August 2016 Album Update

Get ready for more frequent album updates, because things are really getting close over here!! All 10 tracks are written, and are anywhere from 85-100% recorded! We just had an incredible marimba recording session with my good friend Anthony DiBartolo. Having a real five octave marimba on the album really fills up the mix, especially with Anthony’s dynamic playing giving it a lot of color and dimension.

So again – what’s left?!

Thank you for asking. We’ll be finishing up the violin sessions soon (wow Julie Myers really adds a lot of motion to these tracks too!), then moving on to cello, and of course a few more percussion & drum set sessions thrown in there too (plus a surprise guest solo or two!!). There’s always more fun rhythms to try out!

Then it’s onto the mix. These sessions are HUGE – tons of layers and different sounds that need to all play well with each other. I’ve started mixing a few of the tracks – just some simple editing and getting some levels and automations programmed in, trying out different EQ’s, yada yada, but I’ve been really impressed with the mixes so far. It’s a daunting task to bring forth a whole album like this from scratch, and then to see it at this stage almost complete. There are many possibilities are far as where the mix could go. I don’t want this to sound like a rock or metal album, because it’s not that. It’s also not a jazz album; It’s somewhere between a few genres. My wife calls it, “jazzy percussion prog,” which I kinda like the sound of🙂 so I’ll keep that in mind while mixing.

All of the tracks are named, but there’s no album artwork yet. More decisions…

Just a quick update for now – MUCH MORE will be posted as we approach the release date and more of the tracks are finalized. I’m also looking to do some play-throughs and other videos soon as well. Not sure I say this enough, but I REALLY appreciate everyone’s support with this whole album-making process, and I think everyone will enjoy this music as much as I’ve enjoyed making it.

I will post these tracks as soon as they are ready. The question is … are you ready?

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Merry Album Update, Everyone!

drumsolo

Awhile back I mentioned about making another solo album, but not much has been officially said about it since then. I’m sitting here now listening to the playback of nine pieces totaling over an hour of new material. I’ve been chipping away at drum set and percussion recordings over the past two years for this, and it’s really coming together nicely. I’ve also been fortunate enough to work with some different kinds of instruments on this album, most notably the Hang (similar to an inverted steel drum played with your hands). It has a very enchanting and recognizable sound, and really helps to lock in some of the compositions and bridge the gap between the melodic and percussive sounds on this album. I’ve also been working a lot with gongs if you couldn’t tell by now; using different types of mallets/brushes on them, and bringing out their percussive and melodic natures as well. I’ll say this: for a percussion-centric album, it’s extremely diverse!

What to expect?

This album is the next evolution in my musical journey. In my opinion, the compositions are better, the recording quality has greatly improved, and the performance is at a new level compared to anything I’ve done before. There’s a new level of groove on these tracks, which makes them easier to “get into.” A lot of these pieces are very challenging and fun to play. I also don’t think I “overplayed” on any of it, yet there are still some pretty intense/in-your-face moments. The use of contrast is huge, to enhance the musicality of the pieces. There is also no shortage of complex harmonies, rhythms, and lengthy compositions. It has a very earthy, organic feel as with most of my music, due to instrument choice and overall sonic qualities, but like I said before, it gets intense at times – believe that! It’s not metal, it’s not “tribal”, and it’s not like anything I’ve done before. It should really be a fun experience and will make you want to turn it up and really feel it!

So what’s left?

In short: recording the Marimba, Vibraphone, Violins and Cello (maybe a little guitar & piano as well??). There has been a lot of recording and re-recording that went on throughout the writing and recording stages. I got a hold of a better cajon for one track, so I completely redid it with that one. Shaker track not sitting 100%? Throw it on the list and redo that sucker! It’s been great having a laid-back recording schedule so I can really focus on the pieces and try things out/experiment in the studio. I’ve been mixing as I go along, so while nothing is 100% “finished” and “ready to share” at this point, there is a light at the end of the tunnel for all of the nine pieces, some closer than others. The final mixing will be done when everything has been recorded and no more redo’s are in store. Then it’s off to mastering and then out to you all! It’s just that simple (I wish). That being said, I am extremely proud of how everything so far is sounding, especially the drum set. Great tones all around!

However, there is no album name yet, no track names to share, nor an album cover at this point. How am I supposed to put names to instrumental pieces? Inside jokes about the tracks maybe? We’ll see soon enough! Also, another thing that will be different from my previous albums: I plan on doing a bit of marketing with this and hopefully making a video or two for it and playing some shows to support the album release with the help of some incredibly talented friends of mine! I had originally set a goal of the end of 2015 to release this album, but that’s not looking too likely right now – maybe summer 2016 if you’re good. I am looking forward to sharing these tracks THE ABSOLUTE SECOND they’re ready.

Large Drum Sets vs. Small Drum Sets

All “size matters” jokes aside, there is a lot to be said on this subject. I think there is a different mindset that comes from playing large, small, or “alternative” drum sets. And PLEASE keep in mind that the modern drum set is only about 100 years old anyway, so the “standard” drum sets that we see today could very well change within the next few years if we keep our minds open. My prediction is that we’ll soon start to see more “multi-percussion” set ups rather than the regular ol’ 5-piece preconfigured kits that are sold so frequently and not questioned today.

Back to the topic at hand, growing up I always knew I was a Large Drum Set person. To clarify, I’m talking about 6+ piece kits vs 4- or 5-piece kits. And even on a 5-pc, putting the rack toms off to the side of the bass drum rather than right over it scores some points with me (I call that an “extended 4-piece” kit). I learned a lot from watching Mike Portnoy, Simon Phillips, Neil Peart, etc., and adapted my playing style to incorporate that in there because it was flashy and exciting. But at some point I felt that I needed to reinforce the basics – not just rudiments in this case because they should be a standard practice for all drummers, but HOW to play on a Small Drum Set – to lay back and focus on the simplicity of The Groove. Obviously there can be some VERY impressive ideas expressed on a Small Drum Set like THIS, while many Big Drum Set players can become stuck in their ways or sound “contained,” despite their intimidating setups.

So where is the middle ground? I find that once you find Your Sound, you can really develop it further by experimenting with alternative drum setups. For me, I set up my Large Drum Set with symmetry and geometric patterns in mind. I think this keeps it fresh and lets me explore more possibilities than I would be able to do on a standard out-of-the-box 5-piece kit. It also allows me to see fills and patterns as shapes and to work within a certain shape or start there and expand upon it.

Coming from the Large Drum Set background, whenever I get a chance to play on a Small Drum Set (I’m talking 4-piece), I feel that I can sit back, relax, and just PLAY. I also find that the less “stuff” I have around me, the more I LISTEN to the other players or even myself. I’ve taken this approach back to the Large Drum Set, and have seen my compositions become more focused and less about hitting everything on the kit in each measure. And so when I do go for that 6″ tom or effects cymbal, it has more “meaning” than it would otherwise.

I’ll leave you with this:

Hang Drum Recording Technique (NOW WITH AUDIO!!)

I recently had the bright idea to compose a piece for hang drum (official name “Hang”), marimba, vibraphone, bells, drum set, and percussion that turned out to be nine and a half minutes long. This will undoubtedly be a monster of a piece to record, but I had to start somewhere. I started with the Hang because that was the backbone of the whole piece (more on the musical aspects of the piece later). I hadn’t recorded a hang drum before, so before starting the session I did a quick search for hang drum recording techniques online and found one picture that made no sense at all, and not much else that was very helpful (doesn’t mean it’s not out there). I figured I would go by a few basic mic’ing principles that I picked up in college:

First, “You’re not mic’ing the instrument – you’re mic’ing the air around the instrument.”

Now, this sounds MUCH more esoteric than it actually is. It’s really a great concept to keep in mind when mic’ing anything. Sound is vibrations in the air which are picked up by the mics, so that’s what you want the mics to capture (based on your mic’s pickup pattern), and not the instrument itself. 

Second, “Q: How do I mic this thing? A: How do you listen to it?”

Disclaimer: That Q&A doesn’t apply in every situation, but in this case it did help to weed out a few mic positions and save some time. Getting back to the strange method I saw in my short research on this topic, there were two large diaphragm condensers on the player’s right and left, facing each other and pointed down toward the instrument at about a 45 degree angle (spaced pair, maybe?). There was also a third mic in this same position in front of the player. Phasing issues aside, referring back to the second bold point above: unless you have very spaced out ears (we’re talking 3-4 feet) with a third ear extending out from your forehead, chances are that’s not how you would listen to the instrument. You most likely have two ears, which makes it worthwhile to go with a plain and simple stereo mic’ing technique. I set up two AKG C214’s right next to each other, facing out at about 35 degree angles, 8-10 inches directly above* the center note of the Hang. Since the 214’s have a cardioid pickup pattern, this mic position allows for full coverage of the instrument’s nine notes. When panned about half-right and half-left, it gives a very real representation of the Hang through the MOTU 8Pre Interface.

HangRecording2

*I also saw another picture where someone had one mic out in front of the instrument pointed down at a 45 degree angle, about a foot and half or two feet in front of and above it. The issue with that is the Hang is a circular instrument with notes all around it, so mic’ing it from any one side will produce louder results from the notes closest to the mic, while the notes farthest from it might not pick up as well (think of how the sound waves will spread similar to the Sun’s light and heat affecting planets closer or further away from it).

HangRecording3

That’s why I figured that a stereo pair right above the center note would be best, and to my relief, it didn’t really need any further processing from there. It had just enough of the “proximity effect” to sound full, articulate, and “beefy” without sounding too bassy or muddy, and the instrument itself is very resonant, so any artificial reverb just clouded it up. When all of the other instruments are added in, I’ll re-examine the Hang tracks for further processing, but for solo purposes, this is the setup I’ll be sticking with – very pleased with the results, and can’t wait to share when the track is complete! I would love to hear your experiences recording the Hang or any other instrument that gave you a challenge!

Here’s a little something that I improv’d on the Hang with this mic placement. I enabled free downloading for this track on soundcloud.

The Dark Arts of Percussion

Q: What is The Dark Arts of Percussion, and should I report you for being a part of it?

      A: No, calm down.

 

The Dark Arts of Percussion is a new series of albums by Jeff Willet Music. First in the series we have “The Wind Gongs of Willow Grove,” an album recorded only with three Wind Gongs, a gong beater named “King Gong,” and a simple straw brush. It is a meditative album, meant to be listened straight through the six tracks, and focuses on the harmonic content of these wonderful gongs that create a beautiful soundscape that relaxes the mind to a state of deeper thought. The tracks are not named so as to not steer your thoughts in any way while experiencing the sounds contained therein, but rather left unnamed to leave the musical journey up to your own imagination. Much time was spent crafting the sound and the mix of the album to represent what it would be like to hear this performed live as far as stereo imaging as well as careful and precise EQ’ing. These gongs are also special because of where they are from. They were hand-selected in the Wuhan Province of China for Steve Weiss Music before the major brands could get to them. Steve Weiss himself was given the nickname of “King Gong” by Frank Zappa many years ago, and has been a landmark in the Gong and Percussion communities ever since. You can download the album the price of your choice HERE.

 

The second album in The Dark Arts of Percussion series is still in the works but promises to be much bigger, with more large-scale, percussion-focused arrangements, featuring both melodic and rhythmic percussion instruments from all over the world. Not exactly tribal, not exactly jazz/fusion, but a contemporary blend of multiple genres to let the instruments speak as they wish. Writing, rehearsing, and recording for this album will take place throughout in 2015. More details about the what/where/when/why/who’s of this album will be released shortly.


Even though The Dark Arts of Percussion is primarily a studio project, live performances are not out of the question! Please email jeffwilletmusic@gmail.com for more info.

Custom Drums

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\m/(>_<)\m/

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!

HAPI Drums

Jeff Willet playing an E minor pentatonic HAPI Drum

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

HapiMicPosition

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:

“Overtonality”

“Oasis”


“Underwater Groove”


“Frequencies”


“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!