Those of you that frequent this blog know my affinity for the mixing of electronic and acoustic drums. I spend time going between both kinds of kits and have worked with triggers and sample pads in the past. I recently came upon someone who is bridging the gap between electronic and acoustic sounds. His name is Ran Levari and his YouTube channel is titled Breakbeat Meditations. Ran’s creativity shines through in his experimental compositions that truly exhibit what can be done. Through the use of electronic devices, sample pads, and a simple kit Ran incorporates unique beats that he accentuates within creative drum sounds. I had the pleasure of asking Ran a few questions about his drumming:
MA: When did you start incorporating acoustic drums and electronic instruments?
RL: I’ve been using electronic equipment in my setup since 2003, although by that time I was already heavily into electronic and sample based music. I grew up listening to Metal and Punk-Rock. The natural progression from there was hard Hip-Hop and Electronic music – that was in the mid 90’s. I used to go to lots of Jungle Raves and absorbed those sounds and all the Chillout tracks that were played after the party was done. Back then I played a lot of that music live, trying to get the same sounds and feel of the electronic beats from my acoustic kit.
During that time I also got into playing indigenous percussion instruments and studying the different rhythms and techniques. I played Congas, Bongos, Frame drums, Djembe and Djun-Djun in various ensembles and my kit was packed with bells, hand drums and pretty much anything I could get my hands on. (Literally…) I was so concentrated on my percussion studies that another discipline seemed too much and I let the initial DAW craze pass me by.
It was while living in NYC in early 2000’s that I realized I can’t depend on anyone else to write my musical ideas for me and I bought some basic electronic equipment – just a laptop, a sound card and some software. From there to implementing those sounds directly into my kit was an obvious step but it took me a while to figure out how to do it well enough that it felt like a single unit.
I started out with the Roland pads – the SPD-S and the Handsonic. Both I still love and use quite a lot. After that came the Korg Kaoss pad and the Elektron Octatrack which turned out to be the hub for my live setup. I used some more controllers over the years, but most I left in favor of a simpler setup.
I try to treat electronic equipment the same way I treat other instruments. I’m a percussionist, I’ll press down on a drum head to muffle the sound of a stroke or turn a knob on a filter to cut off a high frequency – it’s the same thing to me. (At least conceptually.)
MA: What challenges are there using acoustic drums and electronic instruments?
RL: The technical side of things is definitely a challenge. It can be hard enough to be on top of a drum kit. Add to that a multi-effect sequencer, triggers, mics, midi splitters, a laptop and a sound card – each with their own eccentric behavior and a 15 minute change-over before your festival slot can be quite stressful…But that becomes easier with experience.
For me the greater challenge is musical in nature – it’s trying to meld the acoustic and electronic pieces of gear to one organic set and not get too technical about the instrument as a whole – to keep it playful and interesting for myself and hopefully for my audience. It’s very easy to lose yourself in a sea of endless possibilities when augmenting your kit with electronics. That creates situations where too many options are paralyzing and you find yourself having to ‘work’ for your gear instead of having it work for you. Too many samples, too many knobs to turn, it gets messy. That’s why I tend to favor hardware to laptops – it keeps me focused on less options and that in turn makes me more creative.
Going back to my percussion background – that’s exactly what some of my heroes excel at – master like Zakir Hussain and Giovanni Hidalgo can keep you mesmerized for a very long time by playing just one or two drums. I try to adopt some principals from the older drum traditions and adapt them to my needs – mainly the idea of the drummer as a story-teller.
MA: Can you give us a rundown of your acoustic drums and electronic instruments?
- 1967 Slingerland kit
- 70’s Premier kit
- 1965 Slingerland Maple SD 14”x5.5”
- Early 70’s Ludwig Supraphonic SD 14”x6.5”
- Assorted found drums – Japanese, East-European etc.
- Assorted vintage cymbals 60’s – 80’s – Zildjian, Sabian, Paiste
- Roland SPD-S
- Nord Drum 3p
- Elektron Octatrack
- Korg Kaosspad 3
- RME Fireface 400 sound card
- Bome midi translator
- Kenton midi splitter
- Macbook Pro
- Ableton Live
- Propellerheads Reason
- Custom made headphones – Peltor casing with Sony membranes
For more information on Ran and his unique style, visit: