Wednesday, December 24, 2014

An Internet thing I like

OK, this is actually useful: I like this new YouTube thing of isolating drum tracks from famous pop/rock recordings. Recording can be a horrible exercise in self-scrutiny, and is often a question of how much inaccuracy you can stand to let remain on the track vs. the amount of time/budget you have available to you. It's a little less that way now that, with sophisticated editing technology, much more can be fixed in the mix. But these videos give you a very clear picture of the tolerances for executing a classic, great drum track.

They also help me be clear on what I really like and don't like about some famous performances— in general I don't approaching music like a critic, but playing pop music is a very craft-intensive thing, you have to approach doing it more like a composer or designer, and know critically what works and doesn't work for you. For understanding what's being played, the videos are, for me, better than seeing a written transcription. I've never been a huge Neil Peart follower, but listening to his isolated drum track from Tom Sawyer, I now understand that I like the way he handles the tom toms, but am not real excited about the way he plays time— you feel there's a total lack of R&B exposure with him:

Dave Grohl is another one who is that way, though he's coming from a different place. Rock needs R&B as a direct influence, or it just becomes a march, played loud. Smells Like Teen Spirit is a great song, but this is not groove music:

Compare those performances with John Bonham on Ramble On— here a switch has gone off, and we're actually grooving:

More after the break:

Even Black Sabbath, which for a long time epitomized R&B-free Heavy Metal— Bill Ward on Sweet Leaf, though not as polished as Bonham, still grooves:

Keith Moon obviously gets much of his edge from very slightly rushing his fills— the band knows how to play with him, and does not follow him, which adds to the music a lot of little moments of tension and release. Moon plays more unisons between the snare drum and bass drum than most people, which gives his playing a lot of impact. Several phrase ending and stops are rather fluffed, but you don't hear that on the finished recording.

For really stark contrast, let's listen to a “Nu Metal” band, Slipknot. The performance here is heavily triggered, quantized, maybe partially programmed; it's been processed to death, anyway. It's kind of a sad piece of work; it would be hard for me to take much pride in this as a player.

UPDATE: Oops, as nuebeats points out in the comments, that was created with a piece of software called EZDrummer, which evidently sucks, or was really ineptly used here. My mistake— I should have actually read the video's description, and I should not have been so ready to believe Slipknot would suck that hard. The real track doesn't sound that horrible— though it has certainly been heavily edited and corrected in Pro Tools, as all pop music is is now. It's hard to make a fair comparison of this track with the other performances here, because the others have not been processed the way this one has. The others are records of one guy playing the song through from beginning to end, exactly as it came out of is hands, and the following one is, well, who-knows-what:

Finally, let's listen to Ringo Starr on Something, from The Beatles' Abbey Road. The whole opening section is quite impressive. It's really, really hard not to psych yourself out playing this tempo, with this much space:


Anonymous said...

Actually, it says in the video description, that the Slipknot track was programmed in EZdrummer!

Steve White said...

This is a great post. As a teacher with numerous spotty herberts who worship the likes of Joey Jordison et al, I struggle on a daily basis with getting across to them that the drums are more than the speed of the double pedal. Just to get them to even notice the concept of groove within a natural performance is something I find quite depressing actually. They don't even notice that the performances are processed and burnt onto the grid in protools. If I play them some early Phil Gould or prude, they'll entertain it in the moment, but never follow it up or even consider that it has any bearing on what they do themselves. AARGH!

Steve White said...

'Purdie', not 'Prude' lol.

Todd Bishop said...

Thanks for the heads up, NB-- updated the post for that.

Steve-- I feel your pain-- there but for the grace of God go I-- I fortunately don't see too many of those guys. One of these days I'll sit down and try to figure out WTF is up with Metal. I get that the actual sound of the music is stimulating, somehow, but it's so utterly devoid of substance, I don't understand how people can continue listening to it year after year.

R Valentine said...

I had a thought a few weeks ago that, in the hands of almost any other drummer, "Tom Sawyer" would sound funky merely by virtue of where the notes are. "Lack of R&B exposure" would seem to be the missing piece to my puzzle.

Juan said...

great post. Thanks a lot.
I believe we should think processed music in the context of processed culture and processed art, velocity, mass media, ease to grasp and digest, high impact in low time with poor nutrients, sugar rush of a time where quick and dumb sells, and as this tendency accelerates we lose more and more human dimensions on the way.
The violent explosion of raw energy in metal appeals to a true and necessary human pulsion. The problem is the progressive resignation to further modulate that pulsion... I think