Thursday, October 02, 2008

Music and technology

The past six months have been a tad hectic, and I recently went through my photo collection and realized I had taken photos for blogging but had yet to blog them!

This post is about an ongoing exploration into using technology with my music.

Back in the mid-1980's I had a Simmons SDS8 electronic kit, which was cool for a bit but its limitations eventually bothered me and I sold it. Around 1990 I bought a Roland SPD8 drum pad (yes, a rather similar model number to the Simmons), and used it mainly for recording and triggering MIDI at home, and only rarely in a live context. It's still a pretty cool machine, even almost 20 years later, as it has velocity filters which allow one to change the sound by the amount of force used when hitting a pad, and some of the newer machines don't feature this.

I dug mine out for live use this past summer with the Orbiters, a group involving 3/4s of the Steve Berndt Quartet. We did this for our Thursday gigs at the Metropolitan Brasserie because we needed to differentiate our music from what the quartet played on Sundays at the same venue. I stripped my kit down to bass and snare drum and a few cymbals, and added the SPD8. Bassist Tom switched to his Baliset, and Steve ran his voice and trombone through an effects unit at times. We played a mix of 60's and 70's tunes, ranging from the silly Flintstones theme to funky RnB that many folks would call acid jazz.

One of the reasons I did not use the pad in live situations all that often was because it needs an amplifier, and I did not have one and was loathe to carry one around when I already had drums and a hardware bag to transport. And electronic drum sounds have strong transients that need more power than a small lightweight amp can provide. But I bought the Behringer amp earlier in the year to use both for this project and the rig I use for the dance class, and it has worked out just fine. I even ran the pad through the Boss loop pedal so I could be my own extra percussionist!

Here's my view:

Including the two drumkit pedals the electronic ones make for five in total. The middle one is for bypassing the looper and running the pad into a separate channel for different volume or effects, and the right one is for stopping loops (the loop pedal needs to be depressed twice to stop it, which is not all that accurate in the heat of live performance). Yes, getting used to these pedals while performing has been interesting:

Tom and his baliset, while Steve tests the PA:

Tom has more pedals than I do, and even Steve has a pedal board:

All this technology gives a musician much wider variety of sounds, but while it's great not to have to carry around a ton of extra percussion instruments I do have to carry (and wrap up and put away) a lot of connecting cables.
In a future post I'll talk about the new Roland hand percussion pad I just bought. Yes, it too needs cables...

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