Clockwork Angels to Have More Spontaneous Drum Parts

Neil in a post on his blog this month talks about his taking a more spontaneous approach to his drum parts for Rush’s upcoming Clockwork Angels album, due out this spring.

UPDATE: Access list of Clockwork Angels tour dates.

Photo by Lorne Wheaton from Neil's blog, "News, Weather, and Sports"

On previous albums, he says, he would spend days by himself memorizing the odd numbers of beats, bars, and measures in each song. This time around, rather than commit the arrangements to memory, he only played through the pieces a few times, then brought in producer Nick Raskulinecz (Booujzhe) to act as his guide.

“His baton would conduct me into choruses, half-time bridges, and double-time outros and so on—–so I didn’t have to worry about their durations,” Neil says. “No counting, and no endless repetition. What a revelation! What a relief!”

More than just speeding up the process, it enabled him to play more improvisationally, which he says has been one of his goals for years.

“Each performance occurred only once, with magic—or lucky—moments from a few takes combined into one that was fresh and spontaneous. . . I like to believe that a listener can sense when a player is on the edge of his seat, so to speak, playing with urgency, invention, and excitement. Sometimes the listener may share the player’s relief at having got safely back to ‘one.'”

The arrangement in one piece was particularly complicated, so to get through it using his new method he wrote out the beats on a sheet of paper and read through the piece as he played. He says it was the first time he had ever played while reading the equivalent of a sheet of music.

“The music stand in front of my drums represents an historic event: the first time I have ever used written notes–—or at least numbers. There were two sections of one song that were ridiculously complicated, and I didn’t want to have to stop and learn them in my old way–—I wanted to keep playing. So I wrote them down: one passage in which the rapid-fire snare accents went ‘4-2-4-2-3-2-4-2-3-2-1-y’ (16th note push), and a series of staccato punches that went ‘1-3-1-5-1-4-1½.’ (Not exactly one-and-a-half beats, I guess, but a reminder that the last punch was also the downbeat into the next section.)”

It’ll be interesting to see how it all comes out when the record is released in a few months. Here’s the full section of his blog post in which he talks about the new method:

I have been working deliberately to become more improvisational on the drums, and these sessions were an opportunity to attempt that approach in the studio. I played through each song just a few times on my own, checking out patterns and fills that might work, then called in Booujzhe. He stood in the room with me, facing my drums, with a music stand and a single drumstick—he was my conductor, and I was his orchestra. (I later replaced that stick with a real baton.)

Rush songs tend to have complicated arrangements, with odd numbers of beats, bars, and measures all over the place, and our latest songs are no different (maybe worse—or better, depending). In the past, much of my preparation time would be spent just learning all that. I don’t like to count those parts, but rather play them enough that I begin to feel the changes in a musical way. Playing it through again and again, those elements became “the song.”

This time I handed that job over to Booujzhe. (And he loved it!) I would attack the drums, responding to his enthusiasm, and his suggestions between takes, and together we would hammer out the basic architecture of the part. His baton would conduct me into choruses, half-time bridges, and double-time outros and so on—so I didn’t have to worry about their durations. No counting, and no endless repetition. What a revelation! What a relief!

There was this one song, though . . .

Here the music stand in front of my drums represents an historic event: the first time I have ever used written notes—or at least numbers. There were two sections of one song that were ridiculously complicated, and I didn’t want to have to stop and learn them in my old way—I wanted to keep playing. So I wrote them down: one passage in which the rapid-fire snare accents went “4-2-4-2-3-2-4-2-3-2-1-y” (16th note push), and a series of staccato punches that went “1-3-1-5-1-4-1½.” (Not exactly one-and-a-half beats, I guess, but a reminder that the last punch was also the downbeat into the next section.)

By these methods, each song’s drum part was composed, arranged, performed, and recorded in just a few hours, rather than many days, as in the past. Also, each performance occurred only once, with magic—or lucky—moments from a few takes combined into one that was fresh and spontaneous. Now I can learn and reproduce that part, if desired, much as I did by the old process, but of course it’s not the same. I like to believe that a listener can sense when a player is on the edge of his seat, so to speak, playing with urgency, invention, and excitement. Sometimes the listener may share the player’s relief at having got safely back to “one.”

Performing to that level was the satisfying culmination of several years of ambition, pursued through studying with Peter Erskine, practicing faithfully for months with just high-hat and metronome as part of my preparation for playing the Buddy Rich tribute concert back in ’08, making “The Hockey Theme” in ’09, recording two new Rush songs, “Caravan” and “BU2B,” in early 2010, and—perhaps paramount in the sense of working toward a goal—playing all of those shows on the Time Machine tour in 2010 and ’11. Study, practice, experimentation, composition, and recording all reach their acme on the stage—nothing is more demanding than live performance, thus nothing does so much for my playing. (A fact about which I remain ambivalent, because until real-time holograms are possible, and accepted by audiences, it demands such long periods away from home.)

Read Neil’s full blog post, which in addition to the drum recording talks about a recent drive he took in his Aston Martin, the winter holiday, and other things that have occupied his mind over the last six months.—Rob Freedman, Rush Vault

 More This and That.

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~ by rvkeeper on January 15, 2012.

 
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