Monday, March 9, 2009

Drummers Have no Soul: Guy With Too Much Time on His Hands Invents a Click-Track Detector

Posted By on Mon, Mar 9, 2009 at 11:30 AM

click to enlarge soulessdrummer.jpg

As I'm sure pretty much all of you already know, if you spend a day driving around Nashville the three things you're most likely to see with continual certainty on our roads are D.U.I. checkpoints, Jesus fish and "drum machines have no soul" bumper stickers. People donning this sticker are likely to be fuddy-duddy musicians who play their records on Victrolas and probably abhor the use of laptops onstage. If they're good musicians (and yes, when using the term "musician," I am including drummers) then, in a town such as this, they will likely find themselves frequenting our ubiquity of recording studios, begrudgingly enslaved to miraculous advances in digital recording.

In these studios, drummers lay down take after take to a gridded click-track on Pro-Tools. The click track is employed to both simplify digital editing and do away with the trappings caused by the age-old inclination (white) drummers have to get excited during the fast parts of songs and bored during the slow parts of songs. (Also known as rushing and dragging.) Purists will argue that unduly zealous studio wonks are beating the life out of tracks with their unreasonable click-track enforcement, and that soon enough drummers themselves will have no soul.

This debate is probably nothing new to any of you, and it's about as exciting as listening to an Iron & Wine record. However, a blogger by the name of Paul Lamere is attempting to add some tinder to the fire of this neverending dialectic of dorkitude. Using some Python thing called an Echo Nest remix SDK, he claims to have created an app that is a "click-track detector," and he's got the graphs to prove it. Although this kind of techy stuff is far too much for my small mind to grasp (I really don't understand why he labels his graph in seconds as opposed to BPMs) I'm sure a lot of you will get this in a way that I don't. His post, titled "In Search of the Click Track" can be found at Music Machinery.

Considering one of his examples of a non-click recording is Metallica's "Enter Sandman" I'm a bit skeptical. When recording The Black Album, Metallica enlisted the criminally Canadian producer Bob Rock for his Lange-like meticulousness. I was once told by an unnamed source who was privy to the mixing of the record that details as fine as single hi-hat hits were punched in as over-dubs and that the record was made like an Erector set. Also, anyone who's seen Metallica live knows that Lars Ulrich couldn't play in time to save a Jackson Pollock painting. Take, for example, this 2003 clip of him playing his famous machine gun double-kick part in "One."

If you scroll down to the comments section of Lamere's post you'll see that plenty of studio dorks share my doubts. One commenter--username Jesse Cannon--has posted a rather brilliant, albeit painstaking, rebuttal here. If you're not already bored, I recommend reading it.

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