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Rhythm Stage Setup v2

June 16th, 2019
music, jammer, contra  [html]
My rhythm stage setup with Kingfisher has evolved a bunch since I wrote about it in September, and I wanted to put down how I'm currently thinking of it.

I'm thinking of my playing right now as:

  • The core of my sound is rhythm piano.
  • My feet play drums, usually kick/rim.
  • The breath controller adds to the sound in various ways.

I'm no longer playing with head tilt; as I played more with it I found that needing to have your head at specific angles wasn't pleasant. I also like to be able to look around while I play. It was also mostly something I wanted for combining with mandolin playing, and at this point I'm mostly playing piano.

I'm also not playing the jammer much when I'm the primary rhythm instrument. The piano works well enough, and I have so much more practice. I'm still using the jammer a lot when I play with the Free Raisins or take other gigs where there's another rhythm musician, but that's not this post.

So, how am I using the breath controller to add onto the basic piano + drums? Lots of ways!

  • Jawharp/Trombone: each time I blow into the breath controller it triggers a bass note, based on whatever bass note I played most recently on the piano. The volume of the note follows the pressure into the breath controller. I play these two very differently. I'll pulse the Jawharp in a rhythmic pattern, generally on the offbeat, while I'll use the trombone to emphasize specific left hand piano notes as I play them.

  • Overlays (Synth Bass/Sine Pad/etc): the breath controller slowly inflates a virtual bag of air, that deflates over time. The size of this bag of air controls the volume of the instrument, while the piano triggers the notes. This lets me smoothly bring overlays in and out. I'm not using velocity sensitivity with these instruments which means they're very atmospheric, swelling in and out with the air level.

  • Hammond Organ: an overlay, except if I blow hard into the breath controller it switches the organ's rotating speaker from the slow to fast setting.

  • Rhodes/Overdriven Rhodes: two more overlays, except being electric pianos I do use their velocity sensitivity. This makes them less atmospheric and more an addition to the piano.

  • Flex: an overlay, except only half of the volume comes from the air level. The other half comes from the instantaneous breath level. Like the jawharp, I typically pulse this on the offbeat.

  • Hihat: triggers a hihat sound when the breath pressure crosses a threshold. This can combine this with the kick/rim on my feet to get a more complex kit sound. Alternatively, if I'm playing offbeat pulses on Jawharp or Flex I can use the hihat to further emphasize the offbeat.

Like stops on an organ, I wouldn't play all of these at once. Many sets are piano most of the time, with one of these coming in to add interest/variety/energy partway through. It's still fun, though, to turn on a bunch of things:

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