On The Beat (Part 19)
The quest for the secrets of rhythm programming continues - this month it takes the intrepid Nigel Lord and his faithful drum machine into the heart of Africa.
IN HIS TIRELESS SEARCH TO RECONCILE MUSICIANS AND MACHINES, MT'S DRUM PROGRAMMER EXTRAORDINAIRE TAKES ON THE MASSED DRUMS OF AFRICA.
WHILST IT WAS always my intention to include Africa in our rhythmic world tour (I could hardly lay claim to any kind of completeness), it has, nevertheless, been the one area in which I've harboured reservations about what could be achieved through the medium of the drum machine. This isn't through any belief that African rhythms are in some way sacrosanct and should be spared the hi-tech iconoclasm of machine programming. Rather, it reflects the concern that without the unique instruments that lie at the heart of all ethnic music (and particularly that of Africa), any attempt to recreate an authentic feel is likely to meet with little success.
In many ways, it's a magnification of a problem we've come up against on a number of occasions in this series. Whenever we move away from those rhythms which we might call "mainstream", patterns often start to become instrument-specific. And whilst not necessarily redundant for those without access to the same (or similar) sounds for which they were written, many rhythms are bound to lose something in their journey from my programming system - via MT - to yours. This is one of the reasons I've continually stressed the need for experimentation.
In our fairly exhaustive examination of South American rhythms this problem was offset considerably by the fact that many Latin instruments have become part of the currency of modern beat boxes. After equipping machines with a dozen or more bass, snare, tom and cymbal sounds, manufacturers invariably look to Latin voices as a way of increasing their sonic capability. The same is not true of African instruments, consequently this is one area in which a sampler comes into its own. We're not talking about the kind of instruments most people have lying around the house here, and I can think of few, if any, recorded sources of sounds (without sampling from album tracks). And even if samples are available, the number of different tonal variations required to achieve anything like a credible result is quite prohibitive.
This was just one of my reservations. Others concerned the difficulty of trying to isolate representative examples from a continent as large and culturally diverse as Africa, and the problem of taking what must, by necessity, be "snapshots" of rhythm tracks which traditionally progress throughout the length of a piece of music. Fortunately, I found the solution to all these problems in but a single approach. Instead of attempting to accurately notate specific African rhythms from a variety of individual countries, I've presented a series of patterns, which, though unequivocally African in origin, represent a rather more eclectic approach to recreating the rhythmic styles of that continent. Of course, I realise that by opting for this method I have laid myself open to claims of having taken the easy way out. However, I belive that it's the success (or otherwise) of the patterns I've included which should be judged. And in the final analysis, a handful of patterns which do work, have to be regarded as preferable to a handful that don't - no matter how authentic and accurately notated.
|TAMBOURINE||The conventional voice detuned by a few semitones to create the flatter, less bright-sounding jingles of the African instrument.|
|AGOGOS||Fairly high-pitched. Jingles or finger-cymbals would be much better.|
|COW BELL||Preferably a medium to large instrument detuned by a few semitones.|
|HAND CLAPS||Multiple hand clap sample or single hand clap repeatedly triggered.|
|FINGER SNAP||Substitute with any kind of click sound - drumsticks or wood block.|
|CONGAS||Use combination of open, closed and slap sounds. Try detuned bongos.|
|DRY TOM||A medium-pitched, single-headed drum, preferably of short duration.|
|TOM 1||A high-pitched, single-headed drum.|
|TOM 2||As above, pitched two semitones lower.|
|TOM 3||A medium-pitched, double-headed drum.|
|TOM 4||As above, pitched five semitones lower.|
|TOM 5||A low-pitched, single-headed drum.|
|TOM 6||As above, pitched two semitones lower.|
|TOM 7||A deep, double-headed drum.|
|TOM 8||As above, pitched two semitones lower.|
|BASS DRUM||Undamped and open-sounding. Perhaps raised a little in pitch.|
My only other concession to the problem was that of dividing the music of the continent into two areas - North Africa, and Central and Southern Africa. And whilst I accept the arbitrary nature of such a division, it does, as anyone familiar with the region will be aware, represent a dividing line between the predominantly Islamic states of the north (with their own, quite disparate musical development), and the rest of the continent. In a rhythmic context this is, I believe, a valid distinction to draw.
It also provides us with a useful split in our two-part coverage of African - though with room for only half a dozen patterns in each, you'll appreciate the limitations. I hope that these articles will prove that programming African rhythm tracks is possible, and that you will go on to adapt and eventually write your own.
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 (Viewing) | Part 20 | Part 21 | Part 22 | Part 23 | Part 24 | Part 25 | Part 26 | Part 26 | Part 27 | Part 28 | Part 29 | Part 30 | Part 31 | Part 32 | Part 33 | Part 34 | Part 35
Feature by Nigel Lord
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