No Cymbals?

Recently I heard a discussion on the Modern Drummer Podcast with Mike Johnston and Mike Dawson that dealt with Peter Gabriel’s third and fourth albums. What made these two albums particularly interesting (drum-wise) is that there are no cymbals used. This was intentionally done to create a different sound unlike any of the contemporary records at the time. Several other bands had experimented with no cymbals on single tracks but none had applied this approach to entire albums. There was one near-exception: a drum machine-generated hi-hat makes an appearance on “Games Without Frontiers.”

Gabriel had developed a new interest in world music (especially percussion), and for bold production, which made extensive use of recording tricks and sound effects. As a result he requested that his drummers use no cymbals in the album’s sessions. Phil Collins played drums on multiple tracks and used a set-up that featured a reverse-gated, cymbal-less drum kit sound. This would later be used by him on some of his biggest hits with the addition of cymbals.

Collins was asked to play a simple pattern for several minutes, then build on it. The lack of cymbals created a sound of tension with no resolve. Jerry Marotta played on the remaining songs using the same approach as Collins. The cymbal-less method also led to inventive performances by both drummers. Collins’ fill midway through “No Self Control” (Listen Here) and opening to “Intruder” (Listen Here) are said to stand out among them.

Drums do not convey emotion when compared to the other instruments in a band. Collins’ and Marotta’s playing is an exception to this rule as they instill a feeling of frustration that enhances Gabriel’s intense vocal performance. The sound was significant enough and influential enough that it has been claimed by Gabriel. Other bands have used this approach on songs including King Crimson (Bill Bruford), The Beach Boys (Dennis Wilson, Hal Blaine) and Kate Bush (Stuart Elliott).

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