I spent so many years searching outside myself. Making lists of people who I thought could help me. I didn’t have the inner serenity and connection with source in place, or at least consistently in place. How could I manifest without proper grounding. Music has become a healing vehicle for me, I’ve suffered so much during my life that getting a few more years on and growing is revealing the real benefit to thinking less while awareness increases.
Music has saved my life, many times. Drumming, singing and playing the piano have been great allies during the most difficult times. The world is changing, what once was, even a few years ago in the music business is no more. I am feeling more than ever a spiritual dimension is needed now more than ever. So why play an instrument. To bring peace and joy into ones life. To enter the non-verbal dimension. To bring peace and joy in the lives of others.
There’s nothing like a road trip to break from routine, clear out the old and take in the new. I looked forward to reflecting on this 1800 mile, 4 day adventure to the Sabian cymbal company’s manufacturing headquarters. It was just what the doctor ordered. I’d be in 5 states before crossing the border to Canada. I was looking forward to stopping for a night on my way up and back in Maine (that meant great lobster and other delicacies from the sea) as I travelled north, on my first pilgrimage to Sabian. In a beautiful serene location on the St. John River in Meductic New Brunswick, the mystery of cymbal making was about to unfold in a big way.
It was mostly night when I drove through the northern territories of Maine. Cruising at 80+ mph(speed limit is 75), signs for Baxter State Park and the Allagash River flashed by, places I’d love to visit. But I digress, here’s a synopses of the trip:
Day 1: A 5 hr journey from West Milford, New Jersey to Wells, Maine for the night. Not before a killer lobstah, steamers, chowda and local brewed Allagash dinner.
Day 2: After breakfast, as I was leaving for the trip north I stopped in the parking lot of a hardware store in Kennebunk to get a folder that was in the trunk with documents I needed. As I was walking to the drivers seat my passport fell to the ground. I didn’t hear it.
Losing my passport on the day I was supposed to enter Canada was beyond stressful. I was about 30 mins into the 5 hr trip when at a gas station I realized it was missing. I frantically ripped the car apart without finding it. Prayers were answered when my fiance Dianne called the hardware store (I was in some form of shock). The owner had it! Disaster adverted. After gratefully retrieving it I now headed the car north for a 5 hr stint through the northern Maine woods into Woodstock NB for the night. I’ve been to Maine so many times but never ventured this far north. Like my buddy Bob Skinner, a Maine aficionado said, “There ain’t nothing up there”. He was right. I was going to crash for the night in Houlton Maine right on the Canadian boarder but decided to cross and get a room in Woodstock NB. The logic was to wake up fresh, already in the country and only 20 mins from Sabian.
Day 3: In the morning I hit the hotel gym before driving to Meductic and was so psyched to be going to pick out new cymbals. I just didn’t expect the warm welcome and help from Dave Williams, Sabian product specialist when I arrived. He was truly inspirational. His love and enthusiasm of cymbals, drums and music were evident from within the first few minutes of speaking with him. It felt great to be here. When was the last time I felt that about most any company? No recall at all.
Before listening to cymbals in the vault, Dave gave me an in-depth tour of the factory. In the first workshop were cats making Sabian’s recently acquired handmade line of congas and bongos, Gon Bops. I saw them in every stage of production. These were beautiful looking and sounding instruments. There is something about the sound of conga drums that I’ve always loved. It’s a special connection, skin on skin. The rhythm becomes very close, no stick in the way. Other specialties were being made in this large space. I saw a craftsman working on several octave sets of crotales. He was shaving metal off one spinning on a lathe to get the pitch where he wanted it. His strobe tune was spot on as he tested his new creation. They sounded rich and celestial. I always loved their sound but hadn’t played any since my symphonic days in college. Drummer Alan While played beautiful sounding crotales on Yes’s “Going For The One” release .
I saw hundreds of bronze triangles, I tried a few that sounded rich and complex. The artisan who created them said he’d pick me out fine one. I’ve only seen triangles made out of steel or aluminum. The bronze made em look very unique. I was eyeing a beautiful sounding hand hammered model. I’ve never been to a place like this .I own at least a dozen triangles and since this was the first stop on the factory tour I felt I wanted to focus on the cymbals first. The place reeked of dedication, people really liking their job. It was getting deep.
What was really impressive, on top of all the creativity going on, was learning how environmentally conscious the manufacturing process at Sabian is.
Onto the actual tour of the cymbal factory. In their own foundry ancient secrets are unleashed as Sabian’s metallurgists create B20 bronze alloy castings from their centuries old copper/tin/silver recipe. In the first large room we visited, ovens heated the castings which then went into presses for thinning them into rough round cymbal blanks. There was a water bath for cooling/tempering the raw cymbals and a machine to press the bell and pinpoint the spot where the center hole would be drilled. A stamping machine using immense pressure created the rough shape of the specific type of cymbal. The next large room we entered was filled of the craftsmen turning these raw cymbals into musical instruments. From lathers, machine hammerers, stampers, shapers and trimmers, cymbal production was in full bloom. Like entering Santa’s workshop, I saw all types of cymbals being produced by skilled hands. It all hit a peak when I was standing next to the famed hand hammerers. These artisans are carrying the secrets of centuries old cymbal making. These guys hammered the cymbals I was about to hear, the new Artisan Elite and HH line. Seeing the manufacturing process up close like this, I have a new appreciation and understanding for everything about a cymbal. I realized what a new cymbal sound would mean to me at this point in my life. This set, as it turned out would be the best cymbals I’ve ever owned. It was getting way deeper. So much would change with a new sound. I was searching for a richer, darker, complex sound with great articulation at different volume levels. So important was the the way the cymbals would feel when played. Finding the right ride and hi-hats that complimented each other would be the foundation of this new cymbal set.
Some manufactur’s create cymbals with a fairly consistent sound. I love the fact that Sabian cymbals are each unique creations. Sonically pairing and matching cymbals together creates a one of a kind sound. What I am hearing for a certain sound, another drummer would hear something completely different. So many factors come into play when selecting cymbals. How many sounds can you get out of one? Ah, now the mystery gets deeper with hand hammering. I hear the largest variation in sound from a single cymbal from Sabian’s hand hammered models. I was apprehensive as this was my first visit and surrounded by thousands of cymbals, it seemed undaunting to begin the cymbal selection process. How would they sound back in the studio or on stage with my drums? I wanted a sound that would work well with the improvisational group I put together called INNERrOUTe. I put together a list of cymbals I was interested in and product specialist Dave and Tim had many of these on a cart in the Sabian Vault when I arrived. I was very grateful. I was floored at the level of professionalism and overall enthusiasm from the folks at Sabian. Such a far cry from a typical workplace where you can’t wait till 5pm.
Crescent, Big and Ugly, Omni, Artisan, the search to find the ride began. I kept going back to the 20″ and 22″ Artisan Elites. Dave came back with a few additional Artisan rides and after playing one of them, I felt it in my gut. It has clear stick definition and dark cushioning undertone that feels great to play and is very responsive in opening up with the slightest change in intensity. It’s harmonically warm with very musical overtones. And the bell sounded really connected and not overpowering like so many rides I’ve owned. Once this cymbal was in place I found a pair of Artisan Elite Hats that worked really well with the ride. Dry and dark with beautiful tonal range. The 1/2 open sound added a varying wetness to the sound depending on how open it is. With the Ride/High-Hat foundation in place it was time to work some crashes into the picture. Rounding out the cymbal set was a beautiful sounding combination of Artisan and HH medium thin crashes. Dave was giving me in-depth information on how each cymbal was made. This information will really help as I continue to look for new cymbal sounds in the future.
My new cymbals are being shipped to me. I’m looking forward to playing them on the recording sessions and gigs that are coming up in the next few weeks. A new round of original songs will benefit from these new sounds also. Talking with Dave this morning we were discussing that even though we are technically playing the cymbal, the cymbal is playing us. Like a circle, the sounds are subliminally creating a feeling that allows us to non verbally respond in the moment. As drummers we hear new things each time we play. A motif, some rhythmic thematic material that once executed unfolds into a kaleidoscopic improvisation. It’s very challenging using words to describe something that is pointing far past them. The thing I’ve always loved about music, it’s non-verbal communication once you start playing.
I left Sabian with a warm inner glow, knowing something really good just happened. I cruised back to Portland Maine for dinner. New England’s delicacies: oysters, lobster and Allagash white on tap. Last night in Wells Maine and then:
Day 4: Unseasonably warm weather, I walked on the beach in Wells, so great to hear the ocean and feel the sun shining on my face. It is hard to say goodbye to Maine, I have too many fond memories here. I filled the car up and drove on down to NJ. Satellite radio was providing cool tunage.
Having a glimpse over the boarder at Sabian makes me want to go back that much more. I am very grateful for this opportunity. I’ve endorsed Sabian cymbals since 2006 and have some great cymbals but this trip put things on a whole other level. Driving through Meductic had a very calm feel. It was hard to leave. I want to return, explore the natural beauty and continue to search for new cymbal sounds at Sabian. Thanks again to Dave, Tim and Christian for setting up this visit for me. I have to do right by these new cymbals, so into the shed I go…
I am getting ready to move in a few months, been 20 years in the old digs. This trip to Sabian was a spiritual pilgrimage that gave me time to think about what is important and how to navigate all the changes coming as this new year begins. During this time I am staying as close as possible to the music. With these new cymbals, I’ll be looking forward to exploring all manner of sonic possibilities. No doubt they are changing my playing. I am exploring so many new avenues of rhythm and sound with these new dark, exotic and mysterious Sabian creations. A definite ally during shifting times and a kind of fuel for a whole new chapter that’s about to unfold.
Here’s a few improv’s with the new Sabian cymbals, hope you enjoy.
22″ Artisan Elite, 14″ Artisan Elite Hats, 20″ HHX Zen China, 16″/17″ HH medium crashes, 16″ Artisan crash
After an incredible visit to the Sabian cymbal factory here’s a drumset improv with the new cymbals(except the HHX Manhattan Jazz Ride, I had this one many years). Sorry bout low vid quality, iphone had some issues trying to focus.
Artisan Elite Ride
Artisan Elite Hi Hats
HHX Manhattan Jazz Ride
1970 Slingerland Kit