Despite all the advances made in electronic musical instruments over the years, the drum has yet to find and fill it's 21st century potential. Current electronic percussion systems offer flat, one-dimensional effects that lose much of what defines drumming as an art form: nuanced, powerful rhythms born of a very physical interaction between drummer and instrument. While acoustic drums have a very heightened sensitivity—releasing different sounds when hit in the center versus the edge, for example—the currently available electronic counterparts operate in a much more restricted way, releasing just one sound no matter where they are struck.
But the future of drumming is about to change. Tlacael Esparza—a former mathematician whose professional music career includes drumming for Nicolas Jaar—is bringing new light to the instrument with Sensory Percussion, an attachable sensor and accompanying software platform that bridges the best of the acoustic and electronic worlds.
While the product seems fairly straightforward on the surface, as Esparza recently told us, it is powered by powerful new technologies. "Companies that currently dominate the e-drum market are still not utilizing new advances in machine learning and signal analysis as much as they could," he explains. "Our system takes advantage of state of the art music information retrieval algorithms and is optimized to process a lot of data in real-time." The sensor—which can be attached to the rim of a drum—picks up vibrations from anywhere on the drumhead, which are fed into the system's intuitive software platform which, over time, picks up and conforms to the individual drummer's style. "It has a very quick and easy calibration process where it learns not only the sound of your drum, but also how you hit it. Once the software has a clear sonic picture of your drum, it's up to the drummer to essentially paint electronic sounds onto their drum by assigning samples, synths and effects," says Esparza.
But perhaps the most important leg up this system has is that it was conceived from the perspective of an active drummer. "Though I have studied mathematics, computer programming and signal processing, I identify as a drummer more strongly than an engineer. I know what it means to work creatively with other musicians in rehearsal spaces, in the studio and on stage and I've fed all of that knowledge into this product."
For a step-by-step look at how the sensor works, check out this introductory video:
While the hefty price tag ($595 just for the starter kit) puts this product in the realm of professionals, the rest of us can look forward to the augmented aural experiences it promises. And, since it's already more than 70% funded on Kickstarter, it seems only a matter of time before we can do so.
Check out this video for a preview of real drummers experimenting with the technology: