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Fun with virtual drum machines
May 15, 2007 6:48 AM   Subscribe

How many drummers does it take to change a lightbulb?

None, they have machines to do that now. If you don’t like the 909, check out the Roland TR-330, or perhaps the Suzuki RPM-40, or even the classic Electro-Harmonix Rhythm 12, and many, many more
posted by psmealey (38 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite

 
W000t. a 909 I can play with at work!

When they sack me, it's you're fault psmealey.
posted by pompomtom at 7:06 AM on May 15, 2007


Wait, none of these change lightbulbs.
posted by santiagogo at 7:23 AM on May 15, 2007


Don't forget the Roland TR-606. The drum machine made famous by Big Black.
posted by DieHipsterDie at 7:33 AM on May 15, 2007


psmealey, you are the man. This is a way cool post. But I'm also gonna link back to a post I made a while back, on drum machines. Just cause, you know, it relates. Here it is.

And while we're on musical light bulb jokes...

Q: How does a female vocalist screw in a light bulb?
A: She just stands still, the world revolves around her.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 7:42 AM on May 15, 2007


Drum machines have no soul. Or drinking problems. Or endless requests to be spotted, they'll totally owe you, just a little short, man.
posted by cortex at 7:50 AM on May 15, 2007


Drum machines have no soul.

Disagreed. Drum machines have as much soul as you put into them. And you can actually put a fair amount of soul into them, if you have said soul.

I'm reminded of something the great drummer Jim Keltner once said. He mentioned that someone had referred to drum machines as "a necessary evil". in a nutshell, he said: bullshit, an A&R man is a necessary evil, drum machines are fantastic and educational. And Jim Keltner was the man. Look him up.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 8:03 AM on May 15, 2007


It's a bumpersticker, man. Hugs!
posted by cortex at 8:11 AM on May 15, 2007


Flapjax: I think cortex is making fun of the phrase "drum machines have no soul", not agreeing with it.
posted by Bugbread at 8:52 AM on May 15, 2007


The beat will blast and we'll outlast
There is no other that's in its class
It's not a 808 or a Drum-U-Lator
It's a DMX, and it is greater
It makes a sound that's so unique
Huh, to rock your butt and move your feet
So sucka MCs we will impress
Cos Yella Yella Yella on the DMX, huh-huuurgh!

(not 909ist)
posted by boosh at 8:56 AM on May 15, 2007 [1 favorite]


You rock. I take back all the mean things I ever said about you.

Just wait until I unleash these bastards on my hapless guitar students!

*evil laugh*
posted by chuckdarwin at 8:56 AM on May 15, 2007


flapjax, I'm pretty sure Mr Keltner would take offense at being referred to in the past tense ;-)
posted by chuckdarwin at 8:58 AM on May 15, 2007


Everybody gettin down make no mistake
Nothing sounds quite like an
EIGHT
OH
EIGHT

posted by cortex at 9:18 AM on May 15, 2007 [2 favorites]


Wicked! Now if only I could find a 303...
posted by afx114 at 9:24 AM on May 15, 2007


Drum machines are to musicians as religion is to the religious: A good thing for good people and a bad thing for bad people. It's great to be able to lay down a beat as far as rhythm takes you, but rap "music" makes me nostalgic for melody and harmony.

And as I've often said: How many light bulbs does it take to change a person?
posted by pax digita at 9:26 AM on May 15, 2007


rap "music" makes me nostalgic for melody and harmony.

Man, you're listening to the wrong stuff then.
posted by mkb at 9:40 AM on May 15, 2007


As much as I love this stuff, it's pretty much a Double.
posted by Devils Rancher at 10:18 AM on May 15, 2007


My memory tells me that the physical 808 drifted slightly in and out of sync, giving its rhythms a slightly less predictable more human feeling to them. Or did I just make that up? The older I get the harder it is to tell the difference between what I remember and what I dreamed.
posted by Area Control at 11:14 AM on May 15, 2007 [1 favorite]


How can you tell if a drum solo is REALLY bad?








Even the bass player notices.
posted by MiltonRandKalman at 11:40 AM on May 15, 2007


These are cool simulations. What's considered the best PC based drum machine?
posted by parallax7d at 12:49 PM on May 15, 2007


Man, you're listening to the wrong stuff then.

Enlighten me. Better yet, try humming or whistling along to a rap song.
posted by pax digita at 2:17 PM on May 15, 2007


Souls have no drum machines.
posted by isopraxis at 2:54 PM on May 15, 2007


Enlighten me. Better yet, try humming or whistling along to a rap song.

Assuming you're not a troll:

1) "They Reminisce Over You" - Pete Rock & CL Smooth

Very hummable sax melody on the hook.

2) "The Bridge Is Over" - Boogie Down Productions

Distinct chromatic piano lick.

3) "Ready Or Not" - The Fugees

A great r&b chorus from the talented Lauryn Hill.

4) "Cold Call" - Lyrics Born & Gift Of Gab

Great 70s funk homage with a catchy chorus & funny rhymes.

5) "I Tried" - Bone-Thugs-N-Harmony

Melodic rapping with harmony!

6) "Heaven" - Nas

A heartfelt chorus from Jully Black.

***

That's six tunes off the top of my head, spanning about 20 years of rap music. Give them a spin, you may be surprised.

It's a bit of a strawman to play the "rap isn't music" card in 2007. Just about every major rap hit has some melodic element to it.
posted by tantrumthecat at 2:57 PM on May 15, 2007 [2 favorites]


A song can have significant and compelling harmonic content without a whistleable vocal melody. Some of those Rap Guys have a pretty damned good head for composition, even if some of the traditions of the genre break pretty sharply with traditional pop arrangement.
posted by cortex at 2:57 PM on May 15, 2007


Parallax, for pure flexibility, my favorite is the drum machine module in Reason. You can assign your own sets of sounds to each channel, or choose from a bunch of preset instrument setups. It's also got a built in pattern sequencer. Reason is virtualized studio software, so you can also add as many drum machines as you want. Cool things happen when you set them to different tempos.
posted by Area Control at 3:50 PM on May 15, 2007


Thanx for the examples, and I'll start looking around -- I fave'd your list. I don't "play cards"; I say what I think, and if you can't disagree politely, you don't matter.

I admit that my musical tastes are prejudiced against experiencing rap as anything more musical than recitative, and to me it's a gimmick to do that throughout a piece and then call it a "song" when no actual singing takes place.

To illustrate what I was thinking of (and hopefully your examples will counter): The earliest examples of rap music I remember were Debbie Harry's long spoken solo in Blondie's "Rapture" (1980) and Dire Straits' "Industrial Disease" (1982). It was a clever technique, but in those spoken lines, there was no melody to speak of. I'd sound like a stroke victim trying to hum along with Mark Knopfler's recitations, and that's why I say what I do about melody and harmony. The guitar and organ parts in the latter and the sung parts and accompaniement of the former are cetainly musical, but the rest is just reciting verse. Try humming along with the words of rap song in front of your friends and see if they look at you strangely.

Since then, all of what I've caught by accident has sounded just as tuneless. Reciting words along with some accompaniment is not singing, it's dramatic reading with background music. Little bits and pieces of musical ornamentation accompanying spoken "lyrics" do not a rap "song" make, but I'm hoping there's something very different about the examples you cite. Hopefully I'll find that rap music can also truly consist of rap songs.
posted by pax digita at 4:17 PM on May 15, 2007


Pushing on the sensitive ground between singing and recitation, you've got pretty visible folks like David Byrne and Laurie Anderson, John Lee Hooker and Bob Dylan, even Wesley Willis, all of them along the spectrum producing things that aren't rap but may not cleanly pass the "singing" test.

I hear what you're saying, pax digita, and I think reasonable arguments from either side have become loaded as the debate has worn on and been rehashed over the years, so if there's bridling going on, we should probably all not take it too seriously.

What you're saying re: rap music and "songs" vs "rhythmic recitations" rubs a few raw nerves, not least because I used to make the same argument before changing my mind. The argument that the musicality of a rap track vs, say, a modern pop/rock song, can be transferred fairly cleanly to a comparison between said pop/rock song and a fugue, in terms of emphasis on short repetition and rhythmic elements rather than comparatively complex melodic/harmonic development. That's the sort of thing that catches me about the "rap isn't music" argument—it seems to rely on a very limited and fixed point of context to really work.
posted by cortex at 4:32 PM on May 15, 2007


And anyway, don't they call them "joints" and not "songs"?
posted by ddf at 5:58 PM on May 15, 2007


parallax7d writes 'These are cool simulations. What's considered the best PC based drum machine?'

The best free one is probably ReBirth. For pay? I like Battery 3.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 6:19 PM on May 15, 2007


Since then, all of what I've caught by accident has sounded just as tuneless. Reciting words along with some accompaniment is not singing, it's dramatic reading with background music. Little bits and pieces of musical ornamentation accompanying spoken "lyrics" do not a rap "song" make, but I'm hoping there's something very different about the examples you cite. Hopefully I'll find that rap music can also truly consist of rap songs.

Hmmm... I've always made the argument that rapping is a vocal style in itself, and that the best rappers blur the line between the "recitation" that you're talking about & actual melody. If you listen to a rapper like Rakim (best known as half of Eric B. & Rakim), there's a definite singsong quality to what he does, and recognizable cadences do emerge.

Anyway, I won't derail the thread any longer. Thanks for the civil reply - I definitely wasn't looking to get into "Rap-sucks-no-you-suck-no-YOU-suck." (!!!)
posted by tantrumthecat at 6:23 PM on May 15, 2007


Flapjax: I think cortex is making fun of the phrase "drum machines have no soul", not agreeing with it.

Bugbread, I think you're right: somehow my ironic humor filter was down last night. I think it had something to do with having consumed a half a botle of Scotch.

flapjax, I'm pretty sure Mr Keltner would take offense at being referred to in the past tense ;-)

Chuckdarwin, you're probably right about that too. Poor wording on my part! See above Scotch-related excuse.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 9:48 PM on May 15, 2007


Magnetic Fields fans should visit this machine and dial up the "Western" rhythm. (Hint: A pretty girl in her underwear...)
posted by argybarg at 10:17 PM on May 15, 2007


flapjax, Keltner's a big hero of mine. He played drums on some of the best songs ever recorded, and most people have no idea who he is.

I guess that's probably a good thing. It'd be great to have global success (he played drums on the song 'Imagine'), money, and no fame! How many people can claim that they have all three (besides the cast of The Simpsons)? Not too many.

*schemes*
posted by chuckdarwin at 1:37 AM on May 16, 2007


*schemes*

Well, I'd suggest you start working on your drum chops (or most importantly, your drum feel, which as we know, Keltner had truckloads of), but I fear the days of the session drummer being as succesful as Keltner are over. Most pop music these days eschews the human sound of a human drummer in favor of... drum machines!

Maybe you can score a voiceover gig for a new Simpsons character?
posted by flapjax at midnite at 4:49 AM on May 16, 2007


I would totally accost Hank Azaria and Yeardley Smith on the street.
posted by cortex at 6:12 AM on May 16, 2007


But not Dan Castellanetta? BTW, here's a handy reference.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:26 AM on May 16, 2007


pax digita writes "rap 'music' makes me nostalgic for melody and harmony."

You're probably just looking for them in the wrong places. That is, in the average pop song, you have:
Drums - rhythm
Bass - rhythm, melody accompaniment
Guitar - melody
Vocals - melody, lyrical content

With the average hip-hop song, you have:
Drum machine - rhythm
Samples - melody
Instruments - melody
Vocals - rhythm, lyrical content

So, overall, you've got rhythm and melody in both. It's not that rap is less melodic, you're just looking for melody in one of the instruments that isn't used for melody.

By the same token, a person used to listening to, say, tuned drum music might say that Western music isn't musical or harmonic because the drums are used for rhythm instead of melody.

I like jungle (no, not drum'n'bass, jungle), and it's a similar situation.

General techno:
Listen to the melody
Move your feet to the drums

Jungle:
Listen to the drums
Move your feet to the melody

Both ways, you've got melody and rhythm, and both ways, you've got a body-moving focus and a listening focus, but some people can't/don't switch from what they're used to. Nothing wrong with that, but they'll say jungle is "undanceable", as if it were a problem with the music, when in reality it's just that their tastes don't click.
posted by Bugbread at 6:28 AM on May 16, 2007


It's silly to try to define what music is.
posted by Area Control at 7:46 AM on May 16, 2007


Area Control writes "It's silly to try to define what music is."

Good thing nobody's trying to do that. Pax digita is trying to define what a song is.
posted by Bugbread at 8:00 AM on May 16, 2007


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