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Vinnie Colaiuta: The Technology of Inspiration

Vinnie Colaiuta: The Technology of Inspiration
World-class drummer Vinnie Colaiuta discusses the M-Audio technology that he uses to record and compose at home and on the road

Legendary for his brilliant musicianship, world-class chops and well-deserved ubiquity both on stage and in the studio, drummer Vinnie Colaiuta's wealth of credits include touring and/or recording with Faith Hill, Sting, Steely Dan, Quincy Jones, Joni Mitchell, Frank Zappa and innumerable others—plus the 1997 release of his own album. When speaking with him, it quickly becomes clear that his passion and exuberance transcend the love of his instrument; his zeal encompasses the entire process of creating music—and the technology that makes it possible.

How do you create and compose when you're on the road?

I take a 12-inch Mac G4 PowerBook running Ableton Live and Pro Tools M-Powered with a bunch of virtual instruments, and either the M-Audio Oxygen8. I also have a small FireWire drive and the FireWire 1814, and I just go to town with some headphones. Sometimes I'll take a mic with me, if I'm in the presence of somebody else that has something to offer instrumentally. And that's pretty much all that I need. It's completely compatible.

I can actually sit there and play stuff on the keyboard with this certain kind of touch—the way that I would think while I'm playing the drums—and it sounds like a drummer playing. With touch sensitivity and such an immediate response, it's just amazing how it comes out. I have programs and patches with specific kinds of drum sounds that are mapped across the keyboard. I can just sit there on this tiny little keyboard and program and do all sorts of things.

Have you done any interesting sessions lately?

I recently did a track for legendary guitarist John McLaughlin. I recorded my drums with tracks that he had sent me. Then I took the M-Audio BX monitors and stuck them in the entrance of my patio and threw up room mics on the end of the room. I stuck the files on a very small FireWire drive, hooked the FireWire drive and an M-Audio FireWire 1814 into my laptop, and basically played the track back into the room through the BXs, and recorded it back onto my laptop to get room tracks. Then I put the files back on the FireWire drive and went back into the studio and transferred it back into my desktop system. Then I inserted those tracks into the sequence.

When I heard the result of it, I was stunned. The snare drum sounded like a firecracker and the bass drum had this 60- to 80-cycle bump on it that was really exciting and the tom-toms had this amazing ambience to them. Without those portable devices, I would not have been able to do that. It was very, very easy for me to do it with the 1814, and the BX's sounded so good. You couldn't tell that we had pumped the sound out back into a room and recorded it back—it sounded amazing, like a drum kit in a room instead of a drum kit through some speakers in a room.

Do you find technology inspirational, or do you see it as more of a tool?

It's a little bit of both. I think the idea germinates in the mind, and I firmly believe that the mind leads the body. But with the advent of new technology, it works both ways. Like when you smile, it causes a physiological process that affects your mentality as well.

I think that technology has leveled the playing field for people, in terms of affording everybody the ability to express themselves creatively. Technology basically provides a blank slate that enables a person's musical mind to be revealed. You put the same things in front of ten different people, and you're going to get ten different results. It can really afford somebody who has some kind of creative genius a different way for that genius to come out. And it can actually cause a person to think differently.

M-Audio offers innovative products at really affordable price points that allow people to be able to document their music in a very high quality way. What you would have needed ten years ago—racks and racks full of stuff—you can basically have in one machine now.