Dave’s Treatise on Drum Machines, Loops, and Other Electronic-ness

I hate drum machine jazz!! Ok .. now that I’ve got that out of my system, I can continue in a more civilized manner.

Well, it’s not to say that I’m some elite purist or anything, but I just can’t stand to listen to some really great horn player blasting away on top of pre-fab, pro-tooled tracks. Ugh. I don’t feel threatened by drum machines or anything. I mean, people don’t want to see a drum machine take a solo, so I’ll always find work, but it’s just that I can’t stand to listen to music that at it’s very heart is meant to be organically played with emotion and passion. Maybe it’s an economic thing .. I dunno. But to replace the guts of a classic tune with mechanically sounding rhythm parts so a soloist can crank out another record just flies in the face of everything I believe in about music.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not this distraught over electronic percussion in general. I feel there is a perfect place for electronic parts. Electronic Music (or EM, as in “Techno”) is the perfect application for drum machines and samples. House, trance, drum n bass, whatever is a medium composed for a specific timbre, texture, and vibe. As a matter of fact, it embodies the polar opposite of what jazz is about. EM demonstrates the beauty of the mechanical, the programmed and artificial. Please don’t misread me. I LOVE electronic music. Heck, I’m a freakin’ DJ for pete’s sake! But in my mind, EM is written to showcase that which is either 1) impossible or 2) improbable in live music. Ergo, the use of electronically reproduced percussion is 100% appropriate. See, I don’t want to listen to a live drummer mash away for 14 minutes in a trance mix. So it works to use electronic sounds.

But when we’re talking about live music, especially jazz, you need to hear the heart of a musician. You need to feel the pulse of the rhythm that only a live player can give. That’s something that electronic drums simply cannot and will not ever be able to produce. Sure, I know it’s getting better – the Roland V-Drum stuff is a good start, but even then you still have LIVE players performing. I think it sounds canned, but at least there’s a live performance. Just don’t give me a sax record with a producer hammering out drum beats on a Korg just to save a few pennies. Ok, maybe to save $2000, but my point still stands.

What I enjoy seeing is a live drummer fuse together these two elements. Remember up there when I said that EM is meant to have a certain, “produced’ vibe? Well, it’s become more popular to try and recreate that artificiality live, so more and more drummers are incorporating loops and samples into their live rigs. This has TONS of potential in that it frees the drummer from playing those 4-on-the-floor parts (which is what the music is calling for) and now he/she can concentrate on playing musically around the beat. Fabulous!

Ok, well I’ve ranted on long enough. Thanks for letting me get that out of my system. If you have comments, I’d love to hear them.

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