In Search of the Elusive Volume Control

Did you ever find yourself asking the question “How did I get here?”

The first pro-quality drum kit that I had was a Gretsch five piece with birch shells, Ludwig hardware, and Avedis Zildjian cymbals. It was purchased second hand in the mid 1970s. After being overly influenced by Bill Bruford, a set of six Remo Roto-toms was added a few years later. As much as I enjoyed the set there were two problems associated with it. First, in spite of some nice Shure and AKG mics, it was difficult to get a decent sound out of them in my home recording studio. Of course, being that the “studio” was a basement with scant acoustical treatment and a seven foot ceiling, the kit could hardly be blamed. The second and perhaps more confounding problem was the loudness level. In fair consideration to the rest of the family and neighbors, there were limits on when I could play. I simply could not afford any manner of “sound proof” room and unlike the ubiquitous guitars, basses, and keyboards that my friends played, there was no volume control on a drum kit. As I was finishing my degree in electrical engineering at the time, I was hopeful that there might be a technological solution down the road, something more advanced than the “beep-boop” Syndrums of the day.

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This Might Actually Be Useful For Someone

In the midst of the general flotsam and jetsam that is the Refuge, I thought I would post something that some readers might actually find useful.
DIY Guitar Rack, Completed
It’s an inexpensive DIY multi-guitar/bass rack. The one I made holds six guitars/basses (seven in a pinch) and total parts cost was around $20. It’s made out of PVC and pipe insulation. It’s about 36 inches wide, 30 inches high and around 10 deep. It can be scaled easily for fewer or greater instruments. All you need to put it together is a hack saw (and a rat tail file can be useful too, which I’ll explain).
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Opposite Foot Triplet

For those who read my continuing meanderings on getting my right side to behave just like my left, today we’re going to talk about triplets. Of course, these wouldn’t be your everyday, garden variety triplets ‘cause we’re too screwy for that here at The Chimp Refuge. No, this is going to be special.

Ah, the myriad joys and accidental discoveries of symmetrical drumming. For those who read my continuing meanderings on getting my right side to behave just like my left, today we’re going to talk about triplets. Of course, these wouldn’t be your everyday, garden variety triplets ‘cause we’re too screwy for that here at The Chimp Refuge. No, this is going to be special.

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Ultra Jazz Bass

As much as I like my recent vintage Fender American Standard Jazz Bass, I’ve always wanted to get some different tones out of it. The stock pickups are OK but I figured that some after-market units might do the trick. I didn’t want to go through the trouble of adding active pickups, what with the need for batteries and all*, so I picked up a set of DiMarzio Ultra Jazz pickups and set to work modifying the bass.

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Bill Bruford The Autobiography

Insightful, entertaining, and well-written, Bruford gives the reader a unique view into his 40 year career as a drummer to see just how he got to where he is and precisely how this business works (or doesn’t, as the case may be).

What do you expect when you pick up an autobiography of a rock musician? Sex? Drugs? Rock-n-roll exploits with a chainsaw and a gallon of baby oil at the Ramada? Scandalous stories of band-mates and sundry hangers-on? You get virtually none of that in Bill Bruford The Autobiography. It’s much better. Insightful, entertaining, and well-written, Bruford gives the reader a unique view into his 40 year career as a drummer to see just how he got to where he is and precisely how this business works (or doesn’t, as the case may be). You don’t have to be a follower of his music or even a drummer to enjoy this book.
I didn’t know what to expect when I first cracked the cover, but then I’m not much of a fan of rock star or music biz bios, my only prior experience being The Real Frank Zappa Book. No, Bill is not Frank, although I have tremendous respect for both men; Zappa being the iconoclast composer/guitarist armed with biting wit and Bruford the pioneering progressive rock (and eventually jazz) drummer with a hunger for exploration and a thirst for improvisation. While Zappa’s book is filled with usually humorous and sometimes outrageous tales along with his own take on socio-political topics of the day, Bruford’s offering is comparatively understated. Nothing tabloid-shocking here. No confessions of drug-rehab, groupie orgies, or snippy gossip of former band-mates or associated rock stars, although there are some nice asides considering people like Robert Fripp, Adrian Belew, Phil Collins, and Tony Levin, to name a few.

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Cyanohominids gone wild

I don’t know how many of you are familiar with the Blue Man Group, but I saw them perform last night at the Charles Playhouse in Boston and was very impressed. In an uninterrupted show lasting about an hour and forty-five minutes, this mute trio and its supporting cast of a (mostly) unseen band and others behind the scenes combined percussion-heavy experimental rock (I especially liked the banging on PVC piping), gags reminiscent of a psychedelic version of The Three Stooges, various props, and a multimedia blitz (short films, posters, big-beat style house music) to keep about 500 of us captivated the whole time. The Blue Men interact with the audience, selecting victims at random to take part in antics such as putting a white body suit on a guy, hanging him upside-down, covering him with blue paint, and creating a work of “art” by rocking the human pendulum up against a piece of poster board a few times.
I don’t think this or any description does what these characters do justice, but if you live near Boston, New York City, Las Vegas, Chicago, Orlando, Berlin, or Tokyo, you can catch a show any day of the week. In the video below, they demonstrate how to play the “drumbone.”
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How Well Can You Count?

And now for something almost completely different on The Refuge: How well can you count? No, not like in grade school.

And now for something almost completely different on The Refuge: How well can you count? No, not like in grade school. I wrote and recorded a tune the other day. It’s called Timmy Umbwebwe Lights A Candle (yes, I have a thing for odd titles). The initial beat was composed on the drum kit. Not that I planned it this way, but it turns out that the main theme is comprised of three measures of 9/8 followed by a measure of 13/8. This counting is somewhat “plastic” though, and if you prefer you can think of it as alternating measures of 5/8 and 4/8 with an extra measure of 4/8 thrown in at the end. Any way you slice it, it comes out “odd”. Give it a try and see which way of counting it is more natural to you.
Popular Western music for some reason doesn’t really “go” for this kind of thing. Pretty much it’s all 4/4 with the occasional 3/4 ballad. Is it because people have a hard enough time dancing to 4/4 let alone 7/4 or 11/8? Is it because they were never introduced to it? I don’t know. But I do know of a few relatively popular tunes that were not written entirely in 4/4 or 3/4 (or an obvious derivative like 6/8). I’m thinking Pink Floyd, Peter Gabriel, and Sting.
Anybody care to guess the tunes?
(And to hear something that is a little closer to “normal”, try this, which is based on a melody I wrote for my wife while we were kayaking one afternoon)