Throughout the arts there are the trailblazers who establish the paths that others follow. Beginning in the mid-’90s, Zach Danziger began exploring and building what he calls his “hybrid electronic drumkit.” Many drummers have augmented acoustic drums with electronics, but no one has gone further than Danziger in developing a unique language that merges the rapidly advancing field of computer-enabled music-making electronics with traditional drums.
“My current electronics setup consists of four triggers going into a Roland TM2 trigger module, an RME Fireface UCX audio interface, a Novation Launch Control XL, and Ableton Live software on a MacBook Pro,” Danziger explains while busily preparing for gigs in Korea with Jason Lindner’s Now vs. Now, in Europe with Belgium’s Aerobe, and in London with Mister Barrington. “I have a variety of soft synths and samplers in Ableton, and through piezo triggers attached to my drums and cymbals I can trigger electronic drum samples, as well as create synth melodies and harmonies from scratch. My acoustic drums are Gretsch, which I love, and my Zildjian cymbals are an array of synthetic-sounding, odd-sized stacks and traditional cymbals. I use a lot of the Zildjian Kerope line, which I helped develop.”
Also currently working with Donny McCaslin, Edit Bunker (a duo project with Mister Barrington bassist Owen Biddle), and his own Test Kitchen, Danziger and his electroacoustic language can be heard in numerous online videos with the various aforementioned groups, where his computer mind-meld is absolutely Mr. Spock–like.
“The great thing about Ableton is its ability to automate parameters,” Danziger says. “I usually set up whichever sound palette I’d like to use for each song in a live set, and link that to a key command. In addition, I can program Ableton to allow the various samples and synth patches to respond to dynamics in a variety of ways. Depending on how hard I hit a drum or cymbal, it can do things like lengthen or shorten reverb time, raise the pitch of the samples and synths, and activate a compressor or gate.”
While Aerobe—which also features Adriaan van de Velde on keyboards, Andrew Claes on EWI, and Owen Biddle on bass—readies an album for 2016 release, Danziger remains busy with soundtrack work, including the George Clooney–produced Our Brand Is Crisis and HBO’s Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. He also spoke in Berlin late last year at Ableton’s Loop: A Summit for Music Makers. Danziger goes wherever the hybrid wind blows, which increasingly takes him beyond U.S. borders.
“Aerobe is an ideal musical platform for my hybrid setup,” Zach says. “The guys understand what I’m hoping to achieve with my rig, and they’re taking the same approach on their instruments. For years I’ve felt alone in my travels. Because of the Frankenstein nature of my rig, I can’t turn to one specific book or reference manual to find the answers when the technology stumps me. Not a lot of guys are rigging all of these components together in this way, so it’s great to work with like-minded musicians who can help me navigate this terrain.”
By Ken Micallef