ddnov2012cover_Layout 1 7/10/12 10:31 AM Page 1
The global electronic drumming e-zine
On your marks
Italyâ€™s e-drum debut
Peter Erskine Multipads
FOR THE WAY YOU PLAY ©2012 Avedis Zildjian Company
Zildjian has created a revolution in edrums. Gen16, the world’s first acoustic electric cymbal. Play the hi-hat like a hi-hat. Choke cymbals. Roll with mallets. Stack cymbals. Experience all the dynamics without the latency or audio compression associated with digital sounds. Control audio levels and shape cymbal sounds with up to 99 presets per cymbal. Choose from an array of cymbal sizes and types made at the Zildjian factory. Visit Gen-16.com for more information and check out the “Young Guns” series of performance videos.
ddnov2012_Layout 1 7/10/12 10:21 AM Page 3
is published by
ABN: 61 833 620 984 30 Oldfield Place
Brookfield Q 4069 AUSTRALIA
email@example.com www.digitaldrummermag.com Editor & Publisher Allan Leibowitz Sub-Editor
Solana da Silva Contributors John Emrich Mal Green
Adam Manning Cover Photo GearPix
Design and layout ‘talking business’
Support digitalDrummer If you like what you’re reading, please make a donation.
Copyright: All content is the property of digitalDrummer and should not be reproduced without the prior consent of the publisher. In this age of electronic publishing, it’s obviously tempting to “borrow” other people’s work, and we are happy to share our information — but ask that you work with us if you need anything from this edition. Any reproduction must be fully acknowledged and include a link back to our website. digitalDRUMMER, NOVEMBER 2012
This is a gear-filled edition, with our biggest-ever array of reviews. Our congratulations, first off, to Scott Holder, who has spent weeks bashing little black pads for his mammoth side-by-side review of the current multi-pad offerings. We have, of course, looked at a couple of these devices previously, but Scott lined ‘em all up and put them through their paces. While the resulting report is fairly long, Scott could not go into as much detail as he would have liked, especially since some of the multipads are very impressive instruments with amazing capabilities. So, we will be following up with more in-depth looks at some of them in future issues. Our coverage also includes the first review of the “multipad on steroids”, Alternate Mode’s trapKAT 5KS – the first trapKAT with an on-board sound module. Co-incidentally, while reviewing the KAT, I saw one of its siblings in use on a global tour, with Jon Atkinson using the instrument for the Howard Jones performances. And even though Jon is still using the “old” pad surface and the “no-sounds” model, he loves the playing feel of the KAT – and its portability. This edition features the first comprehensive test of the new kid on the e-drum block, Mark Drum. The YES kit will polarise the market: some will love it for its ease of use and terrific sounds; others will find it quirky and will hate its “closed system” approach. I found a lot to like in the kit, especially at the launch pricepoint in the US. Unfortunately, the value proposition is not global – and the kit is more expensive in other markets. This is due, in the main, to distribution factors. In the US, Mark is distributed by the Guitar Center retail giant. In other markets, Mark goes through music wholesalers, who have to add their margins before it reaches the stores – and eventually the buyer. And because this isn’t a huge volume line, there appears to be little room to move on price, especially in smaller markets. Our featured artist is Peter Erskine - not only a great drummer, but an inspiring educator. And Peter has shown great versatility, especially in his use of e-drum gear. His VST sample offering is an excellent product which results from his collaboration with digitalDrummer columnist John Emrich and I’d recommend that readers take a look at the promo video which simultaneously shows Peter on his acoustic kit and the e-kit VST version. It’s a great demonstration of how far e-drums have come. I’d like to end with season’s greetings to all our readers, contributors and advertisers. Without you, digitalDrummer would not exist. I look forward to sharing the e-drum passion with all of you in 2013.
ddnov2012_Layout 1 7/10/12 10:21 AM Page 4
The global electronic drumming e-zine Edition 12
17 28 32 38 4
Does size matter?
Benny Grebb recently showed his prowess on a child’s kit, prompting the question: Do you need a big kit to play well?
It’s been about 18 months since digitalDrummer first caught wind of Italy’s entry into the e-drum market and we finally managed to spend some time with the Mark Drum YES kit.
Many pads, much potential
After years of development, there are now multipads to fill every requirement - from bare bones kit expansion to units that could form the core of a small e-kit. Scott Holder examines eight side by side to see what works well and what doesn’t.
One cool Kat
Alternate Mode has added to the convenience of its one-piece drum kit with the incorporation of a sound module. Allan Leibowitz was among the first to put the “multipad on steroids” through its paces.
Professor Peter Erskine’s interest in drumming is more than academic. Since picking up sticks at age four, he has played with some of the biggest names of jazz, fusion and pop. And electronic percussion has never been far from his arsenal.
Electronic drums are at the centre of a PhD by Australian drummer Adam Manning, who is attempting to understand what sonic possibilities and performance opportunities are available.
ddnov2012_Layout 1 7/10/12 12:02 PM Page 5
38 40 41 42 46 48 50
How I use e-drums
Mal Green runs his own studio, Green Sound Music, where he applies his skills as a composer, producer and engineer, drawing on his experience with New Zealand’s international hit band, Split Enz.
E-drum guru John Emrich is back to answer more VST questions from readers, this time looking at integration and swapping computers.
A snapshot of new VST offerings from MoReVoX, Acoustic Samples and FXpansion.
On guard: rims take cover
Rim protectors are one of the key ingredients of silent drumming. Essentially, they’re rubber casings used to shield the drum rims from contact with sticks.
Small kit, low cost, big impact
Those who say you can’t make a silk purse from a sow’s ear have not met Canadian Les Huffman. Les transformed a drab no-name acoustic kit into a cute electronic “looker”.
New mesh system for DMs
Alesis kit owners have been limited to noisy mylar heads and while many have been happy with the triggering, there has been a strong push for a quieter playing surface.
My Monster Kit
It’s not only the pine trees that are big in Oregon. Brian Kidd of Portland has one of the biggest kits to grace these pages.
digitalDRUMMER, NOVEMBER 2012
ddnov2012_Layout 1 7/10/12 10:21 AM Page 6
Does size matter? Benny Grebb recently showed his amazing prowess on a child’s kit, prompting the question: Do you need a big kit to play well? Here are some responses: Size doesn’t mask a lack of craftsmanship, but it can help create more variations. Rene Troostheiden, 682Drums
I prefer to create e-drum magic with a kit that has the look, size and feel of an acoustic kit. To me that’s real magic, not just smoke and mirrors. Gerald Langenfelt, Stealth Acoustics Whether it’s the big kit or little kit, play every note with “heart”. Just because a keyboard has 88 keys doesn’t mean they play them all on each song. Karl Albrecht, drummer 6
The size of an electronic drum does not affect the sounds you hear through your sound system or headphones. And if you convert acoustic drums with great responding drum triggers and mesh heads, you will be amazed how magical your drums will become. Gary Marshall Rinker, ExtremeDrums
As I get older, I get wiser - and want to schlep less gear. Give me a DrumKAT and a laptop. What more can you possibly need? Dr. Norman Weinberg, CrossTalk www.digitaldrummermag.com
T h a n k st oT o o n t r a c k ’ sa s t o n i s h i n gs o f t wa r e , I wo r ka sas e s s i o n d r u mme r r i g h t o u t o f myb a s e me n t ! S u p e r i o r Dr u mme r a l l o wsme t od e moa n dr e c o r di nmyDi eC r a wl i n gS t u d i owi t hs u c he a s e ,
I T ’ SNO T HI NGS HO R TO F RE V OL UT I ONARY ! D I RKV E RB E URE N/ S O I L WO RK
S u p e r i o r Dr u mme r ®2. 0, a wa r d wi n n i n g , i n d u s t r ys t a n d a r dd r u mp r o d u c t i o ns o f t wa r eu s e db y a r t i s t s , e n g i n e e r s&p r o d u c e r sa r o u n dt h ewo r l d . Noma t t e r t h es t y l e , g e n r eo r s o u n dy o ua r e l o o k i n gf o r , S u p e r i o r Dr u mme r 2. 0d e l i v e r swo r l dc l a s sr e s u l t se v e r yt i me .
WWW. T OO NT RA C K. C O M
ddnov2012_Layout 1 7/10/12 10:21 AM Page 8
Itâ€™s been about 18 months since digitalDrummer first caught wind of Italyâ€™s entry into the e-drum market and editor Allan Leibowitz finally managed to spend some quality time with the Mark Drum YES kit. 8
ddnov2012_Layout 1 7/10/12 10:21 AM Page 9
ANYONE WHO HAS driven an Alfa Romeo or a Fiat will know that Italians do things a bit differently. And the new Italian-made e-drum offering is further evidence that the folks in that part of Europe march to a different drum.
What’s in the box
The whole kit comes in one box – albeit a large one. Open it up and you’ll find a 3D jigsaw puzzle of smaller boxes containing a rack, a module, four drum pads, three cymbals and a kick pad – and a tiny amount of wiring.
Those used to erecting the rack and then mindlessly connecting pads need to take heed: the YES pads are all marked and need to be set up in the right slots or else you’ll find your snare sounds coming from a tom. Each trigger is more than a signal converter – it actually has circuitry built in that does a large part of the processing and not only tells the module where and how hard the drum or cymbal was hit, but also which drum or cymbal is talking. Thanks to a unique design approach, all the pads connect to the rack using telephone-style RJ11 plugs (complete with curly leads), and there’s only one input into the module.
digitalDRUMMER, NOVEMBER 2012
Initial set-up took about an hour and a quarter (you’ll save 10 minutes by checking the pad numbers before mounting and connecting!), not counting calibration and tweaking. You will need your own hi-hat stand (and make sure it has a 6 mm shaft rather than a regular 8 mm one although I’m assured that an adaptor will be available in future) and a kick pedal.
The Mark Drum kit is shipped with four 10” mesh head pads – a snare and three toms. Unlike other drum triggers, there are four column triggers close to the edge of each drum for even head triggering, all connected to circuitry that removes hot spots and provides rudimentary positional sensing.
The pads are finished with rubber rim protectors and three-ply mesh heads remarkably similar to Billy Blast’s three-layer version. The middle layer, like Blast’s, is a coarser weave that eliminates buzz. The ride is three-zone with choke, the crash has two zones (also chokeable) and the hi-hat is a singlezone recorded with “up to 255 layers of sensitivity”, according to the brochure.
ddnov2012_Layout 1 7/10/12 10:21 AM Page 10
The kick pad is a compact reverse-action pad reminiscent of Roland KD-7, but with a broader strike surface.
In the YES kit, the rack is an integral element, not just an accessory. It houses the wiring and comes with a generous sprinkling of input slots for attaching the pads. The focus is on minimising weight, and the horizontals and verticals are made of aluminium. Also weightconscious, the mounting hardware, although plastic, seems robust. The rack is fairly sturdy, but does move about a bit under vigorous playing.
The module is a triumph of minimalism: a compact black box with a single input for the trigger signals, a couple of MIDI jacks and a USB connection at the back, and a SD card slot on the front. There’s a mystery “Brush” input in the back – and no-one at Mark Drum would spoil the surprise by telling me what it’s for. One Alfa Romeo-type quirk is the use of a mini-jack for headphones, rather than the industry standard 6.5 mm jack. The module mounts via a side bracket to an L-rod, and in the interests of ambidexterity, there are screw holes on both the left and the right.
Despite the easy connections, the kit isn’t quite plug and play: some calibration is required to dial in the pads and cymbals, but it is very quick and easy – and accurate.
The module takes about 15 to 20 seconds to boot and makes some strange noises during initialisation and kit changes. It is fairly easy to navigate, although it is menu-driven, rather than controlled by a bunch of knobs, sliders and dials. And its drum samples are housed on a standard 4 GB SD card which is easily removed – unlike 2box’s built-in card. This means it’ll be easy to load the promised kit expansions which will be delivered in the next few months.
the head. The threeply heads felt great, especially when they were cranked up tight. And rim response was excellent – in fact, there was too much initially!
The cymbal pads have a 12” strike area, with a smaller mount area at the rear. They’re rubbercovered and feel very similar to Roland or Yamaha pies, with good, even response and an easy bell action on the ride. The choke, achieved by pinching the rubber edge, was easy to use and effective – but only to kill the sound, not alter it as you can do with top-end Yamaha technology. The hi-hat, once calibrated (and you have to make sure the mounting collar doesn’t impede the sensor), is responsive, with a wide range of sounds between open and closed and a good chick action.
The kick pad is also responsive, although the beater attachment looks a bit flimsy.
I found the 10” drum pads a bit too small, especially the snare where an extra two inches can make a huge difference. However, they are bigger than some rival beginner kits and sport mesh instead of hard rubber or mylar.
Overall, the pads were very responsive (not quite at top-end Roland level, but close), and showed noticeable variation across the head. It’s not the kind of shallow to deep transformation you get with Roland’s positional sensing, but there’s certainly a sonic shift as you approach the centre of
ddnov2012_Layout 1 7/10/12 10:21 AM Page 11
The big thing at the moment is “real samples”, thanks to 2box’s approach, and Mark Drum has gone down the same route.
The kit comes preloaded with 24 kits, ranging from studio acoustic set-ups to electronic kits and percussion sets.
Admittedly, I have been spoiled by the 100 stock 2box kits and a number of homebrew kits derived from VST packs, but I would have expected more choice in the YES kit. Indeed, Mark Drum is aware that some buyers may be underwhelmed by the choice of just 205 instruments (19 kicks, 23 snares, 13 hi-hats, 52 toms, 24 crashes, 14 rides and 60 “special sounds”) and has already committed to supplying an additional 50 “unique professional kits by end of 2012”. First off the rank, expect studio kits used by endorsers Danny Gottlieb (featured artist in the August issue) and Horacio Hernandez. The kits will be downloadable from the website – like the 2box approach. There’s no indication, however, of whether Mark Drum will follow 2box’s lead and offer free tools to add your own samples.
I was impressed with a couple of kits which had nice crisp snares, full-bodied toms and ballsy basses. There seemed to be a good stock of layers, with a range of sounds at different velocities (Mark Drum claims 512 levels of velocity and 16 alternate samples per hit) and no machine-gunning when you’ve got the drums calibrated. The cymbal sounds are also good, but again there are some Alfa Romeo decisions. For example, there’s no edge sound on the hi-hat – which some people would see as far more useful than “255 different layers of sensitivity on the hi-hat”. Initially, I was convinced the edge sound on most of the rides is a deeper, louder version of the bow, but then I discovered that the edge strike zone is limited to the choke lip on the very outside. Hit that, and you do get crash-type sounds. Those who have followed my reviews will know that I tend to use brushes as a performance benchmark and here the YES kit falls short. There’s no designated brushes setting, and triggering with brushes is poor. It does improve slightly if you calibrate the triggers, but even then, there’s no sweep sound and limited dynamics. And on the sound front, there’s a convincing brushes kit with an excellent set of snare sounds but, alas, the cymbals in that kit all play stick sounds. I confess, however, that only a fraction of the audience will play with brushes, and not many more will ever need the brushes sounds.
The module comes equipped with a couple of sound
digitalDRUMMER, NOVEMBER 2012
tweaking options – reverb and EQ – which offer some creative variations. But a source of confusion for me was the “Creative FX” options - Player Immersion, layer and kaleidoscope. Unfortunately, they aren’t universally available and apply only to some kits. So you can’t actually apply all of them to all kits. Maybe that will change with future updates. For the record, Player Immersion is an effect that takes in sympathetic resonance and also flips the stereo image from a player perspective to an audience perspective. Layering allows for the addition of sounds, like adding a clap to the snare hit. And kaleidoscopic kits use multi-samples for a single hit – although I doubt I’d ever use that (and Michael Schack seems happy with his current endorser!). The module does have an easy-to-use record/playback/loop functionality (something lacking in its sample-based competitor) and an onboard metronome, but no built-in play-along tunes. If you do want to practise with backing, it does have an Aux In connection where audio accompaniment can be added.
The Mark Drum YES kit is a compact kit with lots of plusses. The wiring system and smart pads get a big “yes”, as does the use of samples for some realistic playing experiences. Sure, there are some omissions and some quirks, but at the sub 2,000-bucks price tag, it’s a lot of kit for a modest price.
Mark Drum has learned a few things from watching its competitors. It uses real samples added via an accessible memory card. While its initial sound palette is limited, it has learned from 2box that buyers don’t mind waiting for updates – as long as they’re good quality and they’re free.
It’s gone a step beyond 2box by adding a recording function and the onboard FX still lacking in the orange box.
I found the YES kit very playable and very responsive, with my only real hesitation at this point being the limited sound options. Some people will, of course, be put off by the closed system approach adopted by the Italians. While you can add additional triggers (there are four empty ‘slots’ on
ddnov2012_Layout 1 7/10/12 10:21 AM Page 12
And, overall... Si, si:
✔ Smart wiring system that eliminates the sea of spaghetti. ✔ Small footprint and 16 Kg weight.
✔ Real samples – and rich, multi-layered ones at that!. ✔ Accessible memory card.
✔ Promise of more free sounds – and soon. ✔ Sub-2K pricing (US, at least).
✘ Closed system.
✘ Small drum pads.
✘ Single-zone hi-hat.
✘ Limited initial kit and sound offering. ✘ Lack of on-board play-along tunes.
the module), you are limited to YES pads or cymbals as the module is not at all compatible with other pads or triggers. I suspect the average punter won’t worry too much about not being able to use third-party products – as long as additional proprietary triggers are not priced out of the market. And the launch pricing of the kit suggests the Mark team have their feet on the fiscal ground.
In short, this kit is not for everyone; but for the drummer looking for real sounds, an authentic playing feel and a plug-and-play experience from a kit that won’t break the bank nor take up the whole practice room, it’s hard to say no to YES. And the competitive entry pricing in the US is another big tick – although it’s harder to see these kits walking out the door at the rumoured €2,500 European price – or the $2,800 Australian sticker price.
Since my testing, Mark Drum has added two signature Danny Gottlieb kits, available as free downloads.
The sampled kits are drawn from the favourite drums and cymbals of the American jazz drummer profiled in the August issue of digitalDrummer.
Mark Drum has also released new firmware for the YES module. The upgrade increases the number of user kits, increases snare and tom sensitivity, adds a new effects setting “for people with a light touch” and enhances the loop capability.
Drum Sound Module: YES Sound Module Drum Pads: 4 x 10” multi-sensor, multi-zone mesh Cymbals: 1 x 3 zone Crash, 1x 3 zone Ride, 1 x single zone hi-hat with ‘top on’ sensor No of kits: Supplied with 24 preset kits, 4 user kits. Additional kits can be downloaded, with 50 new kits to be available for download by end December 2012 No of instruments: Supplied with 205 instruments. Additional instruments download with kits. Instrument Parameters: Kit, volume, compressor, reverb, layer, player immersion, trigger, threshold, action, gain, Additional parameters for snare and tom: full rimshot sound, rim sound, reverb rim, volume rim, gain Effect Types: Equalization, reverb, compression, player immersion, layer, kaleidoscope Ambience Parameters: 15 presets, plus level, pre-delay, diffusion, shape, time, colour, hpf Compression Parameters: 10 presets, plus value%, attack, release, ratio EQ Parameters: 5 presets, plus low gain, low frequency, mid gain, mid frequency, mid q, high gain, high frequency Song Recording: 4 bar Loop Record Function with a range of time signatures Recording method: Memory card Display: Backlit LCD Connectors Pad connection: Patented Drum Bus interface uses standard RJ11 connectors, allowing single cable connection to module and pad/cymbal to be connected anywhere on rack frame Stereo Outputs: Left and Right 6.5 mm sockets Headphone: 3.5 mm stereo MIDI: Input and Output sockets USB: Full-sized Hi Speed USB data connector Aux input: 3.5 mm stereo socket Brush input: 6.5 mm socket
ddnov2012_Layout 1 7/10/12 10:21 AM Page 13
PHOTO: SANDRA HOLDER
After years of development, there are now multipads to fill every requirement from - bare bones kit expansion to units that could form the core of a small e-kit. Scott Holder examines eight side by side to see what works well and what doesnâ€™t.
digitalDRUMMER, NOVEMBER 2012
ddnov2012_Layout 1 7/10/12 10:21 AM Page 14
WHY PURCHASE A multipad? The answer depends on what instrument you play, if you play live, and how technical your live performance has to be. For years, a musician’s options were limited. No, the feature sets for most multipads weren’t that limited, but if you wanted something basic, you couldn’t find anything in that niche. In the last two years, that’s all changed. Now, you can get a multipad that will do as little or as much as you want.
What you intend to use it for and what you could use it for will drive you insane when deciding what to buy. From that perspective, many of the feature-rich multipads are aimed just as much towards percussionists or players needing backing tracks but not needing a drummer. As I worked with the advanced units and slowly learned some of the arcane aspects of pattern triggering and looping, I started thinking about integrating their capabilities into studio and live work. They can do so much. On the other hand, as a drummer, their capabilities might be overkill. This review includes every multipad currently produced by Alesis, Roland’s latest releases and Yamaha’s unit which we reviewed back in 2010. This collection spans everything from affordable, compact pad supplements to full-blown superportable e-drum kits.
Alesis PercPad and SamplePad
Until Alesis released the Perc/SamplePad, if you wanted a simple unit that would expand an e-kit or provide some additional percussion pads without breaking the bank, you were out of luck. At first glance, the Perc/SamplePad don’t “do much” but then, neither is designed to. Nonetheless, both are versatile little boxes that are very affordable. For the price of a single rubber pad, with the PercPad, you get good native percussion sounds and fantastic playability.
The top pads measure 4.75” x 3.75” (120 mm x 90 mm) and the bottom ones 4.25” x 3.5” (110 mm x 85 mm) and I particularly like the fact that the rectangles are “on their side” as opposed to vertical. It makes hitting the pads easier, with less chance of whacking an adjoining one. We didn’t do specific noise tests but these are louder than anything in our rubber cymbal collection and louder than any other multipad. They have a deep resonance which somewhat amplifies the stick noise. Each pad has a different stick bounce response: not as bouncy as PD-7 or SPD-SX, but more than DTX Multi 12. The kick input can be set to accept either an old pedal foot switch or any e-drum kick by Roland, Hart, Pintech, etc. It was responsive in both modes, although most drummers used to using an actual kick pedal will prefer that approach.
Sensitivity can be adjusted for playing without sticks, but the hard rubber pads might be fatiguing in the long run.
The 25 built-in sounds, particularly the non-drum sounds, are good - although the kick and snare sounds don’t hold up as well and a few sound quite dated. The L and R outputs further enhance the ability to control the sound since you can pan and apply reverb. Each can be pitched and no built-in sound is cut off when the pad assigned to it is repeatedly struck. This is particularly nice for some of the longer samples like the wind chimes.
The SamplePad also has 20 built-in “kits” which are really separate profiles, given the minimal number of onboard sounds. That’s not terribly useful, but if you have a set in which you use eight percussion sounds, the SamplePad’s “kits” allow you to create www.digitaldrummermag.com
ddnov2012_Layout 1 7/10/12 10:22 AM Page 15
two sets of four and move from one to the next with ease. You can also expand the number of samples available to you - as long as you stay within the 16 MB limit of onboard memory.
The LCD screen is easy to navigate, shows the range of settings and, depending on mode, shows which pad is being edited or struck. Alesis has made either pad mindlessly easy to operate.
When hooked up as a MIDI controller to a computer running EZdrummer, the PercPad was literally plug and play; I have not run into a MIDI controller for a VST drum package that was this easy to set up and use. The same applied when connected to a Roland TD-12. You strike a pad, then move over to the TD12 and see which instrument it’s triggering and make the change; there is no need to go into Roland’s internal pattern or MIDI configuration menus. Better yet, you can change the MIDI note the pad is sending. Latency was not noticeable with EZdrummer using either my M-Audio Delta 44 card or ASIO4All. The SamplePad differs from the PercPad in one way: you can trigger your own samples from a standard SD card. The samples must be mono, but we put a fair number of different samples on an SD card and they sounded fine. Even better, you can increase or decrease the tuning of the sample as well as apply the onboard reverb edits. True, this is not massive amounts of editing, but if you want to pitch your sampled explosion higher or lower, you can. You can load up to 16 MB of .wav files as samples and assign one to each pad.
You can’t stop a sample by hitting the pad, the way you can on the higher-end units - the sample plays to the end. Thus, if you need to start and stop loops with precision, the SamplePad will not cut it. But you get a nice effect by repeatedly hitting the pad with the sample: it simply starts it again without cutting off the previous sample.
The playability was the biggest surprise. Cymbal swells under EZdrummer were magnificent, far better than any older drum module. When hooked up to my TD-12, cymbal swells were as easily done as playing on a Roland CY-14. It’s perfect if you’re a drummer who wants four additional pads but doesn’t have the room on the rack or, more likely, on the module. Connect the Perc/SamplePad via MIDI to your module and just like that, your kit is four pads larger. It’s a compact MIDI controller for a VST package, and with the kick digitalDRUMMER, NOVEMBER 2012
input, it’s a perfect fit if you want something simple to go along with your keyboard or sequencer.
Finally, if you have a vocalist who also helps with percussion, they can have “more cowbell” right at their fingertips.
Not so good
The output is definitely too weak.
The SamplePad is very particular about the format of the SD card used. If you get a persistent “Card Error” message, find a computer with which you can format it in FAT (the manual says FAT32, but FAT will work as well) and, most importantly, make sure you set the Allocation Unit Size to 4,096 bytes. Do a full format and you’ll be set.
The PercPad and SamplePad are slick pieces of gear that are incredibly easy to set up and remarkably versatile and responsive at an unbeatable price.
The ControlPad trades the built-in sounds of the SamplePad for more rubber pads, MIDI input, a HH connection and two extra trigger inputs. It also includes Toontrack’s BFD Lite, so this is literally a virtual drum kit in a box.
The pads themselves have the same layout, size, bounce and stick noise characteristics as the PerformancePad (PP) and PerformancePad Pro (PPP) - which is to say the pads are quiet, bouncy and measure 4” x 4” (10 cm x 10 cm). Stick response over the entire area of each pad is better than the PP, but a bit less than the PPP and Perc/SamplePad. Don’t expect hyper-fast drum fills or reliable ghost notes. Stick play was pretty good, as was pad response; however, rapid flams 15
ddnov2012_Layout 1 7/10/12 10:22 AM Page 16
sounded a bit better on the PPP and the Perc/SamplePads.
The external connections expand the kit nicely and, unlike the PP and PPP, the external HH and kick inputs are independent of pads on the unit itself. Using a kick pedal with an associated pad will work on the two external trigger inputs, but not on the actual kick input. The HH isn’t continuous but the external HH input will work with a switch or a standard, Roland-compatible pedal like the FD-7/8.
The two external triggers work fine with your usual array of pads. We plugged in things ranging from a PD-7 to a KitToys splash and all worked fine - up to a point. The input is single zone, with no choking capability. Yes, dual-zone, chokeable pads work but you only get one zone and can’t choke.
The interface is simple, although you do have to cycle through the menu settings to get back to the beginning. Nonetheless, there aren’t that many toplevel areas to move through in order to get where you’re going. In fact, it’s pretty elegant in its simplicity. And in a first, the manual is quite helpful. Settings per “kit” are automatically saved, so whatever you’re hooked up to (another module or VST), you get the equivalent of different “kits” by simply dialing through them on the ControlPad.
Pad settings consist of Sensitivity, Velocity Curve and Threshold. The four Velocity Curve profiles cover the basics and might not be as extensive as some users require, but the package gives you more tweaking control than the PPP. You will need to spend some time working on these settings in case you have problems hitting two pads at once and getting a silent response. Not a show-stopper, but you might need the tweaking time to get the ControlPad dialed in just right.
Set-up was mindlessly easy. If you already have a MIDI connection for your computer, the ControlPad is plug and play. It’s not quite plug and play when connecting to another module, but it’s close. There was no latency. When connected to my Roland TD12, I had to change the MIDI broadcast channel on each pad to 10 from the default of 1, then it worked flawlessly.
If you don’t have a MIDI connection to the computer, the ControlPad connects via a USB cable and integrates fine with the onboard VST drums. In that regard, it’s more flexible than any other multipad in that you don’t need the additional MIDI interface hardware.
With the bundled VST software, you don’t need anything else to set up a computer-based drum package. No expensive sound card required. In fact, Alesis recommends using the free ASIO4ALL drivers. My standard VST host is an old Pentium 4 desktop with an M-Audio Delta 44 sound card and the ControlPad worked fine with it and the software.
Not so good
The kick input only works with a foot switch, not a more traditional kick pedal/pad e-drum arrangement. You might be able to tweak the HH settings for a slightly more realistic response with a higher-end VST package that has its own MIDI mapping/learn capability or some of the third-party MIDI remapping programs, but don’t count on getting fully continuous HH response.
The ControlPad does what Alesis says it will do: yes, simple things do work well. Think of it as a double-sized PercPad if all you want is another easy and compact way to add pads to an e-drum kit. The ControlPad has been around for five years now and it’s easy to see why it’s remained a robust seller. You don’t need to break the bank if all you want is basic MIDI control for either a module or VST package.
If you’re looking for an eight-pad MIDI controller that can easily trigger external devices or act as additional pads when hooked into a module, the PerformancePad does - but it is neither easy nor fully functional. It’s also touted as a miniature drum kit and it does have a library of onboard sounds, but how well the package plays as a stand-alone kit is questionable.
Pad noise is low, the best of any multipad tested except perhaps the Multi 12 - and is on par with a Roland PD-7. The PP pads are bouncier and measure 4” x 4” (10x10 cm). The pads aren’t particularly sensitive and you have to strike close to the centre in order to get a response. Any hit outside, at most, a 2” x 2” square elicits either no response or an erratic one. Plus, there’s no way to adjust the pad sensitivity. This makes playing the PerformancePad frustrating, despite the quietness and bounce of the pads. The PerformancePad has inputs for both a HH and kick. However, the kick can only be triggered by a foot switch. Thus, if you have a standard kick pad
ddnov2012_Layout 1 7/10/12 10:22 AM Page 17
ddnov2012_Layout 1 7/10/12 10:22 AM Page 18
(be it Hart, Roland or whatever), it won’t work. I used an old HOSA FSC-503 foot switch. The HH input will work with most electronic pedals, but it’s not continuous. One pad is assigned to operate with the pedal, but the resulting operation is more like that found on modules produced a dozen-plus years ago.
MIDI functionality works, but it’s a far cry from the ease and literal plug-and-play set-up of the Perc/Sample/ControlPad. Plugging into EZdrummer was easy; latency was not an issue when using either my M-Audio Delta card drivers or ASIO4ALL.
The onboard drum sounds are based on the Alesis SR-16 drum machine. The percussive sounds (chimes, wood blocks, etc) are fine, not unlike the Perc/SamplePads; but the regular drum component sounds (snare, kick, etc) are just okay - not cheesy, as we’ve read in some online reviews, but many are dated. They’re not consistent: some are better than others, but if you’re looking for a cracking snare, you’ll have to look beyond the PP. There are no effects variation settings: you can only change panning, tuning (from “sharper” to “flatter”) and volume.
The PP as a stand-alone drum kit gives you the basics. The default pad assignments include a kick drum, but you can reassign any sound to any pad (the HH pad and Kick pad are tied to their respective external inputs). You can play any of the 50 existing kits or copy one over into 50 available user kits and edit or reassign pads. The copy and save functions aren’t clear and the instructions don’t help. In fact, the documentation for the PP for doing anything other than recording your own drum loops was poor
and we had to cast about online for answers about MIDI.
The unit worked well triggering sounds on an external sound module, in this case our TD-12.
Creating drum loops with the native sound library was fairly easy.
Not so good
It was jarring going back and forth from the PerformancePad and either the Perc/SamplePads: the latter’s pads had much more dynamic range to them when a) triggering onboard sounds; b) acting as a MIDI controller for EZdrummer; or c) connected to a TD-12 via MIDI. On the PerformancePad, I had to concentrate on slowing down the frequency of my strikes because going too fast resulted in what sounded like a single strike. When playing 1/8 notes on the snare pad, the pad picked up the individual hits and reproduced them, but when we upped tempo, the fall-off in the resultant distinct notes was fast. This was unlike the Perc/SamplePads, which reproduced the strikes perfectly and provided variable response to snare hits across the entire pad.
You can’t change the MIDI channel output assignment and nowhere does the documentation say what channel is used to transmit. Only through help from some users at vdrums.com did we determine that the PerformancePad transmits on Channel 1. This means you have to have a module on the other end that allows you to change the Percussion MIDI channel from its most likely default of 11 to 1; otherwise, forget using the PerformancePad as a triggering device for your module.
The foot switch used as a kick pedal was reliable, but if you’re used to the feel of a normal kick pedal or want to get hyper-fast double bass effects, you won’t be able to do it with a foot switch.
Each of the eight pads is permanently assigned a MIDI note which corresponds to a specific drum component and you can’t change them. You are forced to change the MIDI note assigned to a specific component on the VST side.
Volume output was anaemic. We had it cranked to max and found the pad noise still overwhelming what was in the headphones and we weren’t beating on the unit that hard. Running the headphone output via a ¼” stereo cable to my TD-12 Mix In helped immensely, but it raises the question about how one www.digitaldrummermag.com
ddnov2012_Layout 1 7/10/12 10:22 AM Page 19
would handle this lack of volume when playing the PP as a stand-alone unit and not using a powered mixer.
The PerformancePad is really showing its age. The other Alesis units are better in their own respective ways as MIDI controllers or stand-alone units and cost less. If generating drum loops is your passion, the unit will work, but the native sound library doesn’t compare to other units.
There’s some crack to the snares and punch to the bass. There is some dynamic range, but not as much as on the Roland multipads or the DTX Multi 12 - which is another way of saying that you can hit a pad lightly or heavily and you won’t necessarily get a huge range of output, the way you would on a module with “positional sensing” or its equivalent. What Alesis refers to as “dynamic articulation” is not as pronounced as on the other multipads. The effects variations aren’t huge (22 reverb profiles, 14 EQ/Compression profiles, and you can adjust the tuning with far more detail than on the PP), but do a good job. One thing that’s very impressive is the number of useful preset kits (100) and an additional 100 user-editable kits: that’s a respectable array of kits.
Alesis PerformancePad Pro
The PerformancePad Pro (PPP) is a huge improvement over its predecessor, the Performance Pad (PP). In fact, it does almost everything better than its predecessor - with a couple of glaring exceptions.
The pads themselves have the same layout, size, bounce and stick noise characteristics of those on the PP, but that’s where the similarity ends. The responsiveness is excellent and similar to the Perc/Sample pads. Unlike the PP, you can hit anywhere on a pad and get a reliable response. You still can’t alter pad sensitivity, but you can change the “velocity sensitivity” which affects output sound and it mostly accomplishes the same thing. High tempo strikes are faithfully reproduced either from the onboard sound library or when used as a MIDI controller. It’s not great to use for hand strikes, but then neither is the PP. The HH and kick inputs are identical to the PP and that’s not necessarily a good thing: you can’t trigger the kick with a traditional e-drum kick pad; instead you need a foot switch. The HH will work with any standard e-drum pedal (Hart, Roland, Yamaha), but it’s not continuous.
The onboard sound library of 500 sounds is also taken from the Alesis SR18 drum machine and is on par with what you’ll find on other, newer multipads. digitalDRUMMER, NOVEMBER 2012
As a MIDI controller, the PPP is every bit as easy as - and even more flexible in terms of sending MIDI notes and transmitting channels than - the Perc/SamplePads. There was no latency when plugged into EZdrummer and pad response was excellent. Like the PP, you can use the PPP as a stand-alone drum kit – but with far more and better sounds/instruments to choose from.
An excellent feature is the additional instrument layers: percussion and bass. Each kit has an associated “layer”. You press a button and you have eight bass notes (one per pad). The percussion layer is similar, albeit with different instruments. The one drawback on the bass layer is that you can’t adjust individual tuning on the bass parts - the tuning is global. The bass part defaults to play a C Major scale starting with note A and a sharp 7th as the pad’s 8th note. You can change the tuning, but it adjusts all the other notes in the scale. There are additional controls to affect the sound (attack and release and filtering).
Recording patterns is also much improved and now on par with what can be done on the Roland SPD30 Octapad. You can also piece together patterns into what Alesis calls “songs” and then start or stop them at any point in the “song”. Most of the editing functions for patterns on the SR18 drum machine are also on the PPP, so that you can edit steps and beats of a pattern/song, or add/erase sounds in real time while looping or edit on the unit in non-real time. Unlike the Octapad or Multi 12, there are no “one shot” pattern choices on the PPP: they will play as loops until you stop them. One plus is the ability to set up a pattern with numerous overdubs that you can record on successive passes of the loop and 19
ddnov2012_Layout 1 7/10/12 10:22 AM Page 20
then be able to turn those on and off live. That’s not done totally with stick hits to the pad: you do have to press buttons and there is no capability to control these things with a foot switch. This means it might not work during a show if you’re drumming and trying to control all these other “events”. But, if you’re using this as more of a drum machine or backing instrument, once you set up the patterns, it’s easier to control than at first glance.
The preset patterns are outstanding. There’s also a “fill” function which lets you punch in two associated fills with any selected pattern and the results are very slick. When plugged into EZdrummer, turn on a pattern and press the fill button and before you know it, you’ve laid out a fourminute drum backing track. Like the DTX Multi 12, the feature was seamless and very impressive. This is one of those “features” that may or may not appeal to most e-drummers. Nonetheless, if you need a drum machine for accompaniment or simply want a standing drum track while another percussionist does his thing, the onboard patterns will provide plenty of variety and complexity. I should be able to drum that well!
The anaemic output volume on the PP is gone – but, like the PP, the volume knob is located in a hard-to-reach place (front edge of the unit).
Not so good
The external HH and kick inputs are forever tied to the pad assignments; the PPP doesn’t perform this function nearly as well as either the Roland SPD-30 Octapad or the Yamaha DTX Multi 12. Thus, if you change the kick instrument to a splash and then press down the foot pedal, you’ll get a splash. That remains my main complaint with the PPP. The lack of continuous HH functionality is annoying, but that seems to be the norm in multipads at this level.
The PPP is a huge leap in capability and playability from the PP. If you want eight pads that you can connect via MIDI to expand your kit and get excellent response, the PPP delivers. Everything else, patterns, pattern recording and onboard sound library, is a bonus and might turn out to be useful, particularly to non-drumming users. If you’re looking for a viable core for a small, highly portable, e-kit, the fact that the external inputs are not independent of the unit’s pads remains a huge drawback. 20
We reviewed the SPD-SX in the August 2012 edition and have included the basic specifications here for comparison. Here’s a quick recap from that article plus a few things we’ve learned since.
The pad arrangement is a single-level, six-pad, three-ba” (nine “pads” total) layout measuring 143⁄8” x 13” (364 mm x 331 mm). The main pads measure 3¾” square (95 mm). Pads aren’t overly hard like the Alesis units, but not soft like the Multi 12. They’re fairly bouncy and stick noise is not too pronounced. Pad setting adjustments are extensive and will be familiar to anyone used to working with a Roland module. The volume and control knobs are conveniently located on the front of the unit.
The SX has 210 drum, percussion and effects sounds. The onboard sounds are focused on percussion; they are not grouped in any menu selection.
The SX also processes signals from external triggers or foot switches, having a single foot switch input and two stereo trigger inputs. The latter can be increased to four mono inputs by using a splitter. There is no HH controller input and no variable HH support. External triggers are universal. Storage capacity is far greater than any other multipad. You can assign up to two samples per pad and they can be set to play simultaneously.
The SPD-SX is the only multipad sampler on the market and you can edit samples in real time on the unit itself. Onboard effects are good. The accompanying Wave Manager software is a huge improvement over what came with the SPD-S and
ddnov2012_Layout 1 7/10/12 10:22 AM Page 21
allows for easy sample transfer and assignment. As a MIDI controller, you can control every MIDI note for every pattern.
The menu is easy to navigate and the live controls are an improvement over the SPD-S. The onboard .wav editing, while basic, is very easy and very handy. The huge amount of onboard memory provides almost unlimited sampling storage and selection options. The onboard effects and real-time performance application of those effects is great.
Not so good
Not the best ergonomics for hand usage and the bar pads have poor sensitivity. The Sub output can’t be used along with the Main output for velocitybased multi-samples.
There is no variable HH support, which was on the SPD-S. In fact, there’s no effective HH support whatsoever. It was a popular feature on the SPD-S and for reasons that have most people scratching their head, Roland took it out of the SX. Yes, you can assign a HH sound to the foot switch but no variable HH controller like Roland’s own FD-7/8 will work. Even if you assign a HH sound to the foot switch, it’s not associated with any pad on the actual unit, unlike what you find on the Octapad, Multi 12 or some of the Alesis units. Thus, if you have a closed HH sound on the foot switch and an open HH sound on any given pad, there’s no way you can cut off the latter by depressing the foot pedal.
Things we’ve learned since the last time
Sounds triggered by hitting one pad are not truncated when switching to another kit, but there is a one- to two-second delay when the next kit loads, which effectively truncates the sound. This is not true when triggering a pattern from one pad. It will continue to play until stopped (assuming it’s that kind of pattern). You can then switch to another kit and hit another pad to trigger another pattern and it’s amazing how much rhythm you can get, and also very confusing since you can’t turn off the original pattern unless you switch back to that kit.
Roland SPD-30 Octapad
The Octapad’s main selling points are the playability of the unit and as a sequencer (or as Roland calls it, a “phrase looper”). Another advantage is its potential use as a very portable e-drum kit, given the number of external pads and controllers that can be attached. digitalDRUMMER, NOVEMBER 2012
The pads measure 43⁄8” by 3 ¾” (110 mm by 95 mm). Pad dynamics are good and because of the unit’s layering feature (this is similar to the Multi 12’s layering capability except that you can assign two instruments/voices to one pad vs four on the Multi 12), one can literally set a “crossover point” and get very good cymbal swells and great snare dynamics. At first, stick noise seems louder since there is a deep resonance, especially when compared to its sampling brother, the SPD-SX. However, a quick check with the sound meter held one foot away while whacking the Octapad and SX showed no difference in decibel level. They are far quieter than the Sample/PercPad. Like the SX, the controls are on the front of the unit. You might fear thwacking a knob or the LCD screen and breaking something. Roland has made those controls very robust: there have been demos of taking a stick base and whacking it on the control panel with no problems.
Pad rebound is about the same as the SX, which means flams are easy to do and the individual notes are easily picked up even with rapid, repeated strikes. The pads are responsive across most of each pad and again, because of the layering, you get the equivalent of positional sensing on many sounds. Hand play is also viable, but with some drawbacks.
The 50 preset kits that come with the Octapad are, at first glance, the usual oft-maligned Roland “novelty” kits found on full-blown modules. There’s nothing approaching a conventional drum kit, except for the “Tutorial” kit. Furthermore, there is no such thing as user kits. Instead, you either copy over or change the instruments to the existing kits. The Octapad does come with a sizeable instrument (sound/voice) library, but the vast majority of those instruments are percussive, not straight-up drum instruments. By comparison, of the 650 instruments on the Octapad, 166 are drum-kit related while the 21
ddnov2012_Layout 1 19/10/12 7:32 AM Page 22
TD-9 has 353. The drum instrument sounds are on par with the TD-9 “generation” and the effects and synth instruments are quite good.
Pad setting adjustments are extensive and will be familiar to anyone used to working with a Roland module in that you can adjust things like sensitivity, velocity curve, etc. Pad settings are global; thus, if you find something too soft on one kit and too hot on another and they’re both assigned to the same pad, you can’t differentiate their pad settings.
As a MIDI controller, it’s identical to the SX, allowing you to quickly change the MIDI note number on any given pad to get what you want out of EZdrummer or a module. When connecting to a computer, you don’t even need a MIDI cable or USB-to-MIDI adaptor. The Octapad can connect directly to the computer (cable supplied separately but who doesn’t have a ton of USB cables lying around?) and acts as its own USB-MIDI input device. In that regard, it was plug-and-play on our old PC running EZdrummer.
Roland touts the “phrase looping” feature of the Octapad - and there’s no doubt it is the easiest multipad for pattern recording. You can have three separate “parts” (think of them as three different kits making up a unique pattern) that you can integrate into one phrase loop; it’s a similar process and feature to that of the Performance Pad Pro. Once you get your head around the concept, it’s quite powerful. The main issue is you’ll either love it and use it to take a live performance to another level, it’ll get old really fast or it’s not anything that you need. Like the Performance Pad Pro and SPD-SX, you can edit patterns in non-real time on the unit itself.
The ability to edit each instrument is about what you’d find on a TD-9. FX settings are also extensive, but somewhat subtle, the main FX being “ambience” which is essentially different types of reverb. Sounds triggered by striking a pad are not truncated when switching to another kit and there is no delay/lag when making that switch. The ability to add external triggers, as with the Multi 12, make many e-drummers look at the Octapad as a highly portable e-kit with a small stage footprint. The external inputs were very flexible in terms of what pads can be plugged in. The ride is “only” twozone but, with eight internal pads on the Octapad, one can easily layer a ride edge on one pad and get good results.
It has the capability for a variable HH set-up if
using a VH-11. I tested my Hart Pedal Pro II and it can also work for variable response if you spend a lot of time tweaking it.
It plays a lot more like a kit than the SX with significant velocity dynamics.
Not so good
One downside is the Octapad’s actual ability to play somewhat complicated loops in complicated ways live. The sequence of starting and stopping loops on the Octapad is more cumbersome than the SX. On the SX, you hit a pad to start its assigned phrase/loop, then hit the same pad again to stop it. You can set it to play for a certain number of measures after hitting the pad to start it. All very easy. On the Octapad, you have to hold down the footswitch, then strike a pad in order for the footswitch to get “total control”. Thus, you have to do this little exercise before the start of the song. There are also sensitivity issues because if another pad registers a hit, the loop can start again and the problem is balancing the settings and still making the rest of the unit responsive. Finally, you can only have one phrase/loop assigned to a kit. If you set up Kit Chain, then it doesn’t take that long to get ready for the next song, thus, this “issue” might not be one for most users. [ThLs issue has been corrected with a firmware update.]*
There is no quick way to change pad settings, meaning you’re pretty much committed to using this live either by hand or by stick; you simply cannot toggle back and forth between the two because each style requires different sensitivity and threshold settings. It’s a real Goldilocks problem: if you tweak your settings for hand play, it’ll be too hot for stick play. The hardness of the pads will also be a factor an issue it shares with the Sample/PercPads.
Most e-drummers will find quite a bit to like about the Octapad. It would make a fantastic, portable ekit with additional sounds. The layering feature potentially expands what any given pad can play in terms of separate sounds or help create a fuller sound for any given e-drum instrument.
The “phrase looping” feature is slick. The mentioned criticisms of the live loop-playing process relates to loops done in advance, not on-the-fly playing and live looping, which the Octapad does extremely well. *Postscript: The new Version 2 system upgrade expands the SPD-30's onboard kit and phrase libraries and adds powerful new features and functions. It is a free downloadable update available here.
ddnov2012_Layout 1 7/10/12 10:22 AM Page 23
stereo inputs. External triggers are universal and the HH controller can be continuous. Storage capacity for samples is 64 MB.
Yamaha DTX Multi 12
We reviewed the Multi 12 in January 2010 and include the basic specifications here for comparison. We’ll do a follow-up look at the Multi 12 in another article, but here’s a quick recap.
The pad arrangement is a multi-level, six-pad, six“bar” (12 “pads” total). The main pads measure 45⁄8” x 4¼” square (11 cm x 10.5 cm) while the bars are 4¼” x 13⁄8” (10.5 cm x 3 cm). The pads are different from the other multipads in that they are softish and accommodate the needs of a hand percussionist as much as a drummer. Stick rebound was on par with Pintech cymbals and stick noise fell somewhere between the Roland multipads at the higher end and the Alesis Performance Pad at the lower end of the sonic spectrum. The volume and control knobs are conveniently located on the front of the unit.
The Multi 12 has 1,249 drum, percussion and effects sounds, many are those created for Yamaha’s Motif synthesizer range. The pad sounds are grouped into kits and the unit comes pre-loaded with 50 such kits and allows for the creation of 50 more.
The Multi 12 also processes signals from external triggers or foot switches and has one mono and two
The Multi 12 could easily be used as a stand-alone drum kit, particularly with the use of an external HH and kick drum. It can also be used as an external module should you want to take advantage of its great sound library but would prefer to trigger it using existing pads connected to another module (acting as a MIDI controller). As a MIDI controller, it can do everything imaginable, really to the point of overwhelming. And, when hooked up to EZdrummer or my TD-12, it was plug and play.
The “beater selection” reflects how the unit can be struck: finger, stick or hand. The pads are mutable, and if you press down on one while striking it, you can alter the sound. Yamaha touts its “layering” capability, and of all the multipads, it has the most layers (four) which can be assigned to a single pad.
Not so good
The amount of onboard storage is tiny relative to its Roland equivalent. The menu system isn’t the greatest and the user manual won’t always provide you with a clear, easy-to-find answer to a detailed technical question.
You’ll find plenty of online discussion about the strengths of Roland’s two multipads and how it would be nice if they were combined into one unit. The Multi 12 does that. It can play loaded samples, loops, percussion effects and, if desired, form the core of a stand-alone drum kit. It has literally so many “gee whiz” features, it’s easy to get lost in the unit.
Full comparison table: see page 24
ddnov2012_Layout 1 7/10/12 10:22 AM Page 24
Mutlipad comparison table Alesis PercPad
Alesis Control Pad
Alesis Performance Pad
Alesis Performance Pad Pro
Yamaha DTX Multi 12
No of pads
8 + 2 inputs
9+2 inputs 1
8+4 inputs 1 + HH
12 + 3 inputs 1 + HH
50 preset; 50 user-defined
100 preset; 100 userdefined
50 preset; 200 userdefined
Tuning; 22 Reverb & Compression/ EQ presets None
Flash Memory Capacity
16 preset; 84 userdefined 20 Presets; 4-band EQ Mono/ .Wav or AIFF 10,000 files
Chorus; Reverb; 5-band EQ Mono/ .Wav or AIFF 500 files
.Wav File Sample Rate
16bit/48, 44.1, 32, 22.05, 11.205kHz N/A
! Note/ 480 ppq
! Note/ 480 ppq
Real-Time Overdubbing; Step Editing
RealTime Overdub Phrase Editing
200 Preset; 200 User
200 Preset; 200 User
RealTime Overdub .Wav File Editing N/A
MIDI (Out Only) N/A
MIDI (Out Only); SD 14 mb
MIDI; USB 2 gb
MIDI; USB N/A
128 Preset; 50 User MIDI; USB 64 mb
1 1/8” stereo
1 1/8” stereo
L/R !” mono 2 L/R; headph.
1 !” stereo L/R; headph.
1 !” stereo L/R; headph.
ddnov2012_Layout 1 7/10/12 10:22 AM Page 26
One cool KAT
Alternate Mode has added to the convenience of its one-piece drum kit with the incorporation of a sound module. Allan Leibowitz was among the first to put the â€œmultipad on steroidsâ€? through its paces. 26
ddnov2012_Layout 1 7/10/12 10:22 AM Page 27
AT OUR LAST gig, I had the kit packed up and in the car boot before the guitarist had finished fiddling with his effects pedals. For the first time, I was able to offer the other guys a hand with lugging the PA back to the car – rather than being the last off stage. That’s the beauty of a single unit that contains 24 pads and a module, fits on a very portable rack and tucks away into a sturdy carry case. In the compactness stakes, the trapKAT is certainly without rival among stick-played percussion kits.
What’s in the box
It’s a rather large box – and obviously well packed since all KAT sales are shipped from the factory. Inside, there’s an overgrown multipad, a power adaptor and a pedal. You’ll also need a hi-hat controller and a kick trigger – both of which can be sourced from Alternate Mode. For this review, I used the company’s recently released (and reviewed) eKIK and eHat products.
The main unit is a metal housing on which there are six larger pads, four medium-sized strike surfaces, four rim/edge triggers and eight perimeter trigger blocks, two of which have two zones each. All up, that makes 24 pads, arranged roughly like the drums and cymbals of a regular kit. There’s also a small LCD display which will soon become your best friend.
How it’s set up
While the trapKAT 5KS is essentially a plug-andplay instrument, there is a learning curve – and the more you learn, the more you can do. The manual has been written for eager beavers who just want to start banging on pads without learning the ins and outs of MIDI, and if you follow the instructions, you can certainly start using the kit right out of the box.
The first lesson is that the pads are not just the playing surfaces, they are also part of the control system. They are used instead of knobs and buttons to select options from the four basic menus: Global Edit, Kit Edit, Note Edit and Kit Select. And each menu is activated by a foot switch. While you will need to access all the menus from time to time, it is possible to get by with just one or two switches once you have set up and dialed in the pads. I won’t go through the set-up process because it’ll bore the pants off those who don’t have trapKAT and it is well documented for those who do. Suffice it to say that you can teach each pad your playing style – what hard and soft mean for you - and you can select what sounds are triggered by each pad. You also need to calibrate the hi-hat and dial in the kick pedal from a range of trigger types.
Once it’s all set up, the foot switch can be moved to digitalDRUMMER, NOVEMBER 2012
the Kit Select jack and used to scroll through the kits or select individual kits by holding the pedal and hitting one of the 24 pad positions (there are 24 kits in the User bank – but scores more in the Factory banks).
The trapKAT is not new, of course. It has been around for a while, but only as a triggering device. Previously, you needed to pair the KAT with a module or computer-based VST application. The 5KS changes that with the addition of on-board sounds from synthesizer maker Kurzweil.
There has been plenty of debate lately about sound sources, especially since 2box launched its samplebased system. The 5KS uses “real” samples, but unlike VST offerings with scores of samples for each velocity, the Kurzweil engine uses computer processing to simulate the variations, leading to some very realistic renditions. In the case of the 5KS, there are over 1,000 sounds to choose from, but the main focus is on the 24 stock “user kits”. In the words of the owner’s manual, “the Factory Kits … are meant to be used for GM Drum Modules (and) … have not been optimised for the Kurzweil sound card”. In other words, feel free to mess with the Factory Kits, but you can’t save or edit them, so stick with the user kits.
The stock user kits are sonically pleasing, with some versatile choices. The kits range from a Thigpen brushes kit to Drum N Bass and electronic sounds. In my test gig, we played a range of songs from Elvis to Billy Joel and country to jazz, and I was able to accommodate almost the entire repertoire with five or six kits, including the snappy J Geils kit, the vintage-sounding FabFringe, a ballsy Low Rock with thunderous toms and the middle-of-the-road 25th Anniversary kit. What was lacking was a Latin kit with timbales and a kit with decent brush sweeps – both of which are actually represented in the Factory Kits, but harder to access on the fly. (Note to self: more planning next time!) The litmus test: what did the band think of the sounds? In the throes of performance, they were hard-pressed to tell the difference between what they heard and the selections from the 100 kits on the module I normally use. And my buddy at the Asian food stall next to the stage, who always comments on the e-kits I play, was impressed with the performance – and especially the dynamics.
For those into tuned percussion, the sounds associated with Alternate Mode’s malletKAT are also available among the Factory Kits. You can access anything from vibraphones to marimbas, as well as 27
ddnov2012_Layout 1 7/10/12 10:22 AM Page 28
timpani, bells and orchestral percussion. There’s one tuned percussion kit in the User bank – a really cool Magic Mbira set which is perfectly pitched for a rousing rendition of ‘Smoke on the Water’.
While it may be tempting to lump the trapKAT with other multipads, it does stand head and shoulders above the competitors thanks to the generous-sized pads, the number of triggers, the layout and the playability.
The six larger pads measure around 16 cm x 17 cm, while the front four clock in at a respectable 12 cm x 15 cm. Even the inch-wide rim triggers and the eight peripheral bars are easy to hit – although I have managed to get a stick wedged between two of them a couple of times. The layout is very smart. The middle two front pads are allocated to the snare so that you have different left and right articulations. The pad on the outside of each is a designated hi-hat trigger, so you can play the hats with either your left or right hand – or both. The next row of pads is allocated to toms (high to low), with the ride at the 2.30 position.
Again, this is a good logical layout, allowing for easy fills and great access to the ride. The outer bars are designated as rim sounds and the ride bell and crashes – again, logical and accessible. The playing surfaces of the trapKAT have been upgraded to a new material (nuBounce), with a white film covering known as Power Dots and
designed by Aquarian Drumheads, Alternate Mode’s partner in the inHead product.
Triggering FRS sensors rather than piezos, the pads are extremely responsive, with an impressive range of dynamics, especially when you have “trained” them to your personal playing range. I personally dislike rubber drum pads, but found the trapKAT playing surface natural and responsive. It’s easy to get good, controlled rebounds and the pads feel just right from the first hit. The responsiveness continues with the hi-hat, especially when paired with an eHAT pedal. There is a wide range from open to closed (the manufacturer claims eight levels), and the transitions are smooth and effortless, with a nice snappy chick action.
Okay, so there’s a steep learning curve while you master the kit and even after a few weeks, I feel I’ve only scraped the surface and have so much more to learn. That’s not a bad thing: it shows the power and capability of this instrument.
Once you’ve got it trained and worked out how to change kits, there’s a bit of muscle retraining as you become familiar with the layout and your sticking. But once it clicks, the trapKAT is an intuitive instrument that plays just like a drum kit. The first thing that tripped up a visiting acoustic drummer was the hi-hat. He remained determined to play the left-hand hi-hat pad over his right hand on the snare, which meant he was just knocking his hands together. It’s obviously a hard habit to break and he couldn’t quite get his head around playing the hi-hat www.digitaldrummermag.com
ddnov2012_Layout 1 7/10/12 10:22 AM Page 29
on the right. But I suspect the average e-drummer will have no difficulty making the adaptation.
So, when you’ve worked out what is where and how to make the rudimentary adjustments, the trapKAT is easy to play. You can plug in an external audio source to play along, or use the onboard metronome or grooves. The kit sounds are editable, with the brain able to change overall pitch of kit and add reverb or FX (chorus or delay), and there’s also the ability to change the individual volumes on snares, toms, basses and hi-hats.
The cymbals are chokeable, a simple touch of the pad producing a usable choke effect. What’s more, you can achieve smooth cymbals rolls, even with the choke activated.
The drums are all velocity-layered, so you get different sounds (not just louder or softer tones) depending on how hard you hit. This virtually eliminated machine-gunning, and because the entire pad is touch-sensitive, there’s absolutely no hotspotting. Audio output is via headphones (I found the volume a bit on the low side unless your headphones have the right impedance) or through two stereo 1/4” balanced outputs. Alternatively, you can take a mono feed if you only have one input in your amp or PA. There’s also MIDI In and Out for those who want to trigger VSTs or play MIDI patterns from a computer. After a few weeks of testing, I continue to be impressed with – and intimidated by - the power of the 5KS. Increasingly, I find myself frowning at the manual as it explains concepts like accessing multimode and alternate mode features, manipulating continuous control data and other MIDI stuff that just confuses everyday drummers. I have, however, worked out that the instrument does not have a record or sequencing function, nor the ability to edit grooves – if those are important to you.
The trapKAT has for some time been an appealing alternative to e-kits thanks to its superior triggering and compact footprint. All it lacked, like the scarecrow in the Wizard of Oz, was a brain – and it gets that in the 5KS version.
Sure, the brain may not have all the bells and whistles of the Roland TD-30 or the Yamaha DTX 900, nor the depth of samples of the 2box, but it has a bunch of more-than-acceptable kits, enormous tweaking potential and relative ease of use (once you’ve mastered some of the basics).
As a practice instrument, the 5KS is perfect. It triggers beautifully, has enough pads for the average player and has a versatile range of sounds. It’s acoustically silent and extremely compact – even more so when packed up. For the gigging drummer, the 5KS is hyper-portable and very quick to set up and tear down. The User Kits may not suit every genre, but there is enough diversity to cover most bases (and basses). The sounds, although not VST-standard, are certainly sufficiently convincing for the average audience. Be warned, however, that you will need to be ready to offer an explanation of the “strange contraption” to curious onlookers.
The trapKAT 5KS starts at US$2,200 (plus shipping). A bundle, with a stand, eKIK and eHAT won’t leave much change from $2,600. You should also not skimp on a carry case (around $250 for a custom moulded version), especially if you plan to gig with this baby – and protect her from life’s knocks. And you may want an extra foot controller or two, although once it’s set up, you’ll probably only need the supplied pedal to change kits. I think it’s safe to say that when it comes to multipads, this one has certainly put the KAT among the pigeons.
ddnov2012_Layout 1 10/10/12 11:44 AM Page 30
PHOTO: Kamal Asar, VIC FIRTH
e-experience Professor Peter Erskineâ€™s interest in drumming is more than academic. Since picking up sticks at age four, he has played with some of the biggest names of jazz, fusion and pop. Besides performance, Erskine has dedicated himself to drum education, and currently teaches at the University of Southern California. And electronic percussion has never been far from his arsenal. Erskine shared some thoughts with digitalDrummer editor Allan Leibowitz....
ddnov2012_Layout 1 7/10/12 10:22 AM Page 31
digitalDrummer: You were certainly an early starter in drumming, reportedly picking up sticks at the age of four. Tell us how you got started and how you stuck to drumming in those early years. Peter Erskine: I have wanted to be a musician for as far back as I can remember. I began playing the drums at age four and started taking drum lessons at five. I have been studying music continuously ever since, simply because I have always wanted to be a musician. Luckily, my father had been a musician when he was in school (studying to become a doctor), and so I received a lot of encouragement and support from him as well as my entire family. dD: What disciplines and skills did you learn as a child that made you the drummer you are today?
PE: Discipline came about as a result of good parental guidance and example, combined with the fact that I simply enjoyed playing so much — I would practise the drums before going to school in the morning as well as in the afternoon and evening after I came back home from school. And I was always listening to music. My first teacher was very patient and loving, important qualities when dealing with such a young student! Most of the drum heroes and mentors I have met throughout my life have been generous and nurturing when it comes to sharing their information and passion for this music. I learned to respect the music and the musicians from these masters, many of whom I met at summer jazz camps. I attended these camps beginning in digitalDRUMMER, NOVEMBER 2012
1961 when I was seven years old, up until high school … whereupon I went away to the Interlochen Arts Academy for year-round training in music.
dD: At what stage did you realise you wanted to be a professional, and how did you go about making that happen?
PE: Well, I got my American Federation of Musicians union card when I was 14 years old, and began working that summer of 1968 at various hotels and clubs in Atlantic City, New Jersey. But I knew that I wanted to be a professional from the start, and that’s also why I spent so much of my time practising and listening to music. I calculated that I played the drums — in practice and in concert — 10,000 hours by the time I was asked to play with Weather Report in 1978. dD: Speaking of Weather Report, your resume includes a who’s who of entertainment. What have been some of your recording and performance highlights?
PE: My new book “No Beethoven,” (available soon as an electronic book title from the Apple iBook store, etc.) contains MANY stories that took place in the studio or on tour … here is a short story about my first recording with Weather Report, after my first rehearsal/audition, but before our first trip to Japan where I premiered as their drummer in concert during the summer of 1978. My first recording experience was to do a hi-hat overdub on Joe’s tune “Young and Fine”. He wanted to tinker with the feel of the fine drum track that Gadd had played, and I set up a hi-hat in a small iso-booth and played along with the track from start to finish while Joe watched 31
ddnov2012_Layout 1 7/10/12 10:22 AM Page 32
a World Cup soccer game on TV in the control room. When I was finished, I took off my headphones and climbed around the mic stand and walked into the control room. Joe seems to be concentrating on the game. I ask, “How was it?” to the room. Zawinul replies: “You tell me.” And so I say, “I think it was good.” “Okay, then,” he says. “Watch the game.”
That story told, I feel very blessed to have played with so many great and interesting musicians. Loved the albums I’ve done with vocalists Joni Mitchell, Mary Chapin Carpenter and Seth MacFarlane (“Music Is Better Than Words,” an incredible swinger of an album) ... proud of the Weather Report stuff, most excited by my own recordings on Fuzzy Music! It’s a good life. dD: You are very active in education – not only as a faculty member at Thornton, but through clinics, books and DVDs. What motivates you to want to share your skills with others? PE: The art and craft of music includes the passing along of information to next generations; I am merely following in the footsteps of my own musical heroes. Knowledge is best when shared. (My father was a great teacher as well...). dD: What’s your view on the impact of the Internet and video piracy on training DVDs and the like? Is there still a future in the industry when people simply rip off your material and post it on YouTube?
PE: Today’s technology makes it easier than ever to offer instruction and to share information. Somehow, in the giving, there is much reward, and the digital revolution is creating a new paradigm and relationship between the musician and his or her audience. It’s an exciting as well as frightening time to be a musician, but mostly an exciting time to be an educator as well as a musician. The sobering reality is that the economics of the music business are undergoing drastic change. Piracy has long been a problem, and the advent of digital technology has made it far more widespread than most of us might have envisioned. But it’s a new reality that must be met more by smarts than a knee-jerk or brute-force reaction. The challenge is in getting our audience to understand that ensemble music of good quality cannot be created solely on a machine in someone’s second bedroom. I am confident that the demand for good music will win in the end, and the music community can take clever advantage of the possibilities that networking offers us. Like any form of democratisation, there will always be growing pains. One very exciting development has been the creation of the iPhone, iPad and the world of apps.
With everything in
music, one style or song or sound can
influence the next musical step ...
Imagine: a worldwide distribution network that not only gets your creative enterprise out to as many people as possible – globally - but also allows the creators to update their work and get those updates to all of their customers automatically. This is genius! So, I see the app as a very important part of the new paradigm in reaching our audience. Educationally as well as enthusiastically (i.e., the enthusiasm I have for my music), I created the Erskine Joy Luck PlayAlong app with developer Lucas Ives. Current music-minus-one offerings allow for one tune, minus one instrument, to be downloaded and used for 99 cents; with my app, the www.digitaldrummermag.com
ddnov2012_Layout 1 10/10/12 11:44 AM Page 33
In the next issue user has 11 songs, minus drums or minus bass or minus piano, along with scores, parts and transcriptions, educational text plus extras like the album tracks as well as session photos, etc., all for US$4.99. And now that the technology is in place, we plan on creating more and more PlayAlong projects utilising different styles and instrumentation, to give aspiring musicians something aside from fusion or big band-based practice tracks. The initial response to this is very encouraging; people seem to love it. I’ll also make one of these with the Roland kit one of these days; certainly, Roland V-drums or the like is an excellent way to utilise something like the Erskine Joy Luck PlayAlong app by the enduser.
dD: Okay, now to the nitty gritty for our readers. Can you tell us about your electronic percussion experiences? What gear have you owned over the years? PE: I’ve long been interested in technology and gadgetry, from using reel-to-reel, sound-on-sound, tape-bouncing techniques to create my audition for high school (Interlochen, I quadruple-tracked a percussion ensemble piece for one of my audition selections), to being part of the team that created the drum sounds on the Oberheim DMX drum “machine”, to creating a variety of sample libraries (for Yamaha, for “Living Drums” and, most recently, for Cymbal Masters’ “Virtual Erskine” library, which just won a Drum! magazine “Drummie” award for best sampled library this year!) ... all along the way utilising the best that the music industry has had to offer in terms of electronic percussion, including Synare, Simmons, Yamaha, KAT, Korg and Roland, et al. The good part is that a world of sound can be available at your fingertips with electronic percussion; the bad part is when and if someone kicks out the electric cord: then there’s silence! But when everything is working, then anything is possible! dD: What electronic percussion gear do you currently have – and how do you use it?
PE: I currently use the Roland TDW-20 module and pads kit for electronic recording, practising and performance. I’m eagerly awaiting the new Roland TD-30 kit for playing and triggering purposes. While I have played electronic drum sets in concert (with Weather Report, Joe Zawinul’s Weather Update, Vince Mendoza and Gary Burton), as well as on recordings (Weather Report, Steps Ahead, Rickie Lee Jones and my own solo albums), I currently use electronic percussion mostly as a compositional digitalDRUMMER, NOVEMBER 2012
Profile: Jonathan Atkinson If you can plug it in and power it up, Jon Atkinson will be interested in hitting it. Currently on tour with Howard Jones, Atkinson has played with many of the ‘80s greats like Paul Young, Midge Ure, Belinda Carlisle and Kim Wilde.
The iPad as an instrument More than a portable device for checking mail, the iPad is becoming a serious percussion instrument, thanks to bold new apps and powerful interfaces. We check out some of the current tools.
The beaterless bass A new European e-drum maker turns the bass pedal trigger on its head with a beaterless pedal attachment. We put the Krigg to the test
Analogue Drums It’s not a name known to most VST enthusiasts, but Analogue Drums has been around since 1999, producing drum samples from tape. The Kontakt-based collection includes vintage kits from Ludwig, Slingerland, DW, Gretsch and Rogers together with Zildjian, Sabian, Paist and Bosphorus cymbals. We review some of the offerings.
All that and more in February ...
ddnov2012_Layout 1 7/10/12 10:22 AM Page 34
This promo video shows Erskine on his acoustic kit and on the virtual version. device to help me envision or realise a musical project or dream. Music contains rhythm, melody and harmony, but it’s all about SOUND and feeling. New sounds can help to create new feelings. We have a lot to thank Thomas Edison for!
dD: Let’s talk about your Platinum Samples offering. How did the Virtually Erskine project come about and how did you find the process of recording your gear and grooves?
PE: Michael Vosbein deserves the credit for bringing me and the incredibly talented and knowledgeable John Emrich together. The electronic drum world is most lacking in drum set sounds that convey or resemble what jazz drummers bring to the musical table in terms of touch and quality of sound. Our challenge was to capture what years of playing experience and enthusiasm have brought to me so that these qualities could be shared with more creative musicians, drummers and non-drummers alike! We spent a lot of time recording MY drums and cymbals in MY studio, with MY touch — I played every single note ... many times and at many dynamic levels! John put everything together masterfully, and the result is as close to the real thing as I can imagine. dD: John Emrich produced a video demo of the Virtually Erskine product featuring you playing your acoustic kit and in split-screen playing the VST version on a TD-20 and the sound is shockingly close. What’s it like playing the VST version of your own acoustic kit – and do you have to adjust your playing style in any way from the acoustic to the electronic version?
PE: It felt like the real thing! Of course, when playing ANY kit in a particular room or setting, one is faced with making choices, and these happen pretty quickly in the scheme of things when playing improvised music. That said, the demo is a first/onetake performance on both kits. Pretty clever idea of Mike and John’s, actually. It certainly shows how good the samples “play” and sound, as well as how playable the Roland V-Drum kit is. dD: Okay, so you’re a Roland endorser but also have your name on a VST product. Do you envisage that there will soon be a convergence that allows you to play your own samples on a Roland kit and is this a direction you would like to see happening?
PE: “Convergence” is a good word as well as a good thing. With everything in music, one style or song or sound can influence the next musical step ... Joe Zawinul, master musician and synthesist, pioneered the acoustic playing of electronic sounds, i.e., his music always sounded organic because he heard his music that way. INTENTION has a lot to do with any musical venture, whether on an acoustic or electronic instrument. The qualities of phrasing, rhythmic placement (consistency, accuracy, swing, funkiness, etc.) come through no matter the instrument. Archimedes said “Give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum on which to place it, and I shall move the world”. Give me a sound that’s good enough, and I can move the world, too. dD: As someone who clearly trained with acoustic drums and understands them intimately, do you see electronic percussion
ddnov2012_Layout 1 9/10/12 7:03 AM Page 35
The art and craft of music includes the passing
along of information to next generation ...
and otherwise. This is the price of technology. But thereâ€™s nothing sweeter than the sound of an acoustic guitar being played in a meadow, or congas and bongos being played on a summer day, or an acoustic jazz group swinging and burning in a jazz club ... not to mention the sound of a symphony orchestra in its full glory. Electronic instruments are tools, and any tool in the hands of a master can yield art, just as a mechanical tool in the hands of a fool can result in a complete mess.
ever replacing acoustic drums or do you see the two co-existing in the future? PE: Robots will not replace flesh and blood humanity, and machines or sample libraries will not replace acoustic instruments â€” completely. There IS a displacement in the labour force - both musical
Now Shipping ...
Aesthetics aside, the electronic drum set allows us at the Thornton School of Music at the University of Southern California to teach a classroom of drummers at one time versus one-at-a-time instruction. The drum lab class has become one of the more popular classes at the university, for music major and non-music students alike! I like that, for a student needing two hours of college credit, beginning drumming beats a course in Medieval German Literature, at least when it comes down to fun. And thatâ€™s what drumming should be, ultimately: fun. I have fun with my acoustic AND electronic drums, and thatâ€™s part of what life is all about.
with Kurzweil Sounds and Power Dot technology!
The Ultimate all-in-one drum controller now features an on-board Kurzweil percussion sound engine and Aquarian powerdot technology which increases durablity and sensitivity!
Scan for more info
Looking for beautiful, natural sounding drum sets? How about highly stylized drum sets and everything in between? Look no further... the trapKAT 5KS has over 256 drum & percussion sounds including incredible orchestral, ethnic, tuned percussion and over 1000 melodic sounds to give `V\HJVTWSL[LZV\UKSPIYHY`@V\JHUL]LU\ZL[OLPU[LYUHSZV\UKZ[VWSH`IHJR40+0Ă„SLZ
!LTERNATE -ODE )NC &IRST !VE #HICOPEE -! Â‚ WWWALTERNATEMODECOM
ddnov2012_Layout 1 7/10/12 10:22 AM Page 36
Electronic drums are at the centre of a PhD by Australian drummer Adam Manning, who is attempting to understand what sonic possibilities and performance opportunities are available when using the instrument.
CURRENTLY, I’M ENROLLED in a PhD through the University of Tasmania, Australia. This is a practitioner-based course, with an emphasis on doing (performance). This is a unique style of course, which highlights the university’s commitment to digital instruments. Interestingly, before enrolling in the course, acoustic instruments were often my weapons of choice. But, after two years of research, I’ve packed my acoustic kit away, and haven’t used it for a year. Throughout the beginnings of my career, acoustic instruments have provided me several professional performance opportunities, many of which have been illustrated through my performances on television, hundreds of gigs, concerts, shows, participation in world tours, and varying roles as an educator in schools and at universities throughout Australia. However, my reasons for studying digital instruments are quite simple: to expand on my own digital music knowledge as I believe digital
instruments will perform a key part of the musical landscape in the future, but, most notably, I believe the potential of e-drums has not yet been articulated.
I first started utilising e-drums around 2010, with one of Queensland’s top function bands, Supercity. Prior to this, my only real experience with e-drums was through triggering my bass drum at rock gigs.
Interestingly, when comparing the guitar’s achievement, most notably in rock music, the performance application of e-drums, regardless of style, seems far less convincing, as most professional drummers still use acoustic drums in performance. Although some drummers use combinational set-ups of acoustic and digital instruments, it’s still quite rare to see a complete set of e-drums on a large stage. Their absence is possibly due to many reasons, but most notably
ddnov2012_Layout 1 9/10/12 7:03 AM Page 37
because of modular drum sounds and the lack of dedicated amplifiers for the e-drummer.
The module on a standard e-drum is responsible for sending sounds to the amp. According to most professionals, e-drums don’t produce the same tonal quality of acoustic sample programs like BFD2 or an acoustic instrument.
Not surprising then, when I connected my e-drums to BFD2, it produced one of the most positive experiences to date – a quality tone similar to that of the acoustic kit. This, in combination with my Roland KC880 amp, produced a tonal depth which would easily compare to my acoustic kit. Interestingly, because of the reliance on a computer, other possibilities like recording also became easier. Modern recording techniques summarily utilise edrums as a MIDI controller and connect to an acoustic drum program. I discovered the power of this concept when recording Danny Widicome’s album “Find Somebody” in mid-2011. This was my first attempt at performing/recording and engineering. The album was released through ABC/Universal Music, again highlighting the power of e-drums in combination with BFD2.
However, in the past, the biggest limitation when using e-drums with BFD2 live was the issue of latency (the delay between gesture and sound). By
developing and refining the interconnectivity of each device, (e-drums, Handsonic, controllers, interface and computer), latency is no longer an issue. Controversially, one of the world’s largest e-drum manufacturers informed me that latency is unavoidable with such a setup. However, in conjunction with the new application and interconnectivity, I’ve been researching and developing stick/finger gestures that allow the simultaneous performance on the Roland TD-9 and the Handsonic. These new gestural activities, in combination with the sonic enhancements, are now forming and shaping my current performance practices. These performance practices have also allowed for the integration of a DJ controller, giving rise to the most exciting development to date, the notion of a “DJ Drummer”. This concept has emerged through the gestural investigation of the research into simultaneous performance of two instruments. Currently, I’ve developed a one-stick technique for the right hand (e-drums) and a left-hand finger technique that performs the role of a percussionist and/or a DJ. The result of this concept is viewable on my YouTube Channel. This set-up is also extremely versatile as I’m currently completing a meditation and a dance album.