Global Bass Online October 2001
Roundtable discussion with Michael
Manring, Steve Lawson, and Rick Walker
Most of the time it’s business as usual for the
professional music community, but every once in a while something really
interesting happens. And
fortunately for me, I was lucky enough to be there when it did.
Last July, solo bassists, Michael Manring and Steve Lawson, along with
percussionist, Rick Walker got together for a five date Northern California
tour affectionately billed as The Worlds First Bass Looping Tour.
This was a follow-up to the highly successful Worlds First Bass Looping
Festival that took place in Santa Cruz, California last January.
About a week before the tour kicked off, I got together with Michael,
Steve and Rick via online chat to talk about their inspiration for this wild
and wonderful idea.
I'll start out with some questions. Feel
free to interject at your whim.
Daniel. Go for it!
Can you give me a little background on looping, specifically Bass Looping?
take a crack at this. I'd say
that looping probably goes back to the first experiments with electronic
"Musique Concrete", but probably the most listened to more modern
beginning was with Robert Fripp and Brian Eno.
that when you first became aware of it Michael?
I had read about tape experiments about the time I got some of those
early records where those guys would actually make a long loop of tape and run
it through a reel-to-reel machine. Of course, there was the original Echoplex
- as far as I know the first device designed for tape loop stuff.
And I suppose you could consider the Mellotron a looping device.
was definitely a loop device! We
all owe a great debt to Rick Wakeman. laughs
don't think it was too easy to make your own Mellotron loops, though.
How does tape looping and digital looping differ other than the medium?
is so much more flexibility with the advent of modern, real-time digital
think that physicality played a big part in how people related to tape
looping; you could see it going round. You
could keep the tapes if you covered the record head.
used to do this in the early eighties, in shows with people like Henry Kaiser.
We would disengage the erase heads on the old tube Echoplexes.
It gave us 3 minutes of loop time.
We would do a long piece then walk off stage and let it be intermission
I've read about doing that, Rick - I was far too young to have anything
to do with it though. laughs
were tube Echoplexes?
They’re modeled, along with the transistor ones, in the Line 6 DL-4.
I love how those machines degraded the signal; great for live dubbing.
information is far more nebulous, getting back to the original question.
I wouldn't say it's more malleable, but it certainly has made a
few things possible that weren't before, like better signal quality.
the ability to sync which we will use a lot in this tour.
The syncing and the ability to do all the things that you could do with
tape but at the touch of a button makes it much more available to people like
me who would never have got out a splicing block and chopped up bits of tape.
Now, the skill set required to be involved in looping is much smaller -
you don't need to be proficient at tape editing and tape-head modifying.
skill you need now is pushing little buttons at exactly the right time!
Michael! And I can cope with
that. I can push buttons in time
(most of the time), so looping is now available to a putz like me.
of course, it's not just pushing buttons, but how you push them! laughs
Steve has inspired me to work with loops that aren't perfectly timed.
What do you mean?
I explain that?
when I began looping, I would panic if the loop wasn't spot on, but I soon
began to realize that after a period of time playing over a particular loop,
the glitches became part of the groove, and I would play to them, and overdub
in time with the original loop. I
started to view the contour of a loop as a landscape with peaks and troughs,
which I then work on learning, so that I can work with it rather than against
Balinese have a concept, ‘Jam Karet’, or ‘time is rubber’.
a fun game to record random loops of noise and then try to find the groove
within them. Tim Alexander loves
to do the random loop thing. We
did some of it on the first Attention Deficit record.
a great record, Michael!
would think that this technology would be limiting, but it has been incredibly
liberating to me for these reasons.
You start to relate to music on a far more evolutionary level, rather
than a verse/chorus back and forth level.
So when did the idea of Bass looping come along?
to say when bass looping started, but Jaco Pastorius’s live solo,
‘Slang’ got a lot of bassists interested.
was certainly one of the first, but before Jaco, Eberhard Weber and David
Friesen were both experimenting with looping on upright basses.
Rick, being a percussionist and the mastermind behind this little shindig,
why did you choose to bill it as a 'bass looping' fest as opposed to a
started the Worlds First Bass Looping Festival because Steve wanted a gig in
Santa Cruz and I'm a marketing genius. laughs
a humility expert. laughs
because I fell in love with putting on festivals with great limitations as a
way of inspiring new music and creativity.
I' m proud to say that I have introduced 28 artists in the last two
years who had never played out of their bedrooms
Ironically, when I produced the World's First Bass Looping Festival, I
performed as a bassist, but on this tour I may be the only one to not play
bass at all.
living in interesting times now with all the possibilities that technology
offers, all the world's cultures on each other's doorsteps, old conventions
breaking down. I think bassists like looping because we are very aware of the
concept of accompaniment. Oddly, I think bass lends itself well to layering,
it Manthing! I guess it's the
range and the combination of all the elements of music - rhythm, harmony and
melody - that makes bass so good for this rather rarified form of megalomania.
There is definitely a bassist mentality that lends itself to the kind
of subservience to the music that is required in looping.
And the bass is designed to play with other instruments, which means
that space is inherent in the sound.
In that Santa Cruz Show last January, Rick and Steve did some pretty
interesting things with the bass and a pair of drumsticks.
keep it clean, now! laughs
I malleted Steve's bass as he controlled the harmony.
Neither one of us knew where it was going
mulleted my bass? Oh Malleted.
cow kicking in…laughs This game produces great results with every
bassist that I've tried it with.
the subject of games, I think that it's a really important part of
experimentation to 'play' in the child-like sense of the word.
Too much 'new music' disappears up it's own ass ‘because the people
doing it have forgotten that the basic model for childhood discovery and
experimentation is ‘play’. And
that's what Rick's mullet game does; it introduces a fun element that may or
may not have hugely significant musical results.
As it was, the piece was pretty cool.
One journo said it was the highlight of the show!
I guess we all have the desire to feel that what we're doing has more
significance than just goofing around! But,
goofing around is important!
the lesson is to learn that goofing around is sometimes more vital and
progressive than reading a textbook. As
Michael Franti said 'I am deadly serious about us having fun'.
love that quote.
is THE MAN! He’s possibly the
most important musical influence on my life at the moment.
did you get involved with looping, Michael?
always goofed with little echo machines, but getting my first JamMan was a
too, I felt like my life changed that day.
How about you, Steve?
read about Michael using one, and was fascinated by the idea, and then when I
started to write for Music Magazines, I requested one for review - the perks
of the job.
You mentioned earlier that in this show, the three of you are planning to
sync your loops together? After
building multiple layers with both basses and adding layers of looped
percussion, won't it sound very cluttered?
if we’re good musicians.
used to think that you could never have two basses playing simultaneously, but
I think the available texture of the instrument is so vast that it lends
itself well to playing many parts in music.
Clutter can be a useful texture at the right time.
have muting switches on the board and plan on doing a lot of real time mixing
so we have that dubbing potential of muting and un-muting tracks live. This
helps with clutter.
starting to bridge the gap between live and recorded.
I also find that there's something meditative about looping - the
repetition of it is like prayer, or chanting, or liturgy.
It's a monastic pursuit... potentially.
a strange phenomenon! Even a loop
you don't like at first will get interesting as it repeats
once said meditating is listening to God and praying is talking to God;
looping lets' us do both simultaneously.
sometimes leave the same loops running for up to 13-14 hours, just listening
to the interaction. Not great for
the audience, so I restrict such practices to my little office, which is in a
church and has a very inspiring stained glass window
Fourteen hours!!! never mind Mad Cow Disease.
I think you have Mad Looper's Disease. laughs
Looper's Disease, hmmm…another marketing concept..?
corrupting influence on our youth hopefully!
Looping, I mean.
live in such an immediate culture that 14 minutes is considered epic and if
that's the cooking time, it's considered inedible.
looping makes you listen to things more closely.
I'm astonished by how little listening seems to happen in western
also, as I said, means that music evolves - the layers build up, and the
origins are still there.
of like taking a picture so you can study a single moment in time?
is definitely the feeling of being involved in something vital, something of
value, something truly creative here. This
is art for the sake of art, for the sake of the journey - no definitive
statement, no great plan to make cash by watering it down, no agenda other
than to make it available, and that feels great! But, also quite alien in the
modern entertainment climate. I
went to see Abe Laboriel play last night, at the Baked Potato.
For the second set there were 6 people there, four of who were on the
guest list, so $20 worth of audience. He and the other guys just played their
asses off. I've never seen anything like it.
He was jumping up and down and beating up on his bass like Bill Laswel
and loving it – grinning and just being thankful for the gift of music. That
was the same thing; not counting the audience, but counting the blessings of
being able to play music with like minded people.
is great, such good energy.
Michael, a recent article about you stated that, "Few bassist have
put more energy into stretching the instrument's boundaries” than you have.
Where does your creative energy come from?
I'm not really sure where creativity comes from.
In my case I think it's probably mostly adolescent curiosity.
It’s that goofing around thing again.
There seems like there is so much that needs to be tried.
I feel we've barely scratched the surface of life's possibilities. Bass
is just a good symbol for that concept.
drawn breath is a blessing; every time we get to be creative and share that
with others is a blessing
we’re trying to do is something beautiful, something honest, something fun,
something of substance. Bass is a
great symbol of newness. It’s
such a young instrument, and as a result is diversifying so fast, from the
number of strings, to tuning, to new pickup technology like the Lightwave
pickup, to modeling, e-bow, extended techniques, processing, hipshots, all
I hate to break in, but I have to go.
Thanks so much Daniel.
See you soon Rick, and thanks.
The Hyperbass was a pretty creative way to expand the instrument.
agree. The Hyperbass is so far
the pinnacle of that expression of newness, an astonishing vision of where
electric instruments can go - all credit to you and Joe Zon for doing it.
Steve. I don't know if I can
accept such a compliment! There is so much more to do with the bass that I
find it a little overwhelming. Thank
goodness there are folks out there like yourself who are really taking the
instrument to interesting places. I'm
just goofing around with my one tiny corner of what's possible
me, watching you and seeing the paths you’ve taken through music has been so
inspiring, from the duo stuff with Michael Hedges through the solo material,
Cloud Chamber, SadHappy, Yo! Miles, Attention Deficit, Patti Larkin, John
Gorka. Your enthusiasm for music
in all its facets is something that has served as a parallel path that makes
it all a bit less lonely.
Steve I feel incredibly lucky that our inspiration goes both ways!
Michael, what started you down the road of alternate tuning?
Was it an accident - boredom with a certain key signature?
tuning was a possibility so I was curious about it. It just happened to yield
a lot of sounds I like.
Steve, do you also experiment with alternate tuning?
drop D and C really, but I've just got a cello, to explore fifths tuning a
little more. I use alternate
tunings to bust out of my comfort zone, to force me to play new things if I
feel like fourths is getting stale.
Do you get to do much looping with your other projects?
Ragatal, Howard Jones etc.
was pivotal for me, as we wanted to be able to do solos and duos within the
band set up, so it gave me something to aim for with regard to performing
solo. My first solo live things
were with Ragatal. No looping with Howard though, sadly.
did you like working with the Indian rhythmic concepts Steve?
main lesson I learnt was that the fundamental music unit was silence - zero or
nothingness seems to be central to a lot of Hindu thinking and music starts
from there, so the whole idea of music growing from nothing was revelatory.
Also, the degree of intricacy in the subdivision, but the elasticity of
the timing was beautiful. I
recently did a Ragatal gig with two extra percussionists and a sitar player,
as well as tabla, guitar, electric violin and me.
That was mind-blowing to be soloing with that going on behind me. The
Ragatals give the music that same meditative quality that loops have - that
sense of instant familiarity.
cool! Wish I could've heard that.
I'm sorry to say I've got to scoot now, too. Thanks for the intriguing
Thanks Michael. I'm looking
forward to meeting you in person.
Let me ask you one last question Steve.
What do you recommend for other artists interested in venturing into
the Looping concept?
do it! Get a simple loop box like
the DL4 and get started. Experiment - nothing is off limits.
It's only sound after all and you aren't going to do any harm with it!
I'd suggest getting a few CDs as well.
Probably mine would be cool. laughs
Also, the David Friesen live CD.
Thanks Steve. I'm just so
excited about seeing the three of you together.
excited about playing. I’m
looking forward to seeing you next week.
Daniel Elliott has been
playing bass and writing songs for about 20 years.
He’s also been highly active in supporting and promoting music in the
Northern California region. He is
currently recording an album with the band, The Threshing Floor, which should
be available in November and will begin working on a solo album very soon.
Other recent endeavors include establishing the publishing company,
Much Grace Music and working on a book tentatively titled, The Art of Worship.
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