I admit that I regularly wallow in the vice of buying music software. So I couldn’t resist and bought the iPad app, “Different Drummer” in spite of its, ahem, considerable price tag and the fact that there is no free “light” version to try the functionality first. To the uninformed: at $150, Different Drummer is certainly on the expensive side of the app store’s offerings. But I must say that I never regretted the expense. And, as I noticed later, the developer offers a money-back guarantee. And I’ve paid more for VSTs that I rarely ever use.
With this app, dubbed “the coolest drum machine” by its publisher Techné Media, rhythm is not constructed by populating cells of a preconceived grid with drum hits to build a pattern or by playing, modifying and mangling sampled loops. Instead, the user manipulates a set of “control waves” that control the gaps between notes (rest wave), the pitch (note wave), the tying between notes (tie wave), the velocity (dynamic wave) and, in the latest version 1.1.1, the panning of the respective sound. Together, these control waves form a so-called “drum wave”. The app allows for 8 simultaneous drum waves, in other words: Different Drummer is a drum machine with 8 drum slots/channels/tracks or what else one could call them.
For each control wave, the control area of the app’s single screen has parameters like cycles per measure, note value, phase, (y-) position and, most importantly, sliders to adjust the amplitude of the partials that form the wave. The whole approach appears quite theoretical at first, and it’s not trivial to exactly arrive at a certain desired result by adjusting the controls according to a scientifically derived scheme. Or so.
But in my opinion this is not the point of Different Drummer anyway. It’s much more fun to just play around with the controls and hear what happens. Let’s take the rhythm as such as an example: It is determined by the intersection of the rest wave and a horizontal line. When the rest wave is a simple sine wave, the rhythm is totally regular. As soon as the partials sliders are moved, the result gets more complex. For additional variety, the vertical position of the wave relative to the line is adjustable too. The same holds true for the other control waves – especially interesting is the note wave that enables “tonal drumming” (try a hi-hat melody for example).
With 8 drum waves, controlled by 5 control waves each, an adequate set of included drum samples plus support for custom sounds via audio paste or iTunes import as well as export of the generated rhythm as a MIDI file, Different Drummer is a welcome addition to the studio arsenal for every musician who wants more than conventional drum loops and is ready to invest some time to experiment. With this app, generating really fresh grooves with an organic feeling is quite easy; dramatically easier in any case than trying to produce similar results with a traditional pattern editor.
I could write much more, but let me add just one thing: The developer of Different Drummer is very responsive and welcomes input from the users. For example, he added Dropbox support in version 1.1.0 after I suggested it. With every new version, there are interesting new features, and the updates keep coming. I hope that Audiobus support will be among the new features in one of the next versions.
The following short piece is the result of my first 7 minutes playing around with Different Drummer (plus I added the synth and background samples and some effects in Ableton Live):