Archive for the ‘Recommendation’ Category

A Trigger To Midi device: Megadrum

Thursday, September 9th, 2010

Every generation of electronic drums claimed to be a final substitution for acoustic drums. That was the same in 1980 as well as today and in the future. The difference between 1980 and today: 30 years. 30 years are 1000 years in computer ages. I would have expected a breakthrough in sound but there wasn’t. There had been a handful of milestones in hardware development: Positional sensing ZI (Simmons SDX), mesh head pads.

Toontrack’s Superior, XLN’s Addictive drums, NI’s Abbey Road drum libraries, BFD etc: They all did a great job producing real sounding drum libraries. Much more realistic than any Roland or Yamaha device, even the ultra expensive TD-20 or DT XTreme. But how can I trigger these libraries without noticeable latency? Where is the link between advanced mesh pads and the software? Essential components is fast computer hardware and fast D/A converters for audio out. Last but not least: The midi interface. People who already own advanced Roland Hardware like TD-9/12/20 will be disappointed about already 4ms of only midi latency! Much less is possible…

Associated to this question I found the megadrum project. The developer Dimitri reminds me of the young Dave Simmons: Having an idea and forming this idea into a product. Megadrum is an open source hardware project. Plans and documentation are free of charge. If you cannot solder it yourself, you can buy the ready assembled device. Of course without any warranty and not in a shiny and nicely designed chassis, but fully functional. It features optionally 32 inputs (16 stereo) or up to 56 inputs. After I wasn’t happy with the latency of my Alesis Trigger I/O I assumed the risk and ordered the 32 input megadrum. It arrived a couple of days later, unfortunately with one knob broken of. Dimitri, the developper was helpful enough to take care about sending spare parts. Well, the price of open source… Finally, about 14 days later I had a working unit.

A rather old school display. the electronics built into the cheapest box (no) money can buy. Far away from being road proven. But as I sayed: It is a project and not a commercial item so I shouldn’t be that strict. All prgrammings need to be done with only two rotary encoders, controlled through a two row 16 character display. Torture…. Fortunately the operation of megadrum is well (online) documented, so it only took 2 months to programm a kit with reasonable dynamics instead of years 🙂 . But it was worth every second I spent with it. It is by far the fastest trigger to midi converter I have ever worked with. Fast in the sense of “I can’t notice any latency if I use appropriate audio hardware”. It supports nearly all features of “big” electronic drum systems such as cymbal choking, snare postional sensing, intermediate HiHat states, drum maps, several dynamic curves (for each drum), custom dynamic curves etc… . It has enough inputs even for a huge double bassdrum kit. It receives it’s power from USB. First time it is fun to play VST instruments with pads. I wouldn’t dare to put this particular megadrum device on stage, but if the electronics are embedded in a solid metal box, I would. For studio purposes it is already my first choice

Genesis Live At Wembley 1987

Friday, May 21st, 2010

I am definetely not the biggest Genesis/Phil Collins fan. Still I cannot deny that they have regularly reached leading chart positions over the decades. Generally in order to get one of the rare Simmons video documents I got my hands on their DVD “Live At Wembley 1987”

While Phil Collins mainly uses SDSV pads and brain (apart from his Gretsch and a little SDS7 gear), Chester Thompson plays a Pearl kit which triggers an MTM plus some SDS7 pads. The MTM is connected to some Roland and EMU machines via midi. Specially within the song “The Brazilian” you get a close up view of Phil’s and Chester’s Simmons work.

This 5 people band really made a bombastic sound. Recommended…

Bill Bruford and the beat

Friday, April 9th, 2010

When I remember right, consumer VCRs conquered the world at the beginning of the eighties. One of the first drummers who released drum videos was Bill Bruford, who recently announced his (hardly believable) retirement. The title of this video tape was “Bill Bruford and the beat”.

It has been produced in 1982 in Baltimore, Maryland. The intention of this video is not learning drum techniques but Bill Bruford reports about his philosophy of drumming. And of course he demonstrates his playing, his style and his sound which still appears pretty advanced:

I accidently noticed that this video tape has been released on DVD in 2009 so I did not hasitate a second to get myself a copy.
It is NOT remastered, so don’t expect brilliant sound and video but still better than the Youtube fragments. You get an awsome documentary of Bill Brufords work at a reasonable price.

As we know Bill Bruford was one of the first (and one of the last) Simmons drummers. This particular setup features a set of very early SDSV pads beside a bunch of more or less exotic acoustic gear.

Simmons alive and kicking – Polytune

Saturday, January 2nd, 2010

Yes, there are still bands around using Simmons on recordings and … live on stage! Here’s one: Polytune from Germany. Drummer Fake still trusts in his scuffproof black SDSV:

Check their latest release if you like electronic pop music

The Complete Simmons Drum Book

Thursday, October 22nd, 2009

I think it is not exeggarated to say that the Complete Simmons Drum Book is the holy bible for every Simmons fan. Even more since this book is not available anymore. It was written around 1987 by professional drummer/editor/tester Bob Henrit. It tells the full story of Dave Simmons and his Companies “Musicaid” and “Simmons” from the very beginning until the announcement of the SDX.

As I am no contemporary witness of this period, I am really glad to possess my very personal copy. It cost something around 50 Euro. Probably today the only source to obtain essential information about at least the first (and better) half of the company’s history.

To get to the heart of this post: I really wanted to provide a PDF version on my site for free, but a book is more than a catalogue or an advertisement and I did not want to hurt anybody’s rights. So I contacted the auther Bob Henrit to discuss the idea of making it puplic domain. Unfortunately he was aversed to this idea what I absolutely respected. He preferred the idea to distribute it with a required fee. But my policy is to keep my site non-commercial, so I refused. In my opinion a fee would have reduced the number of readers (and the expected sales) to a very minimum.

The only thing I can tell is if you have the chance to get your hands on a copy: Take it. It was expensive, but is still worth every cent. Promised.

Simmons still good enough for chart productions

Tuesday, October 20th, 2009

Did the Simmons sounds become silent after the company collapsed in 1995? No, they didn’t. Ronnie Vannucci, drummer of the chart breaking US rock band The Killers just stated in an interview that the drum sound on their hit single “Human” is a result of mixing his natural drum sounds with the output of a vintage analog Simmons SDSV console.

Good choice, Ronnie! You really picked my favourite for this purpose…

organic electro beats – Oli Rubow

Friday, October 9th, 2009

I just returned from a great concert in a Jazz Club in my hometown. I saw the band Hattler performing (->video sample). On drums Oli Rubow who is a great innovator in drumming along with electronic beats. While electronic drums always tried to immitate or even substitude acoustic drums, Oli goes the other way round: He tries to immitade fat analog sounds with acoustic gear. How does this work? Check out his homepage.