There’s not much to say about 2020 that hasn’t already been said a million times, and in much more colorful language.
It’s February. 2021 is already well in swing. A heavy snow sits over everything outside and has all but paralyzed my little corner of the world, and Corona is keeping everyone more or less locked up.
So it’s tempting to look back at 2020 and see its fingers following me into 2021, to experience all the negative of 2020 anew with the break of a new day.
But I’ve just sent a list of revisions for my new website, which I’m designing with my good friend, Joan Cerdas. And after my drum students, whom I’ll see in an hour via Zoom, I’ll sit with a new demo for a project of mine with collaborator Clinton Degan, with whom I recorded the album “Stories of Earth,” as well as “White Knuckle Dress,” another LP, set for release this summer. And also on the list are a couple tracks for my band out of Berlin, Ahabs Linkes Bein.
These things I can do all out of the comfort of my apartment, here with a warm tea and between bites of fresh cornbread. I bought myself that luxury late in 2020 when I sprang on a whim for a Roland TD27kv electric drum set and a digital heap of drum software: Steven Slate 5.5 with a couple expansions, two addon packs for Addictive Drums 2, and Superior Drummer 3, which I’ve also kitted up with a few expansions.
It’s been a revelation! To be able to not only practice but record drums at home is bringing me back to the days at my parents’s big suburban house, with my ratty copper orange Mapex, warped Pearl piccolo snare with fish food stains on the head, and entry-level cymbals I kept tearing through and piling broken in the window niche. Just, this time, in fancy. And expensive.
And so, looking back on 2020, I don’t see its fingers reaching after me ominously, but rather, the hand palm up slipping under me, pushing me up and forward. I’ve made changes due to lockdown that feel like a paradigm shift, that feel like a pivot in direction.
It’s not all magic, of course: The e-drums take getting used to, and I’m still working on that. There’s also just the fundamental issue that what comes out of the e-drums, the sounds I hear in my headphones and set to silicon for songs are not actually me. I’m triggering someone else’s touch. Someone else played those drums and recorded it, and now I’m triggering those sounds, through the digital instrument translation of MIDI.
This may seem a superfluous concern to the layperson: They’re drums! You aren’t touching them anyway. It’s a stick of wood banging on plastic and metal. That’s all true, but touch is what separates the good from the great. Touch is what an instrumentalist works all his or her life on, both consciously and not. Touch is the thing. It’s how you hold the stick, how much surface area of your hand is on the wood of it, how tightly you grip, how much you choke its vibrations. It’s how you strike the drums, from what angle, exactly how hard, how hard and how long you press the stick tip into the drum head or the cymbal. How you set the cymbal to swinging.
MIDI has 127 steps of “velocity,” or intensity of any given strike. Acoustic is all the shades below those steps, above them, between them. Infinite.
So as I’m being spoiled by the immaculate samples within those software packs, I’m still having to shuttle back and forth to my practice room in town, to put in the hours behind the real thing. (An acoustic kit at home is still The Dream.)
That said, it’s pretty sweet. Beside the drumming revelation, I’m pushing on writing and translating a little more. The Minimusiker album is in the works – we met a few times to go over my translations of those songs, and when Corona is more or less in our collective rearview mirror, we’ll get back to work on getting that recorded in English. I’ve been able to take a few other jobs on that front, and, once this website is done, I’ll be pushing on that harder still.
And so I can’t look back at 2020 as a total loss. It’s pushing me along to a new place, personally and professionally.
I have more to say about it, other things to report, but that’s a nice segue into my next couple updates regarding ongoing projects of mine. So I’ll leave it there for now.
Hope you’re staying safe, healthy, and optimistic.