Geek Chic

TOM LEE Music in Cameron Lane, Tsim Sha Tsui, has a set of electronic drums in the window just asking to be smacked around. When it comes to drumming, I have Beethoven's ear and the sophistication with drumsticks of a drunken baboon - which is why I was accompanied by a colleague with adolescent rock-star fantasies. Let's call him Ringo.

Roland has designed its V-drum kit to look as much like a real kit as possible. The giveaways are the size of the drums - different diameters but the same depths - the black rubber mats that replace the cymbals, and the mess of wires that connect the lot. The look of the mesh drum head and its rubber rim is similar to that of a real drum, although the action, said Ringo, was like hitting a rice pudding. Beneath the drum head is a trigger that, when struck, sends a signal to the attached TD-10 percussion-sound module, which converts the impulse to the appropriate sound. The TD-10's 'positional detection' system senses the location of each pad hit, and allows for the triggering of sounds with slightly different timbres, narrowing the gap between the virtual drum and the acoustic model.

It takes some time to get used to the sound of stick hitting mesh, made by the artificial drum surface before the impulse is converted by the TD-10 to a drum noise. If you find it disconcerting, the only solution is to wear headphones.

The ability to run the sound through headphones is, of course, one of the advantages that V-drums have over real drums, especially in the confines of the average neighbourhood. The other significant advantage is the TD-10, the brains of the kit. Drum type, drum-head type, drum-shell materials, drum depth and drum tuning can all be 'modelled' using the TD-10's graphic, icon-based interface. Taking this modelling concept a step further, you can select the type of 'venue' you wish to play in - from the bedroom or garage to the more fantasy-orientated beach or cave settings (one imagines drummers being very at home in caves).

Roland's COSM (Composite Object Sound Modelling) system gives a tremendous variety of sound from the kit. COSM is based on what Roland calls the 'sonic chain': the fact that the sound vibrations of an acoustic drum are affected by a number of variables before they reach your ear, including the material, size and tuning of the drum, the type of microphone used, if any, and the size and reverberation characteristics of the venue. Without recreating the chain electronically, says Roland, you cannot get an authentic drum sound.

The variety of sound effects available through the TD-10 is astounding. You can choose from a programmed list of 600 drum sounds, spanning the likes of hard rock, '70s music, Latin, fusion and techno. You can store your own drumming on a memory card and drum with yourself, plug in a CD player and drum to the track of your choice, or drum along to a selection of musical styles, such as salsa, rumba and jazz. Plugging a MIDI keyboard into the TD-10 allows you to record your own backing tracks, or you can choose from the 54 backing instruments built into the TD-10.


Ringo found the TD-10 daunting at first, but he picked it up quickly. However, he never became flash enough to hit the control buttons with the sticks like a pro, which is how they are designed to be used.

Although Ringo was not impressed with the kit's sound, it has been endorsed by many big names in the industry. Omar Hakim and John 'JR' Robinson, who between them have drummed for the likes of Michael Jackson, Barbra Streisand, Sting, Eric Clapton, Madonna and Miles Davis, have V-drum kits in their studios. Hakim says he was so impressed by the kit he got in 1997 he used it to rerecord all the drum parts for a solo album he had almost finished.

The kits may come highly recommended, but they do not come cheap. A basic set from Tom Lee costs $35,575, excluding such essentials as a drum pedal ($350) or a drum stool. They are not for novices. Beginners are advised to rent a teach-yourself video and find a local studio with a drum kit for hire by the hour. Alternatively, they could leave Tom Lee with an acoustic set for as little as $5,000. I pity Ringo's neighbours if he decides to take that route.

Caught on the Web SHOP TALK Nobody likes a snitch, or so they tell you in the school playground, but a fundamental shift in the United States' anti-drug laws has encouraged a culture of tittle-tattling. Mandatory minimum sentencing and conspiracy provisions exhort culprits to grass on their associates. This has led to a situation, says the investigative TV programme Frontline, in which the guilty are rewarded for seeing the less guilty receive harsher punishment. The results of the Frontline investigation are detailed on its Web site ( Included are two fascinating interviews with snitches - one, pressured by the indictments of his mother and brother, must now live under an assumed identity.
CHEMICAL CONCERNS Pesticide use may vary from country to country, but All You Can Eat ( makes fascinating reading and, given that reports in this magazine have suggested that our vegetables are far from organic, you can be sure that much of the information is pertinent to Hong Kong. Try the fruit salad roulette: select up to 20 fruits that could be made into a salad and see how much pesticide the bowl might contain. You can also analyse the chemical content of 150 different meals. Parents might be interested in Kids' Corner, which offers them the chance to estimate their child's pesticide consumption by age and diet.
GEEK KIDS It is not all porn on the Web; indeed, there are thousands of sites which are perfectly safe for young eyes, and thousands more from which children can benefit given a little parental supervision. Syndicated columnist, mother, wife and 'Net surfer supreme' Barbara J. Feldman - the middle initial distinguishes her from plain old Barbara Feldman - puts her favourite sites for youngsters on the Web and conveniently arranges them by topic ( Perfect for family surfing.
EATING GREEN A vegetarian epicure? Whoever heard of such a thing? Anna Thomas has managed to sell millions of copies of her Vegetarian Epicure cookery book series around the world. You can find out why on her Web site ( Although she is reluctant to give too much away - she does want you to buy the cookbooks, after all - there are some nifty recipes to try, including the delicious-sounding cranberry rice pudding. Thomas posts a long newsletter every month with cooking tips and insights from her kitchen. You will be left wanting to buy her texts, which the Los Angeles Times has called 'the bible of vegetarians'.
PERSONAL INFORMATION By now you have probably personalised at least one mainstream news site on the Web to receive the exact information you are interested in. Zine Zone ( gives you the opportunity to do the same sort of personalising with a different media - Internet content that is not so mainstream. With Zine Zone's aid, there is no need to click through a dozen Web sites to discover if anything new has been added. The tool enables you to see what the little guy has been using the Great Medium to say through interactive interviews, video, audio, live chats and Webcasts.
ONE FOR THE BOYS Adolescent Adulthood ( is a site for young men. Here, the already suave can learn about the 'sensuous art' of kissing, study the flirting manual (work on that body language, boys) and grapple with the dating guide (everything from blind dates to handling her parents). There is an illuminating section on Dumb Mistakes Men Make - in essence, do not call women 'chicks' or stare at their breasts. However well versed you are, getting the occasional brush off is inevitable. That base is covered in the Dumping Tutorial - how to dump without guilt and be dumped with minimum upset.