On The Beat (Part 30)
Imagine buying a drum machine full of good factory preset rhythm programs - instead of the usual collection of cliches. Nigel Lord offers a solution to pre-programmed predictability.
This month's beatbox programming exercise comes as a welcome antidote to the drum programmer's nightmare - factory preset rhythm patterns.
The other day I found myself considering the reaction of someone buying a new keyboard workstation and discovering it came loaded with 50 "classic" synth songs - or perhaps with a hundred all-time keyboard hits included in an appendix of the instruction manual. Amusement? Amazement? Perhaps antipathy toward the manufacturer for adopting such a lowest common denominator approach and devaluing what might otherwise be an excellent piece of hardware.
If this is the case, perhaps you'll understand how I feel each time I unpack a new drum machine and find it bristling with dozens of patterns intended to typify the various rhythmic styles currently considered "popular" - together, usually, with quite a few that aren't. Of course, it's important to make the distinction here between this sort of pattern and full-blown demo songs intended to act as a kind of pre-programmed salesman. By and large these latter examples are excellent and as well as showing the machine in the best possible light, often act as a spur to your imagination in terms of what is achievable with a little time and effort.
No, the patterns I'm concerned about are the kind which had a friend (of a friend) of mine calling me up at some ungodly hour in a state of near apoplexy because he'd accidentally wiped them from his machine and hadn't got round to making back-up copies. So impressed had he and his recording partner been on hearing his machine's factory preset patterns, they'd decided they couldn't be bettered and had used them as the basis for at least half a dozen of the songs they were currently working on.
Needless to say, I was quite familiar with the erstwhile patterns (as, I suspect, are many thousands of other people all over the world) and managed to put his mind at rest that they were easily , recreatable, and indeed, easier still to improve upon. After listening to the tracks from which they were taken (and resisting the urge to suggest a couple of South American rhythms which might have proved interesting), we soon had a handful of replacements up and running. These he considered better than the originals, since they went some way to reflecting the actual structure of the songs. More importantly, he began to see his machine as an instrument for programming drum tracks rather than an elaborate (and expensive) means of playing preset patterns.
As I rode away into the sunset, I couldn't help reflecting on what a disservice manufacturers were doing to their customers by providing them with this quick-fix alternative to rolling up their sleeves and programming their machines themselves. Neither could I rid myself of the conviction that it's this kind of thing that sustains the rhythmic straitjacket which binds so many otherwise talented musicians. How often, I wondered, has a simple bass/snare/hi-hat guide pattern ended up on the final mix because no-one thought it was worthwhile programming something more interesting?
Realising I still had much work to do, I switched on my computer, and turned my attention to this month's On The Beat.
Whilst not particularly complicated from a programming point of view, most of this month's patterns - another mixed bag of rhythmic styles, incidentally - could be described as "involved". Or, preferably, "involving". As you'll see, there's a pretty hefty instrument complement and, though there should be one or more examples of each included on virtually every machine of redent vintage, some time will be required in choosing a suitable combination from the voices you have at your disposal.
Where dual snares or bass drums are called for, I have, in contrast to previous months, gone some way to describing the kind of voices required in the instrument list itself. Obviously, this is still somewhat vague, and results will ultimately depend on what instruments (and to a lesser extent, what effects) you have available. I can only recommend that you try all possible combinations - as I did when writing these patterns.
Of the eight examples, Pattern 3 probably qualifies as the oddest - being programmed in 3/4 triplet time. Though not an everyday groove, it is a compelling one with a nice jazzy feel supported by a neat bass drum figure in each bar. Keep an eye on the tempo, however; it really isn't happy going much above 100bpm.
Pattern 4 is the heavyweight of the group, and should have its tom sounds chosen with particular care. Also, though it might seem rather incongruous in such robust company, make sure you leave enough space in the mix for the triangle. This is important in providing top-end interest to maintain a degree of balance in the pattern.
Including Pattern 6 was, I confess, something of a gamble. Programmed using a combination of sounds from an HR16, an HR16B and a Cheetah MD16R, this is a stormer - at my end. Whether it will be at yours it's difficult to predict. With so much going on in the hand clap, snare and bass drum lines, much depends on your choice of instruments, and just as importantly, on their relative tunings. Obviously, including specific information on this score would be quite meaningless for the majority of people, so you'll just have to put up with yet another entreaty to experiment.
My predilection for rhythmic exotica rears its head again in the last two of this month's patterns. Both are possessed of a vaguely African feel but I make no claims for authenticity in either case. As you'll see, the instrument line-up places none of the demands on your equipment which were evident in examples included when we undertook a more complete (and accurate) examination of rhythmic form from that part of the world. However, these are both beautifully fluid grooves of the type you rarely find in Western rhythm, yet retain a conventional enough structure to make them useful in a wide variety of situations.
In all respects, you should find them a welcome antidote to the bland ubiquity of the factory-programmed patterns.
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9 | Part 10 | Part 11 | Part 12 | Part 13 | Part 14 | Part 15 | Part 16 | Part 17 | Part 18 | Part 19 | Part 20 | Part 21 | Part 22 | Part 23 | Part 24 | Part 25 | Part 26 | Part 26 | Part 27 | Part 28 | Part 29 | Part 30 (Viewing) | Part 31 | Part 32 | Part 33 | Part 34 | Part 35
Feature by Nigel Lord
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