Thursday, March 22, 2007

Electronic drums

We had a decent jazz band today at the Artsgarden. My only little quibble: the percussionist showed up with an electronic drum kit. Not a drum machine, thankfully, but an electronic drum kit -- little rubberized pads and mechanized foot pedals instead of actual cymbals and drums. Seeing one of these monstrosities is usually a bad omen; as a rule, professionals don't play electronic drum kits. And, as a rule, serious experts are usually pretty snarky about people who do play electronic drums. My worries were mostly unfounded; this drummer was pretty good. And, as a sound guy who works in a big glass room, there's a certain satisfaction in being able to say, "Hey, turn the drums down a little."

But you can definitely tell from the sound that they're electronic drums. Any sound guy (or, I suspect, any musician) can listen to a few seconds of a recording and recognize electronic drums. They just sound wrong. The more I thought about it, though, I can't think of a reason why. They've got electronic drum heads that can tell where and how hard you're hitting; it knows a rim shot from a rim tap, and some can even tell if you're using brushes or sticks. The sample collection in the controller is impressive, the software is fast and responsive with close to zero latency, and the processing is all digital. There's no reason why electronic drums shouldn't sound identical to real drums; why don't they?

One of my favorite drummers in town absolutely despises electronic drums. He considers them an affront to nature, and is happy to expound at length on his reasons. Then again, he also gets huffy if you use the term, "kick drum". He'll correct you: "There's no such thing as a 'kick drum'. This is a bass drum. You don't kick it." The first time he said this, I accepted it as a minor musician quirk. But after I had done a few shows with the guy and he still felt the need to correct me, I responded: "Okay, let me explain the concept of metaphorical language." He took it well and thought it was funny, which is good. I meant it to be funny. I also meant it to have overtones of, "You pedantic prick, get over yourself." He missed those, which is good; he's actually a pretty nice guy. and an excellent drummer.

And, on a totally unrelated note, here's some of the best comic use of language I've seen in a while. Discussing the XBox 360 "elite" model, Tycho at Penny arcade said: "They chose not to incorporate the wi-fi adapter they currently sell as an add-on for a hundred bucks, and the reason for that is revealed earlier in this very sentence." That's clever. And, knowing M$oft, probably quite true.

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