New responsive click-track software lets drummers set their own pace video

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New software has been developed that gives drummers the freedom to speed up or slow down the pace of the music with any pre-programmed material following their lead.

It means that drummers will no longer have to keep time with a click track and the set beat of pre-recorded tracks that are are used during live performances and studio sessions.

The software has been developed by Dr Andrew Robertson at Queen Mary, University of London. Dr Robertson's work has been funded by the EPSRC. He is a Royal Academy of Engineering / EPSRC Research Fellow at the university.

The current version of the B-Keeper software is available for download, free of charge, on the B-Keeper website

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[Sound of drum sticks tapping together and then music being played]

[Andrew Robertson from Queen Mary University of London - AB]

The b-keeper system is designed to work with a drummer so that they control a computer-based system that's playing music. It's bringing back elements of feel and groove so that the computer responds to the drummer. It's listening out for events that the drummer's doing, kick drum events, snare events and it's making tempo changes.

One way that I like to think of this kind of problem is supposing you've got a car on a motorway and you're a motorbike trying to catch up or keep up with it so you are level. If you are behind you, will need to speed up a bit to catch the car and yet as you approach it you will have to slow back down again. So supposing you've got certain synth parts or pre-recorded parts that are integral to the music you are doing and you want these to play live, then you can have this system play those parts while also having the other members of your band all play naturally. You don't have to worry so much about having the drummer listen to a clear kick, it would isolate them by wearing headphones and it also means that you're at a very flat speed so the excitement, I think, is taken out of the music if it's actually at a fully flat tempo.

[Sound of drumming and music being played]

[David Nock from Erland and the Carnival - DN]

Playing with b-keeper is quite strange as you sort of build a relationship with it because it has a personality and it responds to you and gives you feedback so it's very much a learning process. I can't do anything too radical, I can't suddenly shift tempo as it just wouldn't understand, just as a normal musician wouldn't understand. You have to try and guide it through the process and it's a two-way communication, it's quite interesting, it's got a personality and you can feel its edges and you can interact with it just like any musician.

[AB]

The system works by having a window around the beat where it expects the beat to occur. This window constantly changes, it can be very narrow if you've got a really tired drummer, or it can widen out if its more uncertain and its looking for the main events, classically the kick on the one and the three and the snare is on the backbeat. It estimates really the level of certainty or accuracy that it's got and adjusts this window. Within that if it finds a beat then it adjusts the timing, if its say twenty milliseconds early it needs to win that back so it speeds up a few milliseconds - say four or five over the next four beats and then you are back in sync so it's constantly trying to match the speed and position that the drummer is at. In this scenario you've got a microphone on the bass drum and on the snare drum and they go through to the sound card which is there. At the same time a click that is the sequencer's position is fed out through the sound card so both of these things are coming in the click from the computer and the kick and the snare from the drummer and then we're making tempo adjustments to align those the best that we possible can.

[Sound of glockenspiel]

[AB]

One of the students here, Dave Meakin, has developed this electro-mechanical glockenspiel as part of one of his projects. So today we've tried hooking up the two and seeing what happens together. This means that effectively we can send messages and bring the glockenspiel into the performance just as we would a synthesiser or an audio track on the sequencer.

[Sound of drums, glockenspiel and music being played]

[AB]

The robots timing is more humanised and it's different, as it would be if we had just set it at a metronomic pace, its actually doing the same kind of response that a person would do if they listened to David.

David Meakin - [DM]

There are already robotic orchestras. However what would be unique about the implementation using the b-keeper software would be that it would be providing an organic robotic response that would give a really unique and human feel to a performance.

[AB]

It changes effectively the way you can make a song. Instead of just having to have this flat tempo you can bring in all sorts of technology and yet bring a feel back into it.

[DN]

As a drummer I think that you are slightly frustrated because I love hitting things but there is a lack of melody here, the classic drummer jokes are endless, but with this I've got control and I've got a pad so I'm creating the arrangement as I play. If I get excited because its happening and there's a response from the audience and they're enjoying it and I'm enjoying it, I can speed up and the machine or b-keeper goes with me so that's quite exciting for me as a drummer as it opens up new boundaries.

[Sound of glockenspiel]