Contributed by Canadian musician Robbie Grunwald for Roland Canada
This past summer my band DoubleTooth was asked to be a part of the Dusk Dances festival (Aug 1 – 7, 2016). This festival has been going on for over 20 years; it takes place in parks in cities around Canada every summer and involves 4 or 5 original works of dance performed at site specific locations in the park.
It’s a great way to see modern dance and be outside in the summer time. This year, DoubleTooth was asked to start off every show by performing a 30 minute set in conjunction with an Nia dance instructor that got the whole crowd moving to our music. It was a pretty magical experience to be able to play outside on the grass, and also to have a giant crowd of people dancing to your music!
The festival runs for 7 days, for a total of 9 shows. As it turned out my partner in the band, the drummer (and the other half of DoubleTooth) couldn’t do the back half of the festival as he had previous touring commitments. When I found out, I had a small panic! Then I thought about some of the tools I had in my studio. I thought that instead of blowing the whole gig out, I could get creative. So, I grabbed my Roland TR-8 and a box full of Roland effectors and started to mess around. After a few hours of playing around I decided that it could work and so we proceeded with the gig and planned to replace our drummer with this rig for the gigs when he would be away.
I spent the days leading up to those dates programming the DoubleTooth grooves into the TR-8. I worry that any drummer reading this might be irritated or offended by this concept, and in their defence, I struggled to give the music the right character and feel. The music of DoubleTooth is pretty organic and vibey. Its not really the kind of music that would have programmed drums. It’s roots are in Afro-beat rhythms and so these grooves are pretty complex and they change a lot. Also for this performance there were a lot of improvised sections and interaction between the players. I was hoping that the interface of these machines would lend itself to real time manipulation.
I managed to pre-program the basic patterns into the TR-8 and they sounded alright, but they just didn’t have that special something that our drummer brings to it. That’s when I thought of using the effectors…
I ran the TR-8 into the Bitrazer, and then the Torcido. I bypassed the Scooper, and finally put it through the Demora. The Torcido gave the drums a similar grit as what we have on the record and was basically on the whole time. The Bitrazer would come in and out and provided a really great filter as well as an interesting tonal variation as you step down the sample rate. Finally using the Demora in the chain we could add some delay and create strange and complex rhythms.
At the shows, I gave the drum rig to our bass player to man as my hands were pretty tied with multiple keyboards. He was able to trigger the different patterns and mute and unmute things as necessary while still holding down the bass lines. During the course of the performance we found that the ease of real time manipulation on these machines was incredible! The large knobs on the effectors and the big button and fader layouts on the TR-8 make it perfect for this kind of use. He was able to trigger the appropriate patterns on the TR-8 as well as tweaking the Bitrazer and Demora at key moments for drum features. It worked perfectly. While it has a different effect compared to using a real drummer, this Roland setup sure did a hell of a good job!