A great man (I think it was Mr Miyagi from The Karate Kid) once said:

"There is no such thing as a bad student. Only a bad teacher".

Wise words.

And some that really make sense to me, having been involved in drum and music

education professionally for the past 10 years. In that time I have been extremely

fortunate to have met some truly inspirational teachers and I would like to dedicate

this blog/magazine - (you could call it either a blogazine or a blagazine, depending

on if you think I know what I'm talking about!) - to those drummers who have really

made a difference in the world of drums and drum education.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Matt Nolan Custom Cymbals!

That's right!  I had the extreme pleasure of talking with Mr Matt Nolan, custom cymbal smith from UK.  Some would argue that what he does is art, both visually and sonically; Mr Nolan makes some beautiful and unique instruments and if you don't know about Matt Nolan and his work, please go take a look:  It is truly amazing.
Read on to find out more...

Photograph by Andy McCreeth

Drumazine: Hello and welcome to Mr Matt Nolan, cymbal smith from the UK!  Where exactly are you from?

Matt Nolan: I am based in the historic city of Bath, in south-west England.

Dzn: And how long have you been making cymbals for?

MN: I started tinkering with cymbals, on more of a hobby basis, around 6 years ago. In 2008, I dropped the "day job" and started making cymbals as my full-time occupation.

Dzn: And what promted you to start making cymbals?

MN: I started making cymbals (and gongs, and little metal sculptural things that were also musical instruments) mainly out of fascination with cymbals. Curiosity, I guess. It was during a period when I wasn't able to play drums with a band. I think my creativity had to come out somehow, so it found a different vent.

Dzn: Indeed!  Your cymbals designs are very unique.  Where do you come up with new ideas?

MN: New ideas for designs just tend to present themselves to me. Sometimes, I will sit and think and plan, searching for an idea. But, mainly it is as a result of following an instinct, or being inspired by something that wasn't quite expected that happened as I was going along.

Dzn:  So, would you say your cymbals have a signature sound or look?

MN: I think that, while my work is quite varied, it does have a certain Nolan-ness about it. Sonically, things tend to be complex, usually dark, often quite dry. I don't have reference cymbals like antique Zildjians or classic Paistes or anything. I tweak each cymbal until it just sounds right to me. Visually, my vernacular of colours, textures, shapes, etc. is recognisable to those who follow my work.

Dzn: So what materials do you use?

MN: I use a wide range of different Bronze alloys - B5, B7, B8, B10, B12, B15 and B20. Most frequently B8 and B15. I occasionally use Nickel-Silver, more usually for gongs, but sometimes for cymbals too. I use Stainless Steel and, less frequently, Titanium for more avant-garde / off-the-wall cymbals and gongs. I use an Aluminium Bronze alloy and Cupro-Nickel for my hand-hammered orchestral triangles. I choose metals based on their sonic characteristics.

Dzn: And how long does it usually take to take a design through to completion?

MN: If I'm going at full speed, producing cymbals that I have made many times before, then I can make about 2 per day. If I am designing something totally new, it may take a week.

Dzn: Do you make any other instruments or is it just cymbals?

MV: I make cymbals (drum kit and orchestral), gongs (tuned and indefinite pitch), tam-tams, sculptural gongs, triangles, tubular bells and bell plates. Occasionally, I make smaller things, like little strings of bell-like cymbals or custom tambourine jingles. But these things tend to be for fanatics - as they cost so much - all that fiddly small work takes some doing by hand.

Dzn: Do you have any particular favourites you have made so far?

MN: I made a set of cymbals for UK drummer, Anthony Sargeant. All B15 alloy besides the B8 hi-hat bottom. They all had a certain look and a family sound even though the ride was pretty dark and the crashes pretty bright for my work. The 22" ride was very popular (on my website and at a public drum show), but it was reserved for Anthony. So I made 2 clones of it. One went to Germany and the other was bought later by the Hollywood film soundtrack composer, Danny Elfman.

Dzn: What is your favourite music to listen to?

MN: I enjoy a lot of different styles of music - classical to modern orchestral, some jazz, a lot of rock, some pop, some electro, the list goes on. I guess the things that get me most are things where the musical innovation is high but without getting too "noodly" or soulless. A lot of Frank Zappa's work, King Crimson (mid-70s through 2000s), lots of stuff that Mike Patton has had a hand in (Mr Bungle, Faith No More, Tomahawk, Fantomas), current small group modern UK jazz such as The Neil Cowley Trio and Get The Blessing, sample manglers like Amon Tobin, visionaries like Bjork.

Dzn: Do you play drums yourself?

MN: Yes. I have played drums since I was 12 or 13. Currently, I play regularly in what could loosely be described as a boogie-woogie piano trio called "Fungus Licks" you can probably find some stuff of ours on youtube (ranging from the embarassingly fluffed to the quite good) Description: http://static.ak.fbcdn.net/images/blank.gifand much less frequently in a (fairly heavy) rock covers band and even less frequently in a few different duos and trios making improvised nightmare soundtrack music with not a drum kit but a huge rack of my own gongs and some cymbals.

Dzn: And do you have a favourite drummer?

MN: If I had to pick one, it would have to be Bill Bruford. Always hugely entertaining. Clive Deamer would come a close second.

Dzn: You make a very traditional acoustic instrument; How important do you think new technology is in modern day drumming?

MN: I do make a very traditional instrument, in a very traditional way, though often with what you might call "modern" materials. As for electronic technology, I think it has a strong part to play. I'm all for anything which gives you a broader palette of expression and creativity. As it happens, cymbal sample packs of my cymbals, specially recorded for Yamaha DTX electronic drums will be available soon. Electronic drums have their place. I used to own a set of Rolands myself.

I had the great pleasure recently of jointly making a new percussion instrument for Bjork that really combined the old with the new. Together with Bjorgvin Tomasson, Icelands premier pipe-organ maker, I made the world's first "Gameleste" - a MIDI-acoustic Gamelan Celeste. This is a keyboard instrument rather like a small upright piano, but instead of having strings, it has bronze bars - a bit like glockenspiel bars, but made to have a Gamelan sound. Gamelan is the traditional (mostly metal percussion) orchestra of Indonesia.

Bjork uses the Gameleste on her new album, Biophilia, and also live on the tour in support of it. It sits there and plays itself, electro-mechanically, via a MIDI interface. This means it can play a lot more than a person with 8 fingers and 2 thumbs can. In the song "Virus", the Gameleste part is based on generative patterns - self-multiplying music. It is astonishing stuff, made possible through the creative use of computer algorithms.

Dzn:  And, (for shameless self-promotion purposes), please can you tell Drumazine! readers how to find out more about you and your amazing work? 

MN: My work is available by custom order or off-the-shelf from my website: 

Outside the UK, you can also find things in a number of drum shops in France, Germany, Switzerland, Canada and the USA, most notably the Memphis Drum Shop and their, www.mycymbal.comwith its fantastic demonstration videos.

Other stuff to check - you can follow me on twitter and facebook and also on YouTube

Dzn:  Well, thanks so much for the insight into your amazing work!  Keep it up and good luck from Drumazine!

MN: Cheers!
Photograph (and potrait above) by Andy McCreeth

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