Gavin Harrison on recording, electronic percussion and playing as one of three drummers in King Crimson
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Gavin Harrison on recording, electronic percussion and playing as one of three drummers in King Crimson

An avid proponent of AKG microphones and Nord's drum synthesizers, Gavin Harrison is currently touring with King Crimson. We managed to catch up with Gavin and ask a few questions about his recording techniques, his use of electronic percussion, and playing as one of three drummers on the KC Tour.

How did you approach learning the King Crimson material?  Is there a fine line between copying the parts ‘verbatim’ and making them ‘your own’.

"We try to treat each song as if it was a new piece regardless of when it was written. There's no point trying to emulate what a drummer played on the song 40 years with all the options of having 3 drummers we can start with something new and fresh."

How do you approach playing with multiple drummers?  How do you decide who plays which parts?!

"It's quite a challenge as in King Crimson's current version of the band we have three drummers...but with any difficulty there comes opportunity. So I have arranged some of the songs to have a very tight choreography so we don't step on each others toes. That requires a lot of self discipline from the players to not break the arrangement and start playing things that we hadn't already designed. Other songs have a more open approach where the drummers might play on their own for certain sections. It's quite a complex situation. Sometimes we try to get out of each others way from a sound frequency point of view. Myself and Pat Mastelotto both have Nord Drum electronics and so that gives us a lot of options sonically and creatively."

How do you integrate electronic percussion into your set-up?

"I use the Nord Drum 3P and and Nord Drum 2. Some things are parts that are now integral to the new arrangements and some things I change every night. For instance I get to play a little solo every night on a song called 21st Century Schizoid Man. I try to improvise a completely different solo every night (rather than have one worked out that I just play the same every night). It's quite a challenge in itself because I'm the only one who can remember what I might have played on previous nights - but I try to stay true to my plan and play something different and hopefully it will include some surprising things that I have never played before. The Nord pads can be helpful in that way. In a sound check I might set up a series of notes (that I know work in the key of the song) and play different melodies on them and incorporate the acoustic drums in there too. It's kind of scary too - because I don't really know what is going to happen. That's the best (and potentially worst) part of it."

Do you have a practice regime and does it alter depending on the artist you are playing with?

"I tend to work on maintenance of coordination and timing exercises or just rhythm concepts that lead me down a more creative path."

What are your preferred techniques for micing up your drum kit in the studio?   

Currently I use an AKG D12VR suspended inside the bass drum about 4 inches away from where the beater strikes the head. I might use another mic very close to the front head to pick up a bit of sustain and low end ring.

Each tom tom has an AKG C414XLS about three inches above the top head pointing towards the centre of the drum. The snare has a mic on the top about two inches away from the rim pointing at the centre of the drum head and a mic very close to the bottom of the drum to pick up the snare wires.

I have an AKG SE300CK91 pointing at the hi hat and ride cymbal and a pair of AKG C12VRs directly behind my head (as an extension of where my ears are) that picks up the whole kit without over emphasising the cymbals. I have a large ambient hall in front of my drums that I mic with a pair of AKG C414XLII. With these ambient mics I can influence the perceived size of the room by adjusting the 9 pattern options on the actual mics themselves. They go from a very tight cardioid position right down to "omni" position which captures the room from both sides of the mic (if I want the biggest sound possible). This is a very useful thing about the C414 mics. The C12VRs have this option too so I can mess with the width of the overhead room if I want to.

Then I use a plug in (inside Logic Pro) called "Auto Align" that measures and corrects the phase of all these mics against each other. That does make quite a noticeable difference.

How does this differ between the live and studio environments?

In a live situation - I don't usually have control of exactly what mics the engineer wants to use - but we often have discussions about which mics might work best. I have the AKG D12VR permanently installed in the bass drum - so I always insist that they try that first (and they always like it).

Do you have a favourite recorded drum sound of your own?

I'm very happy how the drum sound turned out on a recent record called "Your Wilderness" by The Pineapple Thief. I recorded the drums here in my studio using all the mics and methods I described earlier. That gives you a good idea of what I'm talking about. I also mixed the drum tracks and just sent the band a stereo file. I think it's the closest I can get to what I was intending to portray on the drums.

With huge thanks to Gavin Harrison, and to Tony Levin for use of the lead photo!

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