The tech amidst all the noise of the London Drum Show
I mean this both in a literal as well as in a figurative way. Why? Because despite having been to hundreds of concerts and sets and having a not-very-healthy inclination for staying as close to the speakers as possible, I don’t think I’ve ever been in any place as loud as the London Drum Show. But also because I went there not really knowing what to expect but a sea of cymbals, drum sticks and maybe some electric drum kits.
Over the two floors of the show, things were pretty much well divided. Conferences, autograph signings and educational workshops were upstairs. The ‘pit’ was downstairs. This was where I stayed most of my time and where exhibiting companies were showcasing their products. As soon as the elevator doors opened, I was awashed by a giant wave of sound from countless drums being methodically hit in what sounded to be like 500 war movies being played at the same time. Fortunately, that’s only allowed to happen during the first 15 minutes of each hour, so shortly after, I was off to explore some booths.
I had come at the invite of my friends at ATV Europe, a hardware manufacturer that markets and sells electronic musical instruments and video equipment. I had met them a week before at my Web Summit event, music tech drinks, and they were keen to demo their new prototype of the aFrame. I arrived just in time to find the stall packed with people awaiting for the demo. They were not disappointed.
The basic concept of the aFrame is not that ground-breaking. In essence, it’s not that different from that of an electric drum-kit where you can program several different sounds to be played upon hitting the same area of the kit. But the fact that it is the electronic version of a hand-drum makes the whole experience very organic and much more intuitive. You can pick the aFrame up and hold it in any way you like — on the floor like a cajon, between the legs like djambé, play it like a conga or like a pandeiro — and the sound will come out as if you were playing any real version of those instruments. Or something totally different, yet meticulously programmed to do so through a set of variable interfaces that you access through your computer. A small music bank sits behind the acrylic panel that gives it its sound and allows you to easily switch between anything from what sounds like a double bass to a church bell. I was impressed.
But that was just the beginning. Right around the corner I was also attracted by a booth who was using sound in a different way to all the other booths — they were completely silent. That was Aerodrums and all they had was a bench with someone having fun air drumming, a sensor, a television screen showing a crash test dummy drumming and three headphones jacked to it. It took me a split second to realise that the dummy drummer on screen was mimicking the exact same moves of the air drummer on the bench. Now I had heard of these guys earlier this year when I organised an investor networking event called #MTFAmplifier at Music Tech Fest as part of the EU MusicBricks project, but the interface was much more rudimentary. Here they were presenting a well-built product, with zero lag, that had a simple augmented reality interface and allowed you to customise your drum kit to play whatever you wanted. Needless to say that this product banks on the convenience in location, because anyone can now play drums anywhere without having to carry a whole kit around. Oh yeah and without annoying neighbours while practicing, that’s also important. Oh and at a much more accessible price than a normal drum kit which, you know, sort of pulls drumming out of its expensive olympus and democratizes it for the masses.
Technology was actually more present than what I had expected. From Promark’s heat-activated ActiveGrip drumsticks which are designed to get tackier as players hands sweat and their body temperature rises — a nice analog invention that applies a layer of coating to the sticks, reminding me a lot of thermodynamic clothing. To the much needed Tune-Bot, which brings the electronic tuner that people are used to in other instruments to the drums. I wanted to have seen my friends at Polyend, who make the fantastic Perc robot drummer, but no surprise there as I think it would cause a bit of an uproar in the place with the highest concentration of human drummers in the world. But it’s good to see technology evolve a class of instruments that hasn’t really gotten much of a shake-up since electronic drum kits. Alas, really the only thing that was missing from the London Drum Show was an on-the-spot 3D-printed ear-plug service — the lowest lead time I saw advertised amongst the lot of custom ear-plug providers was 48 hours— I would have bought a pair then and there to save my ears from such massacre.