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Thoughts from the Bass Centre Clinic....

Discussion in 'Ask Steve Lawson & Michael Manring' started by Bruce Lindfield, Nov 13, 2002.


  1. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member

    The Mock Turtle reminded me of something that struck me from this Clinic and as I had to rush off, thought I might mention this here?

    So Steve mentioned (possibly not entirely seriously ;) ) how Michael was an engineer and he was an electronics expert? This was in relation to the different approaches to solo bass.

    I can't remember the exact words used, but Steve then said something along the lines of how his approach was much easier - that is building up layers of music using loops rather than the approach Michael mainly uses - which is to play everything live through the mechanics of various basses.

    It struck me at the time, that the logical outcome of this idea is that it's much easier to do what either Michael or Steve do, with digital workstations, synclaviers - things like that, that are used to create music in studios and by bands like Orbital or solos artists like Aphex Twin in live situations.

    I suppose that this has had a huge impact on music, as young people getting into music are now far more likely to take up DJ'ing and use samplers,sequencers, drum machine etc.

    I know Steve was probably being "tongue in cheek" about this, but I wondered how much that you (Steve or Michael or anybody else) thought the character of the music you created was affected by how it was produced?

    So - could somebody with a digital workstation (for example) play a solo gig and create similar music to what we heard at the Bass Centre - but with less effort?
     
  2. wulf

    wulf

    Apr 11, 2002
    Oxford, UK
    I think they'd have to be quite an accomplished musician (regardless of chosen instrument) - there's more to digital music than just rehashing downloaded samples in random loops; things like Steve's contribution to the version of Mercy, Mercy, Mercy that Michael started would be much harder to accomplish o the fly using a digital workstation (unless set up in a way so that it could be played like an instrument... but then you might as well start off with a 'plank of wood with strings on' ;) ).

    Also, where would our digital artist be if their equipment suddenly died mid song? I'm sure Steve and Michael could have kept us entertained using any of the amps and basses in store, but it would be much harder to make up for a failed hard drive on the fly.

    Wulf
     
  3. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member

    Well, I think the last part is a distraction - if you like, assume the person has mutiple system back-ups and several instruments - that wasn't the part I was interested in.

    So - I seem to remember Steve talking about the making of music being the important thing and that what you used to do this was irrelevant - I'm not sure if that was what was said, but it was the impression I got and was wanting to ask Steve?

    So - is the easiest way to produce a certain music the best way or is the "struggle" to get the music out, an intrinsic and necessary part of the music itself?

    This is the area that really interests me.
     
  4. Steve Lawson

    Steve Lawson Solo Bass Exploration! Supporting Member

    Apr 21, 2000
    Birmingham, UK
    {the above paragraphs edited for relavence...}

    Bruce,

    I'm not sure I said 'easier' - just that I didn't have the stamina to continue down that path - one that I experimented with at college, slapping and tapping solo pieces til my fingers nearly fell off... I was never satisfied with the sound I was getting, and when I eventually heard what Michael was doing (I got Thonk in about 1996), it suddenly became clear that my 'notes' oriented thinking was what was failing me - Michael's vision was so much more about 'sound' than anything I'd been either listening to or attempting in the field of solo bass...

    ...with a degree of syncronicity, it was also around that time that I got a JamMan, and the freedom that that gave me to concentrate on each part separately was hugely liberating. It seems that while Michael's solo compositions are incredibly well integrated, I was trying to think in terms of bassline, melody and chords as separate entities, and as such was making a half-arsed job of each of them when trying to play solo. Looping allowed me to focus all of my energy on each part as I was playing it...

    ...So 'easier' is probably not the word I would have used (though I may have done on Thursday...), it's more an issue of performance orientation - mine is to focus entirely on each part as it's happening, to think about its role within the whole, and then to decide what to do with it next...

    I don't think I could get anywhere remotely close to what I do with any kind of keyboard set up or pre-recorded sample based set up. For a start, I've never heard 'my sounds' in a sample set, so I'd have to play them anyway, secondly, I very very rarely work to any kind of metronomic rhythmic structure, so getting that kind of stretchy time in there would be tricky, the random element would be all but lost (or at least, would be an entirely different process), and it wouldn't be anywhere near as organic. Remember, there's no midi triggering in my set up, no hex-pickup triggering pads - it's all real, live, processed bass. You can't get anwhere near the degree of manipulation that I can get with my hands out of a synth - you do have a much wider pallette of possible tonal ideas (eg, I can't get a piano sound from my bass - which is incidental, as I don't think I would even if I could...), but with each one, the amount of parameters over which you have direct 'digital' (5 on each hand) control is pretty small - velocity, sustain, and on some synths, aftertouch...

    I've got a huge analogue curve - tonally, pitch wise, combination of pitches wise (Michael and I were talking about how on a fretless we both sometimes find ourselves pulling notes 'more' in tune than you can get them on a tempered instrument...) - it's all part of what I do, and I don't think anyone could get close to it, sonically, without playing bass... :)

    cheers

    Steve
    www.steve-lawson.co.uk
     
  5. wulf

    wulf

    Apr 11, 2002
    Oxford, UK
    I was just suggesting that last Thursday's show could have carried on with pretty much any of the combinations of gear in the bass centre. Although that would have produced very different music, I think Steve and Michael would have demonstrated their skill as musicians.
    I don't think there's much virtue in struggling for struggling's sake (hence why I've chosen to invest in a high quality instrument rather than the cheapest budget 'toy' I could find); however, there's a certain measure of 'paying your dues' which is unavoidable.

    For example, in Steve's playing, you're hearing the fruit of c. 15 years worth of playing and listening. Somebody could probably reproduce most of the techniques with a relatively short period of practise but there's no quick way to hear things the way he does.

    I've been playing about the same length of time (although without anything near the intensity of involvement in music) and it would be even easier for someone to cop all my licks. However, even Steve or Michael would probably find it hard to approach a new song in the way I would (whether they'd want to is another question but not relevant for this discussion).

    Where I'm getting to is that I believe it's the ability to express yourself that is the important thing. For whatever reason, bass is the instrument that I find entwined with my musical personality and is therefore the tool I work with. Others may choose other instruments - or many instruments; it's not a matter of better or worse, just different.

    Hurrah for diversity :D

    Wulf
     
  6. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member

    I had the feeling that you were being "tongue in cheek" when saying this anyway, which was why I didn't say anything at the time.

    I do appreciate the amount of control over expression that you get from your set-up; but was also thinking about the comments you made about it all being about music and that (as you quoted elsewhere) what matter is what comes out of the speakers.

    I was thinking that future generations of muscians will go for what they see as the "easy" option and rather than mastering an expressive instrument; will opt for things like samplers, sequencers and drum machines - to quickly get to the point of creating music that sounds good - even if it is not exactly what they wanted to express.

    I was wondering how we can "sell" the benefits of learning an expressive instrument - your last few paras do provide good "selling points" ! ;)

    As I get older, I tend to find that I really only like to go to live gigs where the players do have that expressive control over their instruments - but I find that more and more people where I live, go to clubs that play exclusively programmed music and are unaware of any differences. :(
     
  7. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member

    This is another area that has been occupying my mind lately, as when I am trying to get into Jazz, the tutors/teachers I meet are inevitably involved with Double Bass, which is a "struggle" to come to terms with and get a decent sound.

    I find that most DB "tutors" I have come across, so seem to have a different attitude or approach to music, to BG players. I mean there is an attitude of playing fewer notes and playing simpler lines - concentrating on getting a good acoustic sound, which supports everything else.

    Coming from BG myself, I tend to be more into the idea that bass can do anything and there are lots of options for what to play. But the attitude I get from Jazz DB players is that you should just concentrate on say ...4 quarter notes per bar or the simplest approach that will fit - 2 notes or 1 .

    It may be just different starting points, but I feel that the physical limitations of the DB are contributing - it is the "struggle" that is shaping the music, rather than what you would want to play?
     
  8. Howard K

    Howard K

    Feb 14, 2002
    UK
    Intrestin'

    Well, not just anyone can programme a decent dance track using sequencers etc... Which is why artists like Roni Size are respected worldwide and the jungle brothers are just a couple of twats with loud jump-up basslines.

    ...and I agree the end result - the music - is the most (if not the only) factor worth considering.

    I dont think the technology Steve uses as making it "easier" for him to make his music. I believe the technology makes it "possible" for him to make his music.

    Without the loops Steve would have two basic options 1) get musicians to play his music with him - and therefore taking away the fact that it is purely Steve's music or 2) trigger pre-recorded pieces and only play pre-selected sections lives - which reduces one of the most important factors of Steve's music - the "anything can happen - I can play what the freak I like - because it's mine, all mine, bwa-ha-haaa" factor!
    - Pls correct me if I'm talking total BS here Steve :)

    At the Reading gig I heard somebody (an ex-girlfriends bass playing mother who happened to be at the gig... weird!) say "well he's just using some effect (meaning the loops), there's nothing difficult about that" - a ridiculous thing to say for SO many reasons!!! - pretty much every half decent bass player on Earth can play Another One Bites The Dust, but that doesnt devalue it in the slightest... and it's completely ignoring the fact that it sounds good! Like, durr!

    Technically, I expect/believe Steve's music is easier to play that Michael's - Michael has monster tecnique make no mistake - but that has absolutely no bearing on how creative the music is.

    Having witnessed Steve fart-arsing about with his looping gizmos on several occaisons, I thought I 'got it', but when I saw him play live it really changed my opinion of the music.
    A credit to Steve is that album is record live and sounds like its done in the studio! - only when I heard/saw it live did I really appreciate it as 'live'... if that makes any sense?!

    To MAKE music, of ANY kind using ANY instrument - traditional, acoustic, electric, digital or otherwise - takes creativity. I see that as fact.

    Kids becoming DJs - if they do the coldcut type thing and really make new sounds from records - that's damned creative... but beat mixing records in "a set" is not - in fact Djs are probably the most over paid talentless wankers on the planet. Judge FKN Jules my ARSE!!! :mad:
     
  9. Howard K

    Howard K

    Feb 14, 2002
    UK
    Tell the kids of today that an' they wont believe yer! ;)

    Well, I dunno about this.
    I believe that a true musician will not settle until the music IS right, regardless of what tool they're using.

    I've spent days before programming midi drums on my pc and layering stuff just to come up with some half-arsed track. Now, I get bored easily because it just doesnt feel the same as physically playing the sounds yourself, but it still takes the same level of creativity... but possibley not the same level of dedication?
     
  10. i agree with howard about DJ's, beat matching idiots are a waste of space (unless your drunk in the student union ;) ), but there are a lot of very talented and creative DJ's, 1 example is DJ Shadow (go listen if u havn't heard).
    i'd also like to point out that such things as midi programming is a lot more complex then people think, i did A-level music technology and while we were using computers, processors and other such gumf, we still had to have a certain musicality because its all entered via Keyboard.
    i'm that same as steve, i'm not a big fan of getting down a monster technique and playing everything at the same time, i'd rather take the time, say at a workstation and put all my efforts into 1 part at a time, building and arranging the song as i go.
    just a matter of preference i suppose.

    *Si*
     
  11. Steve Lawson

    Steve Lawson Solo Bass Exploration! Supporting Member

    Apr 21, 2000
    Birmingham, UK
    While I don't tend to play that way, I'm certainly a fan of hearing that kind of thing done well - Michael being the perfecto example... It's just down to how you hear music.

    Likewise, I can't sit down with a workstation and track things up in step-time - it's just not how I think about this stuff. It all HAS to happen in real time. I'm sure I could go in and edit bits of it after the fact if I wanted to, but I don't really need to, hence all of Not Dancing For Chicken, despite being recorded in a studio, being all 'live' takes - each one a complete take with no overdubs or post editing, other than mastering...

    right, I've got a gig to get to in Croydon - wish me luck with the London traffic!

    cheers

    Steve
    www.steve-lawson.co.uk
     
  12. moley

    moley

    Sep 5, 2002
    Hampshire, UK
    I agree with that, if a kid is genuinely musical, and interested in creating music, they will not settle for hacking a dance track together using E-Jay :) Things like the E-Jay programs, and sequencers and samplers might well attract people who are otherwise not particularly musical to making things cuz they think the sound cool, but I don't think it'll replace the art of playing an instrument.
     
  13. steve, with a midi based program such as cubase, u can set a loop within a certain time, say 2 mins, and press record, once it gets to the end, it will loop round again, u can switch instruments in a mili-second, and so get a very 'live/one take' feeling, recording one instrument, waiting for the next loop and then recording the next instrument, thats how i worked, with very little post-editing, and u can even remove any quantisation, so u could have all the time changes u want :)

    good luck with the traffic....and the gig

    *Si*
     
  14. Howard K

    Howard K

    Feb 14, 2002
    UK
    eggsakly innit.

    I cant imagine programming even the most expensive sequencer can compare to pounding out a james brown style break for 8 and a half minutes!
     
  15. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member

    Well I got really bored with doing this (I would spend a whole week on a 3-4 minute track) and wanted to get out and play with other people - this is what prompted a resurgence of interest in bass for me - when I started trying to play Jazz. :D
     
  16. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member

    I'm not sure - that's only because you can do it and have taken time to practice bass. My impression from this board in particular is that the "young people" are very much into computer stuff and are real whizz kids on anything techhy.

    But there is huge ignorance about music and impatience with suggestions about having to practice, rather than - just get the Tabz man!! ;)
     
  17. bruce
    i wasn't suggesting that programming songs on midi could possibly replace playing with other musicians, i was simply saying that from a compositional point of view i'd prefer to sit down and work on a song track by track rather then doing it all at the same time (eg some of micheals work etc). Then if i decided to play that song live (which i did a couple of times) i was able to print of the sheet music of the individual parts and find people to play them.

    *Si*
     
  18. moley

    moley

    Sep 5, 2002
    Hampshire, UK
    On behalf of the young people...

    What you say is probably true, Bruce, but 'computer stuff' is not always used at the expense of musicality and willingness to practice. I can only really speak for myself, but I know quite a bit about computers (hell, I'm working for IBM at the moment) and I've done a lot of sequencing in the past, but for me it is something to complement actual playing, not to replace it. I can certainly say I don't neglect the musicality, and knowledge of theory, and the desire to develop musically and improve my skills. I would not hesitate to use programmed drums for a recording, or synth bass, if that was the sound I was looking for, but I see it as an alternative, not a replacement for actual playing. I think some arrangements are better suited to sequenced drums, they have a different quality, which can be desirable.
     
  19. Howard K

    Howard K

    Feb 14, 2002
    UK
    Well what I meant was that the rewards you get from beaing able to actually 'make the sound' - ie, my fingers pull the strings and create the vibrations that make the audience feel good, are without a doubt infinitely greater than those attainable from pressing buttons.

    Dont get me wrong, I'm a hell of a lot more techie than your average person - I work with the net, have a pc for music at home and always had with computers in the house while I was growing up, but my groove does not come in the form of a mouse-click or a cut n' paste!

    ...and this is where I think it falls down.

    All the emotion and vibe a feel and groove in music is 100% organic. It simply cannot be emulated, and anyone who says it can is absolutely full of ****.. bring 'em on ;)

    Basically, you beat the drums for 1/2 hour and you're sweating.. you physically make that groove.
    That just cant compare with sequencing a pattern. The physical feel of making the music isa buzz in itself.
     
  20. again, in the defense of cubase and in relation to programmed drums, u still have to play the drums in on keyboard! the volume is also based on how hard u hit the keys, so all the feeling is still there, u have to sit there and create a groove while not needing foot to hand coordination ;) i have to say that with all my midi compositions i used live bass and live guitar, theres nothing like hooking in with a drum track that you'v created and know where every little pocket is :)

    *Si*

    p.s.
    most of Hans Zimmer's work (film scorer) is done on computer