Jazari: A One-Man, Wii-Operated Drum Circle Patrick Flanagan leads the band Jazari, but to call it a "band" would be generous. Flanagan is Jazari's only member, and his primary tools are two Wii remotes. Using these controllers along with software he programmed himself, Flanagan plays elaborate percussion compositions with instruments such as the djembe, clave, cowbell, cabasa, agogo and bongo drums.

Jazari: A One-Man, Wii-Operated Drum Circle

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/128512331/128590841" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

(Soundbite of percussion music)

GUY RAZ, host:

You're hearing the sounds of Jazari; it's a percussion band, some pretty intricate beat. But what makes Jazari different is, well, Jazari is actually a single person, a one-man band.

(Soundbite of percussion music)

RAZ: Jazari is the brainchild of a Minnesota-based electronic artist named Patrick Flanagan. And this is how he does it: You know the Nintendo Wii videogame system? Well, Patrick Flanagan has taken two of the ones that you would normally use to control the games, and he rigged them to control some instruments, including bongos and cowbells and wood blocks. And each instrument is outfitted with a little mallet connected to a tangle of wires, and Patrick Flanagan controls all of it remotely.

He stopped into NPR's performance studio recently surrounded by his robotic orchestra and his Wii controllers and he showed us how it works.

(Soundbite of percussion music)

RAZ: That's Patrick Flanagan performing as Jazari here in NPR's performance Studio 4A.

Patrick Flanagan, welcome to the program.

Mr. PATRICK FLANAGAN (Musician, Jazari): Thank you, Guy. Good to be here.

RAZ: That was absolutely incredible. I can't even begin to describe what I'm looking at here. You were standing about 10 feet, 15 feet away from all of your instruments and you're waving these Nintendo Wii remotes around and pushing buttons on them and you're performing, you're making those sounds. It's pretty amazing. First of all, what are the instruments that we just heard?

Mr. FLANAGAN: We have a variety of instruments from African percussion music and Latin percussion music. There's a djembe; you know, that's sort of the heart of the ensemble. That's what's responsible for the low tones and some of the slapping sounds you hear. A clave, a cowbell, a cabasa and an agogo, which is the high pitch bell instrument that you heard. And then on the other side, we have bongos.

RAZ: And they have these - the drums, particularly, have these kind of like pistons.

Mr. FLANAGAN: Right. Those are the solenoids. It's basically a coil of wire. You can run current through that and that would draw a metal rod inside of it. And attached to that metal rod, I have beaters, which are made from rubber stoppers and suction cups.

RAZ: Okay, so how do you control them with those two remotes?

Mr. FLANAGAN: Well, I don't have a lot of training as a percussionist. In fact, I have no training, and I've only been playing for about a year. And so I wanted to make things easy for myself, which meant sort of offloading a lot of the responsibilities that a percussionist typically has to the computer. So the computer basically keeps the beat for me and leaves more interesting decisions, I think, to me.

So I can hold down a button and then that will just repeat. So if I want to get quarter notes from the djembe, I can just hold down the down button.

(Soundbite of djembe)

Mr. FLANAGAN: And I don't have to play each note. Or if I want a fast stream of notes, I can turn the Wii and hold down a different button.

RAZ: You mean physically turn your wrist?

Mr. FLANAGAN: Right. I control the speed at which the instrument plays with the angular rotation of the Wii. So here are quarter notes.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. FLANAGAN: Another eighth notes.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. FLANAGAN: Sixteenth notes and then 30 seconds.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. FLANAGAN: And I don't have to push the button for each note. I just hold it down.

RAZ: And that applies to every machine here. So you can actually, like, wave the Wii remotes like once...

Mr. FLANAGAN: Right.

RAZ: ...and depending on where they are, how you sort of angle them, that affects the sound?

Mr. FLANAGAN: That affects the speed of the - at which the instruments play. And it also affects the loudness. The other angle controls how loud the - or how hard the solenoid (unintelligible).

RAZ: So if you hold the Wii down at like a 45 degree angle, you're lifting the Wii remote up, and as you do that, that's going to - yeah.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. FLANAGAN: So quite to loud. Yeah.

RAZ: Once you start on one machine, you kind of let that go and then it loops, right?

Mr. FLANAGAN: Right. Well, I'll improvise something.

RAZ: Okay.

Mr. FLANAGAN: I'll play until I get, you know, a couple of bars that I really like.

RAZ: Right.

Mr. FLANAGAN: And I will hit one button and the computer will just loop that for me.

RAZ: I see.

Mr. FLANAGAN: And then I'll move to a different instrument.

RAZ: So once you have a sound you like on one instrument, you can just hold it there, lock it...

Mr. FLANAGAN: Right.

RAZ: ...and it's sort of like a memory, and then that just keeps going and you can move on to another one.

Mr. FLANAGAN: I can move on to another one, or I can manipulate that loop while it's playing. I can hit a button and make it play backwards. I can scramble the rhythm in a variety of ways and I can control its loudness while it's looping.

RAZ: So now that you've shown me how to use this, I think I got it.

Mr. FLANAGAN: All right. So why don't you take...

RAZ: I think I'm ready to give it a spin.

Mr. FLANAGAN: Why don't you take this one?

RAZ: Okay. So I've got the Wii remote control in my hand. I've only played Guitar Hero, so I...

Mr. FLANAGAN: That's fine. That's about the level of experience I got when is started.

RAZ: Okay. I got it. Okay. Excellent.

Mr. FLANAGAN: There you go.

(Soundbite of percussion music)

RAZ: Okay. Are you ready?

Mr. FLANAGAN: I'm ready.

RAZ: So I just have to move my arm?

Mr. FLANAGAN: Right. Just...

RAZ: All right.

Mr. FLANAGAN: ...see how it goes.

(Soundbite of percussion music)

RAZ: Yeah, right. Slow...

Mr. FLANAGAN: Try just, you know, tapping them, you know, like kind of (unintelligible).

(Soundbite of percussion music)

RAZ: I think I'm ready to go to Washington Square Park, get a big group of people around me and I get money...

Mr. FLANAGAN: Right. And you could even, you know, play something and loop it, go get a sandwich and keep collecting tips.

(Soundbite of laughter)

RAZ: Right. Now, I have to say it does take some getting used to because I was sort of, you know, holding the remote down and tapping back and forth. But it's not that complicated, right? I mean, the principle beyond it isn't that complicated.

Mr. FLANAGAN: The principles are simple. It's easy to get started with, but there's a lot of room for growth, and which is why I try to practice everyday.

RAZ: But, I mean, you also have to have a kind of a sense of timing, right, and rhythm? I mean, I got to tell you, if I had to be in a real drum circle, I think they might kick me out, Patrick.

Mr. FLANAGAN: It does take some practice.

RAZ: Right. We're speaking with Patrick Flanagan. He performs with his one-man percussion band under the name Jazari.

Could a human ever play as quickly as some of these drums play?

Mr. FLANAGAN: No. I think I've exceeded the limit of how fast a human can play with these.

RAZ: How fast can a human play?

Mr. FLANAGAN: I think the limit is about 10 or 12 different hits per second. With an expert player, maybe more, a little bit more. But I can go almost arbitrarily high.

RAZ: Like how high?

Mr. FLANAGAN: Well, if I take the tempo up here and...

(Soundbite of percussion music)

Mr. FLANAGAN: It's probably about 20.

RAZ: Wow.

(Soundbite of percussion music)

Mr. FLANAGAN: So you have this kind of swarming sound with that, just something I do with...

RAZ: You're going to put all the drum circle players out of business.

Mr. FLANAGAN: Well, I don't think they have much to fear. I'm not going into mass production with these things.

RAZ: Right. So you're not going to be setting this up in any public parks any time soon with a big collection pot?

Mr. FLANAGAN: Right. Well, the rain is a fear, so no outdoor performances, yeah.

RAZ: So what's next? I mean, you have this rig set up; you've kind of perfected the one-man band percussion. Where do you take it from here?

Mr. FLANAGAN: Well, there's a couple more machines to build; the drum set, the electric piano, maybe an electric bass. But the sound of the whole group is going to shift away from this style that's reminiscent of African and Latin percussion towards something that's a little bit more like space age funk from an alien planet.

RAZ: Patrick Flanagan performs as Jazari. His one-man percussion band is operated entirely by two Nintendo Wii remotes. To see him in action, go to our website, nprmusic.org.

Patrick, absolutely incredible. And thank you for coming in.

Mr. FLANAGAN: Thank you for having me, Guy.

RAZ: And before I let you go, can you give us one more performance?

Mr. FLANAGAN: Sure. I can do one more.

(Soundbite of percussion music)

And for Saturday, that's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Guy Raz. Thanks for listening and have a great night.

Copyright © 2010 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.