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Twenty Questions With Michael Manring

Discussion in 'Features' started by TalkBass, Apr 1, 2005.


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  1. TalkBass

    TalkBass News Poster

    Mar 12, 2004
    <table width="200" border="0" align="left" cellpadding="0" cellspacing="5"> <tr> <th scope="col"> <img src="http://www.talkbass.com/images/manring/2005/manring1.jpg" width="217" height="350"></th> </tr> </table> <p><br> <center><font size=+2><b>TWENTY QUESTIONS WITH MICHAEL MANRING</b></font><br><br><b><i>By Max Valentino</i></b></center><br> <strong><em><br> </em></strong>A new Michael Manring CD is a reason for celebration. Always surprising, inventive and wholly musical, Michael, while remaining busy with concerts and side projects, has not released a new album since 1998's “The Book Of Flame”. All that is about to change with the release of “Soliloquy”, Michael's new, all-solo release. Although in the midst of a long tour, Michael took some time recently to talk to me, and in turn you Talkbass.com readers about the new album, the recording process, the state-of-the bass, and music in general. <br>
     
  2. TalkBass

    TalkBass News Poster

    Mar 12, 2004
    <br> <br> <strong><em>1. As the title implies, “Soliloquy” is an all-solo recording. While you </em></strong><strong><em><br> have always included several solo pieces on each of your albums, what <br> prompted, or inspired you, at this point in your career, to record an <br> completely solo work? </em></strong><br> <br> I've always wanted to make an all-solo recording, but for one reason or another it seemed to get put on hold. When I was signed to Windham Hill Records they discouraged me from doing a recording of solo pieces because they didn't feel there would be much of a market for it. They were almost certainly right, but at this stage in my career, I'm quite content to keep a pretty low profile! I‘m actually kind of glad I waited because it's only in the last few years that I've been finding a solo voice that I can feel relatively satisfied with. <br> <br> <br> <strong><em>2. What was the recording process for an all-solo instrumental bass album </em></strong><strong><em><br> like? </em></strong><br> <br> The progress was a bit slow because I've been so busy in recent years working on so many other projects, I haven‘t had much time for composing. It's a bit challenging to play some of the pieces on the CD, so I tried to find time to focus on them for a few days before recording them. In general, I'd pick a few pieces to work on and practice them for perhaps two or three days and then record them. If they didn't come out well, they'd have to go back in the queue and wait for the next break in the schedule! <br> <br> <br> <strong><em>3. Were there any particular challenges in composing and recording and </em></strong><strong><em><br> entire album's worth of solo bass pieces? </em></strong><br> <br> <br> Playing any music well is always a challenge, but that's part of the fun of it! There's something fulfilling about pushing your limits and striving to do your best. I hoped to come up with a listenable recording with a lot of variety of tone color and concept. One of the things I think scares some folks away from the idea of solo bass is they're afraid the music will be very monochromatic, dull or tedious. I think that's unfortunate because in my opinion, the bass is capable of an extraordinary range and depth of expression -- almost more than any other instrument. <br> <br> <strong><em>4. Writing, performing and recoding solo works is VERY difficult. How do </em></strong><strong><em><br> you maintain the musical integrity of solo work? How do you personally <br> temper your work from becoming self-indugent? </em></strong><br> <br> <br> That's a good point -- there's an unfortunate tendency for solo work to be a little overly self-aggrandizing and I hope to avoid that as much as I can. Self-analysis is an essential part of any creative work, but I believe the trick is to keep things in perspective. My main focus in composing and performing is to try to say something meaningful, so I try to concentrate on the ideas I'm working with instead of all those lurking ego issues and assume that a sense of self-expression will take care of itself. So much of the process is about balance -- between the inward and outward focus, between saying too much or too little, between colors, within the structure of a composition, and so on. <br> <br> <br> <strong><em>5. Is the compositional process different for you in writing for multiple </em></strong><strong><em><br> instruments as opposed to solo works? </em></strong><br> <br> <br> In some ways, yes -- in practical nuts-and-bolts kind of stuff, but the goals of good composition are always the same -- to use the available tools effectively, to have a message or point-of-view, to create an effective structure for expression and/or the processing of relevant ideas. <br> <strong><em><br> 6. Do you have any personal favorite tracks on the new album? </em></strong><br> <br> No, I don't think so. Some things came out better than others, but overall, I doubt this is a recording I'll listen to much. For the most part, if I want to hear myself play solo bass, I'll just pick up the instrument and play it! <br> <br> <strong><em>7. When is the album coming out, and where can our reader's buy it? </em></strong><br> <br> <br> It's at the manufacturing plant now. They said it will take about 17 business days until I have the finished product and I'll make it available as soon as possible after that. I think I'll probably avoid traditional retail outlets for this disk and sell it mostly through my web site, a few on-line retailers and at shows. <br> </p> <table width="200" border="0" align="right" cellpadding="0" cellspacing="5"> <tr> <th scope="col"><img src="http://www.talkbass.com/images/manring/2005/manring2.jpg" width="400" height="301" align="right"></th> </tr> </table> <p><br> <br> <strong><em>8. Your work has always maintained an essential balance between amazing </em></strong><strong><em><br> technique and simple, almost zen-like beauty. From where do you draw your <br> inspiration, and are you consciously aware of creating a balance between the <br> intellectual and visceral, the complex and the simple? </em></strong><br> <br> Thank you so much for that very kind compliment! I do strive for the balances you mention, so it's very gratifying to think it might be getting across. <br> <br> Inspiration is certainly everywhere. The people I care about are a tremendous inspiration in my life, as are all the works of art I admire. Great ideas of any kind are a huge inspiration to me and I'm very inspired by people who do extraordinary things. <br> <br> <br> <strong><em>9. How important is practice to you? </em></strong><br> <br> I love to practice. In fact, sometimes I think I became a professional musician so I'd have an excuse to practice as much as possible! I just really enjoy the sense of peace that comes from working hard to understand more, express more, to play more deeply and effectively. Music is an exceptional undertaking because it offers the opportunity to use your physical, intellectual, emotional and even, if you're so inclined, spiritual, abilities to their fullest extent. I feel lucky that I get to spend a lot of my time doing that. Of course, I'd love to be able to do more -- with all the business work that goes into being an independent musician these days, I usually only manage to get in an hour or two a day of practicing, but even that's a lucky thing. <br> <strong><em><br> 10.What are the things you work on in your practice regimen? </em></strong><br> <br> <br> I like to focus of fundamental concepts in my practice time -- first just trying to play one note in tune, in time with good tone, then working on putting together patterns of notes in effective, logical and beautiful ways. The goal is to remove any barriers to expression. <br> <br> <br> <strong><em>11.You have been known as somewhat of a vanguard in the exploration of </em></strong><strong><em><br> the bass guitar; pushing the envelope and constantly exploring the <br> musical possibilities of this instrument. Where do you see the “state of <br> the bass” today in 2005? </em></strong><br> <br> Thanks! The bass is in an interesting place. There are many wonderful bassists out there these days, playing with a nice variety of techniques and styles. In my estimation, no one player stands out above the rest; instead we're lucky to have lots of dedicated players offering various interesting points-of-view on the instrument. There seems to be a nice general interest in the bass with a small but devoted group of bass fans out there. All of this is good, but I think the future of the instrument is still uncertain. I feel the enormous expressive potential of the bass has barely even begun to be tapped and I can imagine the instrument being played with a depth and fluency far, far beyond where we are now. In my view, the instrument is still in its infancy and I think for it to survive in the long run it has some maturing to do. <br> <br> The bass' association with pop music has been kind of double-edged sword. It's played an important part in popular culture over the last 40 years, and while that's been a healthy breeding ground for growth, the downside is that the bass could suffer from the fadishness and thus, obsolescence that drives pop sensibility. There has been a lot of interest in preserving the bass' conventional role in music, and while I think it's vital that we value the dignity of that voice, I'm concerned we may being discouraging the innovation that's necessary for long-term development. If the instrument can become associated with some kind of real and significant art music I think that may help establish its longevity. I believe we're seeing glimpses of that now, but in my opinion there‘s a lot farther to go. I firmly believe the bass is capable of being a vital voice in our culture for many years to come; as I've said before, it just depends on the depth with which the instrument is played and listened to. <br> <br> Unfortunately, it seems that our entire culture is in a pretty tenuous position at the moment because we're actually facing unprecedented threats to civilization itself, so the future of the bass will depend more than anything else on the progress of the society as a whole. I apologize if this seems grandiose, but I like to have a vision of the bass as actually being part of a movement toward a new and more compassionate society. It may be corny, but you gotta have a dream! <br> <br> <strong><em>12. What is it about the bass that attracts and excites you? </em></strong><br> <br> There's so much! The bass is a recent invention compared to most instruments and it feels very native to me. It has comparatively little tradition associated with it so it feels like the possibilities are wide open. It was invented in the country and state where I live and its voice seems to me to belong to the times we live in, so I think it's an ideal vehicle for expressing what life for someone like me is all about. <br> <br> While its acoustic means of tone production tie it to a legacy of older instruments like the acoustic guitar, cello and bass violin, its built-in electronic capabilities give it an ability to tap into unique possibilities of the present and future for electronic tone manipulation. I love this sense of the bass being a kind of bridge between old and new, between tradition and innovation, and have always thought of it as representing the best of the acoustic and electric worlds. <br> <br> Another thing I like about the bass is its particular application of polyphony. There always seems to be a trade-off between polyphony and expressive capability in instruments. A saxophone, for instance, has amazing power to shape the timbral and dynamic colors for each note it plays, but it's more or less limited to playing one note at a time. The piano, on the other hand has a fantastic capability for polyphony, but relatively little expressive capability per note. The bass represents a nice balance to me, with the ability for four note polyphony, but a wide range of expressive possibility -- especially when you consider options like fretless and the Ebow. <br> <br> I also love the range of the instrument. There are lots of ways to make high sounds on a low instrument, but almost none for making sounds lower than the lowest string, key or stop on an instrument. Through the use of techniques such as harmonics, electronics and extended playing area, the effective range of the bass is much wider than we normally consider. <br> <br> Mostly though, I just love the rich and complex sound of this instrument and I believe it's capable of enormous poetry, poignancy and meaning. <br> <strong><em><br> 13.What do you listen to for inspiration? </em></strong><br> <br> <br> I tend to like specific composers, performers, pieces or recordings rather than any particular genre, so my informal listening is sort of all over the map, but these days Carnatic music, solo piano pieces, Malagasy and contemporary music seem to get the most play around the house. <br> <br> <strong><em><br> 14.What is the last CD you listened to? </em></strong><br> <br> <br> I'm on the road now at a jazz festival in Pennsylvania and I bumped into Steve Smith and Baron Browne last night. They were kind enough to give me a copy of the latest Vital Information CD, so that's what's been spinning today. <br> <br> <strong><em><br> 15.Of late, your name is appearing on quite a few recordings as either a <br> collaborator in an ensemble or as a “sideman”. How do you approach session <br> playing such as with John Gorka or Patty Larkin, or group efforts such as <br> Sadhappy and Attention Deficit? </em></strong><br> <br> I feel lucky to have the chance to play lots of different kinds of music and I've played on well over two hundred recordings now. Although different musics vary in their specific requirements, at the root level the process I use for virtually all recording is the same -- to listen deeply and try to contribute in a way that best supports the meaning of the music while reflecting a sense of my personal aesthetics. </p> <table width="200" border="0" align="left" cellpadding="0" cellspacing="5"> <tr> <th scope="col"><img src="http://www.talkbass.com/images/manring/2005/manring3.jpg" width="451" height="256"></th> </tr> </table> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><br> <br> <strong><em>16.Can we look for any new collaborations or side-man related recordings </em></strong>? <br> <br> <br> I'm always busy with lots of new projects and some of the ones I've worked on in the last few weeks include a bass trio recording with Yves Carbonne and Dominique DiPiazza, a new McGill/Manring/Stevens disk and a CD by a progressive group called A Triggering Myth. <br> <br> <strong><em><br> 17. Of all the things I have heard from you, and yes I have quite a few CDs <br> with your playing on them, one of the most fascinating projects is Yo <br> Miles!. Your playing on each of those recordings is what I might describe <br> as “understated eloquence”. Can you tell us a little about those sessions, <br> and how you approached the minimalist structure of those tunes; your playing <br> there is always engaging, yet never distracts from the other voices or dense <br> rhythms. And, how do you consciously engage in a musical dialogue while <br> limiting yourself to playing at times only a single note? </em></strong><br> <br> <br> Once again, thanks so much! I'm glad you're enjoying those records. I'm a big fan of Michael Henderson's playing on those Miles Davis tunes, so it was a pleasure for me to have a chance to interpret that style. Early on in the process I had discussions with Henry Kaiser, who's basically the MD of the band and he encouraged me not to try to re-create Henderson 's style too literally, but to offer my own take on it. It's kind of a big responsibility as most of those compositions are built entirely around the bass lines, but it's a great “bass player” gig and I had a lot of fun with it. Although the personnel has varied a bit, there have always been great players in the band so it's a pleasure to listen to what everyone has to say and see if I can supply the “glue” to hold it all together. <br> <br> As far as the sessions went, we recorded everything live and in the case of the latter two releases, direct to the master without fixes or mixdown. There's a bit of chaos that happens when you get that many people playing all together in a room, but I think that's actually part of the concept --&nbsp; being on the edge. Of course I played fewer notes than I would on the average solo or duo gig, but I'm really just as happy playing bass parts with high or low note density as long as the music's good. <br> <strong><em><br> 18.. Turning back to your solo work…it seems to me that one of the most <br> difficult aspects of being a solo artist is managing one's own career; the <br> art of selling one's self. In an age when the artifice is placed above the <br> artist, when the package is more important than the contents, how do, as a <br> solo instrumental artist, maintain your integrity while also obtaining some <br> level of commercial viability? </em></strong><br> </p> <table width="200" border="0" align="right" cellpadding="0" cellspacing="5"> <tr> <th scope="col"><img src="http://www.talkbass.com/images/manring/2005/manring4.jpg" width="256" height="451"></th> </tr> </table> <p><br> <br> The music business does have a tendency to be kind of shallow and that can get pretty tedious at times. It's a little tricky because we live in such a music-saturated culture. People are surrounded by music all day on TV, at work, in dentist's offices and even elevator rides, so there is a tendency for folks to become inured to the immense power music has. But I believe there is a basic human need for honesty in art, so I always strive to play and compose from sincere place in the hope that there will be at least enough of an audience to allow me to keep doing what I love. So far I've been pretty lucky. <br> <br> <br> <strong><em>19.You are known for using a multitude of altered tunings, do you have </em></strong><strong><em><br> any favorites, or ones that you gravitate to more than others? And, if <br> so, why? </em></strong><br> <br> <br> I don't really have any favorite tunings. I just enjoy having access to all the creative options altered tunings offer and the challenge of searching for tunings that will serve the expressive needs of the moment. There are so many tunings the bass is capable of -- literally thousands. I go through periods of being interested in tunings with particular kinds of qualities such as openness, harmonic richness or exotic color, but it's really the capability of the bass for such a wide variety of expression that most intrigues me. <br> <br> <strong><em>20.How would you describe yourself as an artist? </em></strong><br> <br> I guess I'd say that I'm someone who is searching to understand who we are, where we're coming from and where we can go. My goal is to find musical pathways to beauty and meaning that are relevant to these extraordinary times we live in. </p> <p>&nbsp; </p> <p>&nbsp; </p> <p><strong><em>Michael Manring's new CD, “Soliloquy” , will be available in mid-April. Visit Michael's website, <a href="http://www.manthing.com/">www.manthing.com </a> and check his regular <a href="http://www.talkbass.com/forum/forumdisplay.php?f=42">forum here at Talkbass.com</a> for details. </em></strong></p> <p><strong><em>&nbsp; </em></strong></p> <p>Max Valentino is a regular contributor to Talkbass. He is a session musician living in Southern California . A noted composer and solo bassist, he is currently completing work on the follow up to his acclaimed solo debut, “A Caravan Of Dreams”, as well as a number of other projects due for release in the summer of 2005. </p> <p>Max may be contacted at <em><a href="mailto:ekstasis@antelecom.net">ekstasis@antelecom.net </a></em></p> <p><em>&nbsp; </em></p>
     



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