On stage and on TV, you’ll still see lots of drummers sitting behind their bands, and also sitting behind vast acoustic drum kits. For many of them, it’s a ‘look’ thing these days. In fact, acoustic kits are often only used by many players when touring and it’s far more likely that they’ll use electronic kits these days for rehearsals and recording. One of the primary resaons for that is simply that you can choose your sound and DI the kit straight into a mixing desk or an audio interface, without needing a drum tech and a vast array of specially-designed, and very expensive, microphones.
Anyway, here’s a little history lesson in why the electronic drum kit eventually took over!
Electronic Drum Kits sprung to prominence in the late 80’s, when technology had developed to a level that allowed samples to be triggered from pads, which ultimately led completely new ways of making music from samples and loops – a concept that WaveDrum takes to the extreme.
Simmons were amongst the first companies to pioneer the electronic drum kit concept, offering a range of synth/modern sounds to add another percussive aspect to drumming and song writing. However, these kits were costly and squarely aimed at the professional user.
Later developments and improvements in technology allowed the incorporation of sampled acoustic drum sounds, offering a serious alternative to the acoustic drum kits. But why the need for an electronic kit and what advantages do they offer?
VOLUME! Every heard or been around an acoustic kit when its being played? Well, in terms of volume, an acoustic kit generates enough volume to keep up with a 300-Watt vocal PA, 250-Watt bass rig and a 100-Watt guitar amp without the need for any additional amplification. In short, acoustic kits can be very, very loud as any neighbour will testify to if they have a drummer on the other side of the wall.
This point alone has led to an array of affordable, quality practice kits from Alesis (DM-series), Yamaha (DTX-range) and Roland (V-Drums) with the latter two companies offering more robust setups. Drummers can now practice, or learn to play, in the comfort of their own home on headphones, generating nothing more than a tappetty tap, allowing their street to continue completely unaware or unabashed.
FEEDBACK! Ever tried mic’ing up a full kit for a live gig? Not only does this require extreme skill from your sound man EQ’ing on the desk whilst trying to avoid anything from gut rumbling low end or ear ripping high end feedback, it also requires a small fortune to be spent on drum specific microphones. Roll out a top end electronic kit and simply connect it to the PA in stereo via two leads! Simples!
The racks and pads featured on electronic drum kits also occupy a much smaller space in the gig wagon and offer much quicker setup and reduced dismantling times. In addition, the cymbals on acoustic kits can complete murder the ears of your band members and electronic kits are much more controllable from a foldback or on-stage monitoring perspective.
Advocates of acoustic kits will always promote their feel and natural tone, which is an understandable point. However, recent developments from Yamaha and in particular Roland have seen huge leaps forward in these areas and even cosmetics with the groundbreaking TD30KV V-Drums V-Stage kit. In fact, the latest generation of drum kits from Roland now feature SuperNatural Technology, which brings a level of realism so far not seen on this type of instrument.
For those of you unfamiliar with what SuperNatural is, or does, the following offers a rudimentary explanation. SuperNatural is essentially a spin-off technology developed from the groundbreaking modelling that was designed for the awesome V-Piano, which at an RRP of over £5,000 gives an indication of the quality of this type of voicing. SuperNatural blends high quality sampling with behaviour modelling, and the result simply delivers incredible sonic performance combined with unbelievable realistic response and performance.
Probably the best way to describe SuperNatural technology is from the standpoint of a piano sample. Traditionally, when a piano sample is triggered, as it decays the sample is looped to save on otherwise expensive memory requirements. Similarly, samples are stacked and triggered individually according to how hard a particular key was struck. The result to the educated ear is that of ‘stepping’ through different tonal zones (granular response), as opposed to the continuous and naturally graduated response of an acoustic instrument. This is where SuperNatural comes into its element, as it deploys behaviour modelling in these regimes and puts the ‘natural’ graduated response back into the instrument. In short, a piano plays like a piano and much more importantly to drummers, this all new range of V-Drums kits play like real drums!
CREATIVITY! I number of years ago I was fortunate enough to witness Akira Jimbo demonstrating a Yamaha DTX kit, which completely blew me away and opened my eyes to a new way of making music. Drummers often get ripped from other band members, called a musicians best friend (i.e. not a musician), however this guy was something else. He was producing the sound of a full band simply from his kit, by triggering numerous samples and so on. The result was quite staggering!
This aspect of technology, in particular the ability to construct samples and loops, which can then be triggered by hitting a drum pad, offer percussionists and drummers alike a completely new avenue to explore their music making talents. Whether we like it or not, acoustic kits simply cannot deliver this level of fun or creativity.