult:

“On June, 17th around 11am Manfred Fricke from Berlin alias MFB sadly passed away after having had a hard time with cancer for a while already. He left his wife Gloria and his son Jean-Marcel behind, we are all very sad having lost this partner, friend and father.“

From today’s obituary:

Manfred Fricke passed away [Stromkult]

See also the Matrixsynth obituary.

The saga of Manfred Fricke and MFB is really two stories. There’s MFB’s origins, as a company making affordable independent instruments in the early days of electronic music production. And then there’s its ongoing product line, which has packed ingenious designs into small accessible form factors and produced sounds unlike any other devices. Even when riffing on some established designs, MFB boxes remain unique. Herr Schneider doesn’t easily give away praise like this: “The Tanzbär, in particular, is considered by many to be their favorite drum machine of the last few years, especially in terms of its amazing sound.”

Actually, there’s a third story of engineering, too – Manfred also built breakthrough industrial framegrabbers in the second half of the 80s for Apple II, Commodore 64, and IBM PC and clones. MFB also broke through with the first video mixer to cost under 1000 DM, the 1995 MFB-902. (Take that, Roland/Edirol!)

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Must-read (if you read German), must-browse (lots of photos if you don’t), has a wide-ranging interview from 2019 (as MFB turned 40) that does a great job of detailing the company’s history.

Manfred Fricke in 1984 – read Amazona’s interview and feature for this vital snapshot of an important colleague, neighbor, and part of Berlin’s electronic instrument invention history.

Interview: Manfred Fricke MFB, 40 Jahre Drummaschinen & Synthesizer

To his son Jean-Marcel, who has also contributed immensely to the operation of MFB, I know we all feel especially for your loss. I feel honored just to have been able to stand alongside your family’s company and all that you and your father have done for independent manufacturers and the musicians who love these creations. I can only join Andreas in wishing you, the family, and everyone the best for the future.

A partial timeline

  • 1976: MFB founded – starting with various products, including video games.
  • 1979: Low-cost MFB-501 drum machine, a breakthrough seller in Germany (beating out the likes of the TR-808), with an even more approachable kit version.
  • 1984: E-Drum module series.
  • 1986: MFB-201 MIDI-CV converter
  • 1995: MFB-902 video mixer (later follow-ups would add even built-in hard drives for cutting and post-processing material, which I think Roland still doesn’t really do…)
  • 1997: MFB-SYNTH

And that’s just a start – see also the little ‘Zwerg synths and larger synth range, step sequencers like the MFB-STEP 64, MFB-5×2 drum machines, Tanz* line, and more.