Engineer/drummer Ryan John’s basic approach and drummer Ryan Krieger’s somewhat involved rig illustrate two configurations at opposite ends of the cyborg kit spectrum. Each setup is effective at achieving its respective objectives.
John is working as FOH engineer on tour with the band Escape The Fate, who is promoting a recent release. The band’s aim for adding electronics to the drum set was to replicate the sound of their studio album live. John worked with the drum tech and the drummer to set up the acoustic kit with seven Ddrum triggers and an Alesis DM10 drum module. By connecting the DM10 to a laptop via USB, he was able to load up particular drum sounds from the album and then simply drag and drop the desired samples onto the appropriate triggers.
Most acoustic drum sets become a crazy confluence of concussive madness during an especially bombastic performance. To put a leash on possible issues of sympathetic vibrations stimulating false triggering, the drum tech put half of a Moongel on either side of each trigger. While this deadened the drum a bit, it helped control unwanted triggering. To balance the acoustic sound of the drums, the tech applied a tiny piece of Moongel on the head at each lug, which John says ended up sounding great. He blends the samples in with the miked drums to enhance the sound and emphasize the attack, but he finds in this situation that the snare sounds better leaning more heavily on the miked acoustic sound in the mix.
With more elaborate goals in mind than simple sound replacement and sample blending, drummer Ryan Krieger wanted to be able to contribute some complex dimensions to the music of his funky electronica band, Blusirkut, by controlling sonic enhancements, sequences, loops, and effects directly from his hybrid rig.
To achieve these ends he set up a Roland SPD-S sampling pad as the hub of his system and added Ddrum triggers to his snare and kick drum, plugging them directly into the trigger inputs on the unit. He configured the SPD-S to maximize its functions both as a playable sound module and trigger port as well as a MIDI controller for Ableton Live. Dedicating a laptop to running the program, he uses a Firewire audio interface to bridge the communications between the SPD-S and the software as well as to send the overall mix out to the front-of-house sound system and for monitoring what’s going on through his setup.
Krieger sometimes uses the second audio input on the interface for a dynamic microphone for capturing his kit in real time so that he can run the sound through effects in Ableton, such as distortion, delay, reverb, and vocoder. To easily manipulate effects parameters in the software as he’s playing, he employs an auxiliary USB MIDI controller: an M-Audio Evolution UC33e. There are other controllers out there that could serve this purpose as well, in particular the Akai APC-40, which was designed specifically to work with Ableton Live.
Additional equipment includes an external hard drive (7200RPM 2.5" portable Firewire) that stores his samples. Using the external drive helps the samples load faster to the computer while freeing up the host hard drive to attend to actual system tasks (operating system, etc.). He also incorporates a MIDI interface in order to send MIDI time code to the keyboard player so that their setups are in sync with each other and their choreographed sonic arrangements can be improvised against without everything falling apart. A Boss FS-6 A-B pedal allows him to toggle through patches hands free, and a homemade kill switch gives him the freedom to cut off the triggers and bring them in as he needs on the fly rather than toggling through menus on the SPD-S (Fig 1). This is handy for, say, bringing in a TR808 kick drum sample during a chorus, dropping it out during a verse, and bringing it back in again when the tune shifts.
With such a varied setup, laying out the creative logistics takes some careful planning. Depending on the tune, one could choose to use the onboard samples on the SPD-S, sample one’s own sounds and loops on the multipad in real time, or load up original samples via Compact Flash card. One could also use the multipad as a controller to trigger sounds, loops, and sequences in Ableton Live by assigning MIDI commands to certain pads to send MIDI messages to the software. There is capability to enhance the acoustic sound of the snare drum, for instance, by firing off a sample via the external trigger on the snare to change up the sound between songs or even within different sections of a particular arrangement. Another level of control is that effects can be inserted in Ableton and worked in real time via the outboard USB controller or assignments to one or more of the SPD-S’ pads. As you can see, the possibilities are vast.