No one ever learned how to play the guitar by playing Guitar Hero: that’s a common refrain among those who insist that the skills learned while playing musical video games don’t translate into actual musicianship. Mikael Mutti sees things different. “I think that it’s a great way of introducing children to the musical universe,” the Brazilian producer tells Hive. “If someone has an interest in that kind of game, in the future, they may have an interest in the musical world or might like to play a real instrument.” The leader of Percussivo Mundo Novo (“New World Percussion”), Mutti is part iconoclastic hardware hacker, part roots music traditionalist. “My band is a band that looks to the future without losing the past,” Mutti explains. “I play with laser sensors, video game controllers, iPads, iPhones but without losing my percussive roots.” Backed by a line of Brazilian drummers, Mutti fuses the traditional Afro-Brazilian rhythms of his native state of Bahia with modern electronic instrumentation, using samplers to map drum sounds to a variety of controllers and devices. He has even crafted a guitar-like wooden frame that allows him to play an iPad, a “Guitar Hero” controller and a Nintendo Wii controller all at the same time, placing a near-infinite combination of sounds at his fingertips.
This marriage of the old with the new has struck a chord — in just two years, Percussivo have gone from a local concern to an international touring ensemble. Though their first gig was playing an Afro-Bahian street party in the neighborhood of Itapua where Mutti grew up, the band has since toured the States, been featured in the New York Times and taught workshops to engineers, musicians and curious onlookers around the world. Still, Mutti has hardly forgotten his roots: “I don’t know where I’m going but I’m pretty sure I know where I came from — I came from Bahia.” Hive called Mutti at his home in Salvador, Bahia to chat about some of his favorite devices to use both on stage and off.
Nintendo Wii controller
“In my left hand I’ll have a [Nintendo Wii] movement sensor that I use to modify the sound when I’m playing. It’s very responsive, it’s real-time. It doesn’t have any kind of delay and it’s possible to make real music with it. I called my friends to play percussion, like 20 or 25 percussion players, to play [the first show] with me and the only thing that I played was a Nintendo Wii controller. I had my laptop there and I was able to wirelessly control my computer, playing percussion with them. That was the first idea…that’s how Percussivo was born.”
Sony PlayStation controller
“I use the normal PlayStation controller, the USB one, I use that to play percussion as well. Any kind of USB controller I can use. In one button, I have a kick drum, in another button, a snare drum, in another button, a hi-hat. I use the “Dance Dance Revolution” controller too. I keep it on the floor and each step I take makes a different sound.”
“The iPad, actually, has a lot of cool music applications. I figured out a way of using those professionally in my recordings and in my musical creations that sounds really great.”
“I use new iMacs for composing music but I still use the old ones on stage. The old ones are just for composing the scene—I love that design.”
Guitar Hero controller
“It’s not the same way of thinking. If you’re going to play the real guitar, you have to think like a guitar player. If you’re going to play “Guitar Hero,” you have to think like a “Guitar Hero” player–they’re so different. But with both, you are giving someone a chance to work with music and rhythm. To play “Guitar Hero,” you have to feel the rhythm of the song and that is great–I think that is genius.”
“I built an instrument called ‘Beamz’ using six laser sensors. Like with most of my other instruments, I use it to control samples of Brazilian percussion sounds.”
“I started to work with samplers and digital percussion in the ’90s. I had the idea because I’m from here, from Bahia. We don’t have money to have 200 percussion players playing at the same time on an album, you know? I had to learn how to simulate that with my samplers, with my computers. My idea was always that I would never intend to replace a real instrument with a computer. I believe in the idea of using them together. So I started putting them together, the computer power and the power of real instruments, on the same songs. I had to learn how to play percussion using keyboard keys. And then I thought, if I can play with a normal keyboard, maybe it’s possible to play with another kind of controller. It wasn’t my idea, I wasn’t the first one to do it. But I think that I’m the first one that thought to use these kinds of controllers to play Brazilian percussion as a very real expression.”
Sony PlayStation 3
“I do play video games — I love my PS3 — but I must confess that I don’t have the patience to play for more than 40 minutes. I suppose I prefer to play music with the controller…”