Two Drum Pieces — May & June 2016
Multitrack Polytemporal Studies
Polytemporal Drum Kit Improvisation
These two pieces were the first for which I decided to use video; the concept with these became a prototype for the later Maggini piece. Having previously composed full pieces with a variety of pitch material, I wanted to return to focusing solely on rhythm in order to fully explore these concepts without distraction by pitch material. I chose four tempi using the Excel formula, and assigned each of these a single drum with two sounds. These then were:
Top left screen: Hi hat (open and closed) — 150bpm
Bottom left: Kick (with rim) — 120bpm
Top right: Snare (with rim) — 90bpm
Bottom right: Floor tom (with rim) — 150bpm
These tempi are the same as that used for the later Maggini piece, so share these same temporal relationships. Structurally the piece consists of alternating sections completely improvised, with each becoming busier and more dynamic. Section A would consist of all parts improvising in their tempi, performing different rhythmic ideas using their two available sounds. after around 1:45 their clicks would stop, and one part would become the ‘leader’ asserting its tempo, marking Section B. The other three parts would then enter, aurally adopting this (a convergence point) for around 30 seconds before returning to their respective tempi — the result of this being a piece that moves between temporal dissonance and consonance. To multitrack this I used headphones with click tracks, which were automated to change to the different ‘lead’ tempi at the correct intervals — this allowed me to perform each take individually, including the convergence points without hearing the other parts. Although this meant the end result of the piece is less organic as there is no aural interplay between the parts, the desired effect was achieved. During the convergence points I felt pulled towards emulating a standard drum groove, considering the rhythmic placement of the parts to create what would ordinarily be played by a single player across the full kit — this resulted in an emulation of what Moore (2001) considers the ‘standard rock beat’ (p.38). Adhering to these conventions made for the biggest contrast to the temporally dissonant sections, and I felt this worked well. The two contrasting sections however are quite disjointed, with quite a clear divide between the fully improvised A Section and the monotemporal Section B (particularly the entrance of a conventional groove) — for future pieces additional consideration may need to be made for transitioning into these, perhaps by varying tempi to coincide via automation.
Following from this, and forming the basis for the later 5:4 Guitar piece, I used the same tempi as previously however used a central isorhythmic pattern, the same for all parts, to generate this piece (full details of its composition can be found under the 5:4 Guitar commentary). For each part, the left hand hi-hat is playing 4 beats per bar, acting as the metronome, while the right hand plays cowbells at 5 beats per bar. As the piece progresses, in the same duration as the guitar piece, additional cowbells are added, arranged in pitch. Unlike the guitar piece, each pattern was recorded separately, this was out of necessity as I am not a natural drummer — this results in (expected) sharp cuts in video, although upon seeing the end result I found these to be an interesting aesthetic aspect of the visual, which informed the listener further that changes were being made in the piece. Upon recording and collating the audio to form the piece, I used plugins in Cubase to modify the pitch of three of the four takes so as to easier differentiate them in a mix. I approached this in tempo order, as below:
90bpm — detuned 3 semitones
120bpm — left natural
150bpm — tuned up 3 semitones
160bpm — tuned up 6 semitones
I chose minimal modulation as I did not want the piece to become too characterised by pitch material, just adding enough of an adjustment to separate the parts. This (as well as panning) had the desired effect of separating the four takes, and as with the guitar piece was drastically enhanced by the video accompaniment; listeners are able to extract and individual part by concentrating on its specific screen. The textural result of the piece is I feel the most satisfying aspect; the timbre of the cowbells, and their subtle pitch adjustments made for interesting interplay as the arrangement becomes more complex (in particular the highest pitch plastic cowbell). This resulted in moments of cascading attacks, distributed among the varying cowbell pitches, and formed the basis for the guitar piece.