Quick Blog Post: Nowhere 25 Live

This is it- the songs AND the running order… Something about these two simple points will make the experience far more complete and stable over these October dates than an average gig. Usually, the setlist – always up for discussion and alteration – can be a curious and mysterious beast. There is no winning formula, and sticking to one can often make the night a little contrived: everyone gets stuck in a pattern, and mixing things up here and there (at least after a week or so) can keep everyone on their toes. But there’s something about an album running order that goes beyond that. Something in your mind attaches a sequence of songs together as a whole – be it the anticipation of the next tune or intro sound, or opening riff – and this concert, this whole evening, is going to work as a whole. The setlist is agreed, and like the needle going on the record the sequence is set and it will play – we will play – given over to something bigger: how the album ‘Nowhere’ works as a whole.

The running order itself might take you somewhere, or back to a time or place, but  what about the songs? Chatting to him recently, Steve Lamaq commented that Nowhere was/is an escapist album; that there is an element of escapism to it – or simply that you can escape in it. Looking back, and having heard it in sequence recently, I would agree… But what helps? is it the disarming honesty and open vulnerability of the lyrics; is it the fuzzed-out psychedelic, harmonic and melodic density of the songs; or is it the fact that we were playing up to and beyond our (then) limits as a band? Certainly the performances captured were often exactly that – the moment when it worked – sometimes with a breathtaking spontaneity, as opposed to the sense of a self-conscious and overdubbed musical ‘part’. There is something in the listening mind that subconsciously hooks into this kind of daredevil approach and goes with it, interests it, more than say a metronomic drum machine or a well-oiled and practised groove – call it ‘freshness’ maybe? We certainly weren’t stopping to think. The way the songs work certainly does seem to take you on a journey. It is going to be an absolute pleasure 25 years on, to be playing these bunch of songs in the way that was set back then, and has endured in people’s minds ever since. You will hear Nowhere in full, but you will hear also the sound of a band straining at its leash to break into new territory – from the sounds of the time and into something new. The journey begins soon… lets escape 

 

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Quick Blog Post: Nowhere 25 Live

Info Article: My Current Drum Set Up for Ride

Lets begin with the wood: namely my DW Kit. I currently use a 1999 birch DW Collectors Series drum kit, which has a natural lacquer birds-eye maple finish, and gold fittings.

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DW Kit, Zildjian Cymbals, Ludwig Snare & Vic Firth Sticks

This natural look is very different to the glossy black finish that typified all previous kits of my earlier years in Ride, and so I especially like this kit for that reason. I got into DW drums in 1999, as a result of working in various recording studios, and also having a budget to get me a new kit (the band I was in then, ‘The Animalhouse’, were signed to BMG). Although I’ve played many kits over the years, I’ve had little reason recently to want to change to anything else as yet. I love the simplicity of these drums; their clear, natural resonance, their juicy colourful sound (when tuned right!). As many drummers will know, the kit is made from the same tree, and the resonant pitch of each shell is printed inside it. So below are the sizes of each drum in the kit, and I’ve put the pitches in, also. Of course these pitches are relative, the drums can be tuned as close to any note you like, it is just the inherent pitch of the shell. Here are the sizes:

  • 22” Birch Natural Lacquer Bass Drum (F#)
  • 13” Birch Natural Lacquer Snare Drum (Eb)*
  • 13” Birch Natural Lacquer Mounted Tom (Eb)
  • 14” Birch Natural Lacquer Floor Tom (B)
  • 16” Birch Natural Lacquer Floor Tom (G#)

*I use the 13” snare for the timbale sound effect in Dreams Burn Down and Paralysed, and occasionally as a second (higher pitched) snare on my left (e.g. In a Different Place), with the Black Beauty as my main and centre snare.

So a little about the Black Beauty. This is a 1972 Ludwig Black Beauty snare drum (14”x5”) with the blue and olive badge, that was – so the story goes when I bought it in 1990 – hand-picked off the production line for its favourable sound. It is made from a single piece of brass which is nickel-plated, and originally came with the ‘Super Sensitive’ snare throw and was used as an orchestral snare. I liked the sound of it and began using it in my setup around 1990. My roadie from the “Going Blank Again” tour, Andy Mathews, eventually changed the mechanism to something more tour-worthy (the older fitting digs into your thighs, and doesn’t fit in a snare drum case)! So now it goes with me wherever I play travel to play a gig. Originally costing me about £400, this has actually gone up in value – probably worth around £2000 looking at current pricing. Over the years I’ve got used to playing this snare, and I seem to get more and more out of it. So rather than having lots of snares I have ‘learnt how to play’ one very good one! I recently bought a 1960’s Ludwig 14″x5″ oyster finish snare drum at the Chicago Music Exchange as a backup snare.

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1972 Ludwig Black Beauty Supraphonic w. Blue & Olive nameplate

The sticks I am currently using are Vic Firth American Classic 5B and my new roadie, Paul Welton (aka Ricky) has shown me the benefits of the ‘Stick Rapp’ which wraps around the gripped part of the drumstick. Very pleasant to hold the sticks for long periods, and I’ve barely dropped a single stick since started using it. I’ve used nylon tips in the past, and have nothing against them, but now have settled with wood. One problem I had were the tips coming off the sticks. Also I think I just like the primeval instinct of wood against cymbal and drum (!).

Drum skins. Lately, and mostly thanks to an excellent guitar tech Toby O’Pray (who just happens to be a drummer and hence give me advice), I’ve been using Evans heads in the following set up:

  • Bass Drum: 22″ Evans EMAD2 coated
  • Snare Drum: 14″ Evans EC1 Reverse Dot clear or coated
  • Toms: 13″, 16″, 18″ Evans EC2 S clear

These are really strong and working on the DW kit, and also on the Yamaha 9000 kit I use.

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Evans EC1 Reverse Dot on snare; Evans EC2 S on toms

For cymbals, I’ve recently tweaked my appropriated Zildjian cymbal set up into the following:

  • 13” A Custom Hi-Hats
  • 16” A Custom Crash
  • 18” A Custom Crash
  • 20” K Crash/Ride
  • 20” A Custom Projection Ride

The hats I’ve been using for many years, and again I think I’ve just got used to getting the most out of them. Initially, the hi-hats were the only A-Custom element to my cymbal set up. I used to use a 16” thin crash, which was often a producer/engineer’s favourite and stayed in the set up for a long time. I also used a 20” mini-cup ride for a long time, specifically because it had a small bell and a rich smoky wash; but as I began playing for example the classic on or off-beat ride patterns it became less about texture and more about being able to define rhythms and to have a sound that cuts through, which is where I am now. It maybe because my ears are going, but I like to be able to rely on the brightness of the A-Customs for this Art Pop music we play! My A-Custom crash just ‘works’ for the bigger moments. Introducing an element which may take over more I have a K-Custom as a crash/ride for noise section in Drive Blind. But also some of the new (old) songs we are putting in the set so you’ll see it get used more often.

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13″ Custom Hats; 16″ A Custom Crash; 18″ A Custom Crash; 20″ Crash Ride

Hardware: I use DW hardware stands for cymbals and snare. The floor toms mount onto my right hand DW cymbal stand hardware: so both toms, right hand crash, and crash/ride all build out of the one stand on my right.

My bass drum pedal is a Yamaha Longboard which I use with Low Boy beater. I recently picked up the beater at the Chicago Music Exchange.


Electronics and Triggers – My History

I began using pads with the Jesus and Mary Chain just because I had an 80’s Roland SPD 8 (with a whopping 39 sounds!) and I thought it would be cool to use some sounds from it live. I used its in-built sounds: namely the 808 bass drum which I used to good effect in the song Reverence. But using the more recent (2014) SPDsx and some Roland triggers live opens a whole new ball game. My introduction to this unit came out of necessity when working with Gaz Coombes, as we literally built outwards from the sounds on his album ‘Here Come The Bombs’, to try to recreate it live. We initially worked with samples direct from the album, rather than drums – so at first I was in Gaz’s basement playing 3-4 electronic drum pads. We were always trying to make the set up as simple as possible. We had to bring in acoustic drums for certain songs e.g. bass drum snare and hi hat, but kept the electronic bass drum and pedals for use in others. The SPD can also launch whole samples – for example to be used as intros – but it comes into its own when you use triggers on the traditional drums. So I have a trigger on the bass drum and snare drum. This means I can swap a patch during the gig and change the sound of the drum kit – something I would have dreamt about years ago!


SPDsx in Ride

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The SPDsx ready to play Vapour Trail

In Ride, we use the SPD for a few essential and choice backing tracks, for example: Leave Them All Behind, Vapour Trail, OX4, and for a cue start for Like A Daydream. All of these have elements we can’t play live as a four-piece. I also use the SPD to launch single vocal samples (e.g. from the film Withnail & I) during or at the start of: Cool Your Boots; and crowd  riot samples in Paralysed. I have the Roland RT-10 triggers linked up to my floor and snare drum, so that for example I can put a 909 kick sound on the floor tom for Dreams Burn Down, potentially change it for Vapour Trail, and use a snare sample for the middle section of Polar Bear.

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FS-U Pedals A & B: A for backing on/off; B for SPD click on/off

In addition to the above I have two footswitch/pedals to give me better live control over the SPD. The two BOSS FS-5U foot pedals are labelled A and B and I use A to trigger the backing track samples (with predetermined and set click), and B to start the internal SPD click for certain songs. Using the internal click for songs without backing allows me more flexibility to change tempo if I want or need to – for example in rehearsals or soundchecks. With both approaches, what it means is that I program the set list before the show (or Ricky does) and then page through the songs that have anything extra. I can do this by hitting a designated pad on the SPD with my stick to page up or down the setlist. The rest I can do with the pedals on the floor: start stop etc… To beef things up the middle section while I’m mashing the cymbals, I trigger a sample of noise in Drive Blind, which is based on a piece of work I did in 2010, you can hear it here: https://soundcloud.com/lcolbert/machine-genesis-mix-1-master

Thanks to Ricky for his help being my drum roadie and for helping with this article. Thanks to everyone who asked the questions that gave me a framework to answer them!

LC 2015

Panorama of my set up at rehearsals.
Panorama of my set up at rehearsals.
Info Article: My Current Drum Set Up for Ride

Noise: Part 1

“With noise is born disorder and its opposite: the world. With music is born power and its opposite: subversion. In noise can be read the codes of life, the relations among men. Clamor, Melody, Dissonance, Harmony; when it is fashioned by man with specific tools, when it invades man’s time, when it becomes sound, noise is the source of purpose and power, of the dream – Music.” 

– Jaques Attali

Leading up to, and since Ride’s recent live gigs, I’ve been thinking about the noise thing – hence this essay/article, which is based both directly on my own experiences, and on the theoretical writings of French economist Jaques Attali.

Noise: Introduction

Noise certainly has a wide area of influence. For some people noise is unwanted sound, yet others will actively seek it out. There is pure noise: Pink Noise, White Noise, Brown Noise, and Grey noise. Distortion, and guitar noise can be political, subversive and dangerous to some: yet noise can be used to uphold laws and protect intellectual property rights. The concept of noise and the active use of it can carry the power of censorship, and yet also of emancipation and expression. An audience experience of noise in a musical setting can be something akin to a communion with a universal purifying force, or noise can be used in a way that is sleazy, and dirty. In music production and communication networks noise can be the mistake, the error: the ‘ghost in the machine’, something to be eliminated, or it can be the communication itself. Scientists search for and try to study the noise of our expanding Universe, yet there is noise in our body we might never hear. Put simply, there is noise all around us, and our interpretation of it as sound, music, or noise, may just be the result of a subjective twist. In the course of the following blog post, I will get a chance to discuss two or three of the issues above, and will do so with reference to my own thoughts, and the writings of Jaques Attali, specifically in relation to the Ride song ‘Drive Blind’.

Noise: Part 1
Some Thoughts And Some More Jaques Attali…

Scientifically speaking, noise is a sound containing a complex mix of all frequencies simultaneously, which is produced by random vibrations of air particles. But the names of the colours of noise mentioned in the introduction above are given as analogies to the colour spectrum of light. So noise can be perceived in a visual sense too. There isn’t just noise; there are different colours, textures and hues: a whole spectrum of noise. Dr. Ir. Stéphane Pigeon made a website that describes the different types of pure noise, and you can experiment with the varying ‘colours’. It’s amazing how calming and close to the natural sound of waves, waterfalls and rivers you can get with ‘random vibrations of air particles’. Of all these noise colours, White Noise is the most famous, because in it all frequencies are as loud as each other in an equal flat signal. In other words: White Noise is everything in terms of sound frequencies, all at once, at the same intensity. While at a loud volume that might seem unpleasant to some, at lower volumes White Noise can also be used to help people get to sleep. So with noise there is the practical, and the political; the scary and the reassuring. The scientific, and the organic.

Yet noise can be associated with politics and violence, and the attacking of networks. What makes noise political is that noise so often gets the implication of being unpleasant, of being the ‘other’, the outsider, the unwanted. But then this can itself become a persona, a voice: a resurgence – from the underground. Noise can be associated with revolution. The idea that noise is the censored ‘other’ can fit many philosophical models. To take one musical example, it chimes in with the disenfranchised generation of Indie kids who questioned the sheen, order, and form of society circa 1980-1990. This was a generation fed by bands such as The Pastels, The Telescopes, The Jesus And Mary Chain, who used noise to shock, question, and unsettle society and musical assumptions. Often the Indie bands from this era were inspired by certain creative moves made by The Velvet Underground, who in the years 1966-1968 experimented with feedback and dissonance, and under the supervision of Andy Warhol brought together some aspects of ‘sound art’, with Pop music. This so called passive Indie generation would end up in direct contrast to, or simply barely recognising the later Britpop generation, who simply accepted the games of society; and actively sought to play along with, and live up to, its traditional ideas of success. In the 1990’s, instead of disappearing; the ‘sheen’, the order, and the forms, so challenged by underground Indie bands were to be re-instated and revered and put beyond questioning in the Britpop era, with the idea of something being ‘classic’ being deemed as representing the highest art form. The word classic also means ‘standard’, ‘typical’, ‘traditional’. Creatively, the effect was quite stifling. So when in 1988 the band Public Enemy asked to ‘Bring The Noise’, it was in effect a political reference to empower the ‘other’, the outsider, and to encourage the necessary political violence of change.

As Attali writes: “For despite the death it contains, noise carries order within itself; it carries new information.” This new information might contain unexpected insights. Take for example the middle ‘noise’ section of the Ride song ‘Drive Blind’. When I catch a glimpse of the audience during this section, I might occasionally see someone in the front row, with arms open, face lifted to the skies, eyes closed, smiling. I know they get it, and I know they are getting it – some kind of communion with a universal, vibrational force. There are good reasons for this, which I’ll come to later. But firstly to put it in context: noise for me especially in guitar music represents abandon, and nihilism; it can be an explosive expression of frustration, anger, and pain, yet it can be a supernova of emotional and aspirational power all at the same time… Noise can express disdain with the world, whilst making you more present, active, and potent in it. As noise trashes what is already there, it is asking for something better: something ideal and absolute, but something real. In the song ‘I Hate Rock ’n Roll’ by The Jesus And Mary Chain, at 1’ 35’’ William Reid’s guitar solo is backed with what I would call noise… great noise: sheets of noise, one bar after another. Have a listen – loud. Some talk about experiencing the void, but this is music to drive off a cliff to… Oblivion and Nirvana become interchangeable. And the noise answers everything in the song: the anger, the hatred, the frustration, the pointlessness of it all – probably more than the words and the chord progressions do. The noise effect is also a way of trashing the song itself and the music industry in a way that no clever verbal swipe ever could manage. I once played out this song at the end of a DJ set in a club – just to see what would happen. It cleared the floor (of course it did!) but there was one guy at the front…arms reaching out, face turned upward, smiling and shaking his fists jubilantly at the sky during William’s ‘solo’… he gets it.

So why is this? Why is noise so powerful to those tuned to its ‘voice’? One theory is that it simply communicates on a different level to music and spoken word – hence opening up new creative possibilities. As Attali writes:

“But noise does in fact create a meaning: …because the very absence of meaning in pure noise or in the meaningless repetition of a message, by unchanneling auditory sensations, frees the listener’s imagination. The absence of meaning is in this case the presence of all meanings, absolute ambiguity, a construction outside meaning. The presence of noise makes sense, makes meaning. It makes possible the creation of a new order on another level of organization, of a new code in another network.”

Perhaps when you listen to the noise part of ‘Drive Blind’ or ‘You Make Me Realise’ or William Reid’s guitar solo in ‘I Hate Rock and Roll’, you’re experiencing not only a higher plane, but life through an alternative network…

Another thing with noise is that it is almost completely abstract. Coming from an Art College background, for me this equates strongly with expressionism, and artistic freedom. In a world of recorded popular music based on accepted form, and formula, where colouring only ‘in the spaces’ and not outside the lines is what people have to do: the random particles of noise can be extremely invigorating. Live, when we play the noise part of ‘Drive Blind’ we as a band are finally free from any Pop music constraints. In all purchased music today, even the most ‘punk’ of acts, it is easy to see what Jaques Attali describes as being “…a disguise for the monologue of power”.. and that: “The artist was born, at the same time his work went on sale”. There are hidden power relations in every act of buying music. Yet it’s contradiction, noise, is more than a simple rebellion or protest, or a voicing of the ‘other’, it is the sound of power itself, made audible, visible in all its spectra, not hidden. It challenges you. When we play the noise part of ‘Drive Blind’ we detach ourselves from having to impress with lyric, melody, or fashionable beats…There are no words, hooks, melodies or even a beat; but live, it remains Ride’s most powerful and authentic statement. The noise part of ‘Drive Blind’ is the most we will ever say about anything, because it says everything.

Being abstract, the noise event will always be different, and it will cause different reactions or create different meanings at different times, and in different locations. I’ve given a handful of reasons here why this may be true. Acoustics can come in to play to shape the colour spectrum of your noise circumstance; and as the technology of speaker systems, amplifiers, and mixing desks improves making the encounter of live sound (and noise) more Three-Dimensional (perhaps even more meaningful), they too shape your experience. One recent uploader to YouTube of the ‘Drive Blind’ noise event called their clip ‘A Little Slice of Heaven’, while another called it ‘Apocalypse’… After our first gig in Oxford for over twenty years, some of the most excited reactions from friends were in relation to the noise we played, rather than the music! Noise can be described as a sound containing a complex mix of all frequencies simultaneously, which is produced by random vibrations of air particles. Or sometimes it can be the answer to everything…

LC 2015

Noise: Part 1