Workshopping: Drums, Improvisation and Dance at Edge Hill University.

I was fortunate enough to be invited by Louisa Robey and the dance department at Edge Hill University to accompany some morning classes and also co-deliver an afternoon workshop.

Edge Hill has a beautiful campus, set in Ormskirk – just outside of Liverpool. An interesting collection of architecture, blending older buildings from its origins as a teacher training college, with newer facilities like The Arts Centre, reflecting its more recent move to university status.

The premise for my day here, had been based around ‘Impro-Collaborative Choreography’: An existing concept and workshop format, devised by the Near Miss Company (Shannon Coote, Louisa Robey and myself). The abstraction being, that group improvisation is investigated specifically, as a means for generating content in work-making and composition, focusing attention to the relationships discovered between sound and movement: How these ideas develop and how sound/movement relationships feed back to one another, creatively.

My work for the morning was to take place in one of the dance studios housed in The Arts Centre, where Louisa would be leading two classes of contemporary dance. The students had been developing phrases to be delivered in an assessment later in the year, though, until today, these had been accompanied by prerecorded music from various sub genres of mainstream pop. How would the class react to this new, perhaps unfamiliar and unpredictable sound world?!

Edge Hill Arts Centre

Louisa and I had already discussed how the class and phrase drills had been conducted, and how she wanted to introduce the students to a more open and reactive music experience. In many ways, the fact that the sound would be new – let alone delivered through the ‘live’ medium of the drum set, could feel quite different – possibly even perceived ‘destructive’? We decided on a multi-level strategy, where the original tunes would be used first; then each phrase would be danced again, with live drum set accompaniment.

For my ‘live drums’ renditions, I decided to begin each phrase’s performance by replicating – as close as I could – the pre-recorded music, then, as each drill progressed, to gently subvert the rhythms. I would keep a close eye on all of the dancers to make sure any changes to the accompaniment hadn’t lost anyone: if there were any hint of this – I would reign it in a little! Developed strategies I used were, for instance: Missing out occasional, single, strong pulse beats in the bar: This could prove a good indicator as to whether dancers were maintaining their own sense of timing within the phrase and not relying too much on what they were hearing. If the phrase was continuing strongly through single pulse beats missing, I would maybe drop out some more! Occasionally, I would switch up the rhythm and play across the pulse beats (poly rhythmically) while always keeping an eye to whether this was losing anyone. It was also nice to play with dynamics and bring the whole drumming volume level right down to below that of the sounds made by the dancers themselves – their own breath and floor brushes taking over the performance soundtrack.

“Just because you’re not a drummer, doesn’t mean you don’t have to keep time.” Monk

Reactions to these new sound and music possibilities were immediately positive: The responsiveness and communications ‘in-to’ and ‘out-from’ the sonic aspect, appeared to lead to a heightened sense of awareness amongst the group. New creative possibilities also became apparent, where dancers discovered they could ‘conduct’ the musician through their movements. Dynamic elements were commented on specifically, as the pre-recorded music tended towards a more ‘static’ level in this respect, whereas live sound created more expanse and variety.

The afternoon workshop session picked up from the morning’s live music reactivity, with experiments and games played around an ‘Impro-Collaborative Choreography’ presentation. A simple introduction of ‘musical statues’ induced the dialogue between musicians and dancers, with each taking turns to lead. Developments moved from basic walking, toward variations in sonic and movement based gestures, creating a sense of conduction and communication between these disciplines. Extremes were sought and pushed, as all players learned more about each others methods, style characteristics and personalities.

Lee Allatson (rear right) and Louisa Robey (front right) with Edge Hill workshop students.

The second phase of the workshop is given over to creating a short piece using the skills and ideas developed through the practical drills. To help initiate some direction with this, each of two groups were shown a list of proposed options or approaches around 3 basic compositional rules: 1. Relationship with Music (how will the sound and music elements affect each other? E.g. Call and response, Mirroring, Contrasting etc.); 2. Structure (how will the piece be ordered, compositionally? E.g. Travelling from one side of the room to the other, Spiralling, using classical form – Binary/Ternary etc.) and 3. Movement/Sound Motivation (definers for approaches to sections, e.g. Rolling, Climbing, Shock, Ripple etc.). After choosing their performance options, the groups were given a short space of planning and rehearsal time, then performed their pieces to each other.

Responses, once again, were unanimously positive! The students appeared to revel in the opportunity to get stuck in to the practical aspects of work making very quickly. The reactivity between music and movement being more flexible and agile, seemed to accelerate workflow and the generation of new ideas. Post-performance reflections included discussion around options in sourcing bespoke music for dance performances: Whether this be performed live, improvised or composed – or pre-recorded; Questioning also, whether this has to be music reflecting mainstream genre areas – or can the ‘music’ be just sound? Simple ‘sound making’ can be one of the most liberating access points for this kind of reactive, contemporary work, as it doesn’t necessarily have to conform with any perceived ‘music rules’ at all. You can learn do it yourself!

Maths and Arts: The Drum Set and The Golden Ratio.

I have been involved with several collaborations through the University of Leicester, working alongside various mathematicians and creative arts practitioners there since 2019. One recent endeavour has been responding to Liam Taylor-West’s ‘The Golden Ratio’ (a solo for 2 high pitched drums) from his ‘Irrational Drumming Patterns’ composition. This particular partnership came about through UoL’s Maths/Arts Tiger Team – coordinated by Dr. Katrin Leschke – where we had been invited to present at the London Mathematical Society and Institute of Mathematics and its Applications joint conference in September 2021, with the theme ‘Maths in Human Society’.

Recording The Golden Ratio Drum Solo.

Liam had already written a collection of short percussion studies based around irrational number pattern sequences and I proposed the idea of investigating performance possibilities around these for our conference presentation. Liam explains the maths:

“The Golden Ratio drumming pattern is a musical representation of the first 34 steps of the infinite, never-repeating sequence that can be found using the golden ratio. Imagine you are moving diagonally across a chess board, and playing two different beats whenever you cross a horizonal or vertical line. If for every square you travel sideways, you travel up one golden-ratio-amount of squares (1.618… squares) the sequence of beats you will play will be the Golden Ratio drumming pattern. This pattern has lots of interesting fractal qualities to it and works well musically, as the beats can be gathered into groups of 2 and 3 (as well as into groups of larger Fibonacci numbers).” Liam Taylor-West

Notation for Three Irrational Drumming Patterns, Liam Taylor-West (2021).

I chose to respond to Liam’s ‘The Golden Ratio’ item for this initial experiment, but I also hope to develop ideas for the other two items in the future. The simple melodic figures created by varying rhythmic groups of twos and threes inspired this solo’s approach. I wanted to set the composition’s mix of 8/8 and 5/8 bars against an accessible rhythmic constant – and a samba setting felt ideal for this, with the tom-tom melodies representing a Brazilian bell pattern over the top of a samba pedal rhythm. I used the South Indian ‘Carnatic’ counting system of ‘Konnakol’ (vocalising percussion rhythms – in this case “Tha-Ka” = division of 2; “Tha-Ki-Ta” = division of 3) to help internalise the irregular 34 step rhythm. In keeping with the samba’s straighter, simple/duple time feel and 4/4 bar structure, I extended the ‘a tempo’ portion to a 5-bar phrase (40 1/8 notes total), which also left a little natural space to respond more loosely to the written part. The rest of the solo is developed through open improvisation around these bases. Here it is:

For more information on my various Maths/Arts exploits:

Minimal Surfaces:

Accounts of 2019 projects:

LMS/IMA Conference:

25,000th Leicester Drum Lesson!

As Dye House Drum Works celebrates 10 years housed at Quad Studios in Leicester, Lee Boyd Allatson – approaching his own 50th year – reflects on this impressive milestone in delivering 25,000 lessons within the field of drum set education.

“I can’t quite believe it myself! It was the various anniversaries which brought my mind to totting up how many total lessons this made and the number was a real shock! I’m very lucky to have discovered an area of the arts which resonates for me and, particularly since moving my teaching operation to Quad, I’ve fallen in love with the instrument again. I’m practising and developing my own skills in playing, as well as researching and taking on cross platform collaborations in the wider arts community. I’ve been workshopping and lecturing in universities across the UK, which has been very inspiring in being able to delve deeper into more specialist areas and topics. All of this ultimately feeds back through the one-to-one teaching, keeping me fresh and excited about music.”

Lee Allatson teaches one-to-one drum set lessons at Dye House Drum Works, Leicester. Monday to Thursday, 4pm – 8pm. Call Lee on 07976 16 16 26 to book.

Leicester College Workshop

Dye House Drum Works – Music Workshops and Lectures.

Dye House Drum Works has been working closely with Leicester College, helping students gain entry to higher level education and pro/semi-pro careers in music. As part of this relationship, I was recently invited to host two lectures as a guest speaker at the college’s Abbey Park campus for students enrolled on the Performing Musician and Music Technology courses.

Lee Allatson pictured in a studio at Leicester College

Lee Allatson’s Musicianship and Musicality workshop at Leicester College, 2015

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Magna Band Improvisation Workshop

Dye House Drum Works Music Workshops in Leicester

What a pleasure it was to be invited by the Magna Band to host a workshop for their 2015 Summer Music Week.

The band is a community organisation open to players aged 8 years and up: “…Getting music into the community and the community into music…” is their slogan and they certainly seem to be busy in this, enjoying a full schedule of events throughout the year.

I was particularly interested to hear that the band will engage in cross-genre endeavours, as well as taking on more progressive/modern compositions, including recent projects with an Indian classical music group, and also in developing a performance of the American minimalist composer Terry Riley’s ‘In C’, where players are encouraged to improvise around a loose score. It was with this exciting angle to the band’s repertoire in mind, that I decided to try and aid in developing the notion of improvisation amongst these brave young musicians.

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Airto Moreira-Inspired Latin Ideas

Learn to play latin rhythms on the drum set at Dye House Drum Works, Leicester

I remember seeing – years ago – one of the old DCI Publishing VHS videos (we used to have them running in the shop all day in my retail days!) which had trailers featuring other titles available in their catalogue. One of these was for a latin-centred release by Airto Moreira. If you are not familiar with his work (I wasn’t at the time) check him out. Tracking down some of the content of this video is something I have had planned for a while and only recently finally got round to it. The Airto sticking is in the initial pattern and as I played around with this, I kind of ran with the ball… Have a play! …and speaking of footballs 🙂 check my new notation ‘scoring’ package, from Sibelius First: Continue reading

Your New Most Precious Drums

Have you ever finished playing or practicing your instrument, or come out of a gig, with your ears ringing? If so, you could be storing up long term problems for your hearing. Tinnitus (an unexplained ringing or buzzing in the ears) is a common condition among musicians and, though often temporary, can be an early sign that your hearing is getting damaged and so should not go unchecked.

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Regency Modern Jazz Jam Visit

I had been looking recently for jam night events in and around Leicester, mainly to put together an event list for students at DHDW to help them gain live playing experience. In amongst this internet and pub trawl (crawl?!) I was also on the lookout for any opportunities to stretch my own jazz-playing legs, as this is an area I have not exercised – outside of the teaching studio – for some time now. How happy I was then, to happen across the Modern Jazz Jam held at the Regency Sports and Social Club in Leicester: Two-for-one! Continue reading