New music: drumprints vol. 1
17 minutes of beats for use, for free.
I have new music out today!
A sort-of album called drumprints vol. 1: 2301, for pay-what-you-want.
The album is just drums. In loops that you can adapt for songs of your own (it’s released with a Creative Commons BY 4.0 license). Or you can just listen to it as an album. I hope!
I recorded all the drums for this volume in January, but I started working on the idea in 2016.That year, I was in school at Lawrence University in Appleton, Wisconsin and I had a one-room studio at The Refuge arts center on the Fox River. I recorded some drums with the intention of sending them to friends who produce beats and came up with the name drumprints. Two friends made things with them that I love. But I didn’t prune the sample pile enough, and I didn’t understand how to distribute them yet. It was just a Dropbox folder full of few-second clips.
In the years since I would record a new improvisation session every once in a while, but they didn’t fire me up afterward, and I still didn’t know how to make them listenable.
Finally, last month, I recorded a new session. As I was cutting them up, finding the pieces I liked, I realized it would be more compelling to string a bunch of them together than to dump 98 very-short clips online, where they’re heard one time each, with annoying buffering gaps in between.
I put some loops together. The first draft was essentially all 98 clips played in quick succession. That wasn’t right either. So I went back to it, extended the loops, and sculpted some proto-arrangements.
They’re still meant to be perused and culled from — that’s why I call them “contact sheets.” But now, hopefully, they’re more fun to listen to than a hundred blips.
The title drumprints has two meanings. It’s extremely dorky to tell you about them but being dorky isn’t a good reason not to do something…?
When you’re mixing audio and you want to commit the mix to tape/storage, many engineers call it “printing.” You play back the audio and let it “print” onto another medium. These are prints of mixed/manipulated drums.
Drumprint… thumbprint… every drummer has a drumprint. This is one impression of mine ……… that pause was me barfing at my own words.
When my imagination fails me I use the literal as a starting point. I wanted to make a logo that communicated a drum inside of a thumbprint. Jesus, Spencer. I wrote to my friend Phoebe who started drawing up designs almost immediately. Like, instantaneous graphic design service. And she nailed it!!!! We adapted from some material licensed from The Noun Project.
The photo is of me at the Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix, Arizona, which I visited with Casey and my aunt Debbie in December 2021 and which truly moved me. It’s this massive trove of instruments and recordings from nearly every country in the world PLUS A-list rock history artifacts like Keith Moon’s Pictures of Lily / Smothers Brothers drum set and Hal Blaine’s drums and cymbals, pictured on the album cover. Aunt Debbie took the photo. I slapped that and Phoebe’s graphic into Photoshop, did my best risograph impression, and shipped it off to Bandcampland.
Why Creative Commons?
As always, for fun and to see what happens.
But also because (1) I’m sheepish. There are a lot of people making sample packs out there and they have a whole commercial world going on. I’m not familiar with it. So I just wanted to nudge this across the table.
And (2) because I want to see how far the record can reach. I want it to be used by people who have no money. Young people who don’t even have a bank account yet. In my dreams.
Also, I love Creative Commons. It’s not a substitute for copyright law; it’s an addition to it. (Here’s an explainer of the CC BY 4.0 license.)
A final, dirtier thought behind the Creative Commons license is that these are just loops. If you really want me to play on your record ya gotta email me and talk about it :) That isn’t free unless you’re framily.
I love the way loops accentuate imperfections and allow you to pick out the micro-melodies in a performance. I never realize how much information is contained in the pitch of a bass drum until I hear the exact same snippet played over and over again.
Finally I’d like to share a bigger-picture thought, just because we’re here talking about rhythm.
There are interesting cultures of music all over the world, and traditions of rhythms and melody that span back thousands of years. But one region has such a special relationship with drumming that it has reverberated virtually everywhere: sub-Saharan Africa.
People in that vast area build and use drums in a way that pervades life, infuses life with rhythm. And to put it simply, they come up with patterns that give rise to entire, other worlds of music in other places: samba, maracatu, condomble, reggae, blues, jazz… hip-hop, rock.Many more.
Sickeningly, much of that migration of music wasn’t really migration at all; it was moved by force by perpetrators of the Atlantic slave trade. (To say nothing of the systems of exploitation that are perpetrated after the invention of sound recording.) Sub-Saharan rhythmic traditions thus influenced the Americas, Europe, and Asia. Various branches of influence have met and doubled back on themselves, like blues (a product of enslaved people in the United States) giving rise to reggae (a product of enslaved people in Jamaica) giving rise to rap. Or funk making its way from America to the Sahel region. Some offshoots have existed in other places for so long that they come to define that place. Like Cuba, Brazil, and the United States.
I studied Ewe music and samba baterias in college. That music is in me now. But it already was, because it’s everywhere, in nearly everybody.
The phrase “good music comes from Black people” is commonplace, thankfully. I worry that without a little more background information, some non-Black people come to view the phrase as an empty slogan even if they once believed it at face value. So I want to talk about specific(ish) traces sometimes. A relationship with rhythm that started and flourishes in African nations is embedded in virtually every contemporary musical style. And in our bodies. It can’t be overstated!
Listen to / download / adapt drumprints vol. 1 on Bandcamp. If you make something, send it to me!
Thanks & hugs,
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Truth be told I recorded my first instrumental drum thingy when I was twelve (I think?) but it was a two-minute song called “Fist,” it featured mouth percussion amplified by a bullhorn, and yes, there was a fist on the cover—with “FIST” written on fake tattooed knuckles. Not sure that one’ll ever see the light of day.
Music evolves but it isn’t Darwinian. Some traditions die, but nothing is automatically replaced by a “successor.” Musical evolution seems more like a constellation of people making sound all the time, influencing each other, rather than a competition. Music commerce is competitive, and music commerce affects the way people in the constellation get exposed to each other. But the evolution itself is still just additive, cyclical, concurrent.
Hi Spencer! All 10 of your drumming clips were very interesting and very entertaining. As I have told you before, Gene Krupa was known as the premier drummer of his time. Mr. Krupa, as outstanding as he was, was almost as good as you. Keep up the good work.
WIth loads of love,
Disclaimer: I am a Wilco/Tweedy/Tweedy Show super fan and a bit of a dork - but here goes!
Spencer, many times I have wanted to reach out and tell you how magical your drumming is to me, so I am using this as my opportunity. Watching you play drums on the Tweedy Show, in YouTube clips of Tweedy, etc. is captivating to me. What enthralls me is that you look so graceful and serene when you play, yet you produce such powerful and sophisticated sound. Watching you play, I frequently find myself looking like a perplexed dog, with my head cocked sideways and brows knitted - trying to figure out why what I'm seeing is so different from what I am hearing. "Is it his kick drum? Is it his mic set up?" I ask myself these questions, but I think the answer is that you are just a phenomenal drummer, who plays with such visible ease. Thank you for sharing this!🖤