For those of us who grew up on a steady diet of pop music, the classical canon can sometimes seem like a parallel universe; the music is undoubtedly powerful but the rules and rituals surrounding it are unfamiliar. Centuries of history, a specialized vocabulary, not to mention the sometimes daunting...
Omar Hakim is, without a doubt, one of the most successful drummers and session men of the past forty years. Having collaborated with artists including Miles Davis, David Bowie, Sting, Stevie Wonder and more recently Daft Punk, he has laid down the groove on countless classic recordings. On the occasion of the release of his first Pack for Ableton Live, we asked Omar a few questions about what it’s like being the human drummer that (not only) robots have come to depend on.
Thomas Bangalter of Daft Punk has told this story about you and the track "Giorgio by Moroder": "I remember going to him and humming this really complicated drum and bass programming and he's like, 'Like this?' [makes drum noises] He's doing it exactly like I hummed but like 10 times beyond. It felt like, 'Whoa! What have we been missing being limited by our own programming skills?' He probably only did two takes for that part."
What do you consider to be the things that a drummer can do that can never be replicated by a machine or an algorithm?
I remember the situation very well. I love being in the studio with an artist that has a very clear and exact idea of what they want to hear, but at the same time they give me freedom to experiment and expand on their original ideas.
And that is the very thing that a machine or an algorithm cannot replicate... The human experience of being a musician. The give and take, the emotional reaction, and the cool and fun unexpected surprises that come from spontaneity and being in the moment!
Have you found that musicians who have a background in electronic dance music (such as Daft Punk) approach rhythm differently than some of the jazz or rock musicians you’ve worked with?
These musicians definitely think about rhythm differently than somebody who plays drums and percussion, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. Because they don't play the actual instrument, they are not necessarily bound to the rules of the instrument. So they are now open to using these percussion sounds in a really interesting and creative way!
Check out Omar Hakim with Daft Punk at the 2014 Grammy Awards:
The much talked-about “Pocket” – what is it exactly?
This question always drive me crazy! Because it is very difficult to describe the human feeling and process of making music. I have always found it interesting to examine different cultures of music because each culture, each country has a feel and a groove that the people can relate to. It's a part of their DNA. In one part of the world you can have Dance/EDM beats that make people get up and want to dance immediately. In another part of the world you can play some strange odd time signature groove in 9/8 and that will make people go crazy and want to dance as well.
When I'm working with artists (either on stage or in the studio) I try not to overthink my approach to playing grooves. I just try to do what serves the music best!
What’s your vision for how producers will use the grooves and sounds you’ve provided in your Live Pack?
I am hoping that I've provided them with a nice selection of really usable and interesting ideas. Maybe some of these grooves will inspire a cool bass line, an interesting riff or a melodic concept that they can build an entire song from!