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Feature Interview: Michael Manring

Discussion in 'Features' started by TalkBass, Mar 23, 2004.


  1. TalkBass

    TalkBass News Poster

    Mar 12, 2004
    This feature was published on TalkBass.com June 2001

    <center> <font size="+3">Michael Manring: The Art Of Bass</font><br><br> Feature Interview for TalkBass.com by <a href="mailto:Ekstasis1@hotmail.com">Max Valentino</a> <br> <hr noshade> <center> <font size="1">*Editor's Note: It is a very special privilege to formerly welcome Max Valentino to the family of talented TalkBass.com writers. Max performed with Manring, along with Steve Lawson and Rick Walker, in the first ever Bass Looping Tour, held in July of 2001. TalkBass.com published an extensive Tour Diary of this event, which is archived <a href="http://www.talkbass.com/html/modules.php?name=News&file=article&sid=26">HERE.</a></font> <br> </center> <hr noshade> <table width="0" border="0" align="left" cellpadding="5"> <tr> <td><img src="/images/manring/manring3_medium.jpg"></td> </tr> <tr> <td> <center> <font size="1">Photo Courtesy of <br> WATSON / FOTOAGENCY.COM</font> </center> </td> </tr> </table> </center>
     
  2. TalkBass

    TalkBass News Poster

    Mar 12, 2004
    <p>The short history of the bass guitar is marked with the names of visionaries who, despite the urgings of conventional wisdom, pushed the conceptions of this young instrument beyond its apparent boundaries. One name on this heralded list is Michael Manring. For more than a decade he has been a vanguard of explorative bass styles and techniques and a high profile proponent of the bass guitar as a solo instrument.<br> </p> <p>Possessing an immense vocabulary of styles and techniques, amazing intonation, and a propensity for sonic-explorations, Manring's solo albums and performances have left many stunned, impressed, and, perhaps, inspired. A virtuoso capable of playing in many styles (as well as many basses simultaneously), Manring also makes great use of huge array of altered tunings (at last count he used some 60 or more different tunings), as well as the extended range and multiple de-tuning options of his signature Zon Michael Manring Hyperbass. A gifted composer, Michael's solo bass compositions offer more than an excuse for a chops-fest. Each tune is meticulously crafted, peppered with wit, sublime orchestrations, soaring melodies, and a divine passion, which possesses the great artists.<br> </p> <p>I recently was able to chat with Michael about his playing and writing, where is inspiration is derived from, and where he feels the bass can still go. Modest, sincere, and friendly, he hardly exudes the aura of a "bass-hero" (a term I am sure he hates), but is certainly the epitome of the bass-artist in the 21st century.</p> <p><b>TB: Throughout your career you have championed the further exploration of the bass and its musical role, both as a solo and ensemble instrument. What events in your life spawned these concepts of bass playing?</b><br> <br> MM: "That's a good question. I'm not sure that I am objective enough to be able to sort it out. From my perspective it's just been a passion that is just a little difficult to explain because I am right in the middle of it. I suppose that it just comes from me being who I am and the kinds of experiences I have had, and the things I care about. I do believe that the bass is a very powerful instrument and that it really has the ability to communicate important and significant ideas. I think it is a very effective tool for processing information. I am not sure that is the best way to put it, it sounds kind of computeristic.<br> </p> <p>I was always absolutely fascinated with the sound of this instrument. With the timbre of the instrument. There is a certain depth to it, which is kind of otherworldly. You can listen to one just note being played on a bass and be deeply moved beyond anything else. I am sure that is also true of other instruments, but for me just the sound of the bass does it.<br> </p> <p>I always fiddled around with the bass solo because I just love the sound of it. I guess to a large degree I didn't know what was possible with the instrument. I didn't really know that you weren't supposed to play melody and chords on the bass. I just kind of played around with it, not knowing whether it would work or not."</p> <p><b>Did you initially meet some reluctance to accept this larger, more expressive style of bass playing?</b><br> </p> <p> "Oh yes, it was. I was kind of shocked when I was a kid and people said that nobody would want to hear that kind of bass playing. I would talk about the kinds of things I would like to hear the bass do and people would say, "Oh, that's not what the bass does. Maybe you should play guitar or keyboards". And I was taken aback by that. A lot of peopke who respected would say those kinds of things, and so I would pay attention to them and focus on more "normal" bass playing (laughs) if there is such a thing. I have always enjoyed that kind of playing, too, but I always felt that the bass had all of these other possibilities.<br> </p> <p>Oddly enough, I have found some of the greatest resistance to my kind of playing has come from bass players. Which is kind of a surprise to me.<br> <br> <b>In recent years, it seems, in all styles of music there has been an acceptance of a more adventurous, both melodically and harmonically, style of bass playing.</b> <br> </p> <p>Yes, it is really a pleasure to see how people are starting to open up to all the possibilities of the instrument.<br> </p> <p><b>Do you feel any sense of responsibility there?</b><br> <br> Oh no. I couldn't take any credit for that. I am just a person who loves the bass and I just have a great time exploring the possibilities of the instrument. You know, it is such a young instrument and we know nothing about it. I don't think we have even begun to scratch the surface of it as an instrument. I guess that is one of the reasons I am so surprised a lot of people want to write it off as having a very particular and limited function. And there is nothing wrong with that function or that place. That is not a bad place at all. I really like that place (for the the bass), but it goes other places as well. It's like having a Masseratti and only driving it but down to the 7-11 and back.</p> <table width="0" border="0" align="right"> <tr> <td><img src="/images/manring/manring2_small.jpg"></td> </tr><tr> <td> <center> <font size="1">Members of Attention Deficit. From left: Manring, <br> Tim Alexander, Alex Skolnick</font> </center> </td> </tr> </table> <p><b>Your performance techniques are breathtaking and well chronicled. One thing, which gets overlooked in many reviews, is a child-like quality of play in your music. There is an unrestrained joy in your playing which shows just how happy and thankful your are to do what you do…. </b><br> <br> Thanks very much. That is very kind. I really appreciate you saying that. It's a little difficult to talk about, and I don't know if it is the puritanical nature of our culture, or whatever, but music is r3eally such an incredible joy. It's such a gift that the human race has. We tend to put our own neurotic tendencies upon it. We have our needs to compete or to satisfy our egos, and music is often used in that way. I am certainly not immune from that myself, but when you get right down to it, music is a miracle. A miracle it even exists. It's such an amazing thing and I just like to stay in touch with that. I believe it was Stravinsky who said, "Without music life would be a mistake".</p> <p><b>Can we talk a bit about your compositional techniques? Most reviews and interviews focus on your considerable performance chops. But, as we know, all the chops in the world aren't going to matter if there is no tune worth playing. Your tunes are each remarkable in their scope and focus. Could you pass on some insights into using bass as a compositional tool?</b><br> <br> I guess, for me, it's a very personal thing. People have often said to me, "if you're so interested in composing, then why don't you play the piano or synthesizer?". But bass has also seemed like the perfect instrument to compose on. I do play piano and I sometimes compose on the piano, but I think very differently when I am composing on bass as opposed to composing at the piano. It seems to me, and I think it always has, that bass is an ideal perspective from which to compose music. I am also taken aback by the opinion that bass is somehow a less than desirable instrument to compose from. To me it just does not seem that way. If there are others who feel the same way, then I would tell them to look at themselves and the instrument and what they want to say on the instrument, and how the bass can help them to express that.<br> <br> <b>You use many different techniques and tunings, yet you never let technique overshadow composition, and your compositions never seem as merely an excuse to demonstrate a technique. Do you use a technique, such as tapping, or an altered tuning for its sonic quality to achieve a compositional goal, or as a compositional method in its own right?</b><br> <br> Technique is a really interesting concept. I love it because it forces you into this conception of balance. Technique can either set you free or confine you; it is either a prison or it is wings. You can either be a slave to technique or it can be an enormous tool allowing you to make the kind of music you want to make. But the trick is you have to find that balance. There are people who try to remove all technique from their music and sometimes people can make interesting music that way. But, that is still functioning within the conception of technique. Still dealing with that obsession about technique or over technique.<br> <br> The way I play the bass is really from out of a desire to make music that to me is beautiful and evocative and meaningful. I search for vocabulary on the instrument that I feel relevant to the world that we live in. We live in extraordinary times and conventional methods are not always adequate to say what we feel needs to be said. I try to experiment and see what kinds of sounds and ideas are possible from the bass.</p> <p><b>Do your compositional concepts come from melodic fragments, or the semi-random development of parts, or elements of both?</b><br> <br> Hmmm….that's a really good question, too. I don't think I am really that sophisticated a composer. I don't really have a method. My whole approach to music is actually kind of child-like. I have composed pieces from all kinds of angles and points of view…..I guess I have been so fascinated by all of the possibilities that I jump from one to the other. Some pieces start from melodic fragments. I've woken up in the middle of the night with a melody in my head and sat down to work it out. Sometimes, I 've completely worked out pieces in my head. Other times I will begin with a technique and see where that leads to. Sometimes just a sound or an effect will inspire a piece. I guess I come at from every angle I think of. I sometimes will goof around with a random series of tones, or a 12-tone row.</p> <p><b>Do you use your many altered tunings to help you achieve this?</b><br> <br> Yes, that's the big one, really. Often pieces will come out of particular tuning I am using. Sometimes I will start using a new tuning and begin hearing all of these things. And what I hear in that tuning will sometimes lead me or encourage me to go to another tuning. <br> <br> <b>Do you ever use conceptual games like:"oblique strategies" or randomly changing a tuning to free up the creative process?</b><br> <br> Actually yes. I have used the Oblique Strategies on a couple of records, and those are really quite fun and useful. But not as a regular method. I do use random tunings often to break out of a rut or just for fun; to what happens.<br> </p> <p><b>The tune "La Sagrada Familia" sounds almost as if it is a random tuning, and as such it has a unique sense of adventure and introspection.</b><br> <br> That came about because that was the tuning the bass was in when I opened the case after a long plane flight. It's a really weird tuning. It's so weird that I first thought I could never compose anything in that tuning. But as soon I heard myself thinking that I knew I had to try. I am almost embarrassed by it actually. It happens to me all the time. I pick up the bass and it will be in some weird, bizarre tuning, and I hear something in this tuning and it just sends me off! It happened just yesterday actually. When I hear certain sounds on the bass, they just seem to blossom into ideas. The hard part is trying to find enough time to make sense of them all.</p> <p><b>Do you consider yourself a bass player who composes or a composer who happens to play the bass?</b><br> <br> Yes. (laughter)<br> <br> <b>Do you have criteria for a "good" composition? By what do you measure your own work? Any of us who write always have to ask ourselves, "is this really any good or am I just fooling myself?"</b><br> <br> Wow, what a great question. I wish I had a really clever answer for that. I think that question is it's own answer. If you are asking that question, if you are asking that of yourself, then you have the answer already. </p> <p><b>Your last album, "The Book Of Flame", was a remarkable and beautiful, sometimes sublime, listening experience. I am sure our readers are dying to know what is next. Can you give us a hint as to what your have been working on?</b><br> <br> </p> <table width="0" border="0" align="left"> <tr> <td><img src="/images/manring/manring1_small.jpg"></td> </tr> <tr> <td> <center> <font size="1">Photo Courtesy of <br> WATSON / FOTOAGENCY.COM</font> </center> </td> </tr> </table> <p>The past couple of years I haven't been spending too much time working on my own music. I have mostly been doing stuff with other people. And I feel really lucky to be able to play with a lot of those people. It's been really fun doing all these little projects.<br> <br> I am working on a new solo album, though. This month I have set aside a lot of time to work on it. It's is not really clear right now if Alchemy Records, who put out "The Book Of Flame" are going to be in a position to do another record for me. That will have a bearing on what kind of music I do. If I am paying for it myself, which is a definite possibility, then it might be mostly or all solo bass. But, if someone else is helping to pay for it then probably be more ensemble pieces. I like to do more group work when I can afford to. I have a lot of material. Right now I have more solo material than ensemble stuff at this point.<br> <br> I have been studying rhythm a lot over the past few years. I have been working with a lot of rhythmic concepts I have not worked with before. I am having a lot of fun with it. I had the opportunity to work recently with Zakir Hussein, which was a real enjoyable, and enlightening experience. He really allowed me to expand my rhythmic conscience a little bit. He is so amazing. He's one of these guys who can go anywhere from anywhere in the world of rhythm. </p> <p> <b>Are you still working extensively with loops?</b><br> <br> Not as much these days. I think my next record won't be as techno oriented. The last record was a lot of me exploring techno dance and drum 'n bass type sounds from my perspective. But I don't think I will do another record as much in that direction. I learned a lot from doing that. But I think I am moving into a new phase. </p> <p> <b>I am sure, encouraged by your tasteful use, many of us are now also using the Ebow. Any bassist who has experimented with this device knows that it is at least a fussy and troublesome device to use on the bass. Yet your use of the Ebow is both dramatic and dynamic. Can you offer any tips and tricks?</b><br> <br> The Ebow, I feel, is a major development for our instrument. For me, at this point in my career, it is part of the instrument, just like an upright player's bow. I don't conceive of it as an effect, or use it like that. It has, for me, become part of the instrument itself. <br> <br> I don't think I have any great secret for using the Ebow on bass. I have been working with it for some time. I got my first one in 1986. It is very sensitive. Moving it within a window of a few millimeters makes a huge difference in sound. I use pretty light D'Addario strings, and those are a bit easier to use with an Ebow. But, I have also used it on some pretty heavy gauge strings, too. <br> <br> Like anything, to make it really work for you have do a lot of experimenting and trying things out.</p> <p><b>The somewhat esoteric world of "solo-bass" playing has begun to open up, and our instrument, 50 years after its birth, is finally being accepted for the depth and scope of expression of which it is capable. Your work has inspired so many us who have chosen to push the boundaries and conceptions of the bass. In closing, are there any words of advice you might pass on to TalkBass readers?</b></p> <p>It's really such a thrill and an honor to even think I could have had any hand in that at all. I just feel so excited about the bass and its possibilities. And it is so inspiring to know there are other people out there who feel the same way about it. I can't really take any credit for it, though. It's the instrument itself that has all these possibilities. I would hope that people could be encouraged to keep an open mind about this instrument and to really understand all of the beautiful possibilities that it has. The potential for this instrument is almost completely untapped. I would hope that maybe some of the people, especially the younger people, who are reading TalkBass will take the instrument beyond anything that has been done before.</p><hr> <p>TalkBass staff writer Max Valentino is a full-time solo bassist and session player in Southern California. He is currently completing his first solo CD. You can write to him at:<br> Ekstasis1@hotmail.com<br> </p>