It's been a few weeks since I last posted. Work has kept me too busy to post here before today...but I've been working with the Zendrum and Battery 3
regularly. I've learned a lot more and come a long way. Here's the latest on what i've done and some observations...
My main goal for the past month has been to get a variety of kits together to cover a wide range of musical and cultural styles
. Using the methods I described in earlier posts, I started with existing Battery 3 kits...then selected my favorite sounds and copied them into 24-cell kits for the Zendrum. One problem I encountered early on was MIDI note mapping. Here's the approach I used:1.
First, I assembled the 24 sounds/multisamples I wanted to use for a given kit.2.
Then, I mapped the Zendrum's 24 triggers to the lowest
possible MIDI notes (C0, C#0, D0...etc...up through B1). Once I established that note mapping for the Zendrum, I'll never change it---easier (for me) to "fix" the Zendrum's note mapping and just work with the software.3.
Finally, using my MIDI keyboard, I remapped the MIDI notes in each of my custom Battery 3 kits to the highest
possible MIDI notes (C8 down to C#6). This ensured there is no overlap
in MIDI note mapping between the Zendrum and my custom Battery kits---giving me a "blank slate"
to experiment with various note mappings.4.
I saved the resulting Battery kits with the tag "unmapped"
on the filename (e.g. "North_Indian_01_unmapped.kt3
"). From this point, it was easy to open one of my "blank slate" unmapped kits and start assigning sounds to Zendrum triggers using the MIDI "Learn" function. Sometimes I'd get the mapping to where I liked it pretty quickly...and if I didn't like a certain mapping, I just wouldn't save the file, then reopen it to take me back to a blank slate again.
Using this technique, I created a variety of awesome-sounding kits, including...Javanese Gamelan
(with authentic Slendro tuning and matched interference beats!) - for this kit, I used the fantastic Roland HandSonic
samples for the bonang, gender, and saron
...as well as the HandSonic's Thai gong
, which is a "must" in my book. (I recorded high-quality HandSonic samples before selling mine!)North Indian percussion
- All Battery 3 samples for tabla, ghatam, finger cymbals and riq...plus the HandSonic's Thai gongMiddle Eastern percussion
- All Battery 3's awesome samples of darabuka, doumbek, tar, and riqAfrican Balafon
- using a sample set I recorded a couple years ago from a friend's excellent balafon from CameroonEast Asian percussion
- using all Battery 3's awesome taiko and lion drum samples, as well as beautiful gong soundsElectronic drumkit
- an all-purpose synth kit for general dance and electronicaAcoustic drumkit
- based on Battery 3's excellent "Pop Kit."
This took several days of intense listening to all the Battery 3 samples and choosing the best ones for each kit (and of course I always had to leave a few out I really liked, but I'll eventually create alternate versions of each kit with the sounds I couldn't use in the first one).
Then I took several more days just playing each kit...this was the fun part!
It's where I really began to appreciate the power of the Zendrum and what you can do with it. For example, I quickly discovered that the Zendrum (in my opinion) offers MUCH more possibility than the HandSonic in terms of playing combinations of multiple sounds at once, since you can touch triggers with any part of your fingers, hand, or forearm. I found that in the middle of a jam or a groove, I'd stumble across some amazing "embellishments" to the groove just by bringing in a little forearm or letting my fingers get a little "sloppy" and strike two pads at once. I'm sure longtime Zendrummers know all about this...but the possibilities are staggering to me...very much like playing a piano.
My latest fun experiments have involved saving out duplicates of the kits above with effects
applied---reverb and delay. I've always love playing with delays, and it's a real challenge to do it, because it's basically like playing with a metronome---if you get sloppy with your time while a delay's running it's obvious!
So far, my only minor complaint with the Zendrum (which might be just as much an issue with Battery 3) are the velocity curves
. As a rule from years of working with MIDI, I've found that with almost any kind of controller, the only usable velocity range is from approximately 40 or 50 up to 115
. I've never found a controller that let you effortlessly alternate between velocities of 20 and 40, for example (e.g. those velocities are usually too far below the general noise floor to be useful).
I've spent lots of time trying out the different Zendrum velocity curves...as well as spent time tweaking Battery 3's limited velocity curve control. More frustrating is that velocity varies a lot from kit to kit and sample to sample---it's just the nature of the sounds. In other words, a "90" on a china boy cymbal isn't going to be the same loudness as a "90" on the kick drum (sort of obvious I know, but it's just to point out the tweakking you have to do to get an authentic sound and feel).
Having played acoustic percussion instruments for 20+ years, I can say that as great as the Zendrum and other MIDI controllers are...they're still not "there" yet as far as velocity granularity and control. I can produce a far greater range of loudness on a real marimba or real doumbek, for example. But hey, that's ok---it's the nature of MIDI and we just work with it, right?
In closing, I'm happy to report that as a primary sound source, my HP laptop setup (Pavilion zd7030, Pentium 4, 3.0ghz, 2GB RAM, Echo Indigo PCMCIA audio card, MOTU FastLane MIDI interface)
has been 100% reliable. I've spent hour after hour wailing away with Battery 3 kits and the Zendrum, and not once have I gotten stuck notes, dropouts, computer crashes---it's been flawless! Based on this, I'd say I'm completely comfortable using my laptop for performances...
...except...I have to admit that if my laptop ever died for any reason during a performance...that's it: GAME OVER! LOL so obviously the ideal setup is to get a second laptop set up identically to the first.
I'm sure many will say "Get a MUSE Receptor!!!"
My response to that is...I'd love to! But honestly, as great as the Receptors are...I can buy two highly capable laptops (and therefore have a fully redundant setup) for the price of a single Receptor. Those things are just too damned expensive in my book. and from what I've seen, to really work with sounds in the Receptor, you still need (at least initially) a monitor and a mouse and/or keyboard...so at that point, I'd rather just have a laptop. But I'm open to arguments for why I'd be better off with one Receptor than 2 identical laptops!