On The Inside

On The Inside

Monday, August 8, 2016


Acoustic Drums

I like to go to drum circles, but, I'm not really into acoustic instruments very much. Ok, sure, I have an acoustic guitar and a guitarlele, a shaker or two and a tamborine, but, that's not really my gig. I'm very much into using technology to create noise. That said, at one point in my life I owned a djembe, it was made of clay, kinda cheap, something like the picture, but not quite as fancy. I pretty much sucked at playing it, but, it had this cool feature that the salesman showed me where if you stuffed your fist into the bottom, it would bend the note down. Ok, nothing groundbreaking there, just some basic physics, but, the direct interaction with the drum without banging on it was new to me.  That drum has a crazy story to tell, but that's for another day, suffice it to say that there's not much left of it after my friend Matt squashed it while playing. He saw people sitting across these kinds of drums and thought it was ok to sit on it, it wasn't. It went out with a giant pong sound. I mean a really loud pong. The look on Matt's face was priceless.

Electronic Drums

That out of the way, I've had a long interest in electronic drums, particularly those from the 80s that are basically focused synthesizers. One of my favorites is the Star Electronics Synare 3.  This flying saucer shaped synthesizer is a hit at parties! Everyone wants to play while everyone else wants the person playing to stop.  I have had a number of different models of 80s synth drum over the years, few as interesting as the synare including one or two that were broken and not really worth fixing. It's one of those broken drum synths that has inspired the DrumAda project. I have wanted to build a digital drum synthesizer based on FM synthesis for some time now and I plan to use the shell from one of those broken 80s drums. I have some algorithms from Reaktor synths that are interesting and dynamic and that I think would suit a hand drum quite well. Initially I was going to use the Intel Edison as host board because I have some experience with that, but the simplicity and completeness of one of the ST boards seemed more appropriate for this project. In particular, I really don't need this drum to be "wifi" enabled, or in reality, connected wirelessly at all. I only need several control inputs provided by pots and piezo triggers.

Virtual Hybrid Drums

Ok, that's a nonsense phrase if there ever was one, but give me just a minute and I'll clarify. What I want to capture in this project is not a drum that is actually a hybrid ascoustic/electronic drum, rather, I want to capture some aspects of the experience of playing an acoustic drum but in a completely electronic drum. A naive interpretation of this might have a drum body with an opening at the bottom and some sort of intrusion sensor so that the pitch could be lowered as your hand entered the drum. For me, however, that's just too literal. I want the drum to be a dynamic child of its environment, but playing it doesn't have to be identical to playing any existing drum.

The hybrid nature of the DrumAda project exists only in a virtual sense. Manipulating the drum in space will have some impact on how the drum sounds, although, this will come from electronics. Specifically, the accelerometer will be mapped to specific control inputs on the synth. Which inputs? That's to be determined, the goal is to have an instrument that is alien in sound but that responds in a somewhat organic way as you play it on your lap or hanging from a strap.