Global Bass Online November 2001
Going Outside 2
Jair-Rohm Parker Wells
I'm writing this on my Powerbook at an internet
cafe. I like internet cafes. I don't know why. Perhaps it has to do with
memories of the excitement of discovering the wonderful world of the internet in
internet cafes before home based broadband came into my life. Whatever the
reason, i find internet cafes inspiring and stimulating.
Now you're probably wondering: "what does
this have to do with improvised music and more specifically, the role of the
bass in improvised music?". Well, it has a lot to do with where and how
your music comes into being. The source of all music should ultimately be Inspiration.
Finding your source of Inspiration
should be as important as (perhaps even more important than) your choice of
instrument. The truth to this point lies in the fact that if you don't have
anything to say you'll sound sad on whatever instrument you play. Likewise, true
artistry trancends it's medium.
So, what is this thing called Inspiration and where do you find/get your own?
We won't go into how the word is defined by those
who have taken on the task of documenting our languages. For the sake of this
discussion, let's say that Inspiration
is: what "moves" you. When you are "moved" you are
(hopefully) feeling. In a perfect moment, what comes out of your instrument
should be somehow representative of what you're feeling. That's why we call it
"music" and not architechture. In the heat of improvising, what you're
feeling should be somehow related to what you're hearing. And on and on it could
go until it stops by itself, maybe. Something like a recursive method.
What moves you?
talk bass. Have a look at the example below.
A simple figure. If you remember from the last
installment of this column, improvising is not a type of music but rather a way
of making music. For this reason we
focus on not what is played but when,
how and why it's played. According to Alber Ayler, our responsibility as
improvisers is to convey spiritual information to an audience (remember:
"music"). A big responsibility. How you convey this information is
subservient to the content that is being transmitted. Like the blues, in
improvised music it's the steak and not the sizzle that matters.
What moves you?
First, play the example through very slowly. Set
your metronome to mm60 and count the beats as "off beats". That means
that the beats that you hear are the one and the three in common time (4/4).
Play the pattern slowly in all twelve keys. All over the fingerboard. I'll let
you work out your own fingerings. Once you've done this through a couple of
times (played the pattern slowly in all twelve keys) stop. Stand up, stretch,
take a couple of deep breaths. If you know how, do some yoga. Just get relaxed
and centered. Now, look at the example again. You should be petty familiar with
it in all keys. Turn off the metronome. Think of something that makes you happy.
Now feel happy. Now, without regard to time signature or tempo, play the pattern
and let it sound the way you feel.
Perhaps you notice that certain notes in the pattern sound happier closer
together. Or maybe even farther apart. Group the notes in a way that sounds
"happiest" to you without changing the sequence of notes (we'll look
at that later). Experiment with dynamics. Try playing some notes louder or
softer than others. Those of you playing with the bow or a volume pedal, try
changing volume over the duration of a note. Experiment with different forms of
producing the note. Using the wood of the bow, snapping the string against the
fingerboard, ghosting, etc.. Continue until you find a way of playing the
pattern that sounds expressive to you.
Let's take it a step further. Forget the notes.
What about the contour of the pattern? Grab a pencil and paper and draw a graph
of what the pattern sounds like to you. It's peaks and valleys in color and
texture as you hear it. Now using the different sounds (not only notes but the
sounds both pitched and non-pitched) that your instrument can produce, play that
contour and let it sound happy. Focus on an event in your life. Focus on an
emotion related to that event. Feel that emotion. Be it again. Think of what you
would say to someone you love about that emotion. Now, play the example and make
each note, sound and gesture descriptive of what you have to say.
to examples of master improvisers expressing emotion. Check out recordings by
Cecil Taylor, Albert Ayler, Derek Bailey, Peter Kowald and others. Don't just
listen to the (many great) bass players on these recordings. Listen to the music
being made. Because in the end it's not about the instrument or the method
but the music.
Copyright © 2000-2009 Global Bass Online