Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Where Drummers are Heading

I've never really been big on long, concert drum solos. There are people who think that such percussive orgies are the most awesome experience in the world, something like a sonic return to the primeval ooze.

Well, maybe for them there is some special part of their lymbic system which gets activated by the concert drum solo, but for the most part that particular set of neural firings has never seemed especially important to me.

Still, there is something to this intuition exhibited by my lymbic-motivated peers. The oldest instrument ever found is a neanderthal flute, but I'd be willing to bet that the drum is actually the oldest instrument. Surprisingly, however, the *drum set* has not been around that long:

The first drum sets were put together in the late 1800s sometime after the invention of the bass drum pedal. This invention made it possible for one person to play several percussion instruments (snare drum, bass drum, and cymbals) at one time. The set developed as it was used to accompany jazz musicians in New Orleans during the 1920s.

As new instruments were introduced to the drum set (tom-toms and the high hat cymbal) in the late 1920s and 1930s, new techniques developed. Gene Krupa, one of the greatest jazz drummers of the big band era, highlighted tom-toms in his pieces and did solos using the drum set as the featured instrument.[1]

I used to be fairly impressed by a drummer named Buddy Rich, but that was a long time ago. However, and for the first time in decades (maybe ever), I've found a concert drum solo to be interesting. If you have a good pair of speakers (or headphones) hooked up to your computer (in order to appreciate the full effect of bass drum, and on up), then I'd highly recommend investing about eight minutes of your time in listening to this.

The drummer is Neil Peart, a member of long-established band called Rush. He is often billed as the most popular drummer today, since he is always voted number 1 in the magazines, Modern Drummer and Drummerworld. I think there is more to his success than popularity, for his use of tap-n-play, digital track music integration exhibits a cutting-edge, new form of life for the percussionist. In some ways, this moves drummers out of their speciality position into being much more general contributors to a band's overall sound. Again, some will find this a passe observation, but others might not have considered the full implication of this until they hear something like what Peart is doing. Listen for yourself.


[1] "Rhythmic Percussion" ThinkQuest Library (Accessed 11/21/06)



At 3:27 PM, Blogger SpockTheSecond said...

As both a member of the SNU drumline and an occasional set player, this subject holds a special interest for me. I suppose the aspects of percussion that I find most fascinating is formation of rhythm. As is often the case with any percussion solo, each instrument contributes a basic beat that is repeated over a certain number of measures, and that beat complements other beats in order to form a more complex, more "lymbicly pleasing" rhythm. Being able to distinguish between the different beats and understand the relationship to the music as a whole is one of the main reasons I enjoy the drums. Perhaps this natural tendency to break down and analyze points back to my initial interests in both science and philosophy.

In the case of Neil Peart, perhaps one of the reasons why people enjoy him is because his abilities seem "super-human" in a sense. The amount of physical and mental effort he exerts while performing his solo appears to the average non-drummer to be beyond normal human capacity. It would be like a person being awed by superman's strength. They wouldn't be inclined to study the amount of strain on his muscles, the amount of work done from a physics perspective, etc., but just the act, the exceeding of a previously imagined apex of ability, is where the interest and enthusiasm comes from.


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