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Sunday, 09 May 2010 23:42

I was one of the very lucky few in the UK to pick up the new Roland Octapad SPD-30 on the day of release as April came to a close as up to then, only Roland's top endorsees had been able to try out the Octapad, so it was an exciting moment when I picked mine up.

I was after a device that could basically allow me to replace a second drummer/ percussionist in the Pink Floyd tribute band that I play in called Time To Breathe.

At our first show, I'd used the Roland SPD-S, but I didn't want to simply trigger a sample, I wanted to actually play all the parts live and on paper, the Octapad SPD-30 certainly seemed to allow me to do this.

Like most guys, I'm not one for wading through a manual, so I was amazed that almost instantly, I found myself able to create a 'Phrase Loop', basically different layers of drums, or effect sounds.

I only had a week to my first show and with my arm muscles still badly damaged, as a result, there was just one rehearsal planned, so it was flying by the seat of my pants to use the Octapad as I was already under pressure with this being only my second show since 1985 and the 2nd time the band had played on stage together as a unit.

Graham Collins Octapad SPD-30

The band were very interested in what I was trying to do, but almost had the 'not sure what is going to happen' look about them and when my worst nightmare happened at the rehearsal, things were not looking great.

Roland Octapad SPD-30 Phrase Loop Demo Click image to play the video

The Octapad, for all it's amazing qualities, for some reason, has two major flaws in my view.

The first is that to stop it Looping / Playing, you have to first depress a foot switch, then strike two assigned pads. 

Sounds simple enough? Not when you have switched to already playing another kit that is providing the back beat to a song. 

One foot, one hand is fine, both both hands means you will miss a beat on the other kit, no way around that other than having a sound guy that can mute it for you. That said, if you wanted to resume the created Phrase Loop (as I need to in one track), it has to be paused by you to enable you to re-start it on the correct beat.

The restart can be done on a single beat and without the use of the foot pedal, so why oh why could there not be an easier way to pause the Octapad?*

18 May 2010 22:10
*To update my own 'rant', thanks to some info from another user, I found out there was an Addendum document Roland had issued that the store hadn't given me and that related to this problem and the net result is I can now stop / pause the the Phrase Loop from a single tap on the FS-5U!
I'll be testing that out at this weekend's show.

For me, the track that the Octapad would have the most major advantage of use, is the Pink Floyd track 'Learning To Fly'.

Our show replicates Floyd's 'The Division Bell' tour, which transpired to not only be their last ever, but also provided the only full length release on dvd of 'Dark Side Of The Moon' played in it's entirety. It was also a ground breaking record achieving tour that played stadiums and massive arenas around the world in 1994.

Gary Wallis Pink Floyd

Apart from Nick Mason, the band were joined by Gary Wallis, well known as a visual and energetic percussionist, he was the opposite end of the spectrum to Nick's style of playing and on the track 'Learning To Fly' he added a huge amount of colour on top of a sequenced loop, while Nick was left to hold a simple solid beat.

So how do you recreate that with just one of you? As I mentioned, I tried to use the SPD-S, but I had to trigger a pre recorded loop and then play a few bars of percussion and then all I'd be left with was the pre recorded loop. I really wanted to play everything live to give it spontaneity and flexibility in a live show.

With 4 days of use and with just 4 to go to the show, we set about trying it out with the full band and the second serious issue came to light at the rehearsal. 
We are fortunate to be able to use a recording studio for our practise sessions, so the acoustics are naturally stripped right back with a stone floor and just carpet tiles lying beneath the Octapad which was on it's own solid Pearl heavy duty stand. 

Graham Collins Octapad SPD-30 Pink Floyd DW Kit

I start creating the loop and the band look as pleased as myself, suddenly it sounds like Gary Wallis has joined us! I then switch to the acoustic kit while the loop continues up to the point where the full band comes in at which point I have to somehow get around the aforementioned issue with pausing while playing.

That achieved we continue with the song when seconds later, 'Gary Wallis' joins us again, this time, totally out of time and sync with the band - The Octapad has some how triggered.
The song grinds to a halt, the band asks me what happened and I truthfully reply, I have no idea.

We start again, once again, we get into the main song, Octapad is paused and then suddenly springs back into life. Nothing touched it, what is going on? I took the pad sensitivity down to it's lowest -9 and still it triggered!

I noticed that even in simple percussion mode with Phrase Loop switched off, pads would pick up a sonic wave and trigger.

Over the next forty minutes, I tried many things, changing the placement of the stand, trying a cushioned piano stool, even somebody holding it and to our shock, nothing we did prevented it from triggering just from sonic waves - no vibration, just pure sound waves were enough.

In the end we had to move on and all I could do was glance at my new saviour thinking I had a very expensive tea tray right now!

I came home at midnight and put out a call to a Roland product specialist in America, but by the morning, no reply, so I contacted Craig Blundell, one of Roland's top session men and who had been showcasing the Octapad for some weeks at Roland events and clinics. Craig was heading out on tour in a matter of minutes, but he kindly put me in touch directly with Roland.

Their advice was quick and thankfully, seemed to resolve the issue. Basically, the Threshold has to be heavily adjusted when in the sort of environment I was trying to play and it is a careful balance of Pad Sensitivity and Threshold. The toughest pad to crack seemed to be the 'snare' as I naturally wanted it to be sensitive enough to allow rolls and ghost notes.

I had no chance to play with the band ahead of the show, so it would be all down to the sound check to see if the problem was resolved. As a back up, I also took the SPD-S!

Graham Collins Octapad SPD-30 Pink Floyd DW Kit

I am using one of Pink Floyd' former drum kits, ironically previously owned by Gary Wallis and used on the aforementioned 'The Division Bell' tour and with the roto-toms, it has turned into quite a monster kit, so how could I integrate the Octapad to allow maximum flexibility in my playing?

I opted for the following for the first show.

SPD-30 - Snare stand mounted.
4 kits pre programmed and using the 3 kit chain for the Phrase loop.

External Triggers.
FD-8 Pedal to operate the hi-hat.
PDX-8 Snare
PDX-8 Bass drum (on a small stand) I didn't have access to Roland Bass drum pad and didn't wish to make a purchase of one until I had decided what would fit and where.
Smartrigger 10" Hi-Hat - This would allow the 'electronic' cymbal to blend in with the main kit of Paiste Signature cymbals
Smartrigger 13" Crash / Ride - Once again, blending in with the kit.

After a while of trying to find the right clamps and being able to position pads out of the way of the acoustic hardware, I was set and ready to go and we launched into the first 4 numbers that open the set. I use percussion wind chime effects from the Octapad on the opening number and then switch to another kit for the start of track two, the Octapad's make or break moment, Learning To Fly.

I'd made a decision to leave whatever 'Phrase Loop' I'd created running right up until the middle section where I quickly would have to pause it and this would then allow me to re-start it for the finale of the song. To my huge relief it worked! 

The loop was created and I managed (somehow) to stop and re-start it on cue. The band were pleased, while I was quick to play it all down saying there was still the element of human error that could occur and with no more than the one rehearsal, I'd not be happy until it was over!

Graham Collins Octapad SPD-30 Pink Floyd DW Kit

With a capacity crowd for the small venue, we launched into the set and as the first track concluded, I dialled in the kit change to the Octapad, moved my feet over to the 'electronic pedals and set the Phrase Loop click track in motion.

Immediately, human error crept in and I placed the first snare beat on my acoustic snare out of habit, in the split second I thought, not to worry, I'll add that beat in the next bar, then it all fell apart. I still don't know what happened, but somehow the kick pad gave an extra trigger. Either the motion of moving my foot off the bass drum pedal or perhaps an over sensitive ghost after beat triggered, I don't know, but I was left with a 1 bar loop that was playing on the off beat and with double beat on the opening beat of the bar!

I thought I'll try to add beats to cover it, but it only made it worse, it sounded horrendous and this was a live show and by now the band's intro was racing down the tunnel to me at 100mph - I had no choice but to try and stop the loop, in the stress of the moment, that too failed and the start of the song was a total mess.

I had to move on and not let is bother me, but within seconds, it again self triggered from a vibration or sound wave and again I had to try and stop it while still playing the acoustic kit, which is near impossible unless you can wait for an on beat. 

The band all but stopped and turned to me in horror, my moment of Octapad glory was a humiliating failure, but I just had to let it go.

Graham Collins Octapad SPD-30 Pink Floyd DW Kit

Thankfully the crowd were more than generous at the end of the track and I was able to reconfigure to Octapad for 'mere' percussion duties during the rest of the set with Church bells, Gongs, more chimes, explosions all used and to good effect.

An hour and a half later and we were back on for an encore which was then also followed by another long standing request for a second encore - I asked for a chance to redeem myself and see if I could safely pilot the Octapad in Phrase Loop mode.

To say I was nervous was an huge understatement and despite the band making jokes to the audience about the failure first time around, the final words to the crowd were "He's under pressure now to get it right" only filled me with more fear. So click track on, Phrase Loop on, Pads moved and we were on the runway and were off Learning To Fly!

A shaky timing on the first loop was perhaps to be expected, but no false triggers, so onto loop two, loop three, kit two, loop four and we were airborne! I nervously moved my feet to the acoustic kit and while not making the best intro, we were now flying in to the main song.

Through two verses and two choruses and 'my Phrase Loop' continued and fitted perfectly with the song. I managed to put it on pause for the middle section before we headed into the finale of the track and with the closing section when I'd reactivate the Phrase Loop.

 Roland Octapad SPD-30 In Concert Click image to play the video

Half way through the last chorus, the Octapad again triggered, thankfully right on an on beat and as a result, I didn't panic and managed to stop it on an on beat and all seemingly as if meant to be.

The sound engineer obviously also then faded it down as when I went to retrigger it, it was silent and just at the point I looked to see if I had missed triggering it, it faded up, so it wasn't pilot error and it also sounded fine, again, as if meant to be and we closed the song out with a percussive flourish!

The video above will give an idea of what I was trying to do, showing the intro to the track where I build the Phrase Loop in layers, starting on an 'e' kit triggered from the Octapad, before adding sound layers on the Octapad's own 8 pads.

I then move the the acoustic kit for the main parts of the song, leaving the Phrase Loop running. This is followed on the video by the Phrase Loop pause point in the track, then comes the 'unwanted' retrigger of the Loop and finally, the planned retrigger of the Loop at the end of the track.

All drums and sounds are played live and looped, no patterns are pre programmed.

So there you have it. Clearly I still have work to do with regard to the Threshold / Pad Sensitivity settings to find the correct balance. Saturday's show was again on a stone floor and with our next show in a large sports hall used by night as a well known rock venue, I'll be back on a bouncy riser which means I must get the settings right or face disaster again.

Given the show is being filmed for a DVD and promo film, I can't mess up, but I am pretty sure I will be able to make the technical adjustments while I will also make some positional placement changes to ensure knees and feet don't catch anything and create a rogue beat or trigger the Phrase Loop.

Hopefully this confessional will help someone from falling into the same traps, I wouldn't want anyone else crash landing while Learning To Fly!





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