Saturday, April 24, 2010

Spectrum AIL 602 Drum Kit

In my last post I mentioned that I'd recommended a drum kit. It wasn't until I actually went to link to the recommendation that I realized I had NOT actually posted that recommendation here... rather it was on the TMA website forums. So let me rectify that right now. This is mostly what I posted there, but updated, corrected, and edited.

I've never played drums before, or included any rhythm much past a hand clap, or click track on a recording. For Song Fu I thought it may come in handy to have some drums, so I first tried to find a drummer, and failing that I picked up a Spectrum AIL 602 electronic drum kit. This isn't a sequencer, it's a set of drum pad that output audio to an amplifier. I figured I'd put it into my 4-channel mixer learn to play a few rhythms and all would be okay fine.

As it turns out, all I used in our first song, Summer Rain, was the hi-hat cymbal. Not much experience gained. But our second song is the very first in which I've actually tried to play a full drum kit. (snare, 3 toms, kick, hi-hat, ride and crash cymbals). I used the snare alone on Angels and Demons.

A drum kit is NOT something you beat on for rhythm. Well, it is, but that doesn't get very far. You have to treat the drums as instruments like anything else. And it ain't easy. You have to be a frakkin' octopus to play kick and hi-hat and everything else. That can be a foreign concept for those who play melodic instruments. I thought the pipe organ was tough.

This is going to get me a "Well, DUH!" from experienced drummers, but I thought I'd just say that. AND apologize for any drummer jokes I may have laughed at in the past.

Now, about this drum kit...

The Spectrum AIL 602 is very compact. It's about the size of a broiling pan, and since it's one piece (plus stand and pedals... the throne is not included) it would seem to me to be a pretty good travel kit. Though I bought mine at a local music store, it's unlikely that you'll find one there. There are a number of places on the web to get one (Google's your friend), and they're all well under list price. Some are under $160.00, which makes this really attractive for bargain hunters. The only place I don't recommend getting it from is (I hate to make a negative recommendation, but their website didn't even have the instrument properly labeled until I made some inquiries about replacement pedals. That's the reason my previous mentions of the product mis-identified it as a 601. They also weren't the easiest people to contact, and they certainly didn't bend over backwards to make a sale.)

There are plenty of other electronic drumkits out there, and many of them more or less duplicate the placement and size of a real drum kit's drumheads. They also are pretty pricey. Spectrum make no attempt to do that with the 602. Nevertheless, it's surprisingly usable. The smaller pads mean that you have to be a bit more precise when you strike, but that's probably not a bad thing. The case is very durable plastic, and speakers are built-in. You can either mic the thing or use the line out jack. If you do mic it, that durable plastic case actually makes a pretty neat sound if you use it as an additional striking surface. Just sayin'.

There are 215 voices, and you can assign any of them to any of the pads. So snare, cowbell, wood block... whatever... you can use it. It's like having a full percussion kit. There are 20 preset kits, and 10 more custom kits. Any of these is easily accessible using a wheel on the control panel at top-center. There is a USB output as well as the audio line out.

As I mentioned, I inquired after replacement pedals. The reason is simple... unlike those pricey drumkits, which either use kick and hi-hat pedals that are engineered to resemble the real thing, or which actually use a real kick pedal against a drum pad, the AIL 60 ships with simple footswitches that are, quite frankly, completely and utterly worthless. Fortunately, the pedals, being simple, are easily replaced by a keyboard sustain pedals with phono plugs. Unfortunately these aren't velocity-sensitive, so you're going to get one sound only out of the kick, and you can't hold the hi-hat half-closed. Overall, the sound is similar to what you'd get from a quality MIDI loop. The samples themselves don't sound quite real, but you do get a live feel because they are in fact played live.

Nevertheless, for the price these are pretty small quibbles.

Now, I'm not a professional drummer, or even a good amateur, so my opinion should count for little. But as I see it, this is at the very least a fairly decent set of practice pads, small enough to fit in a single suitcase, stand and all.

A New Throne.

OK, in the past I've recommended other stuff... a keyboard and pedals, an electronic drum kit, open source recording tools... but it occurred to me that I've neglected my tuchus. Instead of a decent, comfortable seat, I've been using a cheap $15 folding barstool from Wal-Mart that is frankly the wrong height, and feels like you're sitting on the edge of a split-rail fence.

I took care of that today. Professional drummers and pianists spend a lot of time sitting down, and so do I. The right seat can make a big difference in the quality of your performances... if you're uncomfortable, or you're awkwardly positioned, it shows.

I'm not a great fan of piano benches, though, and prefer to use a stool. The drum set also requires a stool, or throne, though at a different, usually much lower, height. The seat has to be comfortably padded, easily adjustible, and incredibly sturdy.

I was in Hames Music today, and on semi-impulse started looking for a stool to cradle my bruised buns. I wound up selecting the Tama HT650C Round Rider Hydraulix drum throne. That's a mouthful, so I'll call it the Round Rider. It's everything I mentioned above, and the cloth seat is very comfortable. It's extremely easy to adjust using the side lever, it height ranges from higher than I need to lower than I need, so it covers all the bases, and it dis-assembles and folds up tight for easy transport. Those heavy-duty footpads mean that once placed it's not going anywhere. It's double bracing has the feel of precision engineering, and it doesn't warp or creak.

There's a manually adjustable version of this same stool, but the difference in price is only about $20. Given that you're spending well over $100 for this stool, I saw no reason not to spring for the hydraulics. If you're a dedicated pianist or drummer who rarely needs to adjust the height, then you may be fine with the manual "screw adjust" type.

A chair is a very personal thing, but I'm sharing because I like this one a lot.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Little House on the Sea

<a href="">Little House on the Sea by Dr. Lindyke</a>

I was looking through old Song Fu challenges for inspiration, and came across this one:
Write a song about the Moon.
Sounded good enough. William Hoover's on vacation at Edisto Island, so I thought I'd go ahead with the lyrics on this one. I think the island setting was on my mind, because the title of this "song about the Moon" turned out to be "Little House on the Sea".

Also it turned out to be not so much a song "about the Moon" as it did a song about living on the Moon, watching the destruction of the Earth from afar. Oh, well.

If you've got scripting enabled, you can click on the player above to play the song from here, or you can click on the picture to go to our page with the lyrics or to download the file in your preferred format, as well as to see the nifty track art I've GIMPed for it. Or, you can just click on the link below.