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Finding inspiration – improvisation on a theme.

May 10th, 2008 | No Comments | Categories: bass ideas · Musing on Music · tips for musicians |

Last Thursday, I had a hugely enjoyable gig, playing at an art exhibition opening, of drawings by Rob Pepper. Rob is someone I’ve known for a while, and I really like his style and approach (you can check out a load of his work on his blog at dailydrawingdiary.com).

This latest exhibition at the SW1 Gallery in Victoria, titled ‘To There And Back Again”, is of drawings Rob did in Texas and in London. The London ones are mainly large canvas works of London Landmarks and views, while the Texan ones are a mixture of the large and some smaller more intimate portraits. Both sets have an off-kilter sensibility to them that says something way more about the subjects than a straight realist portrait might have.

Anyway, from a musical point of view, the discussions beforehand with Rob were really interesting. His first instinct was to suggest some kind of literalist mashup of England and Texan themes – banjos and folk songs, country music with east end cockney songs… So we talked a little around the theme, and he seemed more settled with me understanding what he wanted but filtering it through what I do…

The SW1 gallery is a fantastically resonant space – all hard surfaces and wood floors, so I only needed my studio monitors to play through. Stylistically, I drew quite heavily on Bill Frisell’s art-inspired music – where he used Jim Woodring and Gary Larson’s art for different pieces – and also on the feel of Rob Jackson’s mashup up of Americana and a more reserved English feel.

Those influences were then filtered through the strangeness of some of Rob’s drawings and blended into that thing I do – looped ‘n’ layered lush mellow bass stuff. Lots of slow swing country rhythms and chord progressions, overlaid with the kind of ambient shimmer that works so well in galleries and twisted just enough to reflect something of that quirkiness in the art.

The result was almost 2 hours of music that was at once very obviously ‘me’ music, but had taken on a whole other slant as a result of the focus that the gallery gave me.

It’s a worthwhile experiment, whether or not you’ve got a gallery opening to play at – just being able to get away from focussing on yourself as the centre of a project, and see how your skill set and musical vision can be applied to soundtracking and contextualising someone else’s work/world. The combination of the two can be a great launch pad for new ideas, and it also shows up the elements in what you do that are just there because you always do them – there were a lot of the usual StevieSounds that didn’t make it into the music for the show just because they didn’t fit the vibe. I played way more fretted bass than I normally would (fretless bass is neither a particularly ‘country’ sound, nor intrinsically english) and used the fretless in ways I wouldn’t normally, or to give a degree of obfuscation to a particular idea (looping and layering ‘dueling banjos’ on fretless, in a minor key, for example… OK, so Deliverance was set in Georgia, not Texas, but it still worked 😉 )

Anyway, the lesson is, sometimes is good to mix it up a bit, focus your skills and soundworld on someone else’s challenge. I got loads from it musically, and Rob was delighted. (The bit in the middle when I took a break and they put a CD on felt really odd following on from an hour of music shaped by the room and the art…)

Go! Experiment! …and go and see Rob’s show too –

Friday 9 May – Thursday 29 May 2008
Opening hours: Tues – Sat 10am – 4pm
020 7963 4024
www.sw1gallery.co.uk

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