No kit - but no sequencer. Using the <a href="http://www.zendrum.com/">ZenDrum</a> controller, musician Nick Froud (left) is one of a handful of growing artists using finger dexterity to trigger electronic sounds in an entirely human fashion - no machine timing needed. Photo by <a href="http://josephshepherdphotography.wordpress.com/">Joseph Shepherd</a>, courtesy the band.

No kit – but no sequencer. Using the ZenDrum controller, musician Nick Froud (left) is one of a handful of growing artists using finger dexterity to trigger electronic sounds in an entirely human fashion – no machine timing needed. Photo by Joseph Shepherd, courtesy the band.

For years, drummers have had to look sideways at drum machines — boxes with step sequencers blinking, out to replace them. With acts like The Age of Glass, tables are turned. The sounds are electronic (Access Virus, Machinedrum), but the playing is all live. Drummer Nick Froud plays all those parts without any sequencing, fingers blazing.

The band has a self-released (Bandcamp) EP out this week, as well as some videos of them working away at the studio. The results are jammy, trippy, grooving good times. Great to see the studio work and recording, but this must be a lot of fun to dance to live; the band is making its way round the UK now.

Watch the band in action:

Nick is a CDM reader and tells us a bit about the experience of working this way:

Finger drumming is used as an integral part of the sound. We play dance music entirely live, no loops or sequencing. It has taken serious practice for playing digital sounds to feel like a real instrument, but the Zendrum really helps. It is a serious investment but well worth it — no other finger drumming pads come close, being mostly based on force-sensing resistors rather than the Zendrum’s piezo-based approach.

To be clear, the piezo-based approach means that the Zendrum is closer to drum triggers used on kits than the drum pads you typically see on drum machines. I’m no finger drummer, but having seen this hardware up close, it is extraordinarily sensitive to tiny variations in playing, a kind of unique hybrid digital instrument.

http://www.zendrum.com/

With the electronic sound sources in the background - Access Virus and Elektron Machinedrum - Nick puts those fast fingers into action. Photo by Ed Sprake, courtesy the artists.

With the electronic sound sources in the background – Access Virus and Elektron Machinedrum – Nick puts those fast fingers into action. Photo by Ed Sprake, courtesy the artists.

The EP:

And more videos:

Release and info:
http://theageofglass.com/album/live-at-castle-rock-studios

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  • nayseven

    Whaoo, Dance Witcha is really a cool track, love it .( this intro…). About Zendrum, i’m not a drummer myself but will be really curious to test on other melodic sounds. As you say, seems really sensible and responsive. So many tools appears in this way those days…

  • Blob

    Live loop and sample playing, chopping and processing has its advantages – namely the ability to change timbre and effects, manipulate panning, achieve inhuman speeds and musical gestures, and simultaneously create layers of sounds in a way that is impossible to do if you’re concentrating on physically playing a beat with a single set of sounds.

    But there is something to be said about actually finger-drumming an electronic beat live, it brings an organic feel to the music. Kudos to Nick for showing how it’s done.

    To do something like this, it helps if you’re a drummer, which I’m not – before making live electronic music, I was a bass player, so at the moment my finger drumming is at best basic compared to what Nick can do – i use finger drumming to complement an existing loop and add dynamics and variation; or when I’m improvising with the other guys from my band. Anyway, practice, practice, practice.

    In short, it’s always nice to see a video with real performers of electronic music (and quality music, by the way!), as opposed to those who admittedly just press play and move a slider every 2 minutes.

    • Ezmyrelda

      True. Not everyone is KJ Sawka.

    • Big Mister Doom

      This is well put and I agree entirely. Within Big Mister Doom (primarily studio band, moving into live performance now) we started out prototyping our live sets using just loops and manipulation but quickly found it was stale and a bit frustrating at times.

      What we have now landed on is myself playing live beats & percussion and small melodic parts using Maschine and Joe the other member playing keys. Both of us are supported at times by small loops triggered by Lemur in Ableton.

      This approach gets a nice blend of the live feel and groove but with the ability to build texture and timbre and recreate our densely populated tracks in a ‘live’ way.

      Not being a drummer however I am finding finger drumming….. challenging! Fun but challenging. As blob says, practice, practice, practice.

      The pay off when you and another person hit your stride with a groove in a purely electronic environment is amazing!

  • Stefan

    I don’t like the music, it’s not my style, but I do appreciate the way their making it!

  • James Husted

    I am surprised by the comparison between piezo based and force sensing resistor based sensors. As a maker of FSR based Eurorack modules (www.synthwerks.com) I find them to have quite a bit more “playable” range than piezo sensors. Piezo sensors react more to very percussive events (drumsticks for example) but the control range of a FSR is huge compared to a piezo. Also FSRs can output a constant level dependent to force with much more control. With a quantizer you can almost play melodies with one of ours. I imagine it is all about playing styles. If you are more of a bongo, conga, player then piezo controllers probably would be better and if you were more of a tabla style player then a FSR would be better.

  • Derps mcgee

    Sup hipster Futureman synthaxe drumitar???

  • Amiya Foster

    Wow! what lovely post.. I am surprised, to saw this amazing video. Really what a talent, very few people in the worlds they have this kind of talent.

  • rhombus

    I’ve played the Zendrum before so I can give a pretty clear description of its action in comparison to FSR pads. First, the triggers on it are made of a hard plastic, like pvc (but harder), with end caps. There’s no movement to them, they’re not buttons, they’re hard not soft. The piezo sensors detect the micro-vibrations from the triggers– so no pressure sensitivity. The velocity sensitivity on it is though incredible. Rolling, filling, ghost notes, even just plain playing your drums quietly is so much easier– though difficult to master your own motor control. The quietest sound is made with the lightest of finger taps, softer than any tap that could reliably trigger an FSR. FSRs are meant to be banged upon, piezos are meant to be touched and tapped.

    While it’s really handy to set up some of the triggers’ velocity curve to straight-127 for triggering samples and loops, it’s a sort of undercut of the Zendrum’s capability to set up a whole kit like that.

    This video marked at 3:00, watch for one minute. The previous part is informational.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L-riu6QZ7xE&t=178