Friday, August 20, 2010

Of Drummers and Drum Machines

Haven't Eutoxita-blogged in a bit. I've been busy, busy, busy... and I've been spending my blogging moments with Naked in Hindsight. My Eutoxita blog is very jealous. Saucer of milk... table two...

So, production-wise, the next Eutoxita record is still in pre-production, just mostly in my head. Most of my musical energy has--quite happily--been pouring into the phoenix-like continuance of Floodwatch after Charlie's sudden departure. Which leads us into today's blog.

Much has been made over the years regarding synthesizers and drum machines and their replacement of humans. In the vein of both great sci-fi (iRobot, for example) and sketchy corporate/union battles, the introduction of electronic instruments caused a bit of a stir in the music community, particularly in the semi-lucrative session world. (Check out this NPR piece by Mitch Myers - "John Henry: Drummer vs. Drum Machine". Although it's more about turntables than it is drum machines, the idea is the same).

When Charlie left, David and I had a big decision to make: we could look for another drummer and risk the mojo we had going in our working relationship, or we could take a different kind of risk altogether. We took the second route and I hit ebay for an Akai MPC2000, a late-1990's vintage sampling drum machine. The Akai is extra hip, as it has ties to the guy who invented the sampling drum machine (which some felt threatened to put drummers out of work), Roger Linn. The uber-hipness of it, though, is that it (and its newer versions) have been a mainstay in hip-hop. Just search for "MPC2000" on YouTube and you'll see what I mean.

As regular readers (yeah...) know, David and I have a recording-only side project called My Father's Guns. You can get the back story on our collective dive into beat world in that site's blog archive. Suffice it to say that we've been abusing software-based rhythm machines and loops in MFG and decided to hijack that piece of the puzzle into Floodwatch. I tinkered with just rolling out my old laptop, but the poor thing is just too unstable. The MPC was designed to take the abuse of stage-based entertainment, so that's the horse we bet on.

So, yeah... we've been rethinking Floodwatch material with beats and loops in order to go out live again, and just to continue as a band period. Every time we finish the beats for a song and play over it, we get more excited. This is not Kraftwerk. We're grooving hard over these beats. And, perhaps most importantly, we've kept the Floodwatch sound going, which means we get atmospheric and vibey, but we also get Heavy.

One way we've kept things out of robot land is simply to keep things as live as possible. The MPC has this weird, funky, organic feel to it anyway, but we do as little timing correction as possible, and we have a pretty cool way to program. We set a tempo, let the click count us in, and David plays and sings while I play the beats on the MPC's pads. That's it. No ta-da. No ancient Chinese secret... but, man, does it make a difference. No auto-filling twos and fours here - I groove along to David's performance and it shows in the final beats.

A perfect example is a song we finished re-vamping last night, "War Child." This is one of the heavier Floodwatch tracks - it just oozes Sabbath-y sludge. On the original CD--and at live performances--Charles played this great Tool-like triplet beat on the final chorus. We've really tried to avoid just programming his original beats into the machine but this was one place where that flavor would be sorely missed. After David and I got the basic beats together, I slowed the machine down (hey, c'mon... that's a tough pattern to rock out on little rubber pads), made sure the timing correction was off, and went for it. A few overdubbed cymbal crashes later, and it had just the right stink to it.

If you want to check it out... come hear us at the Barley Pub in Dover, NH on Wednesday, August 25th at 9 PM. We're opening for When Geeks Unite.