Rhythm collisions: Cut From A Different Cloth (2021)

I have a list I occasionally return to, if I’m bereft of inspiration and casting around for something new to fiddle with, of unfinished musical projects from the past that require re-mixing, re-solutioning or just plain turning inside out. After the emotional interrogations of the albums Crux and The Witnessing Of Paint In Its Drying Moments, I needed a creative something that didn’t require such a serious personal investment. This collection of tribal percussion recordings is onesuch; the original recordings are drums only, recorded live and acoustic, but for several years I’ve been wanting to mess them up a bit, add some extra instrumentation and try tweaking the drum sounds with some electronic fx, along the lines of some similar surgical experiments I began with Junglebrain, on the album Skin.

Cut From A Different Cloth is the result of me finally getting around to it.

Through the 1990s I lived in Melbourne. It was a time of personal transformation, for myself and for many others. For most of that decade I had no interest in playing guitar, but I had a passion for rhythm – I had collected an assortment of traditional percussion instruments from Africa and the Middle East, and often played for hours at a time, working myself into states of prolonged trance (and no doubt working my neighbours into other less trance-like states). On two occasions, with my friend Kushala, I attended weekend intensive workshops led by Reinhard Flatischler, an Austrian master drummer / shaman who developed the Ta Ke Ti Na rhythm process and was bringing it to Australia for the first time. These deeply immersive workshops changed my rhythmic sense permanently, and led me to pursue drumming in performance and in teaching.

After moving to Tasmania in 2001, I began teaching rhythm in a community drumming setting on Bruny Island. This group was involved in performances for an annual Kids Arts Festival I coordinated on the island. When I moved to Cygnet in 2006, I was approached to teach percussion at a nearby Steiner school (which I did for several years), and led two small but impactful community drumming groups in the Cygnet community. One, The Drummin’ Mummas, was a group of about six adult women, and several rhythms from the Drummin’ Mummas’ repertoire formed the basis of tracks on the Skin album. The other group, Rhythm Collision, was a lively bunch of six musically precocious kids (ages 9 – 13 when the group first formed).

Over four years of weekly meetings I helped both groups develop a repertoire based on my own drumming compositions & ideas from the group once they gained confidence. Rhythm Collision in particular was tight & rhythmically sophisticated, the kids were full of exuberant energy, and we performed often at the Cygnet Folk Festival & other community events. We even held a fundraiser concert and raised the airfares to fly the group to Melbourne, to perform at one of djembe master Simon Lewis’ popular African drumming events.

When the oldest kids hit high-school age, commitments changed and the group disbanded. In all those years we had no recordings or video footage, no live document of the group playing, so we got together for a final fling one afternoon at a friend’s home studio, to record the group’s repertoire live in the livingroom as a memento for everyone involved.

We didn’t capture the group in full flight that day – a few missed cues and sloppy solos, racing ahead in places and lagging in others – but we got an honest slab of noise to show for it. Nic and Fi Meredith, who facilitated the recording, also set up a video camera and filmed the whole session, highlights of which you can view on my YouTube channel. This piece, Apeman, was one of the group’s original compositions:

In revisiting these recordings for Cut From A Different Cloth, I allowed myself plenty of creative license. I did a lot of careful cutting & pasting, isolating some sections, looping, rearranging, creating polyrhythmic elements that don’t exist in the originals. I discovered that applying a ring modulator effect to the drums sometimes created a musical effect, slightly reminiscent of steel pan drums, and this added a simple riff or melody to the pieces. Cairo Connection makes use of this and other effects:

On all these pieces I’ve added bass, as I wanted this album to be solidly anchored in the sounds of bass and drums. Not currently being Of Bass Guitarness, I played the basslines on my laptop keyboard via the Surge virtual synth, and I’ve made use of many other synthesiser textures throughout the album, to provide a sense of space around the earth of the rhythms. While the drums are central on these recordings, several pieces inspired me to add some other instruments. On Welcome! and Apeman, I used samples of my stepson Leo playing a few notes on clarinet, editing them into a melodic phrase for the former, and mutating them into a yowling bassoon-like abstraction on the latter. On the track Seven (named thusly because it is in 7/4 time), its oddly angular rhythm inspired me to add an exotic electric guitar melody, somewhat ambiguously in the flavour of Turkish or Eastern European; Banananas (not a typo) always seemed to have a goofy kind of humour to it, so I’ve used the bassline and a cheesy old Hammond organ sound to steer the piece into groovy 60s teen party territory.

Throughout the album I was enjoying the process of taking organic sounds (eg drums) and abstracting or partially-abstracting them, sometimes only looking to create a warp in the edges of the sound, or accentuating certain natural tonal qualities of the instrument. Some of my favourite examples include Seven, Banananas (not a typo), Diggety Dog Dub and Bubblidub. In the original version of Diggety Dog, the kids fill the gaps in the rhythm with spontaneous rhythmic hoots and yelps, random Yo’s and other hiphopisms; in the new version I wanted the definition of their noises to be dissolved, leaving something rhythmic but authentic to the energy inside the sound.

The cover image is a detail of one of my mother Marian’s intricate quilt abstractions. I thought the repurposed fabrics, the jumble of colour, the crazy organic angles of the shapes, and the link back to older knowledge, were all aptly fitting to the album’s themes. I also like that there’s a circular shape in the centre of all those square borders, radiating stitched lines as if the central shape were a pulse, a heartbeat, an echoing through history.