Drums & Drones

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“A first for Pogus! This fantastic new 2 disc set by Brian Chase, drummer for the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, contains both a CD of the music and a DVD of the music with videos by New York video artists Ursula Scherrer and Erik Z.

This recording is exactly what it says it is – drums and drones – based on Just Intonation tuning theory: A tuning system modelled after a naturally occurring acoustic phenomenon known as overtones, the subsidiary tones which exist in an ordered series from an established primary tone. Stemming from this single primary tone an infinite amount of overtones can be derived. As Chase explains:

‘Drums and percussion has seen some but not much exploration in Just Intonation, yet they are inherently designed to represent it as such: a drum head is tuned to a single pitch, one frequency, and resonates with rich harmonic detail. From there the overtone series can be uncovered and expressed. The Drums and Drones project deals directly with approaching drums and percussion from the standpoint of Just Intonation.’

For Chase, the genesis of this project is outlined in this brief excerpt from his liner notes:

‘The Drums and Drones project initially came about from inspiration by La Monte Young and Marian Zazeela’s Dream House installation in TriBeCa, NYC. I had spent a good amount of time, volunteering there as a ‘monitor,’ someone who minded the installation and greeted visitors. The duration of my shift, about 4-5 hours, was mostly spent sitting directly outside of the gallery space, listening and feeling the immense sound pulsing through the door and walls, and reading up on the principles of Just Intonation and the historical background of La Monte, Marian, and their cohorts of the NYC experimental art scene. I accumulated countless hours, too, sitting in the space itself, embracing the impact of the finely tuned sound and light vibrations. The tones would dance in my head, hypnotic and entrancing, and I would hear tones that previously seemed veiled which were now resonating loudly and clearly somewhere between the air, my ear, and my brain. I was mesmerized by the power of this physiological experience.

With the pieces that were developed for a Feb. 2007 concert, a starting point was formed for what was to grew into a recording project. I had the idea of approaching the project as being a series of etudes, each one a study in the different ways of the application of the Just Intonation tuning theory to drums and percussion. Eventually I did develop a basic method which laid the groundwork for most of what was to come with D & D: 1) tune the drum head to a specific frequency 2) mic the drum and run the sound into a computer 3) with recording software, use very precise, a.k.a. ‘surgical,’ equalization to emphasize and boost the frequencies of the drum’s overtones. Also as part of the setup was a loop pedal, but at this stage it was used more for live performance. Another important method that I developed at this stage was getting sustained feedback tones generated between the resonating drumhead and the stereo speakers. To do this, I would boost a specific frequency on the EQ corresponding to the fundamental or a low harmonic, and this would encourage the drumhead to vibrate at that frequency. A feedback loop would get going between the drum and the speakers. Often times I would need to raise or lower the pitch of the drumhead ever so slightly to ‘dial in’ the tuning of the feedback tone. Each etude developed at this time would highlight a different set of overtones and showcase a specific playing technique.’

Brian Chase is a drummer and composer living in Brooklyn, NY. Growing up on Long Island, he started taking private drum lessons when he was 5 that led to earning a Bachelors of Music from the Oberlin Conservatory in Ohio. Though he works in a variety of contexts, Brian is probably best known as a member of the rock group Yeah Yeah Yeahs, a band that has toured extensively throughout the world and has been nominated for three Grammys. Active on the New York experimental music scene, performance collaborations have included those with guitarist Alan Licht, clarinettist Jeremiah Cymerman, composer/performer David First, pianist/composer Anthony Coleman, violist/violinist Jessica Pavone, and John Colpitts’s Man Forever, amongst many more. Recorded works also include those with saxophonist Seth Misterka, vocalist Karlie Bruce, Jeremiah Lockwood’s Sway Machinery, the North Sky cello ensemble, and The Seconds. Brian is deeply interested in the Just Intonation tuning theory and is influenced by the work of La Monte Young introduced to him by guitarist/composer Jon Catler. In this light, he has a project called Drums and Drones in which the principles of Just Intonation are applied to drums and percussion. Key influential drum and percussion teachers are and have been Susie Ibarra, Greg Bandy, and Michael Rosen. Away from the drums, Brian is a regular practitioner of Ashtanga yoga.”