Thursday, October 29, 2015

Man Vs. Machine: Ever Closer

Musicians have argued for years whether accurate metre as played by a drum machine or with a click track could swing. I've always felt that a good machine-generated rhythm was pretty cool; I've programmed some rather funky stuff on a drum machine -- stuff that actually cooked. And what about sampled beats? They seem to be doing a good job in a lot of situations. Well, somebody finally decided to look into it, and it turns out people do prefer rhythms that breathe … human rhythms.

Here’s the story.

Researchers played music for groups of subjects and then asked them how much they ‘liked’ the rhythm. In one group, the drum part was played by a drummer; in another test group, the same rhythm was played by a drum machine. Although subjects could not quantify their answers, they somewhat preferred the 'real' drummer.

A lot of people will say, "Of course, what did you expect?" Thing is, the subjects liked the drum machine just fine, and their preference for ‘real’ drums was not that dramatic.

Another aspect of the study was to allow the music to 'breathe'. The researchers re-programmed their drum machine to throw in subtle time variations. The subjects weren't swayed much by this wrinkle, still preferring the live stuff. But they also preferred the breathing drum machine to the non-breathing variety.

So can we close the book on the man versus machine argument? Definitely not. There are music styles that can only be played by real musicians, and there are styles that really are best handled by a drum machine.

Now I will always opt for a real drummer, but I see no problem with a mechanized substitute if it makes sense. I'm pretty sure I'd not want to see a jazz band with a drum machine, but in other situations a machine might be just the thing. I guess as long as we do right by the music and the audience, it doesn’t matter what the solution is, just as long as it works.

For a summary of the experiment, visit:

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

"Stop Screwing Around"

Good advice at any time … and it's also the slogan of "pinchClips", a new gadget for keeping your cymbals in place.

It's surprising how often complicated problems have simple solutions. Take the ubiquitous cymbal stand wing nut. They're economical, very effective, and have been around since day one. But wing nuts have a dark side. Aside from always rolling under the bass drum when dropped, they are slow and finicky to work with. The commercial solutions that I've seen thus far have all been expensive and rather complicated. I think the pinchClip is going to change all that, and for about the same price as a wing nut.

Actually I'd been thinking about such a device myself, something in the way of a binder clip that fits on a cymbal stand. Well that's sort of what the pinchClip is, but it’s even simpler -- and very elegant. It looks a bit like a hair clip and fits over the threaded rod of a cymbal stand with a quick squeeze and release.

Here's how it works:

1. Remove wing nut
2. Squeeze pinchClip and put it on the stand
(Optional: Retrieve wing nut from under bass drum.)

And that’s it.

I gave the clips a pretty good workout and they stayed put (although I can’t vouch for how they’d stand up under very heavy playing). But that's not the real issue. With the pinchClips, tear-down of my cymbals now takes seconds, not minutes. (I actually timed it: 8 seconds.)

I only see two potential issues. If you like to crank down wing nuts as tight as possible, the pinchClip won't do that -- but that’s a good thing. Also, they can make a tiny clicking sound under some conditions. Not a real problem most of the time, but it might be an issue in, for example, a recording studio. I can't attest for how they'll behave under bezerk bashing and that's all I'll say about that.

I've switched over both my teaching and gigging sets to pinchClips because I've been wanting this sort of solution for a very long time. I’m also tired of searching for wing nuts in dark rooms.