Drums have been a big part of my life for several years now. It all started one year during an annual Ann Arbor event known as Hash Bash. A time for Hemp and Marijuana activists to gather on the University of Michigan campus and take advantage of Ann Arbor's very lenient stance on Cannabis.
I was just minding my own business when I wandered near enough to a drum circle to feel its effects. Those readers who've been near one might know what that's like, but for those that haven't, I shall endevour to explain. A drum circle has a number of percussionists, usually 5-50, gathered in a circle. Most of them have either African drums, known as djembe', or Conga's. They face each other like knights of the round table both for equality and to hear each other.
You see any one of the drums could easily be used, as they have in the past, as a long distance signalling device. Each drum has a distinctive, and very loud, voice. Put 30 of them together and you get a sound so strong that inanimate objects not only move, but seem to take on a dance of their own in sync with the music. If the drummers are really feeling the fire, and are well in tune with each other, the sound seems to reach heaven and shake its doors.
The effect of these sounds are well known. Shaman have used drums for millenia to help move people into the altered state of mind and body necessary for vision questing. Ancient celts had healing drums, blessed and used only by the most pure of the religious sect. And in Africa, the drums are life to some. If you shake the hand of a serious African drummer, it feels more like you're shaking a Lobster, so calloused is their hand.
The scientific term for this is audio driving. A sufficient acoustic force can synchronize body and mind with coordinating nervous signals. Your ears send a rhythmic signal to the brain that gets your heart rate beating in time with the bass beat. When your body sends the same signal, in time, as your ears the effect is amplified. Dancers in the circle provide a similar visual signal completing a sensory journey.
With all these combined signals synchronizing your brain, strange things happen. For one, you feel a sense of community like never before. Mostly because everyone else is running on the same wavelength as you in a way like none other. But also, this rhythmic signal in you brain allows for new kinds of creativity that is very hard to reach in any other way. Ecstatic journeys, visions and epiphanies are very common in this state. Extended periods of audio driving can radically, and sometimes permanantly, change the way you mind works.
Suffice to say, I was deeply moved by the experience. By the end of the day, I was the proud owner of a small Kenyan drum. It was perfect for quiet practice. But when the next Hash Bash rolled around, I found it woefully quieter than I would have preferred for the event. So, I bough my second drum, a 3' hoop drum made in Pakistan. Now this drum has a Voice!.
But the hoop drum was also not what I needed. It was too much for what I usually needed, and was quite a cumbersome instrument. It was also about this time that I got invited to weekly circles. There, I got the chance to see the other types of "circle" drums up close and to inquire about some specifics. After a couple of weeks, I had an asian drum called an ashiko. This drum had a head about 8" in diameter and a slowly narrowed body. It also was just about the perfect drum for me at the time.
There may seem to be a discrepancy here in that my needs kept changing through time. But as I said, audio driving