We talk to percussionist David Oliver about his career and recording for Soundiron

We talk to percussionist David Oliver about his career and recording for Soundiron

We recently welcomed the arrival of Soundiron David Oliver's Shake to Time+Space. This brand new Kontakt library offers a collection of 95 shakers, tambourines, rattles, and bells from all over the world.

We got a chance to catch up with the library's producer David Oliver to find out more about his background and the percussion instruments he uses...

David Oliver is an esteemed percussionist known for his brilliant and expressive soundtrack work on numerous award winning films and television programs. Working from his studio in Somerset, UK, he has an intuitively inventive approach which first brought him to the attention of multiple award winning composer William Goodchild in 2012. 

David's creative percussion has featured in documentary films for Disney Nature, National Geographic, BBC Natural World, Netflix and PBS with well-known composers including Ian Livingstone, Barnaby Taylor and others praising his talent. 

Hi David, what’s your musical background and how did percussion become so central to your career?

Before I was play school age I discovered that wooden spoons and pots and pans sounded great. To avoid more dents in their pans my mum rigged up a string between two chairs with various non-dentable items dangling from it which included a horse shoe. Music was always encouraged.

Aside from constantly tapping everything in sight – which I often still do to check it’s musicality – I locked into drums I remember from age 5 when I saw a 10 year old kid with his gleaming red drum kit on stage drumming alongside a few teachers. I felt very strongly “that’s what I want to do, play drums” and I talked and dreamt about it constantly. This passion was simmering for years before I managed to convince my parents I still wanted to play and eventually they bought me a practice pad and some sticks.

"In my young mind it was never going to be just a hobby for me. I couldn’t imagine myself doing anything else but play drums"

Age 10 I sold my bike and bought a mother of pearl snare drum. I learned drum rudiments from a teacher and gradually built up a drum kit in the coming years as and when I could save up. Hi hats next, then I made a bass drum pedal out of wood, elastic bands and a golf ball and borrowed my dad’s hard suitcase for a bass drum.

It took several years before I had a complete drum kit that filled my bedroom. I was hooked and dreamed and day dreamed about drums. In my young mind it was never going to be just a hobby for me. I couldn’t imagine myself doing anything else but play drums although I supported my music with graphics. Always useful to have more than one string to your bow, especially these days!.

As I grew up, various visits to music shops allowed me the opportunity to try out bongos and percussion and I realised pretty soon that I also had an affinity with percussion that not every drum kit drummer has.

Tambourines and shakers for instance can seem a bit boring to a drummer that wants to be noticed but to me they are like a meditation. I can get lost in the music grooving away with shakers and still play tastefully creating dynamics that take the music to exciting levels and change gears very subtly. Shakers keep you mindful of the music and mindfulness keeps you sensitive to the music's needs.


Which projects are you most proud of and why?

The most fun I had was recording drums and percussion for Jumanji the Video Game scored by Ian Livingston at Bell Music in London. Huge studio which was a national treasure, sadly closed recently due to government Covid measures. Their warehouse of gear was phenomenal.

"Standing next to it, you could feel vibration go right through your body. It felt amazing"

For this session I played some of the biggest drums you can image. One of which, a Taiko drum measuring 60 inches in diameter vertically which was almost as tall as me. One of these drums (Verdi) which incidentally I sampled thoroughly while I was there for Soundiron (for the next library) was so resonant that one solo solid hit resounded for a full 20 seconds like a gong before decaying. Standing next to it, you could feel vibration go right through your body. It felt amazing. There’s nothing like live music to resonate the soul. This drum was very physical to play and a beast to tame.

I played a whole bunch of other drums on that session which included African Duns, frame drums, shekeres and an array of small hand percussion.

The first project I did for Will Goodchild about a Honey Badger was great. The main theme I played kalimba on was 3 rustic gourd kalimbas, each with a limited set of notes. The melody I was hearing caused me to combine the three (retuned) so I had to record each separately and allow for the gaps to compensate. The ensemble layers of African drumming were elaborate and full which gave Will a lot of scope for mixing dynamics.



Elephant Family and Me for Barnaby Taylor was full on and he composed around several of my kalimba riffs which I then elaborated and embellished the drums around the score. So that project was much more involved integrally to the score rather than added afterwards.

The helicopter chase piece ended up like a piece of African funk which I love. The stomping sound was created by a combination of djembe bass hits, calabash fist and an 8 foot long bundle of wicker branches thumping vertically on a an old carpet on a wooden board. This piece was recycled for my first Soundiron Library David Oliver’s Rhythmic Odyssey promo video. In the kalimba theme with the super tuskers at 1m40s. In the two episodes my percussion featured more heavily than any project I’ve worked on. Full layered grooving African combos.

I’m sure you get asked this a lot but what’s your favourite percussion instrument?

It’s a tough question as I love many, especially the large Shekere and painted wooden maracas which are gorgeous. Rainsticks are great and the kayambas are great fun to play, (handmade in Tanzania) but I guess the one I get the most use out of is my Cajonico which I recorded for Rhythmic Odyssey and will be featured in our next solo sample library. It’s a bongo size lap cajon which I made a floor support for so I can play it cross legged.

It’s a beautifully crafted wooden box drum made by a bespoke master craftsman from Israel. It has a snare mechanism on both sides so it can be a bongo-ish sound too. Exquisite and dynamic sound quality and has an aura of its own. Looks like an upside down carriage clock your grandmother had. Solid mahogany frame body and African Imbuya top for great resonance. Very portable and versatile. I can wax lyrical about this drum and I have lost count of the number of times people have come up to me after a concert admiring it and asking me about it. 

On the flip side, has there ever been a percussion instrument that you’ve struggled with/disliked?

When I was recording Shake which took me many months full time I was constantly buying new instruments to get as much sonic and textural variation as possible in the library. It has been all very meticulously coordinated and my initial shaker and tambourine set has been dwarfed since I started recording it. I aimed to get as broad a scope as I possibly could covering the major “must have” master instruments and a wide array of colours in each category.


 "a large shekere made of fibre glass was so piercing and loud that it hurt my ears and I quickly sent it back"

There were some that I returned after buying because they didn’t either add anything new to the set or they sounded bad in a not good way. I don’t want to name the brand because essentially they are amazing but one instrument, a large shekere made of fibre glass was so piercing and loud that it hurt my ears and I quickly sent it back and got a credit note which got spent straight away! This is not to say it was badly designed but sonically it was made to be loud to cut through a large Latin Orchestra. Up close it just sounded too aggressive and spikey for Shake.

How do you tend to acquire your percussion instruments?

I am always on the look out for percussion. In person or online. I have some favoured stores here in UK and I also make my own. 

Have you ever created entirely unique/bespoke percussion instruments? What were they and what did you use them for?

One which is featured in Shake is what I call a pad box shaker. In various sizes, the largest is ipad size, a thin wood veneered flat box filled with ball bearings. This is similar to a kayamba African reed shaker. Recycled objects such as hub caps, plumbing, mixing bowls, springs, household objects and jerry cans. Basically anything that has some kind of resonance may end up being recorded. I made a series of metal mixing bowl water drums for a project about Otters for BBC. 

metal mixing bowl water drums

In addition to the new Shake library, as mentioned you also recorded Soundiron’s Rhythmic Odyssey – how did the collaboration with those guys originally come about? 

I decided to record a performance sample library with a view to placing it with a virtual instrument library company and spent months recording in between projects until I felt confident and excited that I had recorded some winning pieces. Then I took a punt and pitched it to Soundiron unsolicited. Mike got back in touch saying “these are great, let’s talk”. And it went from there. 

Moving away from ‘real’ acoustic instruments, are there any particular plugins/VSTs you frequently turn to when creating music?

Most of my session work is real. I have however on occasion used 8DIO The New Epic Solo Taiko and Soniccouture Hang Drum.

What aspirations do you have for the future – are there any particular types of projects you’d like to work on?

I have heard my performance samples on multiple information and documentary videos, particularly over the last year which is nice. When I recorded Rhythmic Odyssey, while I was composing pieces in my mind walking or whatever, I imagined some pieces being used in Avatar and something like Lord of The Rings. When Jumanji the Video game came up I realised my affirmations were on track. The huge Taiko Verdi drum I mentioned earlier was in fact used in Lord of The Rings. I would love to work with Nitin Sawhney. His work on the Mowgli score was outstanding.

Thanks for your time David! Check out the video below for an interesting behind the scenes look at the production of Shake or click here to view the Shake product page.