Riff Playbooks: Chris Allison | The Glass Bead Game


The "Riff Playbooks" column is designed to make you a better player. By gleaning some insight into the technique, composition, and execution of these fine riffs by fine SH artists, you are bound to make headway in your own playing. We cordially invite you to steal a page from our books in order to expand your own diabolical playbook of musical wizardry (not literally though, the books are expensive to create).

In celebration of the recent release of “Impulse Voices - The Complete Drum Transcription” by Plini drummer, Chris Allison, we wanted to shine a spotlight on the man behind the kit (as depicted above), but more specifically his fantastic drum playthrough for The Glass Bead Game. In this section of the song, Chris powers through a few polyrhythmic double-kick passages with some fun syncopated cymbal patterns, into some even more fun metric modulation, and wraps it all up with some delightful double stroke laden, breakbeat-esque shredding. All while wearing what appear to be work boots. What a champion.
This is one minute of the roughly nine that compose the track, so suffice it to say, there is an immense amount of equally bewildering and delightful playing going on throughout the rest of the song / record / book, and we highly recommend that you get a look at what else Chris has in store for you.

You can grab a free tab of this section here - and if you want to check out  “Impulse Voices - The Complete Drum Transcription”, do yourself a favour!

Here for some more in-depth analyzation of some of the key ideas at play here, Chris very kindly put together some explanations and examples for us to illustrate exactly what is taking place in each of these sections:

Here’s some extra insight into how I’m subdividing the 15/8 time signature throughout this excerpt. The time signature itself never changes, which shows you the power & impact that these simple (on paper) subdivision changes can have on the feel of the music surrounding them. The first section is taking the fifteen 8th notes & grouping them into three (3) groups of five (5):
Which could also be felt as a bar of 3/4 with quintuplets as the base subdivision:
By thinking of the first note of every group of five as a new quarter note, and orchestrating them between kick & snare, the illusion of a backbeat is created - a la your standard rock beat. But because of the odd length of the bar, we need to do this over two bars for the effect to be fully achieved. This helps to create a more even/smooth feel where - because of the consistent placement of the backbeat - the listener may not even know the music is in an odd meter:
All of that is a lot to think about, so to make it less mentally taxing, I find it easier to think of this as one bar of 6/4 subdivided into quintuplets:
A metric modulation occurs at bar 57, where we move from subdividing the bar from three groups of five, to five groups of three. 
And similar to the last section, by thinking of the first beat of each new grouping as a new quarter note & orchestrating that between kick & snare, we get a fast 6/8 feel. This will take 5 repetitions to come back on the one of the original 15/8 time signature. 
Because of this (relatively) simple adjustment in how we’re breaking up the bar, the music now feels faster & has a more exciting feel to it. Whereas if the subdivisions stayed the same, this section would feel a little sluggish. In bars 59-60, I break up the cymbal pattern from playing groups of three to playing a 2 over 3 polyrhythm (example #8), which could also be written as dotted 8th notes (example #9):
Note that the kick drum continues to play every fifth 8th note in the original subdivision underneath this, which creates a further polyrhythmic challenge to this groove. Bars 63-64 are broken up again into three groups of 5, but instead of being felt as quarter notes subdivided into quintuplets, are felt as three bars of 5/8 subdivided into 16th notes: