Drummer John Emrich loves the Zendrum, the unique, handcrafted MIDI drum controller featured on CDM previously. Here’s what he has to say about it:

“Without a doubt, this is the most dynamic MIDI unit available for percussionists. You’re not going to find another trigger unit for drummers that will give you this much control over dynamics.”

He isn’t kidding, either. I expect it’d take some practice with the Zendrum just as with any other controller or instrument, but close your eyes, and Emrich’s performance on the Zendrum using sampled sounds sounds like a real kit. Open your eyes, and you get to see a unique style of performance with finger-tapping on the mysterious-looking controller.

I got to witness this at person at NAMM in January, but the folks at fxpansion have posted a video with Emrich playing, using their BFD Jazz & Funk sample library and GURU drum machine:

fxpansion Zendrum video [Flash Player]

John Emrich shows what you can do with a set-up involving BFD, Receptor and Zen Drums in this impressive video.

What they said.

  • groffhibbitz

    I saw this at namm too. I couldn't tell if he was really awesome at it or it made you sound awesome, but the bottom line is his demo was amazing.

  • That video fills me with sadness.

  • I think he's a drummer with extremely good rhythmic sense and hand percussion coordination, and I think he practiced — a lot. The people I've met who were Zendrummers put some time into it. It seems like you lose some of the kinetic feel of being at an actual kit, which would bother some people. But if you're willing to invest some time and money, and you can actually play drums (whoops, that instantly disqualifies me), it could be perfect for mobile drumming.

    Oh, and you'd potentially have a drummer as a front man. We'll see if that works out any better than the whole keytar thing. Maybe stick the guitarists in the back, seated, and the keyboardist and drummer can front.

  • deb

    yes. sad.

    the slow death of music continues.

    CDM'ers, should we stand for this? or give it our ear time? do not make the same mistake i made! go make your own loop out of unwanted sonic artifacts! or create other digital noise for the same amount of time it would take to watch the video!

    i like the idea of guitarists in the back though.

  • velocipede

    I am surprised that people find that video sad. It is just another way to make music. I do think it would be more suitable to use the Zendrum for electronic sound control rather than a sampled acoustic drum kit. It seems kind of like playing guitar samples with a keyboard.

    Coincidentally, I just purchased a Handsonic 10. Although kind of billed as a substitute for a truckload of acoustic percussion instruments (and I must admit that those can be fun to practice with) I think it is going to be an incredible controller for electronic percussion. The Handsonic 10 has poly aftertouch, a D-Beam and a single knob that can be set to send CCs. I set up a Live 5 template and mapped these to some audio effects in line with an Impulse instrument that I mapped 8 of pads to last night.

    I see a lot of potential. Maybe the result is not much different than using a set of Akai-like pads (which I do not have much experience with), but I find the drum-like shape much more inspirational. The front two pads are also position sensitive and send CC 16 and 17 values. I found that I could use this to tweak the filter values of those two sounds in Impulse, although I haven't yet mastered the playing technique to control it consistently.

  • Sal

    i love the idea about using midi controllers to manipulated real live instrument articulation but i think if you want to be a emulate a real drummer you might be better off with getting a roland vdrum setup. I say that because the feel of your fingers as apposed to sitting on a drum rig and using your whole body. would have a slightly deferent feel or timing .Just because you play the instrument in a different way doesnt mean you will capture it's true sound. But don't get me wrong i think you can get pretty damn close to sound like a drummer though! he he! but i def enjoyed the video!

  • The point of the video isn't necessarily that you have to make this sound like a kit, either. The fact that it *does* sound like a real kit illustrates how expressive the controller can be in terms of dynamic range, which is generally what separates even good MIDI keyboards from bad. If you have a large, sensitive, consistent dynamic range that you can control musically and expressively, you can use it to generate whatever sounds you want, including plenty that would be impossible on a real set of drums.

  • Well put, Peter. There are an infinite number of ways to make music, all of them valid and with their own merits. If this makes you sad or if you think it means the slow death of music, I'm sure there's a seat on the bus next to Bob "sound all over it" Dylan. As a creative being, I don't have time to deal with other people's dogma about what is or is not 'musical'. Just make some noise!

    I think if you're focusing on how the Zendrum isn't like an acoustic or VDrum kit, you're missing the point. Just like people who use Guitar MIDI controllers as opposed to a keyboard controller, the Zendrum is a different beast which opens up different possibilities than what is commonly accepted as a 'musical instrument'.

    Viva la revolucion!

  • deb

    ok, obviously i have to clarify:

    to use this controller as a trigger for acoustic drums is, in my opinion, ludicrous. of COURSE it can be used as a controller for other things, and of COURSE its super expressive. the potential is amazing. its just sad to see it being used for something that ultimately sounds so mundane, no matter what skill it took to master it to get to that point.

    just because i can't stand the sound of a fusion drum kit doesn't make me dogmatic. oh, wait, i guess it does. ok by me! the less drum kits that sound like that the better!

  • velocipede

    Since we are talking about drum controllers, here is a link to 5 videos of the Handsonic 10. Each video is a demo followed by performances. The 5th video is mostly performances, and includes some "interesting" applications, so start their if you like. It's all in Japanese, but there is not much talking.

    I apologize in advance if I get the XHTML wrong here:

    By the way, I am not trying to create a versus argument with the Zendrum. (If I had the cash and the skill, I would love to have one of those too!) I just thought some of you might be interested in seeing the Handsonic in action too.

  • velocipede

    Here is the url since I blew XHTML code.


  • Damon

    I love the Handsonic, but I would love if they made one that was merely a midi controller. For me that would be the answer to my personal drum programming question.

  • Damon, yeah, I absolutely agree. We'll have to keep an eye on that new controller from Alesis, but my bet would be that it won't match Roland for build quality.

    Come on, Roland, what do you say — MIDI-only Handsonic?

  • velocipede

    I wonder how much they could knock of the price by eliminating the internal sounds and audio ins and outs?

    I would like to see USB and a built-in drum synth.

  • Pingback: links for 2006-10-04 | blog.forret.com()

  • I wasn't trying to single anyone out, but it is my opinion that people can and should use their MIDI controllers to control whatever they want. If they want to trigger drum samples with a freakin' MIDI accordian it is OK by me. The more diversity the better!

    And yes – the Handsonic is a VERY cool gadget, hindered only by the fact that it ships with a bunch of crap many of us don't need or want: namely, overused Roland samples, audio in/out, etc. A MIDI-only Handsonic would be awesome!

  • velocipede

    FYI, the samples on the new Handsonic are new. If they eliminated all the audio, though, how much could they lower the price? My guess is that a MIDI-only Handsonic would still list at US$400-500. Would there be enough market at this price?

  • True, but Roland has introduced alternative MIDI-only keyboards, sans audio interface and/or speakers, as has M-Audio. It's definitely doable. I'd more easily spring for it with a couple hundred dollars difference, or even $100 less for features I don't need.

    In the meantime, though, there's always eBay. 🙂

  • Pingback: Create Digital Music » Product Demos: RET NS2 Electronic Drum Kits, Universal Audio DCS and Upcoming Monitor Master()

  • Moray Robertson

    John, go easy on the bass drum/tom triplets, its one of the hackneyed tricks that jazz drummers do too much of, effective once or twice, but any more and the surprise effect is lost. Also, we do need to bear in mind that playing like that on a real kit would be one heck of a lot harder, and be a lot more interesting to watch. The Zendrum is fine for the studio – and for composers – but live…..boring – leaving them that can't masquerading as them that can!

  • david jary

    I think most people miss the real great thing about this controller its an original expressive , ergonomic device that triggers sounds! Its not another keyboard trying to be a guitar, or round skin shape like the roland. Its original, has a natural and comfortable 'feel' to it, and demands its own 'way' of playing. After saying that..No I dont want to see it on stage..or if I do .. I dont want to hear drum sounds comming from it! Design some 'new' sounds for this new instrument..and I will love it!

  • Zendrum on order…

    No one has really mentioned the other half of the Zendrum video which is BFD … the zendrum may be responsive but that means nothing if the sample library has only 3 velocity layers! You need both awesome controller and library to sound good. BFD (rather, it's expansion packs) is currently the most articulate drum library around .. and things are likely to get even better quickly …

    It is true sampled acoustic drums still lack expression – especially in rides/ hihats .. but it is ALSO true that most music using drum kits these days (except jazz) under-utilizes the full expressiveness of drums anyway, not to mention modern production trends squashing what little expressiveness remains right out of the mix.

    IOW in the vast majority of cases the poor drummer might as well be using a sampled kit!

    Sad but true!

    .. at least with BFD you get top quality drums, mics pres etc and all utterly tweakable after the fact.

    I am all for real drum kits – i love them – but I also love BFD .. just like I love listening to a live orchestra with a passion but I also love VSL .. the music world IS big enough for them all.

    I also agree the expressiveness of the zendrum with specially created new 'sounds' is an awesome idea…. this is what i intend to use it for along with BFD et all … mine is being made as we speak….. 🙂

  • Pingback: HAPPY HOLIDAYS! - Here’s something for you all()

  • Pingback: Create Digital Music » Let Your Fingers Do the Drumming: New, Compact Zendrum ZAP()