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Paiste New Signature Dark Energy Cymbals

One of the most radical postulations in the field of astrophysics concerns a mysterious phenomenon astronomers have dubbed dark energy-an antigravity effect Albert Einstein included as a “cosmological constant” in his theory of general relativity, and which has seemingly been causing galaxies to fly away from each other at ever-accelerating speeds. The process by which Paiste Cymbals of Nottwil, Switzerland came to ascribe such astral attributes to their innovative New Signature family of cymbals was coincidental, and far more poetic in nature. “The idea actually comes from the German brillianz in der tiefe, which translates as brilliance in depth-as in low frequencies,” says Erik Paiste, president of Paiste USA. “My uncle Robert [Paiste] has often referred to a cymbal’s simultaneous embodiment of brilliance and depth of character as ‘dark energy.'”

Much as the concept of dark energy confounds our most fundamental notions of the universe, Paiste’s Dark Energy rides transcend our musical expectations of a modern cymbal. The Dark Energy line consists of two families: Mark I and Mark II. The 20-, 21- and 22-inch ride models in each family share certain attributes, synthesizing the projection of the Paiste Rudes, the shimmering brilliance and penetrating attack of the Paiste Signatures and the warm, layered complexity of the Paiste Traditionals, all in one cymbal but each family is uniquely voiced to accommodate different playing styles. Thus the Mark II rides employ a delicate style of lathing on the playing surface, while the Mark I rides employ none at all. Both are unlathed on the bottom, where you may discern a thin, two-inch lip at the edge, where the cymbal rises like a butte, maintaining a uniform thickness all the way up to the bell, which allows for a tightly controlled undertone on the bottom, and a progressively emphasized stick sound as you ascend the cymbal’s profile, culminating in a sweet, tautly focused bell sound that rings but doesn’t linger.

Both styles of Dark Energy ride have immense body and mass: neither break your wrist when you lean into them-rather they allow you to relax and swing due to their giving feel. Sonically, their rounded, penetrating attack (a warm vowel-like pah as opposed to a consonant, high frequency ping) allows drummers to clearly delineate time, create complex phrases and blend with other instruments-quite unlike the pingy sound and hard, unyielding feel we readily associate with heavier cymbals. And even as you lean into them, the Dark Energy rides maintain their sweet, luminous, bell-like focus without gonging into a clangy swelter of overtones and metallic sustain. Instead, they possess a warm, tight wash that never overwhelms the stick sound, even when you lay in with heavy shoulder strokes and powerful crash accents.

The Mark I rides have a much drier sonority and a tighter, more contained feel than the Mark II-not metallic and clangy but dark and spanky. The firm, measured response and negligible build-up of the Mark I rides are well-suited to the aggressive attack of a heavy hitter or the steady tattoo of a pattern player-suggesting a more pliant, textured variation on the Paiste Rudes, but with infinitely more warmth and refinement. In addition, I found that the Mark I rides’ bells sound less integrated with the body of the cymbal, and are pitched maybe a step or so higher-it’s like two cymbals in one. By contrast, the Mark II rides have a luminous, shimmering character-but are not at all bright-readily opening up to the shoulder of the stick with a dark, controllable wash of overtones. With their greater volume and wider dynamic range, the Mark II rides offer jazz drummers who play more for the phrase a broader palette of sonic colors and inflections to paint with; the layered, textured sonority allows you to relax, back off on your attack and rely more on inflections of touch.

I loved all of the Mark I and Mark II rides, finding that generally the 20-inch models are livelier with more spread; the 21-inch models have a much tighter focus; while the 22-inch models really open up and speak in a full, throaty voice with the best combination of body, spread, sustain, focus and projection. My personal favorites were the 21-inch Dark Energy Mark I and the 22-inch Dark Energy Mark II, the former offering a popping, slap-happy, percussive canvas for forceful, complex sticking patterns (I think it would be well-suited to funk and fusion contexts), while the latter is sweetly incandescent yet solidly focused, every penetrating stroke imbued with a glowing bronze aura-among the finest ride cymbals I’ve played. (I’d be real curious to gauge the jazz response of some similar configurations brought down a notch or so in weight.)

Such is my enthusiasm for the Dark Energy Rides that I must hold forth on the charms of the Mark I crashes and hi-hats in a less detailed manner; still, let me assure you that the musical breakthroughs embodied in these cymbals are commensurate with those of the rides. The 16-, 17-, 18- and 19-inch Dark Energy crashes fuse the explosive brilliance and shimmer of Signature crashes with the swampy timbre and gas-bomb-like spread of Traditional crashes in a beautifully controlled instrument with delicate light ride characteristics and warmly layered top-end colors. They afford drummers a remarkable degree of transient immediacy and dynamic control, as epitomized by the 19-inch Dark Energy crash, which puts an exclamation point on the end of any phrase, with a fast and fat attack and a richly textured spread that cuts out faster than it has any right to.

Finally, with their medium-thin tops and extra-heavy bottoms, the 13-, 14- and 15-inch hi-hats employ a variety of lathed and unlathed surfaces to achieve a darkly articulated voicing, alternatingly supple and cutting with a tight, fat, crunchy percussive chip. I took a particular shine to the 15-inch hats, which are uncommonly clear, fast and responsive to Tony Williams-style foot-pedal patterns, despite their enormous girth, low-end body and meaty attack. The unexpectedly mellow tone of the 13-inch hats allows drummers to achieve a funky, cutting attack sans the edgy high frequency characteristics that usually render smaller, beefier hats a bit too sharp and analytical.

I’ve been waiting a long time for cymbals with the warmth, articulation and projection of the Dark Energy rides-their range of applications is amazing, and to find all of these musical qualities so perfectly modulated in a single cymbal is utterly inspiring.

Originally Published