Sevens over fives

Andrew Booker 2017-03-10 00:35:00

Last year, while wondering how I might possibly intensify my vanishingly faint mark on the global drumming community, I reckoned I could at least try what the rest of the musical world seems to do these days, and make a video. Of course, we've had Improvizone videos on Vimeo for ages courtesy of Os and his full-length documenting of our live recordings, but I was feeling the need to capture just my drumming. So between May and June I tracked, retracked, edited together, watched repeatedly, re-shot bits, and re-edited my first video. Then watched it a bit more. And then binned it.

The trouble was, I couldn't settle on what I wanted to say. I cannot believe my expertise is anything to show off, but I thought at least the concept of flam triplets going backwards and forwards round the kit, inserting a beat every time they had to change direction, was worth a look. Plus I put forward some vague notion about how I practise to sequencers to make long repetitious periods of banging out the same pattern not so dull. Trouble was, it was a lie, I don't do that. I did it for the first time for this video, and have barely done it since. Nope, I just practice to a metronome, and I don't get bored.

Last November I found myself digging out my Improvizone-era electronic drums and using them live in a couple of lower-decibel-than-of-late Tim Bowness shows (with, as always, Improvizone regular Mike Bearpark on guitar). We were sharing the stage with St Petersburg prodigies iamthemorning, and I ended up doing the whole of Tim's set on the second night with their terrific Cambridge-domiciled drummer, Evan Carson, with his relatively normal acoustic setup. OK, he did have a bodhran, which is not at all normal, at least not in prog rock. Everyone enjoyed the double-drums. Me, Evan, Tim, the band, audience, reviewers... everyone. So I made a mental note of the way the acoustic and electronic drums paired up really well, and went home.

Then late last year I was practising fives and sevens together, meaning a pattern in seven on the hands, over a pattern in five on the feet. I was happy to find that, so long as I took my standard flam pattern in seven, and just some rudimentary miss-a-beat alternating foot pattern in 5, I could do it. Also, I took my standard flam pattern in five, and found that I could play a foot part in seven underneath it. One evening, I was religiously and hypnotically cycling through the seven/five motions when BING! it struck me. I could record one on top of the other! I could use electronic drums for one and acoustic for the other! I could video of me playing both parts! It would be interesting and cool!!

Soon the world would be able to discover that I practise daft timings. However, I do like to think of myself as more of a musician than just a rock drummer (I did once record a solo CD as evidence), and would be attempting to make something musical out of my daft practice patterns. Plus, I was scheming on the matter of how to show me playing both parts together without flipping between edits the whole time, and I reckoned if I set the drums up side-by-side, kept the camera in a fixed position, recorded one part and then the other, I could splice together each half of the frame from me playing each kit.

I've watched a lot of Thomas Lang drumming videos, and the leaf I wanted to take out of his book with my own video was to aim to get the entire performance in a single take, and in a single shot to prove it. No compiling best-ofs from a load of different takes, which is what I normally do. I seldom manage to adhere to this discipline when I'm recording drum parts for people. Six minutes recording, three hours editing, more like.

I required a studio-computer ratio much worse than that for this video, but for once not in the drum performance. Roland SPD-S vs SPD-SX midi difficulties aside, I worked out the electronic part to play in one session, and put down some drums there and then. This was test recording. The following day I then intended to record for real. I put down quite a good electronic part in the morning, had a haircut and a shave in town, then put down a good acoustic part in the evening. Trouble is, I moved the phone mount. The performance was good (although rambling, as I listen back to it now), but I didn't even bother trying to merge the two videos. So a couple of evenings later, I recorded the whole thing in about 45 minutes. I needed three takes to get a good electronic part, then I immediately switched T-shirt and shoes for the acoustic part and used the third of four takes I recorded back to back. There is no editing whatsoever of the electronic part. The only treatment was to route the hand and foot parts to two different sounds (which with different gear I could have recorded live anyway), and to button in an extra timbre halfway through. For the acoustic part, I did a couple of cheat-treatments to bring out the splash cymbal, which didn't come out well at times. By which I mean I didn't hit it properly. In all, I was less time tarting up the audio than I had spent recording it.

The real effort was to follow. First I needed to make two videos for the audio mix, one of me playing the electronics, and one playing the acoustics. This was easy, using the standard video editing software that comes with the laptop. Then came the merge, which is a simple enough process of joining each frame of each video down a vertical line somewhere in the middle. I was several days digging up my old C++ software for processing AVIs, firstly making it all compile again on a newer machine, secondly remembering what it was all about. The actual merge coding was a doddle. It was a tiny bit more effort to get a good crossfade between the two, so that slight differences in colour blend out. I regard it as a doddle now, of course. It was in fact very time-consuming. Converting videos between three or four different formats. Trying to figure out how all my old code worked, in a language with no garbage collection. I've missed not having garbage collection. I mean it.

Anyway, all that effort was a one-off, as the follow-up video proved, by which time I'd done all the hard work and it really was much easier. The next video is a story for next time. As for this one, being my first, I showed it to my wife and son. My son (7) pointed to the instance of me playing the SPD-S pad and said, who's that? Naturally, having spotted immediately that the acoustic drummer was me, he had deduced that I could not possibly be both people. Nor was my wife convinced by the pad-player in the blue T-shirt (ELP's Tarkus, though you can hardly tell). That doesn't look anything like you, she said, later referring to the video as me and some fat bloke on the right. I can only take that as a compliment on my appearance as an acoustic kit player.

You can watch the finished product from this one here. And just to ram the point home, everything you hear is played in the video (apart from the long bass note at the end, which I added during the edit). OK then, apart from the long bass note at the end, everything you hear is played in the video. Yes.

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