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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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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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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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)

Will Rock Band and Guitar Hero Foster New Musicians?

Well, at least Stevie Van Zandt and Britain’s Youth Music seem to think so. I’m skeptical.

Well, at least Stevie Van Zandt and Britain’s Youth Music seem to think so. A recent article in The Times refers to research by Youth Music indicating that the games have prompted upwards of 2.5 million children to take up musical instruments.
I’m skeptical. No doubt the games are a lot of fun for people who can’t play a musical instrument and they’re probably preferable to your average shoot-em-up. Further, it’s a decent wager that they do pique interest to the point where the kiddies bug mom and dad to buy them a guitar or a drum kit. But these games, while they mimic real instruments, are nothing like real instruments. It’s more like air guitar with props. This really hit home when I saw a video of the band Rush playing one of their own tunes on one of these games and not scoring particularly well.
I’d wager that once the reality of learning an instrument kicks in, junior’s new guitar will soon find a home in the corner gathering dust while waiting for the eventual indignity of placement next to an old stack of gardening magazines at the spring garage sale. Certainly, some kids will stick it out and eventually reach a level of at least modest proficiency, but how do we know that simply offering them real instruments at an early age wouldn’t be at least as effective? If all these games do is create a new generation of “table beaters” instead of competent drummers, haven’t we taken a step backwards?
There are few things that I love as much as playing musical instruments. I don’t know if other people get (or would get) as much enjoyment but there is something to be said for an artistic outlet that grows with you, challenges you, and allows you to express yourself (even if no one cares to listen) throughout your life. I always encourage people to give it a try no matter what their age.
I’m just not sure that pretending to do it is the best way of introducing it to people.

Fun Is Where You Find It: The Tune

Much has been written on the Refuge regarding what might be termed fine motor co-ordination experiments. That, and something to do with playing the drums in a manner that most drummers don’t, you know, like backwards. Some might ask “What is the point of practicing a double paradiddle on a bunch of left-side mounted toms for a right handed drummer?” I guess one could be philosophical and say “Because it’s there” but ultimately, doing something musical is what matters, at least to this little bonobo. Exercising your brain to perform unusual patterns at will simply gives the musician a larger vocabulary. You may never use it in casual conversation but it’s nice to know what “crepuscular” means (and perhaps more important, you get to make funny bastardizations like “crapuscular”).
In any case, for the curious two or three Refuge readers and the occasional demented passer-by, here’s a tune that recently emanated from the not-particularly-normal brain and appendages of yours truly. Yeah, this is the sort of thing I do on my days off. It’s called Fun Is Where You Find It. It’s about three minutes and 54 seconds of fun-finding, or approximately the duration of a world class mile race.
Some technical details. There are two basic tracks, electronic drums and bass. The synth pads are also triggered by the drums. The tune uses an ABACBA structure. The drums are panned as if the listener was sitting behind the kit rather than in front watching. Thus, you will hear roto-toms off the left and right as I have a symmetrical kit (three toms each side for this kit). For example, there is a little fill in the A section that sounds pretty standard as it moves across three small rotos, but they are played from center to the left in spite of the fact that the pitches are descending. This allows for a complementary fill later on the right side using more conventional sticking. The C section features marimba and xylophone parts, but like the drums, these are electronic instruments not the real thing (have you priced a symphonic marimba recently??)
One thing is certain after listening (well, besides the occasional sloppy playing and thrown-together mix): I rather enjoy dissonance and quirky rhythmic snippets. Hey, it’s just the way my brain is wired.
Oh, and happy Thanksgiving.
Update, Friday Nov 28, 9:40 AM Apparently the server where the tune resides is undergoing maintenance (link above), so here is an alternate link.