Gear Masterclass: HandSonic Highlights


We all know that percussion instruments are defined as those that create their sound from striking, scraping, or shaking. The striking aspect is well represented in the world of electronic percussion, but controllers that allow scraping and shaking are much less common. The ribbon controllers on the HPD are one of its most unique features — the D-Beam is the other.

It’s a pretty obvious choice to lay guiro or cuica sounds under the ribbon controllers, but Dutz has had success assigning other sounds to the ribbons. He suggests, “Mark trees, wind chimes, turntables, even broken glass.” He likes to play “udus, Mark trees, and gongs with the D-Beam. But, be careful,” he says, “I’ve triggered them accidentally.”

Snider suggests that you spend some time getting to know the power of these unique devices. “To really understand the potential of the ribbon controllers it’s a good idea to explore all the different types of trigger parameters that are possible with those controllers,” he explains. “The preset kits illustrate the obvious, but there are countless possibilities. It’s a good idea to experiment with different sounds and different ribbon controller functions.”

He’s been equally experimental with the D-Beam as well, controlling “all types of sounds, sometimes a ’one-shot’ triggering, or going back and forth, or up and down, to play a sound.” He has also used the D-Beam “as a controller to influence pitch, cut-off frequency, and more.” Snider also offers an important caveat for live performance. “In live situations, drastic light changes will influence the performance of the D-Beam,” he laughs, “but hey, it’s real — like humidity affecting calfskin heads.” He shares a recent D-Beam horror story. “I did a sound check for a ’drummer day’ type of event. I was playing electronic drums along with my HPD-15/SPD-S set up. I told the engineer and lighting guy. ’When I play the HPD, don’t do anything with the lights.’ Well, I guess he forgot. Just as I was nearing the end of a tune where I was about to start swiping sixteenth-note horn hits in rhythm on the D-Beam, a red spotlight zooms in on me, and I was literally fanning air.”

Snyder also likes to think outside of the box. “I often set the left ribbon controller to send MIDI volume information,” he says. “Since I’m right handed, I can play a part with my right hand, and control the volume of the HandSonic with the ribbon controller. Both ribbon controllers are very sensitive, thereby allowing very precise changes in volume, or for that matter, any other assignable MIDI controller.” He too has had a lot of fun with the D-Beam. “Controlling pitch bend on the factory Talking Drum patch never ceases to get a rise out of anyone listening. That’s one of the ’money’ patches for me. I don’t think I’ve ever altered the factory setting on that patch.”

In addition to creating patches from scratch, some of Snyder’s other “money” patches are ones that came direct from the factory. “Single handedly, the Tabla patch has paid for the HPD-15 many times over. The Bongo (P0102), Pandeiro (P0113), and Trash Beat (P0703) are also personal favorites. You can do fun, very expressive things with the muting capability of some of the sounds assigned in the first two patches.” He admits that, “Creating the right sound is something I do on a regular basis. Because the playing work I do is mainly music I see, hear, and record only one time, I tend not to keep the sounds I’ve created for a tune or project. To create that perfect sound, I let my imagination run wild. Extreme pitch shifting is one of the easiest and most effective editing tools in the HandSonic.”

Dutz prefers to use the HandSonic for “udu, tabla, and surdo. These instruments are so difficult to get a live sound on; and some of the larger drums won’t fit in the small stages of live spaces.”

The roll button, while not a MIDI controller, can still be used to control sounds. Snyder offers an interesting “roll button” experience in the studio. “I ran across this situation the other day while overdubbing a big low kick drum sound on an existing acoustic drum track. The kick drum I was overdubbing, although big and fat, had way too much attack. The track I was playing to had kind of a techno element flavor, so I wanted to occasionally use the roll function to play a short lead-in to the kick drum. I needed to soften the attack. To do this, I did two things: First, I began to lower the Color editing parameter into negative settings. This kind of darkens the sound. Secondly, I had the recording engineer roll off some of the high frequencies of the sounds, giving me the sound I needed. A sound can also be EQ’d inside the HandSonic, but having the engineer do it was a little bit faster.”

Snider offers another hint for using the roll button, “Remember that each kit has its own roll speed setting, so there are lots of possibilities.” He clarifies that the roll can be “set to rhythmic intervals, of course, but then the kit tempo will determine that speed; or if the sequencer is running, then the sequencer’s tempo will have priority.”

Even though the HPD has three knobs that can be used to make real-time changes to nine different musical parameters, Snider tends to use them “primarily for quick editing, as I use the D-Beam, Ribbon Controllers, FD-8 and pressure for control functions. I use the FD-8 Hi-Hat controller, which functions as a trigger and/or controller at the same time.” Snyder uses the expression pedal “mainly for playing sounds and gradually bringing in effects like reverb or chorusing.”

The Future

So, where is the future of the HPD-15 headed? Dutz would like to see a few new features on a next generation HandSonic. “There needs to be a rapid sampling device,” he says. “One with a great built-in mike. In a live performance, you could create combinations of sounds or sample found objects and play them back at different pitches.”

Snyder would like to see even more MIDI control in a second-generation unit. He says, “The ability to assign and utilize more of the available MIDI controllers would be a big step forward for me. This type of flexibility is needed to control the many different types of MIDI information that is needed for the ever increasing meld of music and multimedia performance.” Snider agrees, “There’s a very strong future for electronic hand percussion, and the potential it offers is not only in musical performance, personal entertainment, and creation, but in multimedia applications as well. Now that we have a really cool Video Synth that has super quick response time, I’m looking forward to controlling that with the HPD. One of our former R&D engineers programmed her HPD to control the Honda Robot — Aibo.” Now that’s cool!


Handsonic Anatomy

1. Ribbon Controller
2. LED
3. Rubber Switch
4. LED
5. J R-Knob
6. 20M/M Rotary POT
7. 20M/M Rotary POT
8. LED
9. Rubber Switch
10. Diode
11. LED
12. LCD
13. Panel
14. D R-Knob
15. Rotary Encoder
16. Ring
17. LED
18. Rubber Switch
19. LED Lens
20. Pad
21. Button
22. Hook
23. DC Jack
24. MIDI Connector
25. Phone Jack
26. Panel
27. Phone Jack
28. Ribbon Controller


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