Rhythm Stage Setup v3

April 5th, 2020
contra, jammer, music
Since I last wrote about my rhythm setup, I've again made a lot of changes! Here's an example that shows a bunch of what I'm doing now:


The biggest thing I've added since the last rollup is a notion of tempo. I play drums with my feet as usual, and I've written some simple heuristics (see estimate_tempo()) for identifying the downbeats. Once you know where the downbeat falls and how often they are, this opens up a lot of possibilities:

  • French Canadian feet. The sharp click of the downbeat happens when I tap my foot, but then the lighter taps on the upbeat and predownbeat can happen 1/2 and 3/4 of the way through the beat. I used three samples from the introduction to Nightingale's La Belle Rose on their Trois album for the three different sounds.


  • Hi-hat patterns. This is essentially the same as the French Canadian feet, but the additional beats are on hi-hat instead of foot taps. A simple version puts the hi-hat just on the upbeat, but it can also go on each quarter-beat, and the level of intensity can vary as well.


  • Bass patterns. Again, the same sort of idea, but played on a synth bass. These follow the "active note" which is generally the most recently played left-hand piano note.


I've configured a few different drum kits, and a few different bass sounds:


These sound best in reel time, though I've added jig time as well:


I normally have everything play straight, but after recording my mandolin playing I added a mode where the preup and predown beats fall 1/36th late and the upbeat falls 1/36th early:


On their own these will just go until I tell them to stop, but I have two main ways of adding control. The first way is using the breath controller to modify the intensity and add interest:

The second way is using toe buttons to pause pieces of the sound and bring them back in:


I've also added a new way to control the active note for when I'm playing mandolin. My V3 footboard has four pads on the right foot, and if I tell the system what key and mode I'm in I can then choose between four chords. I've been doing, left to right:

  • Major: vi I IV V
  • Mixolydian: VII I IV V
  • Minor: V VI VII i
  • Minor: VII i III IV


Mostly it doesn't matter whether chords are major or minor because with the bass and jawharp I only play the root, but I've also added a Hammond sound I trigger with the breath controller. When I'm playing piano I have the Hammond play only the 1 and 5 of the chord, while when I'm playing mandolin I have it play thirds as well. I've set it to play whatever inversion places the notes highest in its range.


Another thing I've added that follows the active note is pads. I think these sound best if not too loud, filling out the background in an atmospheric way when I play mandolin. They help counter the problem that just mandolin and fiddle together would normally be a bit thin.

Here's mandolin, kick, breath hammond, and pedal-controlled bass:


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