Improvizone

Reversing Flames

Andrew Booker 2017-03-23 23:45:12

A few weeks ago I made my second video, and it was difficult.

Yes, yes, I hinted in my last post that making this video was easy, and in terms of all the bits that were time-consuming for my first video, it was. The hard part was the drumming, and probably for the best.

Firstly, the electronic drum part was hard to play. I am a terrible tuned percussionist, and needed countless takes to get the part right. I was quite please with myself in the first video that everything is essentially unedited. This time, not quite. Although I played the complete parts right through, correctly, so that there are no video edits, what you see is not exactly what you hear. In the electronic part, the endless takes eventually took their toll on the foot pattern. Here and there I had to loop-up of a clean section to cover up for some stray or missed beats. Luckily it's hard to tell.

When the electronic part is hard, as it natural will be for me, it's nice to get it out of the way and then relax with the acoustic part. But this acoustic part was not straightforward either. In my first video, I set up the two kits side-by-side, acoustic on the left, electronic on the right. All I had to do was step from one to the other between takes. In this video, I wanted to make a mirror image of my room. I like the freaky look you get when you flip an image next to itself. Also it would give me space and make my room look bigger. But I wanted the flip-around not to be too obvious. And for continuity with the first video, I wanted the same positioning of the kits, acoustic on the left and electronic on the right, and I wanted the acoustic kit to look more-or-less the same. That meant setting it up the other way round, so that when flipped around in the video, it would still look like I’m a right handed-player.

No way would I do this normally. However, in terms of the part I had to play, in the first half of the piece the top kit part is a completely symmetrical pattern. Left and right hands do exactly the same thing over a complete cycle. Having the drums the other way round made no difference. My hi-hat, which is really just a stack cymbal, is in the middle, so it effectively didn't move. But there was no escaping that my bass drum needed to go on my left foot. It turned out to be OK, so long as I stuck to single beats. In fact I left it set up that way for several days after shooting, for my practising, and quite enjoyed it.

There were technical problems besides the difficulty of playing the other way round. I was playing the specific tom pattern correctly in my final takes, but was horrified to discover after wrapping up that I had accidentally deleted the mic channel for the 13-inch tom, which is featured quite a bit. Luckily, since this section is a precise part, I was able to swap in a take from a previous day. The stick movements are the same, and you cannot really tell. Turns out I played it much better the previous day anyway.

Flipping the kit around also meant flipping me around. I even swept my hair in the opposite direction for the acoustic part as subtle disguise. Of course, I would say the flipped version of me looks more natural, because that’s what I see when I look in the mirror. It’s the electronic guy who looks freaky.

Because the two kits were side-by-side in my first video, I wanted the room to look exactly the same between recording the electronic and acoustic drums, so that I could splice them together with a nice cross-fade in the middle. This time, because I was shooting the same part of the room, I deliberately wanted to make the area look different, hence the opposing blue and red lighting. One other detail here is the monitor on the wall (actually a blocked-up window). I have only one of these, but with the picture flipped round it looks like I have two. On the blue side, it's showing a very slowly moving animation of red circles. On the red side it's showing blue circles. These are a simple animation I knocked up in SVG in order to practice it. For the tech-savvy, I should point out I'm not using the built-in SVG animation, which canes the CPU even if, like these, your image is barely moving. Instead I just used javascript to move the images.

Having the kits set up in the same spot in my room meant that I had to do them one at a time, leaving the camera in place. This meant that I couldn’t start to practice the acoustic part until I’d properly finished the electronic part. It also meant leaving the camera in place for over a week, so using my LG G4 phone, with its nice video quality was out. I tried my nasty old Samsung Galaxy S3, which I thought was really good, but was horrified when I eventually examined the video. Oh well. Never again. And it will be a while before I try something this hard again. My next video will the complete opposite in complexity and, in performance at least, should be the work of no more than an hour.

It's worth retrospecting on how I came up with such a hard thing to play on this video. In fact this one is a remake of the very first video I tried to make in May 2016, but gave up on. That video had been intended to show off a pattern I was working on at the time, where the hands played Swiss Army triplets backwards and forwards around the kit, adding a single extra beat when they needed to change direction at each end. It is that symmetrical acoustic kit part on the toms that I am playing in the first half of this video. It's also what gives the track its title. The Swiss Army triplet has a flam in the middle, and the triplets are played forwards around the toms and then in reverse. One time I was typing reversing flams and fat-fingered an e on the end. Reversing Flames.

In last year's version I drew out the reversing flams tom part on my whiteboard, and I played the drums to a sequencer. I intended to claim that playing along to a sequencer was my way of being able to practise repetitive patterns for long periods without getting bored, but it's not, I made that up. I just use a metronome. Having enough time to anything for long period these days is enough of a motivator. For the sequencer part, I programmed the drum pattern in a MIDI editor, assigning a note to each drum, and played it back using a monotonic synth sound. I quite liked the sound, and in fact most of last year's video is me ditching the practice part and having a good thrash along to the sequencer. So much for practising. The repeating tune you hear in this video is my attempt to remember it from last year. I didn't get it quite right and missed a few beats, but I like the feel of its new 21/8 time signature. The drum pattern is in 10/8, hence the two drift slowly out of sync. Which, if you like that kind of thing, is rather nice. Less nice, rather than delegating to a sequencer, was having to actually play it myself.

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