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Making performance more engaging for the audience

Discussion in 'Ask Steve Lawson & Michael Manring' started by MKS, Jan 5, 2004.

  1. Hi Steve, Michael,

    I have just (*very* late I know!) come across the interesting thread in the Looper's Delight mail archive (09 December 2003) where Rick Walker asks insightful questions about how to make loop-based performances more interesting. There are some very interesting replies including one from Steve, but I thought this would also be a good point to raise here where there are some solo bass players dropping by.

    The questions are basically around how to make a loop-based (or solo bass) performance engaging for the audience, what could be done better and whether the technical aspect of a loop-based performance "gets in the way", or whether it could be "the whole point" of a performance.

    Anyway, it made me think about interesting shows I've seen involving Steve, Michael and other "electronica" shows involving bands such as Orbital, The Orb, Plaid, mu-ziq and other bands where the artists have to spend a fair amount of time pushing buttons, launching samples, tweaking things etc.

    I think that both Steve and Michael do well in performance because first and foremost, they have great tunes to play. Steve's performance is made more interesting by the fact he involves the audience in what he's doing - making light-hearted comments about the "pixies" inside the EDP, and letting the audience into the gag when he stops playing, grins and makes for the bar while the loops play out. The one time I've seen Michael play live, there was no need for any extra "stage antics" since his music speaks for itself. I guess the visual spectacle of him playing the bass, loops or no, is engaging enough for a bass player... :) Do non-bass players appreciate the craft? Maybe not as much, but the music is still good. Seeing him play live lets you into some of the answers of "How does he *do* that?" when you hear his music on CD. But even in the Bass Day 98 DVD when he uses loops in "Teen Town" the music comes first, the technical aspect second.

    This carries through to the electronica acts I mentioned. I have found most of the concerts I've seen by these guys really engaging, despite there not being *too* much of a stage presence, the music carries through. It has to.

    So if you're playing solo, what do *you* do to engage the audience? Do you get buried in the technical aspects? Does the environment you play in demand audience attention (i.e. stage gig)? If you play a coffee shop / background music gig can you afford to engage the audience less?

    Any thoughts?
  2. Taylor Livingston

    Taylor Livingston Supporting Member Commercial User

    Dec 25, 2002
    Oregon, US
    Owner, Iron Ether Electronics
    I'd also like to hear some suggestions about this. The only solo shows I've played have been as ambience in an art gallery, so it was probably best that I not draw attention from the art, but eventually I'll play some "real" gigs and am curious as to what I can do to not bore the audience to death. I've considered some sort of visual accompaniment, like projections, or possibly an original film. The trick would be to try to synch up my music with the film - not an easy feat, especially with looped music where I can't speed up or slow down at my whim. I don't think the physical act of me playing is quite as astounding as watching Steve or Michael. :D
  3. Michael Manring

    Michael Manring TalkBass Pro Supporting Member

    Apr 1, 2000
    Great question, MKS, and thank you so much for the very kind words. In my opinion, it comes down to trying to do what's appropriate and effective for the situation. This is subjective, of course, and often constantly changing, but I think that's what makes it an appealing challenge. I like to believe that as bass players, we have a little advantage here because in an ensemble we're always asking ourselves what's most appropriate – how long to play each note, what dynamics to use, whether to play a fill at the end of the eighth bar, how to better interact with the drummer, etc., so I think this is a skill we're used to. When the contents of the show are up to you, you can expand this process to ask yourself what message you can bring the particular audience you're playing for – what it is that you as a unique individual have to say that might be meaningful in the context of the performance. You may decide to do something disturbing, strange or counter to the vibe in the room. That's part of the artistic prerogative and arguably one of the responsibilities of creativity if you feel something like that is what needs to be communicated. However, if you do decide to go for shock, it's probably a good idea to be prepared for the consequences!
  4. Wrong Robot

    Wrong Robot Guest

    Apr 8, 2002
    What I find so engaging about michael's performances, is that he really uses his WHOLE bass, and you can never quite tell what he's about to do next :)

    But I guess that's kind of the type of thing only a bassist would find interesting :p

    either way, he is very good at controlling the dynamics of the piece, and keeping things mixed up enough that draws you in.

    Often times the most engaging performances are ones played very softly, when the audience has to actually focus to hear, and it's not being jammed down their ears, then, not only do they end up hearing more that might have otherwise been lost in loudness, but they end up on the edge of their seats in anticipation of what's going to happen next, that is, will you bring up the volume, or will you just keep them guessing :D

    I have been told I have a very good stage presence, I've always thought that was kind of weird because I'm generally pretty motionless, but I think one thing I do that might lead people to think that I'm more fun, is that above all, I play with confidence, as much as possible, if I hit a dissonant note, I hit it with conviction, ya know? I think a little brazen attitude towards this stuff is very important, when you see anyone on stage, if it looks like they are trembling, or unsure about themselves, it takes away from the performance, but if they look like they are free and uninhibited, then, imo, it's far more interesting to watch.

    of course, some venues, the demographics in the crowd might not really be into that sort of stuff, but I think if you've landed a gig playing solo bass anywhere chances are many music lovers will be there :p