The Drum Kit and Me

My younger son got a drum kit for Christmas.  It didn’t come from Santa or anything, rather it’s a good second hand kit which is now set up in his bedroom.  He’s been taking lessons for months and months – banging out practice rhythms on window boards and show boxes and biscuit tins.  He may well make a good drummer someday.

Here’s the thing though.

I spent some time sitting playing with these drums, hearing the various components, tapping them and crashing them.  This is all quite new to me and a bit intriguing too..  For the first time, I know where a particular drum sits in the kit, what it looks like and what it sounds like.  In short, I got myself a modicum of first hand drum experience.

Then something quite strange happened.

I went for a night-time walk the other evening, as I often do, and I brought my trusty old iPod along.  I put on an album I got quite recently which I like a lot.  It’s called ‘Becoming a Jackal’ by Villagers.  Then I walked and listened, listened and walked.

And this ‘listen’ of mine… it was all about the drums.

Suddenly, thanks to my little investment of time with an actual drum kit, the drums on this album came alive for me in a way I have never experienced before.  I could identify which drum was being played, I could picture where it was in the set – I could almost feel the skin vibrate as if I was playing it myself.

This got me thinking.

How much greater an experience, the music must be, for someone who understands the ways and the nuances of the instruments therein.  I 'tasted' a drum for a few minutes and the music seemed to go up to an entirely different level.  You guys who work with music and play music all the time – are you really on a different level of sensual appreciation than the rest of us?  I am now starting to believe that you really are.

If this is true, then I probably must also revise my long-held views of highly prized TV Chefs generally as being nothing more than Bluffers and Eejits.  Perhaps this newest personal discovery of mine applies to them too.  Perhaps years of learning the ways of the ingredients has indeed given them the ability to savour their wares in a manner far beyond my understanding.  Perhaps I should spent some time with a sprig of Parsley to try and get at least some feeling for whether this is true.

And that brings me, as things so often do, to me.

What can I savour?

What specialist experience do I possess that means I am getting more enjoyment and depth from something than you might be? 

In truth, I don’t think there is anything.  A master chess player will appreciate the nuances of a great game in a way I never can.  A fashion designer extraordinaire will relish the cut of a garment while I only stare helplessly on.  A ballet dancer… well, you get the picture.

My 'things' tends to be words and humour but, let’s face it, everybody’s thing is words - and we all love a good laugh.  I genuinely don’t think there are levels of humour appreciation in the same way as there are levels of appreciation of other things.  It’s funny, it ain’t funny – that about covers it.

So here I am, I now see, confined to live in a world of practical sensory deprivation…

… I think I’ll go and hit the drums for a while.


Rachel Fox said...

Part of the job of a writer (I think) is simply to notice what others are doing and note it. This is just another note you're making.

And comedy... only people who have any skill for it don't realise how impossible it is for others at times! I think you have some skill with comedy. It's scary though (because it can go so wrong... no laugh=failure!).


Laura Cousins said...

I just spent ages typing out a really serious comment to this entry and then deleted it because I sound so pompous and boring. But I will say how much I enjoyed reading what you have written!

Luce said...

I think the extra dimension of pleasure to which you refer can become a curse you know. I have spent a lot of time with musicians and for any given piece of music a drummer will hear the drums, a guitarist the guitar, a singer the voice etc. My brother is a music producer and has recently become sick to death of being unable to listen to music without pulling it to pieces in his head.
I have a good friend who is married to a chef. She says it's a pain in the arse going out for a meal with him because he can't help but analyse the flavours etc. I have also read that writers find it difficult not to notice story arcs, subplots, inciting moments etc when reading novels or watching films.
I think it's a blessing to be a punter, and to have the whole think presented to you in its entirety, to be enjoyed as it was intended to be enjoyed, without the compulsion to dissect it into it's component parts.

Karen Redman said...

used to work with guys audio guys when I first started at BBC. They hear everything - totally different concept to listening, I reckon. Am envious of drum kit. I can't help but tap. Am whizz with cutlery on plates but if nothing available I will beat a rhythm with anything on anything. Apparently this is very annoying. Watch me care! ;)

Torgwen said...

Ah but you are new to listening to the drums. When I've seen the faces of listeners to trad music in Ireland, they have been listening since birth and no doubt have a deep understanding of the players and music that they watch and hear. They have a better overall view, they are not hampered by desperately trying to learn the tune or fit in with the specific rhythm of the session. The musician wants to play in an acceptable manner and be accepted but the listener/viewer is under no such pressures. When it comes to "excellent" playing this would be recognised by players and audience alike, the difference being the player can compare their playing and appreciate the difficulty or nuances in relation to their own. I agree that dipping into something will give you extra appreciation but maybe you (or me or anyone) are not as good at listening as we thought we were. It's all about personalities. Feck, wish I was over there in some session not writing shit on some random internet person's blog :-).

Art Durkee said...

I don't know if I'd say that I'm one a different level of sensory appreciation—although that might well be true but how can I know that, what have I to compare it to?—but I can say from experience that most musicians are more *conscious* of what's going on. It's not so much sensory appreciation as how you process and absorb and are aware of the sensory input. It's definitely a heightened awareness of sound, and the musical instruments used to produce that sound. We musicians pay attention, certainly.

Your sudden awareness of the drums is indeed a taste of that. It's wonderful to read your notes about it, as it reminds me, a jaded old musician, just what it feels like to be a beginner—and beginner's mind is something I value highly. I like learning new skills, and that's partly why.

I do think that there are at least a few levels of humor appreciation, beyond the it's funny or it isn't. I think people who write comedy finely tune their sense of timing (it's like musical timing, it's very precise) of jokes and pauses. I also think that comedy writers develop a finely tuned ear for turns of phrase, which can be blunt and rough or really subtle and make you think about it.

And here's another thing: puns. I've noticed that people who appreciate puns often have quite sophisticated senses of the absurd in life. So I'm biased, but I think puns are appreciated on a level that insult humor is not.

Ken Armstrong said...

Rachel: It's funny, I think I had a sort of thought like that when I was writing the post: 'another note'. It's possible that I always think that.

Lozzie: I reckon you would know more about this kind of thing than most. Glad you enjoyed it.

Luce: The only hint of that I get is than now, ever since I watched my own short film get shot, there's a part of me assessing how many angles there are in a scene, where the cuts are etc. That's certainly a pain in the arse. When it's a good enough film, though, I forget to do that.

Karen: It's really nice to have drums in the house. I wasn't sure it would be. :)

Torgwen: Thanks for your thoughts, I'm not a random internet person, though, it's me!! :)

Art: Thank you, I'm glad if I conveyed a sense of my amazement as the drums in my earphones shone out for me. I love a good pun, me, and have limited patience for insult humour.

Carolines said...

I admire writers immensely. They have a way with words and language that I do not possess, but wish I did. I used to play a trombone and still hear it stand out in musical pieces. English, though and a wise, interesting turn of phrase is such a gift. You my friend have it in abundance. Lovely post.

Jim Murdoch said...

Did you watch Eric and Ernie when it was on a couple of days ago? What made them special? It was because they were naturals. Anyone can tell a joke – we read them off little slips of paper we get out of crackers – but only certain people are naturals. I like to think I’m one. I believe you are another. Remember Frank Carson’s catch phrase? "It's the way I tell 'em!" Not everyone can tell a joke. Even fewer can write them. (I keep intending to write a blog about joke writing.) Don’t belittle your talent.

Øyvind said...

Hi Ken! I played violin for about 8 years and I still hear the violin stand out. And when I listen to classical I often hear the 2. violin better than the 1st. Like in Concerto Grosso. :) I wonder if this can be translated to writing? When one have read a lot of books, does the same happens if you read a new book and it 'play on the same strings?'

Ken Armstrong said...

Carolines: Thank you. :) I shall listen out for the trombone too.

Jim: Yes, I loved the Eric and Ernie drama. Everyone made it look easy, which is enormously difficult to do.

That's the point, I guess. If you're good at something, it seems easy and easy to put down.

You're right, as usual. Happy New Year. :)

Hi Øyvind! Great to see you. I played the accordion for some years as a kid. I never hear it stand out much, perhaps because it's not there! :) I don't think it works the same way with books - not for me anyway.

Laura said...

Write what you know, they say. If you have experienced something yourself you do know far more than if you just read about it in a book or saw someone else do it. You do pick up on little things, savour the experience.

As for the chefs, there is actually a LOT they should know about ingredients, how things work together. Cooking is a science. I watch those shows too. Those 'chefs' who burn something cause they didn't know how their ingredients would work together are the fools. You can be someone who enjoys cooking but to title yourself a chef you better know the basics. I like watching someone like Gordon Ramsey cook. The way they handle the food as well as the knowledge they have about the science of cooking. They make it look so simple and easy, but that's because they know what they are doing. They have the experience, the knowledge, they know how to make pie crust by the texture of the batch they have made - a recipe is no longer needed - they know what works, all the details about ingredients, temperature, etc.

Sorry for a long comment. But, I do think there should be more appreciation and understanding of what a chef is versus people who don't really know what they are doing and call themselves a chef anyway.

Laura said...

Insult humour is too easy and mostly works for the simple minded and judgemental types who need to feel they are better than someone. Puns are far more interesting and take someone who walks around living life with their eyes open - seeing more and understanding more.