"People who make no noise are dangerous."
--Jean de La Fontaine

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Matt Cameron and Concert Etiquette

Last night, I had the opportunity to see Pearl Jam.  Pearl Jam is one of those bands from my youth that I never had the chance to see. I was excited to watch the show but mostly, I was excited to see the great Matt Cameron.  

Matt's work with Pearl Jam, Soundgarden and Temple of the Dog is already legendary and I knew he was a solid drummer. What I learned last night while watching him in person is that he might very well be the best rock drummer working today.  


It only took seconds for me to realize that Matt has a command of the kit that is rarely seen these days. His playing was understated, musical and perfect for each song. You get the sense that as a drummer, you're capable of playing everything he plays, but that if anyone were to try to replace Matt, the music would simply fall apart. Simply put, his playing is perfect.


I always hate seeing concerts in arenas because the drums typically sound so bad.  Matt's drums sounded amazing. They were perfectly tuned and mixed so that they never sounded thuddy or distorted.  Furthermore, his bass drum was mixed at the proper level so that it didn't overpower the kit and it was tuned in such a way that it sounded like a bass drum and not like a click.  


If you haven't had a chance to see Mat Cameron live, I suggest you do.  He's amazing and you will not be disappointed.  


__________________________________________



I really did enjoy myself at the Pearl Jam concert but I do have a few complaints I would like to address. I understand that I am getting old. I also understand that my view of live musical performance as a magical experience is not shared by everyone. Keep that in mind as you read my following rant.  


The Pearl Jam concert was at the FedEx Forum in Memphis, TN. The Forum is a cave. The Memphis Grizzlies play in this arena so you can imagine the size and acoustical properties of the place.  I believe there may have been 8 seats in the building that were worse than the ones I had.  My tickets cost $88. I was excited to see the show even though I had expensive "cheap" seats.  My gripe is that it appeared no one else around me wanted to see the show.  


From where I was sitting, I could see about 20 people in the surrounding rows without having to stand up or do any kind of weird straining. All of them, and I mean all of them, were recording the show on their cell phone.  We were so far from the stage and the sound quality in a place like that is so poor, I can't imagine what they expected to take home. And why take it home?  I have been to a large number of concerts and if you asked me to describe any of them, I bet I could do so in great detail. I don't need a recording of the concert, I was there!


The cell phone thing has got to calm down a little. The lady behind me had her cell phone flashlight on the entire concert. It was so bright, I thought the band had added lights in my section until turning around to discover it was just some stupid lady. The guy who sat in front of me spent the entire concert writing his dissertation which he must have been sending to his advisor via text messaging.  This guy was writing full screen texts and shipping them to someone. He never looked away from the screen during the entire show.  His neighbor spent the entire concert playing a game on his phone.  I know I shouldn't be bothered by such things but it is hard to concentrate on the music while there are so many blinding blue screens in my face.  I recently saw Weezer and the guy in front of me recorded the entire concert on his ipad.  It wasn't a big deal except he held the thing up right in my view so instead of seeing the band from the fourth row, I saw a tiny picture of the band that was directly in front of me.  


I couldn't believe how many people left their seats during the show. I spent $88 on this concert and I wanted to make sure I saw everything. The guy next to me left to get beer 12 times during the concert. 12!  Why come to a concert if you are going to spend all of it in the beer line?  Stay home and buy yourself a 6-pack.  


Do I sound like a crazy old man?  I probably am. I just wanted to see a good show and felt like my neighbors ruined it a little. Leave your cell phones at home people and learn to live in the moment you paid so much money to enjoy.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Schlagwerk 2 in One Large Snare Cajon

I have wanted a cajon for some time but I have always been wary of actually owning one. There seems to be a stigma surrounding the instrument.  I think some people see the cajon and immediately think that the person playing it picked the instrument because they're not good enough to play anything else. You and I know that's not true, but I believe that prejudice still exists. Anyway, I finally talked myself into buying one for an upcoming gig.  I found selecting the right one was more difficult than I imagined.  I am lucky to know people who own different makes and models so I have tried several different types of cajons in person.  This allowed me a better educated guess about which cajon to buy than most people get. I spent several hours last week trying to find the perfect cajon and here are a couple of truths I discovered:

1.  The cajon is a box of wood.  For the most part, all of them sound basically the same.  Some have more snare buzz and others have more bass, but basically, they all sound like a buzzy box of wood.

2.  It doesn't matter how many videos you watch, the cajon you pick will not sound like the video.

3.  Just like with cars, a pretty girl sitting on top of a cajon, sells products.  Listen with your ears, not your eyes.  

4.  Try as many instruments as you can in person.  

5.  Did I mention that these things are basically a wooden box with cut up snares in them?  Seriously, this shouldn't be in the same difficultly level as selecting a ride cymbal.    

6.  Apparently, only Germans know how to construct the Peruvian cajon because 9 out of 10 cajons seem to be built in Germany. 

7.  You buy an oboe, you get a case.  You buy a cajon, it's an extra $75 for a case.  


I finally decided after much deliberation that the Schlagwerk 2 in One Large Snare Cajon was the best choice for me.  Let me first say that out of the box, the instrument was choice.  The industrial look of the playing surface is very cool and the unfinished look of the entire box adds to the overall aesthetic of the cajon.  Of course, looks are not important.  The sound of this cajon is so much more than I could have ever asked.  The bass sound is huge and has very little snare rattle.  The snares seem to have the perfect mix of snap and buzz.  The slap sound you can get near the top of the cajon has a bright woody quality that is really different from the rest of the instrument.  Thus far, I have discovered 3 distinct snare sounds, 2 bass sounds and several slap sounds.  This instrument is simply the best cajon I have played.



One big plus with this cajon is that you can turn off the snares if you want.  I would like to have a cajon where this adjustment is quick turn of a knob.  However, all of the cajons I looked at that had a quick snare disengagement also seemed to have a mechanical flaw that was directly related to the snare adjustment.   The snare on this model has to be adjusted by hand through the hole in the back of the cajon.  It is a very practical, sturdy design (Germans) but not necessarily a quick one.  I like the addition of two small sleigh bells.  I have no idea what they add as you cannot really hear them, but I feel like they have a purpose I haven't discovered yet. 


I couldn't be happier with this cajon.  I know many of you are searching for the perfect instrument. I don't have a lot of good advice aside for trying a lot of boxes and picking the one that is right for you.  During your search, make sure you check out the Schlagwerk cajons.  Good luck.



Sunday, August 24, 2014

What's in Your Wallet...I Mean Stick Bag

I had an interesting gig recently where I was surround by a ton of drummers. Between talking about gigs, money and women, we started this long discussion about what's in our stick bag. It was an interesting conversation and I thought it might be fun to discuss the topic here.

The items found in a drummer's stick bag can really say a lot about that individual. For this post, I am going to skip the inside of the stick bag proper and move to the pockets.  It's what a drummer keeps in those side pockets that really demonstrates their personality.  I realize that different type of stick bags, musical situations and other factors determine what you might find in someone's stick bag. I have an unusual stick bag that was custom made for me. It looks like a a regular stick bag but has a huge pocket on the front. The following is what I found inside that pocket this morning.  


Towel:

I sweat a lot when I play so having a towel nearby is an awesome thing.  This towel is a very important piece of equipment because when needed, it can also double as an external bass drum muffle, stick tray padding and in those rare instances, can be used to clean beer and blood off of your tubs.  I especially like having a towel when I play outside.  There's always that weird part of an outside gig where the sun starts to go down and the air fills with humidity.  I will lay the towel across my snare on a break so that the batter head does not collect dew.  It's super hard playing brushes on a head that is slightly damp.  Remember your towel should be a dark color and that you must wash it after every gig.  


Drum Key:

This is a Sonor drum key. I keep a drum key on my key chain so I don't need to keep one in my stick bag.  However, this key is special because it has a slotted end.  I have to use this key to tune my vintage Premiers which have slotted tension rods.  


Sizzler:

You never know when you might need one of these to help fill that sizzle void.  I can't stand playing with it on a cymbal but it has got me out of a jam on occasion.



 Shakers:

I like these little shakers. I use them a lot and since they are so cheap, I suggest everyone to buy a couple.  That Bossa Nova gig can get pretty boring without them.


Bass Drum Beater: 

I usually carry a spare bass drum beater.  I don't carry one because I'm afraid I'll need a replacement but I carry and extra in case I need a different bass drum sound.  The one below replicates a wool beater for softer situations.


Cymbal Kit:

This bag if full of cymbal parts.  You never know when you might need and extra cymbal sleeve.



Pencil:

A MUST!


Magical Rabbit:

This rabbit lives in my stick bag and sits on my bass drum when I play with my country-punk band Rape Whistle.  I don't know where he came from or how he got in my stick bag but he's a magical mascot for that band.

Ear Plugs:  

You've got to have ear plugs.  I can't tell you how many jazz trio gigs have turned into hard hitting metal gigs in the blink of an eye.  Protect your ears!


So, that's what I found in my stick bag this morning.  Tomorrow it may be a whole new collection of things.  Shoot me a comment below and let me hear about the unusual things you keep in your stick bag.  

Sunday, August 3, 2014

1930s 12" Avedis Zildjian Splash Cymbal

I was driving home form a long trip and needed to take a break. I took a random turn off the highway in Tennessee and found myself still unwilling to get back in the car even after spending 10 minutes in the parking lot of a filling station. I decided to drive around this exit and see if there was a place I could waste a few more minutes. I found a older style shopping mall which had been converted into some sort of consignment/antique mall.  I love these sort of places because there is always something interesting to see. I didn't find much but this particular mall also had real stores, one of which was a music store. I had to check it out.

I was expecting the typical small music store experience but I was surprised by this little store.  It had your basic low level stuff, like cheap guitars and band instruments but it also had a lot of weird instruments like homemade Native American flutes and some bizarre 3 string guitars. The most unusual thing I found was also one of the saddest things I've seen in a while. Someone had taken two vintage Slingerland bass drums and attached them to make an extended bass drum. The idea, while stupid, isn't that sad. The travesty was in the execution. The two bass drums were attached by screwing the rim of one drum to the shell of the second drum. Imagine if you will, rim/bass shell #1/rim-bass shell #2/rim.  I wanted to take a picture but the store owner was bird-dogging me and I didn't want to look like a creep.

Anyway, there was a small stack of used no name cymbals sitting next to this drum set. I casually looked through the stack. The patina on this cymbal made it stick out from all the other sheet metal cymbals.  I had to take a closer look.


This is a 12" (it's actually 12 1/4") Avedis Zildjian cymbal. This plate is so thin that I could easily bend it in half with my hands. The weight and malleability caused me some confusion as I have never seen an A that was so light weight. I have a 6" A splash which weights about the same as this cymbal. I took the cymbal to the counter and asked how much it would cost. The guy asked if I had a $10 bill in my wallet. I did and I left with a vintage 12" A Splash for $10. Not too bad.  


Once I got home, I put the cymbal on a stand and found that the hole is slightly smaller than my modern cymbals. The cymbal has a beautiful dark tone when crashed and has an amazing choke sound when stopped with the hand. I looked up the stamp on a few websites and my best research found this cymbal to date somewhere between 1920-1940.  I'm guessing it comes from somewhere in between.  I could be totally wrong about this and it could have been made last year but I don't think so. I understand that I'm taking some guesses on the dates so if I'm wrong, just let me know in the comment section.


I've got a gig tomorrow and I think I am going to take this plate out to see how it sounds with a group. I bet it's going to be great.

Monday, June 23, 2014

The Mighty Pack-N-Roll

Here is a blast from the past. The Pack and Roll* was an essential piece of equipment (luggage) for drummers of the 1960s and 1970s.  The idea was that you could put all of your hardware, cymbals, sticks, snare drum and other accessories in one case on wheels.  Simply stack your bass drum and toms on top and your load in now becomes 1 trip instead of 12.  It's never that simple, but the Pack and Roll (PNR) had it's day and most drummers of the rock era owned one.  



Here is my Pack and Roll. Her name is Cupcake. The box of a PNR of this vintage is usually built out of a fiber material which helps keep the weight down. The box sits on a wooden foundation.  The PNR has a handle on each side, some nice casters and two seat belt type straps which hold the lid on. This is a pretty strong design as long as you don't over load the case with weight.  For anyone who has owned one, you know that it is pretty easy to over load it.  When this happens, usually the lid breaks first followed by the internal structure.  At that point, your case was usually in serious need of duct tape or a dumpster. The straps wrap around the bottom which means you can use them to help lift the case but it is best to use the handles and the straps. Actually, the best thing is to lift from the bottom of the case, but who wants to do that.  I usually use my straps to hold other things, like a carpet, tight against the lid.  

It was common to accessorize your PNR with stickers, your name stenciled on the side in orange paint or, if you were super classy, a bitchin' air brushed picture of banditos riding their steel horses across the desert while being chased by the fuzz. This last picture matched the one on the side of your van. I do not use my PNR on drum set gigs. I use mine in percussion situations and often, it doubles as a table.  I put a black towel across the top and place accessories on the lid.  This saves me from having to carry more gear.  I like to keep my case as clean as possible.  As bad ass as a portrait of guys riding their steel horses can be, it doesn't really look great on the concert stage.**



The PNR has a tray on the inside which can be used to hold many different things.  Most people use it to store hardware. The trouble with this is that a lot of modern hardware simply isn't made for easy travel.  If you've got a set of flat based stands, this tray is golden.  If you are packing Ludwig Atlas boom stands...good luck. I use a set of light weight Yamaha stands and they won't fit in the tray without taking them apart. 

There is a small slot for cymbals  I carry my cymbals in a case so they don't get damaged but if you don't care too much about your plates, they fit nicely here.  My hand doesn't fit in the space allowed so it's a struggle for me to get cymbals out of this space.  There is a small space next to the cymbal space.  I have no idea what is supposed to go here.


Underneath the tray are two larger compartments. You can put all kinds of things here. As I mentioned, I don't use this case for drumset gigs so when I use this case, I typically have small drums or accessories in these compartments.  A snare drum should fit in this space but mine won't because I keep all my snare drums in padded bags.  

The Pack and Roll isn't something you see very often these days. Sadly, I think they lost footing in the case wars when people stopped driving vans. It's hard to fit one of these in your Toyota Prius. In addition, modern stands are made differently so this case is sort of out dated. It's simply not a practical case for hardware anymore. However, it is really useful in a lot of other situations, especially if you work as a percussionist and need to travel with an eclectic setup. 

If you really want one, there are several companies who make their version of a PNR. These are made of heavy plastic and have better engineering all around, if you like that sort of thing. For me, I'm going to keep my PNR. If you find one of these older models, grab it.  I think you'll fall in love just like hundreds of drummers before you.  



*I'm going to bet that the Pack and Roll has an actual name.  It's probably something like "Trap Case" or "Hardware Case on Wheels."  I honestly have no idea what these things were called but the old guys I grew up playing with called them a Pack and Roll. I'm sticking with Pack and Roll for this post.  If you've got something better, drop it in the comments. 

**Says lame violin players.  Jealous.




Saturday, May 31, 2014

A Letter to My Readers

Dear Reader,

I know this blog is supposed to be about gear and technique but I have to take a minute to talk with you about an issue that has been weighing on my mind these last few weeks.  I apologize in advance for wasting your time.

I have recently found myself in an awkward situation at my job.  I don't want to go into details but it has opened my eyes to the fact that I can no longer continue to work at my job and be successful with my life.  I have one more year to go at my current teaching situation and feel it's time for me to move on to a new environment.  I am telling you all of this with the hopes that any reader of this blog might be kind enough to pass along any positions they hear will be open next year.  I am looking for a job in higher education, in either percussion or music education, but would also be open and qualified to teach music in an elementary school.  In addition, I am interested in working for a drum company or a gig at a museum, non-profit or any other kind of non traditional music teaching situation.  I am seriously tossing around career options outside of teaching as well, including trying to find a regular 9-5 job that would allow me to play some on the weekends.  

I am also trying to find a community to live in that is welcoming to musicians.  I currently live in an extremely conservative community that has no musical activity aside from church music.  This place is so void of gigs that most of my playing revolves around weddings and the occasional church timpani gig.  I don't mean to complain.  I have tried to make the best out of my situation but it is time to go.  On top of the work situation, I am interested in starting a family and I'm in a community that makes this activity almost impossible.  I simply feel like it's time to check out a new scene.  I am currently looking at a few towns in Tennessee and am seriously considering St. Louis as a place to begin a new career.  I am trying to stay East of the Mississippi to be close to my family but would consider anything if the gig is right.  

Alright, if you're still reading this, you must be extremely bored.  If you hear of any gigs, drop me a line in the comment section.  By the way, I am serious about considering gigs outside of music.  I have a very eclectic resume and am willing to try all kinds of new experiences. 

I know this move is a year away but that is not much time.  I have decided to clean up some debt by selling some equipment.  This isn't the easiest thing for me because I love having a lot of sound options but I think it's time to lessen the load in case I am unable to find a job by May 2015.  If you're interested in picking up some good equipment at some great prices, check out my handle on eBay mongobaou1.  I will be selling off equipment periodically over the next few months.  I currently have some stuff up and will probably post some more later in the week.  

Thanks again for putting up with this silly post.  There will be more posts about gear next week.  I promise.

BA

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Recital Part 1

I performed a large solo percussion recital last week.  In previous posts, I talked about some of the gear and setups I used for the concert. The program for the recital was as follows:

Merck's Tattoo--B. Michael Williams         Riq
1 + 1--Philip Glass                                   Amplified Table
My Lady White--David Maslanka              Marimba
Cage for One--Dwayne Corbin                 Multiple Percussion
To the Earth--Frederic Rzewski                Flower Pots and Speaking Percussionist
Hymn For Prayer--Benjamin Arnold          Marimba
The Drum Also Waltzes--Max Roach        Drum Set
Perfectly Frank--Daniel Levitan                Congas

I had a great time at the recital and I believe it went very well.  There were some major issues before the gig.  Massive tornadoes moved into the area and kept me guessing all day whether (weather) or not the gig would actually happen.  They were so bad that 3 of my players couldn't even make the gig.  In addition, one of the pieces I played used a prerecorded soundtrack.  Until 15mins before the gig, I had no idea if I was actually going to be able to use the soundtrack for the piece.  The sound man tried three very expensive cd players and for some reason could not get any of them to work.  He finally borrowed a cheap boombox which he plugged into the master sound system.  It worked just fine but had me pretty worried.  It was after he fixed this problem that he told me the hard drive to the recording equipment had fried.  So, I didn't get a recording of the gig.  There were other issues as well but these were some of my favorites.  

I did have some luck however.  One of my students illegally recorded the gig on his phone.  I found out about it and now have a copy of that video.  I'm not usually this vain, but I couldn't help myself.  I have posted two videos below of the recital.  It's not Tony Williams but you get to see and hear me having some fun.  Keep in mind the video quality is pretty bad and so is the camera work for that matter.  Beggars can't be choosers.  I hope you enjoy the videos and I promise this will be the last I speak of this recital on this blog.