Bill Collins gives us the latest news from the hi-tech percussion world
Not a fantastic amount happened of interest to us Rhythmists at this years British Music Fair. In fact it was only really Roland that had any new products at all in this area.
For R-8 and R-5 owners, a new batch of seven sound cards which cover everything from Sound Effects to Jazz, Ethnic, Electronic and Contemporary percussion. Price for these cards - about £45. If R-8s and R-5s are a little out of your reach then they also have a smaller unit for those on a more restricted budget.
The Pad-5 (or Handypad as it's also known) features five assignable velocity-sensitive pads plus 14 preset rhythms all for just £159.
A great start to a song is an inventive drum break. The "pattern" can then be returned to within the song in different versions appropriate to kicking off a middle eight or a dramatic vocal. Use our suggested patterns as catalysts for your own percussive compositions.
I've had a number of enquiries about how to go about setting up a computer based drum kit. There are certainly no off-the-shelf solutions so it does pay a little thought and planning. What companies like Simmons have strived for is the complete drum computer in a single box but there's no reason why you shouldn't wire up your own "kit".
The "kit" consists of three components: input, processing and output. These correspond to pads, computer and sound module.
Pads are the natural "input device" for the percussionist. You can choose from a range starting with the economical Yamaha pads (which have their own sounds too) and going up to Argent's Kat system. Bear in mind that your computer software will provide the processing power. What you are looking for in pads are old fashioned features such as feel and response. Perhaps your conventional kit could perform the role of pads? Indeed it can via "bugs" which are applied to the kit and send a MIDI "message" to the computer when the skings are hit.
The computer needs to be equipped with a MIDI interface and suitable software. What's suitable for a drummer? Firstly a drum machine in software, something like MIDIDRUMMER for the Atari ST described last month. This lets you program patterns of notes and to join those patterns into song length percussion pieces. A good program should be expected to deliver full MIDI control, ease of use and entry from keyboard/mouse and pads/drums.
Kit drummers find variety in the sounds their instruments make by changing the tensions of drumheads, damping resonance and by subtle changes in the weight of playing. The variations are infinite. However the number of sounds available in a sound module such as the new Roland units is restricted by capacity. The sounds however are of very high quality. If you wish to customise your own sounds then you will want to get into sampling, both of conventional percussion instruments and other sounds that take your fancy. These sounds are then held in computer memory for use by your program.
I was recently reminded that human feel is still in the ascendent by Swing Out Sister's new album. The first three tracks "swing" to a great ride cymbal sound in the deliberately fostered sixties style but come track four and you just know that a machine has taken over.
One way of overcoming this, and one also used by Swing Out Sister, is to mix the computer drum pattern with some real percussion. SOS use Latin and orchestral instruments to fill out their rich melodic sound.
Your drum programming may be the basis upon which a song is built by other musicians but that needn't be the end of your creative input. It's always a good idea to go back to the song at a later stage to see how it has developed and to add or remove passages and sounds as has become appropriate.
In the great days of jazz drumming famous practitioners of the art like Buddy Rich and Gene Krupa took part in drum battles. No, not some thing reminiscent of a Who concert but each drummer in turn playing a breathtaking solo. You could never say that one drummer or the other had "won" although every other drummer had their own idea of who was best.
The Rhythm Section hereby announces the modern relaunch of the drum battle - with your micro on the podium and you af the controls. All you have to do is send in an (up to 30 seconds) audio tape of a percussion solo developed on a sequencer, drum machine, from MIDI pads or sampled Simmons. We'll be judging your solos on originality as well as technical competence. Results in a couple of issues time. The prize? Oh just wait and see!
Feature by Bill Collins
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