Keeping Time With Deep Purple’s Ian Paice, Corum, And Paiste Cymbals
Life has a certain rhythm. But nowhere does the rhythm of life become more evident than at the heart of two fields very near and dear to me: horology and rock music.
The pounding of the drum backbeat and tick-tick-ticking of the mechanical watch form the background of my life, day in and day out. But what do these two fields concretely have in common?
Drum roll, please . . .
Sometime around Baselworld 2015, an employee of Corum – who also happens to be a drummer – saw an ad for a Paiste cymbal in a music magazine. The ad compared the precision of the Swiss-made music instrument to the precision of a Swiss-made watch movement, and a light bulb went off in his head: wouldn’t a cymbal look great as a dial on a Corum watch?
This idea born of passion became a reality when both the watch company’s upper management and Erik Paiste, owner of the century-old cymbal maker based near Lucerne, concurred.
It was quickly decided that the iconic look and experimental, artistic feel of the Bubble, with its 47 mm case and high eight-millimeter sapphire crystal dome, would be best suited to accommodate the typical look of a cymbal.
“The way that Paiste manufactures its cymbals is pure tradition – and an excellent example of craftsmanship as it relates to ‘Swissness’,” Antoine Hastoy, product and marketing manager at Corum, enthusiastically explained.
Indeed, after touring Paiste’s factory, the common appreciation of beauty, precision, and hand-accomplished craftsmanship that the two companies share became very apparent.
Above and beyond that, though, there also appears to be commonality in the materials and production processes as well. “Form and function go well together in both areas,” Erik Paiste agreed. “As do artisanship and craftsmanship.”
Paiste, who says he immensely enjoyed the project, is enamored of the final product. “It all just clicked.”
Precision production, both big and small
The Paiste cymbal is crafted from a normed bronze alloy known as 2002 bronze (CuSn8), which contains 8 percent tin (Sn) and other elements such as iron, phosphorus, zinc, and lead in addition to the main element, copper (Cu).
This type of bronze is also used for coins, power conductors, marine components (it has excellent resistance to corrosion), and various automotive and industrial parts.
And by now you may have guessed that occasionally you can also find it in watches. And one watch in particular has 2002 bronze in its dial: the Corum Paiste Bubble.
This Bubble’s dial looks like a miniature cymbal, and the processes used to make it almost precisely mirror the process utilized to make a cymbal at Paiste – just at a different scale.
The sized and tempered bronze of the cymbal – which has received its center bell shape with a hole punched in that first step – is hammered using a foot-operated pneumatic hammer for initial shaping.
The craftsmen in their sound-insulated cubicles move the bronze disc under the forceful hammer just as if it were a plate to which a watchmaker would apply perlage. The spacing and pattern is that precise – and the process is not dissimilar to applying perlage.
After the cymbal-in-the-making is tested for truth in the round, it is sent back upstairs for lathing. The lathes at Paiste look much like rose engines in the watch industry, and their functions are not so dissimilar either. The lathe is what creates the grooving in the cymbal, which is the visible effect of reducing the thickness of the material. The sonorous bronze is intentionally left thicker in the center, gradually getting thinner as it gets closer to the edge.
The look of the Paiste Bubble’s dial is a direct result of Corum executives visiting the Paiste factory, watching the cymbal-making process, and reporting back to the dial maker. The dials are made the same way, just on a smaller scale.
Just like making a real cymbal at Paiste, Corum’s dial maker chases the bronze plate by hand with a hammering tool, though a much smaller one.
The bronze Paiste Bubble dial is completely finished by hand using a satiné circulaire pattern to emulate the grooves that the large lathes leave behind on the cymbals.
“Since the start of the project, the dial was supposed to look like a cymbal,” Paiste explains. “As we worked on it, secretly I was a little worried because I didn’t know how they’d achieve it. Were they going to silk-screen something and be done with it?” he laughed.
“But Corum really went all-out to faithfully reproduce the look of a cymbal on this dial. I think it’s very, very cool how they managed to miniaturize the hammering and lathing of the material. I can really stand behind this and say it was done the right way. It’s not some kind of nonsense; it’s real.”
Keeping the beat
Paiste, which can well be said to manufacture sounds in addition to musical art in bronze, was involved in the creation of this very special black PVD-coated Bubble. Erik Paiste, who is very meticulous in everything he does, personally approved the design and aesthetics of this 350-piece limited edition piece.
The Corum Paiste Bubble has already arrived at authorized Corum retail locations. However, the first two editions of this tempo-loving wristwatch went to two very special people: Erik Paiste (naturally) and Ian Paice, the iconic drummer of Deep Purple.
Paice has been an exclusive Paiste artist since 1971. “He joined us when he was 23,” Paiste explained his choice of “carrier” musician for the project. “These are relationships that absolutely transcend the commercial side of things. His participation is based on friendship and reciprocity to us.”
Additionally, Paiste explained, that the energetic Paice, while not the latest “hot” rocker, is a very well established icon in the rock music scene who “has made his mark.”
Indeed, Paice can well be called one of the best drummers working in rock music – and that for the last 46 years.
His unschooled drumming style has allowed him the freedom to make his mark from behind the kit, something that very few drummers are able to do.
“When I started picking up my mother’s knitting needles to pretend to be a drummer [before the age of 15], all the different influences – including from my father’s big band swing piano – were going in, and the only way I could translate it was to channel these same influences out,” Paice explains the significance of his background on his playing.
“When I started playing drums properly I was playing rock and roll, but I was playing it like a big band drummer would play, and I’ve never changed that,” Paice continues with regard to his signature style.
“I try and find a swing in everything. To do that, you have to understand some of the technical aspects of drumming: it’s no good just going one, two, three, four and thinking that’s all there is to it. So I would watch the very best guys from that style of music and I would listen and I would watch their hands and find out what they were doing. If I’d had a teacher, it would have been easier. But there was nobody there teaching drums and obviously within 12 to 15 months [since picking it up] I was the best drummer in the area, so there was nobody to go to.”
As Paice also reinforced, a drum kit isn’t like a human voice, which allows the listener to recognize the artist more easily. “A drum kit is sort of impersonal, so if you can impart your personality in what you play and the sounds you create, then that’s much more difficult,” he continues. “And if you can do that, people remember you and not just ‘the drummer.’ I’ve always found that the luck of learning to play drums from a totally different point of view from most other rock and roll drummers has been a great benefit to my career.”
Additionally, Deep Purple, which was formed in 1968, came of age at a time when rock and heavy metal music were really starting to come into their own. And within the genre, Deep Purple had a different sound than other bands – thanks in great part to the Hammond organs used by keyboarders Jon Lord and Don Airey, but also to the unique talents of the individual members and how they sounded as a whole.
“In the second half of the 1960s, people were creating more complex pieces of music and each band was very different from each other; audiences wanted to get away from this teenie-bop three-minute single, so they were open to the fact that the musicians were actually starting to do varying degrees of quality and more experimental things. That was the magic of the time,” Paice explains. “We didn’t invent the idea of getting away from the three-minute single, but we had a good stab at trying to make our statement.”
Keeping time with Ian Paice
Having dependable and well-designed instruments means a lot to Paice, which is one of the main reasons he has been a Paiste ambassador all these years.
“Every now and again, Paiste sends me another set of cymbals with a new formula or a different process to make them, and they’ve never sent me a bad instrument,” the influential drummer explains. “But I’m still using the same model of cymbal that I started using back in 1971. What they created from their range then was exactly what I needed: powerful, warm, with long duration.”
“I’ve never heard a bad Paiste cymbal,” he states before going on to relate why he prefers the Swiss company over its competitors in the field. “The only competition they really had was Zildjian, who gave me hand-hammered cymbals, but they were all different. You could get two cymbals exactly the same and they’ll have totally different sound characteristics. So if you were on the road and, say, you cracked a cymbal or one got stolen, trying to find a cymbal that did the same job was almost impossible.”
The reason that Paiste can offer such thorough quality is down to its “normed” production process, which includes a final quality control of each and every cymbal by the hand and ear of a trained QC professional.
“One cymbal sounds exactly like the next cymbal of the same kind,” Paice continues. “So if you did have to replace it, there was no thought about it. That’s the sound I like, this one would sound the same, and it did.”
Deep Purple’s time-keeper
The drummer is the time-keeper of any band. His or her job is to keep the beat that drives the music, keeping the various players on the same page to secure time, ensure dynamic intensity, and a add a feel for the music and musicians that will make a song that may have incredibly interesting individual elements come to life as an ensemble.
“The hardest thing in the world is to actually maintain a completely steady tempo,” Paice explains. “Your internal clock has to be working at 100 percent to make that work because the natural tendency when you’re playing, especially something exciting, is to let the tempo and the time creep up; you get excited. When you find that you’ve actually done your job, you’ve played strict time and it’s almost as good as machine time. And that means your internal clock is working okay.”
Drummers also punctuate the music and change it up, very often by using cymbals. It’s a good thing, though, that cymbals are physically bigger timekeepers than watches – it seems if they were any smaller, Paice might well be able lose it.
“Yeah,” he admits almost sheepishly, “I’ve lost some really nice watches. I’ve still got some nice watches at home, but for every one I’ve got at home I’ve lost two, which is not a great thing to do.”
Child in Time
In preparation for the interview with Paice and the ensuing concert, I picked out some older albums from my early Deep Purple “phase” to listen to for a few weeks in the background, just to get my musical memory jogging.
It was during this period that I discovered a light beat with the cymbals on a live version of “Child in Time” that suddenly entered my consciousness through the haze of watch stories I was writing: it sounded just like a clock ticking!
Listen for yourself right here, it starts at around six minutes.
Paice explains the passage where his drumsticks lightly tap the Paiste cymbals, which to me really ends up sounding like pallets clinking against the escape wheel when you put your ear to your watch.
“Sometimes you have to just keep a very simple time for some pieces of music where there are big holes so the other guys know exactly that this is where we are, together. And it is just like a second hand, just going around, yeah,” he confirms.
The drummer then goes on to graphically explain what he means. “When you’ve got, I mean, sort of like ‘bam bam bam, doo doo doo’ [humming the main theme of ‘Child in Time’] that’s another guy [playing], so when the next ‘bam bam bam’ comes, you’ve got to make sure that it’s all together. And if you don’t have a reference point, then you’re going to get different impressions of what the time is, and they can be so far apart from each other that it won’t be timed.”
“You know, you are the timekeeper. You are the metronome of the band, and you have to give little signals so that everyone knows that’s the beat, the next one’s going to come there,” the iconic drummer continues.
“Now, if that little lead maybe isn’t there, then you’ll get ‘da-ding da-ding da-ding,’ you’ll get different impressions. People’s reaction times are different, their feel is different, so somebody might feel ahead of it, somebody might feel behind it, so what you do is you’re just holding it all together.”
The way that Paice explained this to me was utterly charming – which is hard to reproduce in black and white. So if you’d like to hear him explain this in person, please click play on the left of the sound player above to hear the original interview excerpt.
For more information on the Corum Paiste Bubble, please click the link to visit the dedicated Bubble mini-site.
Quick Facts Corum Paiste Bubble
Case: PVD-coated black stainless steel, 47 x 18.8 mm, high domed sapphire crystal 8 mm in height
Movement: automatic Caliber CO 0082 (ETA 2892 base)
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds; date
Limitation: 350 pieces
Price: 4,200 Swiss francs