Outfitting your acoustic drum kit with electronic capabilities opens the door to a whole new realm of possibilities. The beauty of embracing the hybrid ethos is that you’re only as limited as your imagination – and how keen you are on delving deeper into the technical side of things. You’ll still have your trusty acoustic steed to fall back on, but now you’ll have the power to go where no acoustic kit has gone before. Play a bass line? Sure. Sound like the different kits you played on a record? Absolutely. Play against and layer loops? Done. Add weird sound effects or make your kit sound like a trip down the Zambezi? Game on.
However, with great power comes great responsibility. You’ll need to do your homework to ensure there’s no gaff, technical or otherwise, in the midst of your performance. While you might not have much more to think about with an acoustic kit than who’s starting the song, the tempo, and when the changes happen, with a hybrid setup you’re going to have to plan where and how your enhancements will appear during the set.
Going cyborg needn’t be elaborate, but it can also be as convoluted as you’re willing to get. It depends on what you’re going for, how much you want to spend, and how much gear you’re game to haul around and set up. Think about how flexible you want to be. Do you want the simplicity of a plug-and-play self-contained unit? Or do you envision ultimate control and future expansion? Let’s take a look at several approaches available to the drummer who is hell bent on exploring the hybrid frontier.Selecting
In order to get a broader perspective on current trends in melding an acoustic kit to the binary hive via the arcane but entrenched protocol of MIDI, I spoke with front-of-house engineer/drummer Ryan John, Los Angeles-based drummer Ryan Krieger, and electronic musicians Ata Ebtekar and Timo Preece about their varied experiences. From the range of staggering hybrid kit permutations, several basic configurations emerged: namely the addition of triggers and/or pads in conjunction with a hardware module, and incorporating an all-in-one pad controller, such as the Roland Octopad or SPD-S sample pad, the Yamaha DTX-Multi12, or the Synesthesia Mandala, to name a few, either as a self-contained hardware unit and/or used in conjunction with software.
For those who are tactile and prefer a simple hardware setup, a drum module with either triggers or electronic pads, or a combo of both, offers a relatively straightforward approach to expanding the sound palette. A percussion multipad as a standalone sidecar to a standard kit is also a relatively uncomplicated path. Roland’s SPD-S sample pad takes that approach even further with the added advantage of being able to sample your own stuff, either in real time or by loading pre-edited loops and samples into the box via a Compact Flash card. It is possible to also load your own samples onto the Yamaha DTX-Multi12 via a flash drive. Incorporating a couple of triggers or individual pads to the trigger inputs of a multipad treads a little deeper into cyborg territory.
The ultimate flexibility comes from introducing to the mix a computer loaded with sequencing/looping software and sound libraries and using a controller to interface with that software via MIDI commands. The controller can be a multipad, a drum module or trigger-to-MIDI interface with pads or triggers, a dedicated USB drum pad such as Synesthesia’s Mandala, or a straight-up USB MIDI controller such as the Alesis Control Pad or non-stick options from M-Audio or Akai for instance. A virtually endless array of options will be at your disposal with such a rig. Of course, you can combine any of the above options for the ultimate Frankenstein, but let’s not get totally carried away at this point.
Roland SPD-S functions both as MIDI controller and percussion pad, sending MIDI messages to Ableton Live while also utilizing stock sounds and original samples in the SPD-S, either set off by one of the pads or the external drum triggers.
The two inputs to the audio interface include the SPD-S and a Shure SM57 for live sampling of his kit to be processed in Ableton. The effects plug-in parameters are conveniently controlled with his auxiliary USB MIDI controller, which also controls channel mutes and volume. These sources get mixed in with the patches being accessed in the software and sent to outputs 1 and 2 on the audio interface to feed the P.A. and his monitoring setup. (Low latency is essential to jive with the live performance.)
Krieger made templates of the SPD-S to map out pad assignments for particular tunes, which facilitates ease of creating and recalling patches for live work. Based on the limit of 128 MIDI notes, this setup allows for 20 separate patches.