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The Master of Space and Time

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MAY 20098: He's toured and recorded with some of pop and rock music's most famous names, including Sinead O'Connor, Rod Stewart and Robbie Williams, been featured on the covers of the world's most prominent drumming publications, and he definitely has both the hands and feet to prove it. It's true: Austrian native Thomas Lang has taken the world of drums by storm, one blindingly rapid double paradiddle at a time.

It may come as no real surprise that he's floored audiences with his astounding technique while playing both acoustic and electronic kits. In fact, Guitar Center was honored to have Lang as one of the featured performers at its Drum-Off. Grand Finals in Los Angeles earlier this year. Paired with Thomas Pridgen, Lang took his set of Roland V-Drums (and his many V-Cymbals) to incalculable heights. With his numerous pedals on display, the furiously fluid motions hailing from Lang's hands and feet had onlookers truly mesmerized. And for those in the crowd who even remotely questioned the abilities and legitimacy of performing an incredible drum solo on an electronic kit, Lang set the record straight – real fast.

The last time we saw you perform was at the Guitar Center Drum-Off. Grand Finals with Thomas Pridgen. Was that the first time you had played with him?

Yeah, we had a blast. We have very different styles of drumming and I think we complemented each other nicely on stage. He has a completely unique style, coming from the gospel chops – a gutsy drumming background. And my thing is maybe a little more complex and polyrhythmic. Obviously, I had the electronic kit and he had the acoustic kit, so it was a really nice contrast. I hope people enjoyed it!

Let's talk about the Roland electronic kit you're playing. What's your setup all about?

My setup basically consists of two complete TD-20 setups. I use two sound modules, one for the top part of the kit, and one for the bottom part of the kit – because I have so many inputs, I need two sound modules. But, all the pads and cymbals are basic, standard-issue Roland, like PD-125s. I just have more drums and I use more kick triggers and kick pads than a standard kit, so I need a second [module] for all the additional inputs. I use pretty much all factory sounds. I just tweak them a little bit for my purposes, and I obviously change all the banks with the sounds because I have so many inputs. But it's all standard-issue stuff and it sounds amazing. It's a great feeling kit. It doesn't feel like an electronic kit at all; it feels like an acoustic kit. If you close your eyes and wail away, it'll give you a real great response.

You said that you'll tweak the sounds a little bit, too. Tell us about the adjustments you've made.

What I do is I change the effects, mostly. A lot of the sounds have big ambiences, and when I play solo shows, I play very densely, very fast, so I usually tweak some of the ambience or reverb. I'll take them off or reduce the amount of ambience or reverb. I might change the trigger sensitivity or the threshold of the triggers, depending on what foot triggers I'm using. Sometimes I'm using KD-7s, and sometimes I'm using KD-8s, and so accordingly, I'll change my trigger setups. Because I have so many inputs, I'll have to program new presets where I'm running all the additional pads into specific inputs and assign the new sounds to those inputs. When I put new kits together for my setup, I'll tweak my pitches, and while I do that, I'll change a little bit of the attack and EQ the sounds a little bit. So, I pretty much do everything, but it's so easy on these modules. They're so idiot proof.

You have so many pedals in your setup. How did you learn to modulate your feet so quickly between the various pedals?

I never had a girlfriend, I never had a bicycle – I had so much time at my disposal as a teenager! Oh, what do you do with your time? You learn multi-pedal orchestrations. I was looking for new ways to play a very old instrument and part of that is playing an electronic version of the drum set. And another aspect of trying to be creative and unorthodox in my approach is to play multiple pedals with multiple sounds, and play as much with my feet as I would play with my hands. Every drummer is using different instruments on top – snare drum, a hi-hat, cymbals, different sized tom toms – and they play freely on all these different instruments, with different sounds and pitches. I wanted to take that same concept and translate it to the foot department. If I use differently tuned tom toms with my hands, why not use differently tuned bass drums with my feet? That simple mirror image of what's happening on top of the kit brought me to learn and practice all these rudiments with my feet and orchestrate them over different instruments – different tuned snare drums, kick drums, hi-hats. You can play complete patterns and beats and phrases and orchestrated rhythms with your feet while you are free to solo or accentuate or add on top with your hands, or vice versa. I wanted to get away from the conventional, simple, basic kick drum on the "1” and "3” idea.

How many pedals do you have down there?

I usually have 10 or 12 pedals. I have four KD-7 triggers on each side, that's eight. And then I have, on each side, one KD-8 pad and one hi-hat controller, so that's 12 pedals. Each one has a different sound apart from the two middle ones, where each one is a bass drum.

How have electronic drums changed for you over the years?

One thing that's affected me very much is the sensitivity and the feel and response of the pads. With the mesh pad came a whole new generation of drums that were totally professional instruments. Everything before that, they felt like more like toys to me. And as soon as Roland came out with mesh pads, that not only feel like drums but also look like drums, that made a huge change for me. There's a certain stigma attached to electronic drums – people considered them to be not real instruments, to a certain degree. But at that point, when people looked at the drum set and they saw something that actually looked like a drum shell with a head on it, and when you played, it felt like a drum with the response, people started changing their attitudes. It wasn't only drummers, but other musicians, producers and musical directors.

They wouldn't mind a drummer using this stuff because it looked like a real drum on stage. And once that started happening, they totally dug the sounds and the options and the whole new aspect of being able to reproduce the sounds on the record perfectly with these instruments. That had a huge effect on me. The real mesh heads allowed me to use it in more situations. And that not only was interesting from a creative point of view, but also taught me a lot in programming sounds and recreating the exact sounds you hear on a record live. It affected the way I think about coordination. For example, when you put snare drum sounds on the feet and piano notes on the top, it really changes the way you approach the instrument drastically. It's been a great experience to experiment with different sounds and the concept of playing an instrument with arms and legs, hands and feet, helped revolutionize, for me, the idea of playing with four limbs. It doesn't have to be drum sounds. It could be percussion, vibraphone or bass sounds. It's a real eye-opener.

Do you use different sticks when you play on the electronic kit?

No, I play the same sticks. And I try to play with the same intention, attitude and intensity. I think it's really important that you don't change the way you play when you play electronic drums. You have to maintain the same energy and the same intensity of playing, because it affects your timing and your feel. And it looks weird when you play electronic drums differently. It's important that you sit down, close your eyes and play drums. You're not playing a synthesizer with sticks, you're playing a real drum set. Approach it like a real kit, wail away, play with the same intensity. I play the same sticks, the same pedals, the same pedal tension, just as I would with acoustic drums.

What should those who are thinking about getting into electronic drums for the first time be looking for in a kit?

I think everybody should have an electronic drum set – there's no either/or, you have to have both. If you're serious about your craft as a professional musician, you simply cannot avoid using electronics – you have to get them for today's music. It's the 21st century, you know what I mean? You need this stuff, because 70 percent of the music that we listen to every day on the radio and TV is written, composed, produced and made on computers with electronic sounds and instruments, and simply because of that, you have to learn to use these instruments. And if you go for electronic drums, you have to go for the best feeling, the most reliable and the most robust, and that, to me, obviously, is Roland. Nothing holds up like the V-Drums. Getting started with a TD-9 kit or TD-12 kit is something good in understanding the whole concept of an electronic drum set, to learn how to modify sounds. They're so easy to understand, so comprehensive, that it's a good way to get into electronics.

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