Drummers may not enjoy the best reputation among musical colleagues, but as Jack Stilgoe points out, their humanness is exactly the thing that makes them irreplaceable — a crucial property in today’s ever-accelerating AI gold rush. Come for the war against the machines, stay for the funky break.
We drummers tend to be ambivalent about technology. Like most musicians, ours is a craft that is technologically mediated. The affordances of sticks, pedals and things to hit with them enable our sound. We are used to the jokes that suggest we lack the intelligence of our fellow musicians. (What’s the difference between a drummer and a drum machine? You only have to punch the information into a drum machine once.)
We worry that our bandmates, presented with technological alternatives, might look on us as a problem to be solved. We are loud; we take up space; our instruments are heavy and slow to assemble; our sounds are harsh and inconsistent, and sometimes we speed up or slow down when we play. Faced with a drum machine that keeps metronomic time, plays no more or less than is asked of it and, once purchased, costs nothing, we can’t help but feel judged: is that all you think of us? Is that thing all it takes to make a drummer redundant?