Fail better

For the next HISSandaROAR library I have been torturing an old metal cabinet I inherited, and at times even more so some of my other equipment…. Apart from an angle grinder & mallets galore, I’ve also completed a number of sessions using the PolyEnd Percussion Pro robot beaters. These devices are incredibly well designed & I imagine have been stress tested a LOT!
But I still managed to break one… or thought I had!

You know that feeling when your car starts to make a new sound, and you wonder at first whether you should worry about it… Then you start to wonder where that new sound might lead…. And the possible worst case scenario? I went through some of these feelings when one of my Perc Pro beaters started misbehaving…
Then this happened:

Normally the little wooden beater is permanently attached to the thread in that hole, and when not in use it sits flush with the surface…

How did I break it? Well lets just say I was experimenting with velocity swells on 400bpm 1/16th notes for long periods of time, against metal… And to make it even worse, some of the time I did not even have the beater attached to a mic stand, I was using it by hand! You will see and hear the results of these experiments next week – it was seriously fun and I managed to create some really interesting sounds… But after a while the beater started missing notes, and it slowly became a bit erratic… I stopped to check what was up & the small wooden beater fell into my hand. Oh shit I thought! I really hope that isn’t permanent damage…

I emailed a photo to the PolyEnd guys who were super helpful, and after sending some more hi rez photos to them, they advised me that they use Loc-Tite on the thread and that I should be able to screw the beater back in. At first I couldn’t see how because when the mechanism is unpowered the beater is flush with the surface, so there is nothing to grip when tightening… But after messing around I realised if I pointed the hole towards the floor, the solenoid or whatever descended by gravity enough that I could start the beater on to its thread… Also kudos to Polyend, but I got the distinct impression this had not happened before… But then not everyone is recording 400 bpm snare rushes on a metal cabinet 🙂

Now I have some Loc Tite as I have used it before to permanently join mic stand adaptors, but before I attempted to permanently reattach the beater I had a thought: what if…. what if!

One aspect of the Perc Pro that was never really a perfect match for me and my needs, was that PP are only available with wooden beaters. My lounge is half full of percussion instruments – a drum kit, vibraphone, marimba, timpani, rototoms, marching bass drum, xylophone etc etc – but you would have to really hunt to find a bare wooden mallet. I just do not like them and rarely use them – I dislike sharp attack. Even on my drum kit I usually play with a pair of Vic Firth SD12 Swizzle G sticks which are double ended drum sticks, one end being a normal drum stick & the other end being a softer mallet, and 99% of the time I use the softer end…

Now I appreciate this approach only works as I am only playing my own music – same with vibes, marimba, glock etc…. In many musical settings a harder mallet or drum stick is necessary to make the instrument rate in a complex or busy arrangement, but thats not me… I prefer sparse music where instruments don’t fight to be heard, and to my ears vibes played with hard mallets is like a different mildly unpleasant instrument compared to dreamy soft attack….

When PolyEnd launched the PercPro there was talk of other beaters becoming available, but over a year has passed and there is no sign of them… So you’ve probably guessed by now where this is leading – I decided to see if my short term failure could become a longer term gain, ie a Perc Pro with a soft beater…

I went for a drive to a local company who are specialists in just one thing: if you need to attach, join or fasten two things together and Coastal Fasteners can’t help you, then no one can. Your next stop will be a fabricator or machine shop. A number of times when rigging camera & sound gear I have needed some weird non-standard bolt or often actually a ‘thing’ which I am not sure exists, and they always have a solution, so I took the PP beater with me and went to have a chat.

Turns out the thread is M6 (an M6 screw has a nominal outer diameter of 6 millimeters) so my next question, was there a way to extend the mechanism beyond the body?
CF: Sure, with one of these

OK, and if I wanted to attach the standard wooden beater?
CF: No problem, use a 6mm grub screw

OK, so my immediate issue is solved AND I have gained a 6mm connection point for attaching anything, clear of the body of the mechanism. Next stop: hardware store to see what kind of elements I can find for my new Franken-Beater

mmmm… Felt!

 

 

I am pretty much done recording for the new library, so I won’t test and evolve this setup immediately, but I did have one other thought relative to the new library. This will make far more sense once you hear some of the sounds – there is a short preview below – but I have the big metal cabinet within easy reach of my house now (OMFG it weighs a lot – I can only just lift one end of it!) and I bought some extention cables for the PercPro beaters (Hosa DMX 5-Pin XLR Male to 5-Pin XLR Female Extension Cable – 30′) so it now doesn’t take me too long to set up my microphones, recorder, laptop and the Percussion Pro beaters and controller… If there was interest, I thought I might offer to re-record peoples sequences using this set up. There would have to be some constraints – I don’t want to spend days of my life recording pounding metal… Owning the new library would be the first pre-requisite, and there would have to be a durational limit but sequences could easily be submitted via a standard MIDI file, with three preset notes as per the three beaters, with tempo, timing, velocity etc all being your choice… Would you be interested?
I’ll ask again when the library is released…

 

 

Update 20180711
“We’ve made three different types of strikers. We’re selling beaters on demand with mounted silicone, aluminum, and wooden (oak) strikers.”

 

 

 

 

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