“Q: What is The Dark Arts of Percussion, and should I report you for being a part of it?
A: No, calm down.”
Jeff Willet Music is back with a new series of albums called The Dark Arts of Percussion. There will be a few albums in this series, starting with Volume I: “The Wind Gongs of Willow Grove,” followed by another album currently in the works with big and epic arrangements! I won’t let too much out of the bag at this point, but many more updates are soon to come. Click HERE to jump over to The Dark Arts of Percussion page on this site to read more details about the first album of the series.
As I sit here listening to some new kalimba tracks I’m working on, I’d like to bring to the attention of all of the drummers & percussionists who read this that there is a golden opportunity to get your hands on the fully custom drum set of your dreams! Steve Weiss Music now offers custom drums in four brands – Gretsch, Yamaha, Pearl, and Ludwig – all with some pretty sweet options, click around through them all!
When you build your own custom drum set, you have complete control over things like wood type, drum & hardware finish, bearing edges, and obviously the sizes of the drums and the configuration. Too much to choose from? They’ll even help you along the way to make sure you’re getting what you want from it if you call or fill out the short form on their page. ***You are no longer limited to the standard 4 and 5-piece drum sets that you see at music stores!*** If you’ve ever said anything like, “well that one’s nice, but I’d like a bigger bass drum size with those same toms,” or “that finish would jump out better with black or gold hardware,” then … make it happen! There are some wild and crazy possibilities with this – the conventional idea of what a drum set is could soon become obsolete if this really takes off!
I’m actually bringing you all this great news as a custom drum set owner myself – below is a picture of what I came up with – it’s unique, not sold like this in stores, but it is possible to get something similar (or completely different!) through SWM’s new custom drums builder:
My custom drum set
22″ x 18″ bass drum (birch) – 8″ x 7″, 10″ x 8″ , 12″ x 9″, 13″ x 11″, 14″ x 12″ toms (birch) – 6.5″ x 14″ metal snare – but the Sabian Cymbals bring it all to life!
Jeff Willet playing an E minor pentatonic HAPI Drum
Getting back into showcasing some of the different percussion instruments that I play, I definitely feel that the HAPI Drums deserve some recognition. They have brought some of my pieces to life with their unique melodic and percussive qualities, and captured audiences’ eyes and ears for a few years now, hopefully not just because they look like waffle-makers (although that would a be great selling point – “Free Waffles with Purchase of CDs!” – I’ll consider it). As for their percussive and melodic capabilities, they are precision-tuned steel tongue drums in a set key, played with fingers or mallets (I prefer fingers), with a sound somewhere between a Hang Drum/HandPan and a vibraphone. The different pitches come from the different sized cut outs on the top of the instrument, and the percussive tones can be achieved by hitting in between those notes or in the center of the drum on the logo.
A Brief Description
The HAPI Drum is another example of an “idiophone” – you hit it, it resonates, and thats where the sound comes from – very simple design (in the same family as my Udu Drums). The notes are strategically positioned around the top of the instrument so that when you hit one note, the other notes around it ring sympathetically to create its unique timbre, which I can only describe as “colorful” and packed with overtones, yet when you hit one note and mute all the others, it has a very dry/dull sound – go figure, you sneaky ears!
Tuning, Usage and Design
As I mentioned before, each HAPI drum is in a set key. There are plenty of options available as to which key, but choose carefully to pick the one that appeals most to you. I first went with the E minor pentatonic tuning because of how well it would go with my Kalimbas (in A minor), and then I added the D minor pentatonic to have a full octave and a half of the D Dorian scale between both of them. This continuous series of notes in a scale (each drum has 8 notes total, these two have 4 overlapping notes) allows for some nice melodic applications in a few pieces, while sometimes I’ll take a more rhythmic approach – I’ve even used them for bass lines occasionally.
Playing and Recording Techniques
Mic position for a HAPI Drum
As far as the playing technique goes, there really is no right or wrong way to play a HAPI Drum! I often use something similar to tabla techniques with them for more precision and speed. Because the instrument has such a long sustain, muting techniques are a nice contrasting touch to use also. For more recent recordings, I’ve been treating them like guitar tracks, and “doubling” the tracks – playing it twice, each on mono tracks panned hard right & left to fill up the stereo image a bit more. To record these wonderful instruments, I’ve had the best luck with a large-diaphragm condenser mic positioned about 12 inches/30cm directly over the center of the drum, in a cardioid pickup pattern. For recording two HAPI Drums at the same time, place the mic at the same height, centered between the two drums (or just use two mics). Any other positioning will affect how present certain notes will be (closer notes to the mic will be louder, and those further away won’t be heard as well).
See And Hear For Yourself
For anyone curious as to what HAPI Drums actually look and sound like, here are a few examples of pieces featuring them from The Gathering Mist’s albums. They always seem to interact well with any other instrument too:
“From The Four Winds”
My ONLY critique about this instrument is its name, which isn’t really a major concern. HAPI stands for Hand Activated Percussion Instrument, which doesn’t describe what it specifically is at all. Most percussion instruments are hand-activated, and these even also include mallets to “activate” the sound with as well. But that being said, they’re incredible instruments and I appreciate everyone who’s checked them out! For more info on Hapi Drums, check out the blog that I wrote to introduce them at Steve Weiss Music, where they can now be purchased too!
“my, what nice 8th notes you have…”<— Nope, not even close:
Instead of showcasing a specific instrument for this blog post, I want to explain a little bit about a layering concept that I often use as a compositional tool and when I perform live to “beef up” the rhythmic nature of a piece. I haven’t heard any other names for it, so I’ll refer to it as the process of “Rhythmic Complementing.”
Strategic Rhythm Placement to Fill Up the Groove in Your Music
Different from rhythmic counterpoint and polyrhythms, rhythmic complementing (or, … rhythomplementing?) is a way to thicken up the rhythmic texture of a piece of music by filling in the gaps created by the main rhythm. Once applied, the result is a measure of all 16th notes (in the example I’ll give), or just a busier groove than what you started out with, regardless of the meter. There is no exact formula for how to do this, other than this simple set of instructions:
1. Write out the main rhythm of the piece.
2. Write another rhythm above or below the first one, making sure to place a note where there was a rest or held-out note in the first one, to fill in the gaps or “complement” it.
3.a.) Keep in mind this second rhythm should make sense on its own, too. Notes in the second rhythm can certainly overlap and/or double those in the first rhythm in order to make it all flow better together AND separately.
b.) Or, leave some gaps and fill in only strategically, sparingly, or wherever it makes the most sense or feels right for you and for the piece (although this could be considered rhythmic counterpoint).
4. Expand rhythms out into melody/notation for your instruments of choice.
Intro to “Ceramics” by The Gathering Mist
Keep in mind that not every piece calls for this, so listen for the context of when to use it and when not to. This works well in live music settings also! Its easiest in a group with a drummer and a percussionist, but experiment with other instrumentations too!
A clear example of this is in a piece I did called “Ceramics” from The Gathering Mist’s album, “Reservoir” (notated above – follow along!), which starts off with a jembe playing a syncopated rhythm in 11/8, panned to one side. After four bars a dumbek enters, panned to the other side, playing a complementary rhythm to the jembe, still in 11/8. Four bars later at measure 9, the jembe and dumbek switch parts but the same principle still applies. Once the dumbek enters on the first beat of measure 5, the rest of that beginning section to the piece sounds like straight 16th notes because of this rhythmic complementing process. Enjoy!
There are a couple subtle hints of this technique sprinkled throughout other tracks I did for both of The Gathering Mist’s albums. And keep in mind, this isn’t necessarily confined to only percussion instruments…
To explain a bit of background on this project, it was all written consecutively over about two and a half years, from the summer of 2008 when I first had the idea for the project until the release of the 2nd full length album, “Reservoir,” on Tuesday, December 14th, 2010. It was a LOT of fun to see my ideas come to life in the form of those pieces of music, and while yes they could always be improved upon, I’m proud of what I accomplished with them. My technique on a lot of instruments was pushed in order to play those parts, and a lot of new ground was explored compositionally for me as well, not to mention all of the practical audio engineering experience!
I think of The Gathering Mist’s music as one continuous thought across both albums, since I wrote it all consecutively. Because of this, I plan to remove both of my albums from iTunes, CDBaby, Amazon, etc and then combine them into one double album simply named, “The Gathering Mist.” Most likely available as a download only, it will feature all 33 original compositions across both albums currently available. I’ve received a lot of positive feedback and recognition from the music, so I want to keep it in rotation and see what happens.
From here on out, any new material that I write will be under a different name. What name, I have no idea right now. But everything I’ve written over the past year and a half since releasing “Reservoir” has had a slightly different sound thanks to new influences, new instruments, new equipment, and a few personal changes in my life (for the better) – just everything moving forward and progressing to the next step. Expect BIG things from my next album, there is a lot of interest in it already! Some very exciting well-known guest artists are in the works, and the music is so intense with such a great groove!
Exciting things are brewing, and I’ll be sure to keep you all updated the entire way! As of right now my main focus is a project called Illusionarium with my very talented girlfriend, Jen Mitlas. She always impresses the hell out of me with everything she writes, and its a privilege and an honor (and a lot of fun!) to make a concept album like this with her!
Again, thank you for your continued interest and support of the music that I thoroughly enjoy making and sharing with you all.
Check out Jen’s announcement of Illusionarium for some awesome new music from us!
The Udu drum is another favorite percussion instrument of mine. It comes in all shapes and sizes, and I really enjoy the variety of sounds it can make and the many applications for those sounds in different musical settings. Originally a Nigerian instrument, I have also heard it played in a Latin music setting as part of a Jazziz Magazine CD, gently providing a groove for an acoustic guitar and female singer.
The Udu drum is a unique combination of an idiophone (opposite of a smartphone, try to keep up) and an aerophone. The sound comes from hitting the exterior (usually made of clay) and controlling the air within the resonating chamber(s) by covering or uncovering either of its two characteristic holes. It looks like a water jug/pot with an extra hole in the side (“Udu” translates to “pot” in the Igbo language, I’m told).
Because of the overall teardrop shape of this instrument, the Helmholtz principle of acoustics kicks in and produces a deep low earthy sound when one of its holes are hit and covered by your hand, (forcing the air into the resonating chamber, and out thru the open hole) with the ability to bend the pitch up from there as you release your hand. How low does it go? The larger the resonating chamber, the lower the pitch, and believe me these things could easily pass for an 808/bass drop effect!
The way I use Udu drums in my music varies depending on which kind(s) I believe would fit best with the piece. I am working on a piece now called “Footprints” which features all three Udus playing back and forth and “complimenting” each other’s rhythms and pitches to make it sound like its played all on one instrument. After that, the piece develops and picks up speed which calls for an adaptation of Indian tabla techniques to be played on the Udus – first on one drum, then doubled on another, and then switched up a bit to bring in the third Udu for a more straight-ahead groove to bring the piece to a fiery close. A demo with scratch tracks was previously released of this piece, but I have reworked much of it with only a bit more to go at this point. Look for the final version soon!
I have also featured the Udu drums in a few pieces with The Gathering Mist – see if you can pick out their unique sounds:
In “Ceramics,” I used the Udu pictured below to bring in some low-end to support the tuned flower pots, shekere, tambourine, and melodic HAPI Drums for much of the middle section. Lots of very interesting layering combinations and rhythmic/melodic concepts in this piece…
…as well as little subtle parts in many other pieces across both albums – bonus points for recognizing those too!