Saturday, August 11, 2018

Electronic drums then and now

 I am a middle aged musician, so I came of age in the music scene of the 80s. It was, admittedly, a strange time of shoulder pads, MTV, and lots and lots of hair gel! It was also a time of electronic drums. In fact, Simmons ( along with a few others ) had a convincing argument that acoustic drums were going the way of the dodo. It certainly seemed like it with musicians like Bill Bruford embracing this new instrument.

Or Terry Bozzio using it in a somewhat more commercial setting.....

Fast forward to today. Most drummers have all but abandoned electronic drums ( except to enhance acoustic drum sets ). Electronic kits are mainly used for silent practice and a small amount of dance music type situations......

So, what happened?  

If I may relay a recent experience, I might have a partial answer.

I went to a local fair in a park near where I live.. There were midway rides, games of chance, food that's terrible for you, you get the idea. Anyway. I heard some music coming from a tent in the distance. It was a selection of classic Rock and since it was obvious it wasn't the original vocals, I thought it might be some sort of karaoke contest. As I got closer, I realized i was hearing live guitar and bass but because the drums sounded so processed and distant I assumed they were playing along to a drum machine. Nope! There was a live drummer, and a decent one to boot. But he was playing an electronic kit so it had that weird combination of slick sounds but turned way down in the mix. I was trying to figure out why everything sounded so cold and sterile, and it wasn't just the studio-esque drum sounds. Then I finally realized that acoustic drums are omni-directional. The sound from them radiates out everywhere! In fact, I suspect this is the reason they were electronic drums in the first place. I get that electronic drums can go directly into the soundboard so they're easy to work with. The problem for the drummer is there's nothing coming back while one is playing. ( When i used to play Simmons drums on gigs, I had to have my monitor CRANKED, whereas with acoustic drums, I rarely need to hear any, other than what's coming off them naturally. ) The problem for the audience, is that it's boring!!!! Whether it's the likes of Mark Guiliana gently caressing at a low volume, or John Bonham slamming, the relationship between stick height and loud/soft is very exciting. Electronic drums tend to neuter that relationship, and it's a drag! Plus, electronic drums sound very cheesy when they're turned way down. My advice to people that are worried about the volume of a drummer would be to hire one that's dynamically sensitive.

Ha! I guess I just posted another rant! Anyway, until next time and acoustic drums rule! 

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