Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Korg Wavedrum - The Electronic Option

I must admit that I have a propensity to love electronic instruments. I suppose that is not secret to those who read this blog or read my tweets or for that matter have listened to my music. When I was in high school I got hooked on listening to Morton Subotnick's sidewinder on headphones and was hooked ever since. Back then I could not afford much in terms of electronics other than a cheap guitar (a Les Paul knockoff with sawdust still in the drillhole for the cable connection) and a few stomp boxes but I enjoy some of my own software/hardware, digtal and analog synths and effects.

I wanted to discuss the Korg Wavedrum. It's latest re-incarnation is once again going in a direction that I think is a positive one for the electronic music industry.

I would like to quote Justin Owen @abstractjuz (Twitter) who said of the Wavedrum "It's an amazing electronic instrument on it's own merits - not a replacement for acoustic instruments".

While I suppose I was convincing some musical therapist in my tweets today who are inclined to acoustic drums that the Wavedrum can be a replacement for many drums, it can certainly be seen on its own merits, as an electronic instrument. Thank goodness the synth makers have finally come to the realization that a keyboard, pitch bend and mod wheel are not the only way to control sounds.

Now onto the Wavedrum itself. According to "Sound on Sound" in their excellent review of the Wavedrum, it uses analog, additive, non linear, PCM and physical modelling synthesis. In a sense the drum head is passive but not completely. Yes, it triggers sounds based on velocity and pressure but these are used as parameters. For example, the pressure of the drum head can be used to change the tone of the drum head and simulate the location of changing position on a real drum head. There is also a set of sensors on the rim to create other effects.

What is clear is that there a kind of tactile feedback loop between how the Wavedrum feels and how it sounds. Many claim that this is what is lacking in electronic instruments but I bet to differ on that position. I understand where it comes from but the truth is that most who hold this position have never worked with electronic instruments at least the more modern variety that have come on the market lately.

I also wanted to address a few comments made by @brandon_dnl (Twitter) that PCM is not only used to create transients but also the impulse from the head. This would contradict Justin Owen a bit if its true. How is the head being used? I am not sure and the articles that I have read don't explain it. I can understand this because they are probably protecting trade secrets but if the impulse is going to a DSP (which I presume is what is meant by non-linear) or physical model that used the actual impulse of the drum head as as the excitation source for the membrane of the drum head, then indeed, the drum head is more than a trigger.

I noticed that it will respond to different types of mallets, sticks, fingers, ect. without changing the model. This means there is some type of contact type mic and this is being used for the algorithms. The PCM sound make the sound more realistic when that is the intent.

So, I guess my question from all this is what is under the drum head? A pressure/velocity sensor or these plus a contact mic? I am not sure.

Bottom line is that I like the Wavedrum. I don't have one but perhaps one will be in my future. I heave gotten more into rhythms and sequences lately and having an instrument to trigger some exotic sounds as well as more traditional ethnic and western drum sounds would be something I would love to add to my sonic arsenal.

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