If you've heard a version of the sleng teng story before, it probably went something like this: The rock preset on the Casio MT40 was meant to sound like Eddie Cochran's "Somethin' Else," but whoever programmed it didn't quite get it right. The wonky rhythm was later stumbled upon by reggae artists Noel Davy, King Jammy and Wayne Smith in the mid-'80s. The trio used the preset as the bassline for the 1985 single "Under mi sleng teng" (a patois ode to the perils of drugs) and the rest, as they say, is history.
Most of this story is true, but it's mixed with folklore. The preset isn't based on the Eddie Cochran track at all. Nor (as others theorize) was it a facsimile of the Sex Pistols' "Anarchy in the UK." Though the Casio preset does share some elements with both of those tracks, Casio's Product Development and Music Engineer Hiroko Okuda tells Engadget it's categorically not inspired by either. How does Okuda know for sure? Because she created that preset. Okuda's role is the untold, yet arguably more unexpected half of the sleng teng story.
Hiroko Okuda started at Casio in 1980, straight after graduating in Musicology from Tokyo's Kunitachi College of Music. She remains at Casio to this day, but the MT40 was the first project she worked on. Despite creating that rock preset, she has no idea where the Eddie Cochran rumor came from, or why it's so persistent. Okuda is also keen to point out that most people assume the preset was taken out of musical context by King Jammy and co., this giving the story half of its charm. A misused rock rhythm, birthing reggae's monster riddim. But again, the real story is stranger than the legend.
Davy, who owned the keyboard used in "Under mi sleng teng," had actually wanted to buy a (technically far superior) Yamaha DX7 synthesizer, but couldn't afford the pro price tag. Instead, he ended up with the MT40, not even technically a synthesizer (it only has pre-made sounds). Had Davy been able to afford the DX7, the sleng teng riddim might have remained locked in the MT40's circuits forever.
Okuda, however, is the true twist in this tale. Prior to her job as Music Creator and Music Engineer at Casio, and working on the MT40, she was a fan of reggae -- avidly listening to it during her time at college. Okuda would even write her thesis about it. "I guess there was something reggae-like about the [sleng teng] rhythm. I recall being touched by the fact that what I had been listening to everyday, seemed to show in the product," Okuda told Engadget. This raises a tantalizing thought: Was the preset on the MT40 the chicken, or in fact, the egg? Did Okuda subconsciously give the rock preset a little reggae feel, making King Jammy and Noel Davy's discovery of it more about destiny than delightful accident?