Music, Production

A Weekend with the Wavedrum

I’m currently borrowing a KORG Wavedrum from a friend of mine. For those unfamiliar with this fantastic instrument, it is an acoustic drum synthesizer. It works by using vibration sensors underneath a real drum head and rim that respond to all of the dynamic playing that a hand drum is used to, and then sending those signals to a synthesis engine. The engine then takes the input waves and modulates them with various PCM sources and algorithmic sound models to create the output.

What all of that technobabble really means is that this isn’t a drum, it’s a thousand drums in one box. And unlike a drum machine or normal synthesizer, it is played like a real acoustic drum would be. In short, it’s pretty awesome.

I’ve only had it at my place for a few days now, but I’ve managed to spend a few sessions just playing with it. It has an impressive range of tones, most of which mimic real drums of various flavors in addition to a bunch of very otherworldly sounds that have very little to do with drums. However, the fact that you play these sounds like a drum adds a rhythmic character to it. Another great feature of this instrument is that it outputs directly into the recording system. This means that any incidental ambient noises won’t bleed over into the recording. As you’ll recall, this was a necessary feature for my acoustic guitar as well. It turns out that a home studio is difficult to run with a 10-month old in the house. Incidental ambient noises are the rule of the day.

After my initial noodling, I set about using the Wavedrum on an actual song. This one has a bluesy little groove to it that my traditional drum machine just wasn’t going to capture. I tried to program it in Reason, but the timing was all off and it felt horrible. Ever wonder why so many techno songs are in straight 4/4? It’s because it’s really easy to program that. I’ve programmed a few different step sequencers before, and they’ve all been 16-step 4/4 sequencers. The Wavedrum, based entirely on hand input, has no sense of quantization. Thus, I quickly found out something I knew already — that I am not a very good drummer. I’ve got a decent sense of rhythm, but translating that into a particular instrument isn’t always so straightforward. Thankfully, modern post-production lets me tweak things in software where needed. That said, I am trying to have a fairly light touch on this.

In any case, I jumped in and tried a few different drum sounds before settling on a nice round conga sound. With a little compression, it gave me a nice snappy sound that complemented the acoustic guitar and bass that drives the rest of the song. The Wavedrum, being a very different kind of sequencer, turns out to be quite difficult to program. I wasn’t getting the deep booming tones that I was after for underlying the higher accents, so I ended up breaking out the drum machine for just those bits. After trying unsuccessfully to sync with the underlying groove, I simply recorded the drum machine output to a track and un-quantized it by hand to match. This is the opposite of what you usually do with drums.

After a few sessions of recording, re-recording, and tweaking, I’m getting relatively happy with the state of the song. I have a vision of some kind of bell over the top of it, or something to that effect, but I’m not sure it needs it. I always have trouble knowing when to stop.

Oh yes, the title? “By Pint and Pound”. Now you have the first title of a song from Results Not Typical. Originally the title was “Blood and Flesh by Pint and Pound”, I thought it was a little too macabre. What do you think though? Should I change it back or keep the shorter version? Maybe you’d have to hear it first. Maybe I can arrange that, if you want.

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