Amir Ziv uses a pair of BopPads along with a Bome Box, the Sonoclast MIDI/CV Drumming Friend plus MAFD, and Triple Expresso by Avi Ziv to control the Moog DFAM in a really exciting electro-acoustic rig that we just had to ask him about. Amir was kind enough to field our questions, and his answers are as interesting as the new sonic territory he has struck out to find.
For starters, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
I was born in Tel Aviv, Israel and started playing drums when I was 8 years old. In 1991 I came to the USA to pursue my dreams of a life in music, fell in love with NYC and made it my second home ever since. I’m a composer, producer, bandleader, drummer, educator, and have been a faculty member at the School of Jazz at the New School since 1998, the year I myself graduated from the program, eventually becoming the head of their drum department. My primary experience as a performing/recording artist has been in jazz, electronic, alternative rock, film score, Brazilian, and Middle Eastern music. In 2005 I founded Living Arts Apprenticeship Program (LAAP); a cross-disciplinary immersive arts program dedicated to deepening artists’ expression, practice, and way of life through live-in master/student apprenticeships in the fields of drum-set performance, aikido, music composition, visual arts, dance, and culinary arts. I’m also the co-founder of System Dialing Records (SDR); an artist-run record label dedicated to shifting the experimental frontiers toward the center of mainstream discovery, since 2010.
Some artists that I’ve worked with over the past 30 years include Lauryn Hill, Trey Anastasio, Grace Jones, John Zorn, Cyro Baptista, Medeski Martin & Wood, Sean Lennon, Carl Craig, DJ Logic, DJ Spooky, and David Broza. I’ve had the supreme honor of collaborating (as drummer and co-producer) with jazz legend Ornette Coleman, on what would turn out to be his final studio album, New Vocabulary. I’ve also led my own groups Droid (w/Tim LeFebvre/Yossi Fine on bass, Adam Holzman on synth, and Jordan McLean on Trumpet), Kotkot (w/Marc Ribot on guitar), Rhythmos (w/Billy Martin and Cyro Baptista), and my solo work Tympanum.
My non-musical interests are traditional archery, cooking, and building things.
Where did you get the idea to mix your drum kit with electronic elements?
Acoustic drum-set players have been mixing electronics with their kits since the early 70’s. I’ve been involved in electro-acoustic music since the mid 90’s when my band Droid was on the forefront of NYC’s live drum n bass scene, but I left all the “electro” part to be handled by my collaborators, and opted to stay focused on the purely acoustic instrument. It was only a year ago when my friend Adam Holzman suggested that I check out a new all-analogue synth and sequencer by Moog called DFAM that I started thinking maybe it’s time, and only if I could find a way to be able to play it in real-time while I play the kit. With digital technology this is nothing new, but with something that’s all-analogue, you don’t have midi, or presets, or save, or a sequencer reset, so all of that (and more) had to be created specifically for it. But the initial idea came purely by inspiration of the DFAM’s sounds themselves and its electric circuitry, which once you get your hands and ears on it, it’s as if the instrument is alive. You literally can’t 100% recreate anything on it, even temperature shifts can alter the sounds, so that idea of being forced to be in the moment with the instrument fit like a glove with my particular sensibilities.
What’s your plan for this performance rig?
My plan is to spend some time getting to know how to arrive at specific sonic zones, and teach myself the new coordination required. My setup now has on the bottom 8 pedals (that’s 6 more than my usual drum-kit!) and they’re not drum pedals, they’re expression pedals that require an entirely different technique to manipulate. And on top there are 8 pad zones with each zone having multiple functions that you toggle through. So step one is to learn to play what we’ve created here. But as I’m practicing I’m also taking compositional notes. For starters the rig will be used with my band Droid in the studio and live, and in live solo performances that I’m planning for.
My musical involvement from nearly the start has integrated composition and improvisation in pretty much any sonic aesthetic I’ve been in, be it acoustic or electro-acoustic. As a matter of fact, from the improvisational perspective I don’t even know how to separate between the two, as any improvisation is also a composition. If an improviser has good compositional skills, they can make entirely on the spot made-up improvisations seem like they were diligently through-composed beforehand. One of the things that excites me the most about this rig musically speaking, is that it allows me to PLAY the synth while I’m playing my acoustic kit, and by “play” I don’t mean hit the play button on a track, or a DAW, or a sequencer and play along to it, but rather play the synth as an actual real-time instrument, thus enabling me to make it “follow/react-to” whatever phrasing I choose to execute on the acoustic drum-set with infinite nuance possibilities in terms of timing, dynamics, and phrasing.
Are there artists who inspire your explorations of this sonic space?
I love Tim LeFebvre’s way of sculpting electronic sounds and the ways he incorporates those with his bass playing and compositions. Jac Holzman (founder of Elektra records) has been a huge inspiration with how he went about to create electronic sonic originality, such as by getting the latest mixing desk and before even plugging it in, bust open the hood and rewire its guts just so that there would not be even a chance that another board out there could produce those exact sounds. David Bowie has always been an inspiration to me with how he embraced technology in very musical ways. People with very little means but that must express themselves artistically inspire me with how they find ways to invent what they need and hear in their heads. And there is one artist out there by the name of Bana Haffar in the “Eurorack world” that is blowing my mind with her musicality; I would love to collaborate with her if the opportunity ever presented itself.
Do you have any advice for drummers who want to augment their acoustic kits with electronic elements?
Never before have we lived in a time that there have been more possibilities and choices in terms of how to augment acoustic kits with electronics. At the same time, it seems like the majority of folks are content with sounding the same. My advice is go for the sounds that excite you the most, get real good with ONE thing, and make it your very own so that what makes you truly you, really shines out.
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