PASIC 2015 – Part 2: Drum Nerd Paradise

In a way, I’m still reeling from PASIC, dizzy from the wisdom imparted. Weeks in the rearview, some of the fine details have started to fade. In and out of the clinic halls, in presentation, and in passing comments caught walking by, talk of music…

Among all those nuggets of experience flying around every room, plenty of them stuck. Striking ideas have a way of creeping into your playing. So many of the ideas presented (officially or unofficially) are now lodged somewhere in my brain… And even still, I’m recalling little bits of info gleaned as an applicable scenario presents itself. I’m still working through it.

And because of my own neglect writing here as I should – here we are with Part II of my little recap almost two months later (check out Part 1 here). My guilt about the delay aside, this stuff is worth talking about – be it this month, next month, next year, after 20 more PASICs have gone by. Every lesson is worth remembering – at least as much as possible.

…And that’s exactly where I want to start: lessons, information, and education.

The Percussive Arts Society‘s mission statement is “to inspire, educate, and support percussionists and drummers throughout the world.”

At PASIC, this mission is palpable. The entire atmosphere was one of collaboration, support, and most importantly, education – a veritable think tank of professionals, amateurs, young students, and everything in between, all sharing ideas and working toward the common goal of growing our musicality, ability to express, and facility on whichever percussive instruments we’re fond of.

In such an environment, however, there’s only so much info you can even distill. That spongey tissue between your ears gets a little “saturated” and new things won’t absorb. But somewhere in there, the tidbits might stick around, or even if it takes a few times – eventually it’ll make its way in.

It can be a battle trying not to fall into the abyss of information overload in our everyday lives, and trying to limit focus is a basic necessity in the modern sea of data we live in. Still, if it’s YouTube surfing or podcast listening, skimming through Modern Drummer or chatting with a drummer friend, the little lessons are always pouring in.

Even at a place like PASIC, where you’re totally immersed in it, seeking out information much more intensely than an average day, you can’t hope to remember every bit, but what makes it in… gets to stay in the tank.

And out of all the minutia, we can look for those big umbrella topics that tie the bits together, those threads that run through the lessons and great the principles of good feel, musicianship, technique, or whatever else we may be studying.

At this PASIC, though, the most common theme was musicality in one form or another. The umbrella of advice was largely about listening, understanding, and making deliberate, responsible choices on the kit…

…Ndugu Chancler telling us about the power of space, of playing simply to let music breathe. He told us about one of the simplest beats he ever played (and most famous). No fills. No changes.

A passing comment at any moment – even just a chat in the hall – could let loose a bit of musical information, someone’s unique perspective gained over years of drumming. You could practically wade through the wisdom. So many people were focused on art, musicianship, and artistic self-expression… all of the technical stuff is simply a means to an end.

I couldn’t possibly recount every little gem I picked up over the weekend, but I wanted to recap at least a little bit of my few favorite drum set clinics:

Larnell Lewis

This may be existing fandom talking, but Larnell Lewis completely blew me away. His sheer ability on the kit is outstanding and inventive, and as the title of his clinic “The Orchestration of The Drum Set” would suggest, he’s able to pull a range of diverse and musical sounds from his setup – which includes a Yamaha DTX, some splash-on-snare work, and that awesome low tuned snare on the right (Larnell gave a nod to Sput Searight for the idea).

The clinic itself was a mixture of topical discussion and song/solo performance, and while I certainly came away with some new insight, the playing was… just… wow. Some of the sauciest hihat grooves, incredible control and dynamic range, and as the subjective music-opinion thing goes, licks and grooves I flat out LOVED. This one scores off the charts on the inspiration meter.

He also offered some great insight on tension and release, and the idea of storytelling as a musical device – using patience to establish a theme and a mood, and introducing “characters” as the “plot” develops. As a wordnerd, this part was obviously appealing to me, and his explanations provided great background for his incredible musicality and phrasing.

Mark Guiliana

Mark Guiliana is one of my favorites – a mind boggling drummer gaining well deserved praise across the board – and his clinic was packed.

Discussing ideas for improvisation, he eloquently displayed ways to create variation through a few devices, and applying those devices to musical phrases (instead of, say, sticking patterns) to get away from playing licks or predetermined ideas.

That’s a drop in the bucket of the insight he shared – it was the most educational clinic I attended, and touched on practical and creative elements alike. The playing is as nuanced as it is impressive, and even his opening solo (linked below), is wonderfully based on the concepts presented. It was a pleasure to see/hear Mark play in person – and the information was even more valuable.

I could help but chuckle when the final question wrapped up, and as Mark thanked the audience the clock ticked 11:50am, the clinic ending precisely when it was scheduled to. Of course the time master hit it exactly.

Dave Elitch

Before the clinic, I was already a fan of Dave Elitch‘s playing. I’d seen some videos with him and Mars Volta, a few solo clips, and a handful of other features – I was well aware of his monstrous chops, musical versatility, and sheer presence on the kit. I didn’t, however, know he was such a good teacher!

He covered a few aspects of playing for the gig you’re on, maintaining personal style across different genres (the theme of his clinic), and when it came time to discuss some technique – he literally wowed the crowd with some single strokes on a pad. Seriously, the whole room went “ooooh.”

When asked, Dave dropped the knowledge bomb: “Speed is a byproduct of efficiency.”

It’s not about building speed, it’s about developing the techniques that allow you “get of your own way.” He stressed the importance of understanding the basic physics at work, understand how the stick is actually moving and where the energy you put in… comes out.

The casually delivered clinic was one of the most memorable of the whole convention, and gave me a new level of respect for Dave as a player and educator.

 

There’s more, tons more… but I won’t recount every clinic I attended – Rashid Williams, John Riley, Anika Nilles, Gerald Heyward, Matt Garstka, Chad Wackerman (search for videos, f’real)… Every 50 minutes, there was an opportunity to see another powerhouse drummer and glean some insights on how they approach the instrument.

Events of incredible drum nerdery – large and small – help solidify our little subsection of society. It’s this kind of collaboration and relationship building that creates a community.

…And speaking of the drumming community, there are two more people who played integral roles in my PASIC adventure:

• Nick Ruffini of Drummer’s Resource podcast put together a drawing to celebrate his 100th episode, and I was fortunate enough to draw the prize – which included registration to the convention. I never would’ve thought such a trip feasible if it weren’t for Nick, or even considered going. He’s got tons of in depth interview with pro drummers on his site, and he’s a great motivator to boot. Lots to learn from Drummer’s Resource – go check it out!

• Matt Dudley of Behind The Kit podcast focuses on interviewing working drummers, practical information, and above all, community building. Through his podcast and the wonders of Twitter, I connected with two of his interviewees, Jeromy Bailey and Jeremy Schreifels (precisely because I heard them on the show). Those early conversation with Jeromy ultimately lead to planning my trip and crashing with their group. Totally unforeseen, real-life connections from podcast perusing and social media… I’m still amazed.

P.S. Follow Nick and Matt on Twitter too.

There’s more to say about the expo hall, San Antonio, the random people I met, being a little starstruck while shaking a few impressive hands… but enough’s enough. You’ll just have to see for yourself. If you’ve never been to PASIC, I can’t recommend it highly enough. It’s Candyland. It’s drum nerd heaven…

Hope to see you at the next one.

 

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