Over the past few years I’ve been trying to draw on principles of rhythm learned through experiences/mentorships/friendships in Korea (with Kang Sun il, Bae il Dong, Kim Jung Hee, Kim Dong Won, and many others), and in Australia with Mark Simmonds, and through ongoing musical and personal friendships with Scott Tinkler and Greg Sheehan (I highly recommend checking out Greg’s book “The Rhythm Diaries” it’s an incredible rhythm resource), to create a personal rhythmic expression that is free from all materials I’d worked with previously. In 2013, it seemed that the mentorships were over and that it was time to start from scratch and build my own drumset vocabulary from the ground up. I loved the idea of creating original, dense, fast, chattery rhythms that have a kind of guttural gurgling quality and wanted to find an expressive outlet for these thoughts. So this long-term project is an attempt to create a personal drumming way from a single rhythmic idea that I created in 2015 in response to thoughts about densities, energy, line, gurgling/bubbling rhythm, and the possibilities of entangled rhythmic stuff.
The idea had two false starts (2009 and 2012)..back then, I had created several rhythmic shapes that had properties I enjoyed, but I couldn’t understand how to move ahead after the first two goes at it. I started again in 2015 by coming up with two different rhythmic lines to be played simultaneously (left hand playing a grouping of 5,6,55 and right hand playing a repeated figure in 7). The phrase, which took me ages to learn to play well, contained a few inner bits (rhythmic shapes) that I’d never heard anyone play before. The rhythmic shapes contained in this single phrase had a great gurgling quality that created a feeling of intense scrambling. I decided to try and find what was possible with this collection of new materials so I created three variations of the initial rhythm (that original phrase can be seen notated at the bottom of this page).
This project has led to an ongoing collection of recordings that represent steps in development of a personal rhythmic vocabulary. Some of the recordings are just on two drums (high/low) to explore and understand what this material is. Other’s are on a full drumset to see how this layered rhythmic stuff translates on to multiple sounds. The project is not directional in that it is not heading anywhere in particular. Each recording is just a document of where the material is at on that day, and there is no sense of there being a “correct” version of any of it. All the recordings are improvised (except From Kameoka Roads) and, due to the extreme niche that this is, I try to record and mix the recordings in a total of 3 hours maximum so that I can keep documenting it.
Also, I only practice on the floor (never, ever on the drums) so these recordings are the first time I play/hear/experience the material on the drums. I love the feeling of bringing together improvised shapes that are in my hands from the floor, with physical body motion and a kind of physicality from barefoot running. I love just going to the studio and experiencing it all on the drumset for the first time and that’s the recording that’s released.
The reason I’m sharing all this is because, when I was younger, in my late teens, I had no idea that you could make rhythmic stuff for yourself. I had no tools to think about generating rhythmic things, and the thought that a drummer could create their own material from scratch never occurred to me. Later, I was very fortunate to have so many learning experiences that were focused on generating rhythmic stuff outside style or influence. Greg Sheehan’s number diamonds are a great example…through his process you can just make rhythmic things and see what happens. So this is just an example of creating a personal drumming way over a period of several years. It’s ongoing and, to me, is not intended to be offered as outcomes…it’s just a document of an evolving personal expression within a very limited rhythmic area.
Here’s how the idea unfolded including the 2 false starts about 10 years ago.
Back in 2009, I had an idea to use rhythms from two rhythm studies I created (in quintuplets and septuplets) as the basis for some new solo drum music. All the high note phrases were left hand and the pulses were played with right-hand on the low note. This is not traditional music or trying to be traditional. It’s just groupings of quintuplets and septuplets mixed with pulses. The last phrase was the first time I tried two long independent rhythms (septuplets grouped in five played simultaneously with a septuplet figure repeating). I liked the sound of that phrase (the last 20 seconds of this track) but couldn’t figure out how to proceed…
Little Drum Song
I tried again in 2013 by creating a melodic shape around the drums using the final phrase of Tokoroa. I kind of liked it but, again, wasn’t sure how to proceed.
In 2015, I tried again and wrote down a kind of “what if?” rhythm just an experiment. As mentioned it was a grouping of 5,6,5,5 played in the left hand and a repeated septuplet figure in the right-hand. At the time, I wanted to create some solo drumming that had anthemic qualities..that could sound like protest music…that could offer some kind of energy of solidarity with communities facing climate change upheaval. I wanted strong/energised statements in each hand but also ambiguity and gurgling weirdness.
This piece is made up of the first set of four coiled rhythm phrases that I created in response to these thoughts. It took ages to get these going and I had to make numerous technical adjustments to create strong soft notes to loud accents (you can see the first phrase of this piece at the bottom of the page). This song provided a wealth of phrase-length coil chunks that could be transposed to other subdivisions to create the other three pieces on the recording. At the time, I loved the feeling of playing these rhythms as they produce two concurrent melodies and they feel great to play physically. Once I had these phrase-shapes in place, I created three more pools of variations or phrases (in quintuplets, 16ths, and an open non-subdivided group) and recorded the three other tracks that are on this recording,
Urgency! Vol 2: New Rivers
This was really fun! So whilst listening to the tracks from Urgency Vol 1, I somehow pushed 1/2 speed and for a moment could hear all these really interesting ornaments that were in the playing but not usually audible due to the speed.
I decided to try and make a recording that really exploited all the interesting ornamental elements that occur when playing really fast, but are impossible to play at a slow speed. All this stuff emerges when crushing notes together at speed and leads to all sorts of buzz sounds, textured flams, and interesting little pops and gurgles.
I went into Stu Hunter’s studio and recorded a few improvisations using the Urgency! Vol 1 materials a little bit faster and really tried to maximise the amount of crushing, flamming, and gurgling within every phrase. We then slowed it down to half speed and this is the result.
New Rivers was played on a 10″ bass drum, a 10″ tom, and a log drum. This experience really opened me up to the possibilities of exploring, identifying, and amplifying all the little gurgles, pops, flams, and buzz sounds that emerge at rapid speeds. The floor is a great place to develop this side of things and the ornamental possibilities became a central component of this project from then on. The most recent stuff I’ve been working on pushes this ornamental area much further than New Rivers. I’m so happy to have had the experience of making this recording and really appreciate Stu Hunter’s help in getting it recorded. I wish I could play like this normally…I spent a long time practicing these materials at a slow speed to see if I could get the New Rivers hyper-ornamental vibe but couldn’t get it going (I really gave it a go for a long time but wasn’t able to get it going ha ha)
From Mino Hills
After recording Urgency! 1 and 2, I was unclear how to proceed. I had a collection of phrase-length coils but was unsure how to pull it apart to create improvised shapes with smaller chunks. To find a solution I went for a huge barefoot run in Japan (40-50k per day for a few weeks). Whilst running I became more aware of the individual nature of each step…each step felt like a collection of unique experiences underfoot due to the characteristics of the individual patch of road each foot lands on (its amazing how different every part of a road is in terms of smoothness/roughness, cracks, erosion, stones, gravel, heat, paint, debris..every step is like its own experience). I realised that I could pull all these coil phrases apart and treat each event within a phrase like an individual step with its own unique properties and amounts of information.
Each night, after running all day, I would try and find as many chunks from the larger phrases and join them together in different combinations to see how they worked in relation to each other. This experience allowed for a deep integration of barefoot running, drumming, and creative decision making. Since this period, most problems that come up are worked through whilst running or are solved through a running-based solution.
As each chunk can be in a different subdivision to its neighbour within a phrase, I felt that I need a notation system that was easy to use so that I could keep these materials as flexible as possible. So I named each chunk with a greek alphabet symbol. Here’s an example of the first few phrases from one of the pieces from this recording. Each line is 1 bar. The symbols are chunks of rhythmic stuff and don’t have real any relationship to the material. The χ 4 just means 4 times. I found this system really helped me stay in my own sticking/rhythm space and not get drawn into any notational bias, or to bring in any other drumming materials. The music is only chunks of coils from the phrases in the previous record and nothing else.
Chant Coil #1
1 5 5 5 χ 4
1_λβ>5 χ 2
1 5 5 5 χ 2
Λ α λβ χ3
1 5 5 5 χ 2
1 5 5 5
Λ α β ς χ3
Λβ λβ λβ
1_5 5 5 χ3
ΛΛ ΛΛ χ4
ςς ΛΛ ςς develop
β ΛΛ λβ
α ΛΛ α
ρ ΛΛ ρ
1_5 5 5 χ 3
5 5 λβ
5 5 λβ
5 5 λβ>
I made pieces with this notation system and recorded them on high/low drums. This process from start to finish took several months. Here’s one of the pieces
I also recorded From Kameoka Roads on drumset. At first I wasn’t into it as I really only knew the material on the floor, and through recording it on high/low drums for the previous record, and it felt weird recording a “composition on” the drumset and not improvising. I went in the studio and tried one take….this is first and last time I’ve ever done that ha ha.
I went back to this recording after a few months and kind of liked how it turned out…it was a fun experience but I much prefer improvising.
I never used or created notation after these recordings. It seemed to be a necessary step to figure out how to pull everything apart but from here on, all new variations emerged from just improvising with these materials on the floor.
Coil and Road
I loved the feeling of this collection of rhythm/sticking shapes that emerged after running in Japan and recording “From Kameoka Roads”, so I began trying to improvise with them…this was my first attempt on a drumset…
Sho’s Run Song
This was a fun experiment. I was wondering what type of vibe these rhythms could generate as melodic material. I ran a few solo tracks from New Rivers through OVOX vocal synthesiser and really liked what happened. For this track, I put New Rivers through OVOX and then played a beat through it on a friend’s drum pads. It was interesting as New Rivers is not in 4/4 (it’s septuplets in 3/4) but just forcing a beat through the song brought out all these fun little rhythmic things in the rhythm/melody that I didn’t know were there. Also, the beat is played unevenly as I had to adjust my playing every pulse to land with the melody rhythm. But it sounds, to me, like the beat was played first. It was a fun experiment and I learnt a lot about possible rhythmic shapes that are in the materials that I hadn’t noticed before.
A B Ten
When I completed Coil and Road, I realised that I had not considered a major factor, the whole point of the recording was to draw on experiences I had during long barefoot runs, but most of the shapes on Coil and Road are left hand lead (even though the right hand bits are autonomous lines, the main melodies in the shapes are in the left hand). I felt that in order to really relate to barefoot running each chunk should oscillate from left-hand lead to right-hand lead. I also came up with a bunch of new shapes and added them to the pot of existing materials. Here’s my first go at improvising with a whole new idea of it all
Ground to Foot Learning
I wanted to create more diversity of flavour with the coils so began compressing double strokes together more intensely than usual to create flam-strokes, added more unison into the shapes, and created a rule whereby each event, or chunk, would lead with the opposite hand to the previous chunk (I kind of had this going in the previous record but not completely. I really stuck to it on this one)…so swapping lead hand for every phrase…like running with feet moving from right to left. This was a really interesting experience and I loved the feeling of improvising within this context…really fun! I started experimenting with this idea on high/low drums and this is what came out…
I loved the energy of improvising with this oscillating binary lead idea so went in the studio to improvise two pieces…here they are…this is where I’m at with it at the moment…
The Foundational Start Point
Here’s an example of one of the original phrases I created for Urgency! (I made 3 other variations of this phrase). So the only notes I played are the dots (no dot no note). The dots on top of the stave are left hand, and dots on the bottom of the stave are right-hand (or other way round of you like). The bottom stave shows a few of the internal coil shapes that this one phrase offers (each colour outlines a coil chunk. It’s fun to extract these chunks and join them together in different combinations and different subdivisions. This phrase is septuplets but those shapes work really well as any subdivision (I transposed these shapes into 16ths and quintuplets to generate phrases that made up the other pieces on Urgency! Vol 1). It took me a while to really articulate those left-hand accents that follow an unaccented note. Also, the coiling effect seems to come though more when the right hand notes are unaccented. This rhythm is really fun to play!…you can hear it as the first statement in the track Urgency! Drum Chant for Kiribati (above)
Just a note on the bottom stave of the notation. Those cells that are outlined in different colours were discovered (identified/noticed) whilst singing during long runs in Mino, Japan. I never looked at the notation for answers and only present it this way to show what I found in the rhythm…visualising it is just a means to present it here.
- If you look at the LH part of the top stave you can see that the amount of notes each accent is worth is not the same every time. In this case, the accents outline a grouping of 5,6,5,5.
- To create variation I explored the other three variations of this pattern: 5,5,6,5/5,5,5,6/6,5,5,5
- The RH part stays the same throughout
- Now there are 4 variations of this phrase and each variation contains its own selection of coil chunks that can be linked together to form improvised phrases
- The “coiling” effect that I found to be very enjoyable to play only appears when these things are generated in septuplets. I also tried 16ths, triplets, and quintuplets as starting points but could never get this effect happening in the same way. My solution was to generate ideas, seeds, phrases in septuplets and then transpose these shapes into other subdivisions so that the primary characteristics of the patterns remained in place.
- The idea of all this is to generate two seperate lines all the time (a high line and a low line) so I never practice this stuff on a single sound source such as a snare drum. In Korea, I was taught to think of the hands as being low/high …never the same pitch. This was a revelation as I’d grown up playing snare drum studies on a practice pad, where there is no focus on low/high as the primary organisational system.