Friday, April 22, 2011


This post will likely only be of interest to drummers with some electronic interests in their playing and those who do laptop recording of drums.

More than 20 years ago, I remember a late night discussion at the long gone but well-remembered Leo's Mexican Restaurant on North Shepherd in Houston after a gig,  with my good friend Smitty about how I needed drums in a box. What he meant was, we had just loaded me into a bar to do a gig that night, and then loaded my drums and hardware out. A tiring endeavor, and when you're doing a gig as a musician, it usually means 4 gear moves.

1. From place in house to car
2. from car to inside of gig
3. from gig back to car
4. from car back to house

Smitty had a vested interest as he was frequently coming to the gigs and our friendship I guess insisted that he serve as a roady for me and the rest of the band.

By having a garage, you can at least leave out the last move until the morning time, as I often did, since when gigging I might not get home until 3 or so in the morning time.

So Smitty's idea was to have drums in a box. Open the sides of the box and fold out the kit and away you go. Not a bad idea but in the late 80's, not practical and almost not possible.

Now many years later, I've been thinking on the concept and am going to try to build some drums in a box. I don't gig much anymore, particularly late at night. I never thought I would say those words, even as recent as five years ago, but it's the sad truth.

My musicial friends and I, weary of years of gigging in gin soaked venues, got into home recording many years ago. I myself first ventured into it back in the eighties when I was in law school. The past few years have catapulted home computer recording into coolness because of all the stuff now available at a low cost to record via your laptop.

Used to be, it was quite an expensive and intellectually daunting experience to jump headfirst into a serious recording program like ProTools. First you had to get the hardware to connect the instruments to your computer, then learn to operate the program and have enough disc space. Several of our recording efforts back in 2002 were done on ProTools, and while the results were sonically great as far as recording quality, it was a long road to get there.

Garageband made me and friends of mine very happy a few years ago. We can get as complicated or as simple as we want in recording songs, and although it's not quite as easy as just pushing a button and playing your instrument if you want something more than a very simple setup, it's a gadzillion times easier to use than ProTools.

So all of my music will be entering the computer recorder electronically, which eliminates microphones for drums and cymbals. Yes, there's a tradeoff in sound, because even the best sound modules are not as good or as cool as "real" drums. But I have several different sound modules and my Roland sounds pretty good after being processed through some reverb on the toms and cymbals and a compressor on the snare.

They'll be electronic drums, but I will not be carrying a large PA system. I have two Bose bookshelf speakers that I can feed from a small stereo amplifier that can be connected to the audio out on the computer or usb hub/mixer, or as Billy Ray and I have been discussing we can purchase a JAM HUB and just do it with headphones.

All of which is far far far less nerve jangling that trying to record a live band with live mics and loud amps and drums.

And what I'm thinking of is a small set that I could easily throw into the back of the car for jams with Billy Ray and for small gigs with him. I'm not looking to make the same mistake I did when I first ventured into electronic drums with the Simmons Drums in the mid-eighties.

The Simmons drums were wonderful in terms of having less stuff to carry in terms of the drums and stands themselves, but as anyone who played them found out, the wires, the effects, the mixing board and the PA system necessary to play those drums made toting them far worse than carrying regular acoustic drums if you had to tote all of your own gear.

So what I want to do this time is have a small set I could literally throw into the car and transport over the Billy Ray's or to the studio and set up quickly and hook up to a digital recording system like a laptop or a dedicated hard drive recorder and go.

The reason I'll be using electronic drums is because everything recorded now is done electronically. Once you begin thinking about bring microphones into the mix when doing home or computer recording and things get way complicated and expensive.

So I've actually got a container, a large SKB style suitcase case with wheels and a handle originally sold to tote the Roland V Drums in. I've got a large amount of rack tubing, drum stands, accessory clamps and mounts and certainly enough of all of these items to fabricate this portable drum set.

I have the drum pads I need from my Roland kit and that's both by default and design. By default, it's what I already have, and by design, it just so happens that the Roland electronic drum pads they've been selling the last 15 years are the best available to counter "cross triggering" and "cross talk", meaning when you hit one pad it doesn't set off the one next to it. Very important in the electronic drum system.

The design is the part that I have not decided on. I look to two designs that I recall from the past. First, the electronic drum kit that Terry Bozzio used with Missing Persons in the mid-1980's shortly before they broke it. It was using his own DW pads with 3 triggers on each pad, arranged in two linear rows. One for drums and one for cymbals. Bozzio fed those into some J.L. Cooper Soundchests that triggered acoustic drum samples, state of the art for the 1980's.

I found some pictures at Bozzio's site of what remains of his electronic drum set Bozzio and I'll probably get some ideas from his setup. His outfit was bigger than what I want or plan to use, but that's typically Bozzio.

The other influence was from one of Prince's early drummer, Bobby Z, in the purple rain phase of the purple one's career in the early 80's. His drummer used a 4 pad electronic set on a stand in front of him that I think used Pearl Syncussion pads. These were run through a Simmons SDSV brain and triggered various sound sources through the Linn drum, whose sound dominates all of Prince's early recordings.

Somewhere in between Bozzio's two rails of pads setup and the minimalistic setup of Prince's first drummer will be where I end up. I started going through parts last night finding various bits and pieces I'll need for this project, and I'll do another post when I make some progress on drums in a box.

No comments:

Post a Comment