Wednesday, March 09, 2011

1997 BBC interview: Tony Oxley

I could not locate my Tony Oxley Modern Drummer interview, so instead here is a BBC interview with him, in which he discusses his unique set up. There seem to be quite a few of these orphaned things floating around the internet- it seems about time to go spelunking into the usenet archives to see what I can pull up for you. Read the interview at the source page to hear the sounds played during it:  
AS begins by saying that he asked Tony for a quick tour of his kit:
TO: The small hi-hats; I'm not into an obsession with small things, as you see...
AS: You've got the largest cowbell in the world!
TO: Right! ... some of the cymbals are quite large. But one of the things with drummers that perhaps takes a while for them to get to the point is that, when you have even in the jazz kit, ride cymbals, crash cymbals and a hi-hat, if those sounds that they produce are mainly in the middle of the spectrum they're not going to mean much because they're all more or less on the same vibratory level. So of course, with a hi-hat like that [SOUND], no matter what I actually play on the rest of the kit that will penetrate

AS: so it's got an incisive... it's hard to describe...
TO: Cutting, it cuts through; no matter what you're doing it will cut through. So I think a lot of drummers should think about that because when they're playing time and they're shoving this on the wherever, usually two and four, right? it really needs to have a different sound and the cymbal they're playing on in order to mean anything. And you can't blame the engineer can you, you know, if you listen to something afterwards, 'Well I ...'; maybe you should think about that before you get to the studio or before you start to record, think about it in terms of music rather than reproduction.
AS: And so that explains in a sense why the other cymbals that you've got here are all very different in diameter, I mean they're not the usual kind of 12", 10" ...
TO: ... and sound too! Very different in sound. I don't see the point of carrying around six cymbals if they all sound the same. But then again, that's my point of view; I can't speak for other people. Perhaps there's a concept that might work with horizontal music as opposed to vertical music where you might want a texture of three cymbals that are pretty much similar sounding. That might be the priority of the music - minimalist music for instance seems to favour that kind of thing - but for the music I enjoy and am interested in and develop I really like to carry sounds that are complimentary but different.
AS: One other aspect of the kit is lots of the kinds of the things that you used to see on those marvellous photographs of vintage drums kits with loads of skulls and bells and things hanging ...
TO: ...the theatre kit, yeah
AS: And you seem to have got a kind of minimal version of that
TO: I started out with a kit like that. I must confess that in 1954 there was a kit available from a theatre drummer that had snake-hoop cymbals, a 28" bass drum and skulls, which are these things, right [hits item], which they used to use to imitate horses running along, I dunno, coconuts or something. And this theatre kit also had a table in front of it where you'd put all your brushes and sticks. And if you had a triangle you'd have a metal frame
AS: And they usually had a rattle as well...
TO: Right; rattles and what have you, you know, and they were there to produce the sounds of the theatre while the performance was going on. Well again, I found that fascinating and it had a 'lo-hat', not a hi-hat
AS: A sock cymbal
TO: Well, yes, but it's only about 9" off the floor - it was really for the foot, not to be played by the hand - I mean it's extended itself now where you can use it with your hands but this one had a very flimsy, very very poorly constructed lo-hat. Well, I found this fascinating. And if you go back a little bit further to trad or dixieland or what have you, there's elements of that in that music too.
AS: But those old theatre kits were often played standing up, weren't they?
TO: Also, also, which I'm not averse to.
AS: Well, I've been watching you during the session!
TO: If I can't reach something and I have to stand to do it, I'm quite prepared to do it! So basically, it's a matter of sound for me. And this is the hi-hat, right, so you know how it is when it's hit [SOUND], clipped...[SOUNDS] Well, two cymbals on the hi-hat, right, [SOUNDS]. Next one (cymbal) is [SOUNDS]. Now you can hear underneath it a very low texture [SOUNDS]. That's not coming from the cymbal, that's coming from this drum [SOUNDS]: the cymbal is placed exactly to stimulate, to 10%, the drum. [SOUNDS]. Can you hear that? Of course, you need ears for this! But that is the drum it's stimulating. [SOUNDS]. That has almost a double gliss, it goes down and up. Next cymbal [SOUNDS]: this is a rather thick cymbal and of course you can hear that it has very much of it's own life. [SOUNDS] That's another one, rather smaller. Next to this is a cymbal they call 'rude' [SOUNDS]. Sounds pretty normal doesn't it (laughter)? The top cymbal as it's called [SOUNDS]. And it depends what you hit it with [SOUNDS].
AS: This has the conventional rivets that I remember from the drum kits of my childhood.
TO: Well, it helps it sustain, that's all it's for. If you know where to put them (laughter). If you put them in the wrong place it'll kill it. Little chinese thing here [SOUNDS]. This is hanging quite near this - well this has provoked many descriptions but shall we suffice to say a rather large cowbell. These can be played simultaneously [SOUNDS]. And the cowbell itself of course [SOUNDS]. I have a very nice one here which is a bit shall we say in the direction of a bell, in a way, from a kind of Byzantine area, you know [SOUNDS]. Got a kind of dry sound, doesn't go on too long [sounds again]. But if you use this with the others [SOUNDS]. And of course, typical of my kit, many things are overlapping so if I hit one thing it will stimulate some things around it or even actually catch like this [SOUNDS]. I don't have to; it depends how you use it. And our wonderful Swiss, small, recognisable, standard, genuine cowbell [SOUNDS]. Actually came off a cow. So that, at the moment, is the range of the kit [SOUNDS]. And you can hear the ongoing texture, which I find quite beautiful.

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