So, as you may know by now, I’m in the middle (at the beginning? near the end? There’s no way of knowing!) of recording a new solo album at the moment. Hours and hours of playing, recording, experimenting, listening happening every day. Which is all sorts of wonderous fun. It’s not an exercise I’ve indulged in to this degree since I recorded 11 Reasons Why 3 Is Greater Than Everything back in 2011.
So what’s new? The biggest new thing is the addition of the Keith McMillen Quneo to my set-up. What on earth is that? you ask… Well, the Quneo is a MIDI controller, that can be used for pretty much anything that can be controlled via MIDI. In my case, that’s drums and synth sounds. I’m not – at all – interested in triggering loops, in having pre-recorded stuff that I bring in, but I am having a great time experimenting with playing parts in on it, and looping them in the Looperlative along with all the layers of bass.
Naturally, with there now being a straight up percussive element to what I’m doing, rhythm is occupying a very different part of the music that it usually does in my solo work. But I’m also digging really deep into some really broken, screwed up rhythmic ideas, so am fascinated – and a little trepidacious – how people will react… We’ll see I guess.
What’s REALLY exciting is that in the process of getting ideas together, I inadvertently finished a solo album. Closing In was started as a way to feed new tracks to my Subscribers as the project went along, but ended up being a complete solo album. It’s not THE solo album that’s going to be launched/released/whatever in September, but it IS one that I’m really proud of. I’ve been listening to it a lot, and have had really positive feedback from the subscribers about it. If you want it, you’ll need to subscribe (and get the other 14 releases that you get for your £20) – more subscription details here.
The rhythmic side of things does feel really natural, given the nature of so many of my recent collaborations – starting with Daniel Berkman and progressing through the duos and trios with Andy Edwards, through the nascent projects with Beardyman (including the quartet with Andy Gangadeen on drums) on up to the duo with Divinity, I’ve been blessed by the deep grooves and rhythmic wisdom of so many of my collaborators of late. Daniel was the first person I heard play music on the Quneo – though his main percussive instrument is the Roland Handsonic. Andy and I have spent the last 2 or so years exploring how both his electronic and acoustic kits interface with my looping set up, and have built quite an amazing musical language between us. And Divinity was the one that tipped me over the edge – in the week we spent working on duo ideas, she was playing electronic drums on an M-Audio keyboard, AND beatboxing into her Roland RC300, and it worked so well. She’s such a fearless experimenter, and has an approach to throwing ideas together and letting them find their own space that really fits well with my own experimental, exploratory approach. Three musical soul mates all bringing a new rhythmic focus and – crucially – new *processes* into my musical world.
So the experiments continue, hopefully some of the drummy-stuff will be up on Soundcloud soon for y’all to hear (and maybe another little preliminary EP for subscribers – I need to watch out that I don’t become SO prolific it just gets confusing 😉 ) and I’m really hoping to get a day in the studio with Andy Edwards soon – that could easily end up just being THE album, such is the consistency of the ideas we seem to be generating together of late.
Til then, the single best thing you can do to make sure you don’t miss any of the new music, is join the subscribers over on Bandcamp – you’ll get every new thing I do immediately available in the Bandcamp app, and downloadable from your Bandcamp collection, plus everything I release in the coming 12 months (which includes the impending release of the first two duo tracks with Divinity!)
Here’s one of the tracks from Closing In, that’s also on Soundcloud. Enjoy!
There’s a lovely new interview with me up at KeithMcMillen.com
[click here to read the interview]
Given that KeithMcMillen are a music tech gear company, it’s deeply refreshing that the interview features such fascinating and deep questions (many of the questions were inspired by this blog post about Smallness ) – all credit to Tom Ferguson for instigating a conversation about something other than just music toys. (KMI make the Softstep controller that I’ve used pretty much every day for the last few years, and the Quneo which is my favourite new music-making toy, and may well feature pretty heavily on the new album. I love what they do )
Anyway, have a read, and tweet them to say thanks if you thought it was useful
So here’s something lovely – The Freakier Zone: Stuart Maconie’s late night sister show to The Freakzone, did a special on improvising duos on Saturday night. Stuart interviewed the oracle of all things interesting in music, Fiona Talkington, and she picked a handful of tracks to play and there are little interview segments with Food (Iain Ballamy and Thomas Stronen) and… me, talking about working with Daniel Berkman!
The show link is here – http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b061xxhq – have a listen to the whole hour, it’s fascinating.
My interview segment was recorded over the phone and as usual I was talking too fast, so here it is transcribed:
“…you have to trust each other, you have to have the belief that what the other person is going to bring to the music is better than what you would do on your own. Otherwise you’re just going to resent them. I mean, that would be terrible, improvising with someone who was messing your music up! So you have to have that feeling – and commit to that feeling – that what they’re going to bring is better than what you would do on your own… and then leave room for that.
“So there’s this sort of transaction that goes on where you leave space, allow someone to fill it and then they do the same, so it’s sort of like a game of consequences, where you’re folding over and each writing a sentence – he said, she said…
“and so one of us might start… I mean, sometimes we’ll just sit there and giggle at each other for a minute before we start because neither of us want to, and both of us want the other to lead us into something new.
“But you’re also trying not to tread the same ground again, you’re trying to take it in new directions, so you don’t end up performing ‘pieces’. So it’s not that you can’t draw on the same language again, but you don’t want to actually try and copy an earlier piece, because that’s a very different skill set and a very different mental approach.”
It’s an inspired bit of radio programming, given what a massive influence on me both Bill Frisell and Arild Anderson have been, and what an influence Toumani Diabate has been on Daniel… Top work, Fiona!
The track played is an excerpt from Accidentally (On Purpose) – the title track of the 2nd show Daniel and I played together, and the first thing we released:
And given that the track that followed ours was by Ballaké Sissoko and Toumani Diabate, it’d be fitting to link here to Daniel’s amazing acoustic Kora work too.
…and you know you can buy all 10 of the shows for £10, right?
Stuart Maconie’s Freak Zone and Freakier Zone are chock full of amazing and surprising music. Fiona’s regular musical home on the web is Late Junction on Radio 3 – I’ve discovered SO much amazing music through her over the years: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b006tp52
So, I’m starting work on my next solo album. I’m not absolutely sure which direction I’m going in – musically – at this stage, I’m most interested in trying some bass and drums stuff with Andy Edwards… What I really need is time to experiment.
Which is where the ‘funding’ bit comes in, right? Because the time required to experiment (and through experimenting make more amazing music for you to hear) is time that would otherwise be spent doing things to pay the bills…
So, the modern thing to do is crowd-fund, right? Give you, the beautiful music listeners of SteveWorld the chance to pre-pay for it.
Guess what? That option already exists. Like Richard Marx, whatever you do, wherever you go, it’ll still be right here waiting for you…
I’m talking about my Bandcamp Subscription. The multi-tiered bit that you get with any other crowd funding thing is entirely optional. The start point is £20 – for that (or however much more you choose to contribute) you get:
- all 10 of my solo albums,
- 4 other subscriber-exclusive releases that have come out in the last 6 months or so
- AND *everything* I put out in the next year.
So not just the new solo album – you get everything else as well. Including the 4 or 5 projects that are currently in development. (in the next couple of weeks, two of those will come out for subscribers only…) I can also send you news of what I’m up to (in a status-update kind of way, rather than a massive-long-newsletter kind of way) and will upload previews of tracks as the new album takes shape…
It feels like a friendlier model, it doesn’t require me to ‘hit a target’ before it becomes meaningful for you (your generosity is not only valid if enough other people are generous) and you also get LOADS of music straight away – under the old economic model, this would be thought of as hundreds of pounds worth of music. That’s not very meaningful right now, but there are certainly many, many hours of listening pleasure waiting for anyone who a) likes what I do and b) decides to subscribe… (and if that music isn’t enough, you can get my complete works USB stick for just £13 once you’ve subscribed!!)
I also – crucially – won’t have to bombard the world of social media with requests for money over a two month period. There are people who do this very well, I don’t think I’d be one of them. I love posting all the random stuff that has nothing to do with my music on FB, Twitter and Instagram, and don’t want that to get lost in a stream of begging notices…
SuperMarket vs Farmers Market:
While large parts of the music world are squabbling over Spotify and Apple Music royalty rates, those of us who will NEVER make sustainable art with the royalties from streaming (even if they end up at ten times the current rate) are quietly getting on with what we do, knowing that you, the listeners, can tell the difference between Walmart (Apple/Spotify) and your local farmers market (Bandcamp/the CD table at a gig). Supermarket efficiency and blandness vs Fairtrade from local makers of beautiful things.
You get it, we get it, we don’t really need Apple and Spotify to help us understand it (and like food or anything else you’d buy in both places, you also don’t have to choose between them, though don’t expect iCloud or Google Music to recognise the files you upload 😉 )
So, if you want to help take the sting out of making the new album, get a massive load of my already-existing music, and be part of the journey towards the new one, as well as a year’s worth of my creative output, for as little as £20 (or whatever you can afford and think is meaningful), I’d LOVE for you to subscribe and be part of our little sustainability revolution. OK?
So, I’m just back from Small Is Beautiful. One of my – if not my actual – favourite conference of the year, exploring the world of micro enterprise, self employment, creative, sustainable business engaging both the head and the heart – from why we care about our work to what’s the best software for invoicing. Invigorating, challenging, exciting, inspiring. Love it.
The Small Is Beautiful team curated a night of Pecha Kucha back in September. I spoke at it – tried to fit too many words in and at the time felt like a worthwhile experiment that hadn’t worked… but, listening now, it’s actually pretty good, even with the garbled speech! So, here’s the video, and the text of the talk. It’s about being small, why being small is actually advantageous within the current digital music economy, and exploring that idea through the lens of Walter Benjamin’s seminal text The Work Of Art In The Age Of Mechanical Reproduction. Here’s the video, followed by the text. Enjoy, and stay small
Pecha Kucha 22: Steve Lawson – Re-enchantment in the age of digitization from Inner Ear on Vimeo.
[Read more →]
It’s that time of year again – one of my favourite conferences began last year, and this year continues as an annual event – Small Is Beautiful. Billed as ‘Insight, intelligence and ideas for micro-enterprises’, it’s a wide ranging exploration of how life and work play out for those of us who neither work for nor run corporations. Sole traders, freelancers, entrepreneurs, artists, makers, educators… an amazing collection of people gathering for inspiration, solidarity and encouragement in an evermore perilous financial environment.
Last year I wrote how being a ‘micro’ was my Plan A – it wasn’t a 2nd choice, it was always the aim.
This year, I’m going to explore a few of the reasons why, on the themes of Sustainability, Scale and Success.
Sustainability is such a buzzword in every field that we quite often lose sight of how it applies to us. There are so many kinds of sustainability that I need to consider in my work, perhaps it would be helpful just to list them:
- Economic Sustainability – that’s obvious: can I keep doing this and no end up broke?
- Creative Sustainability – alongside the economics is the task of maintaining the level of creative exploration and control that is right at the heart of my reasons for staying micro.
- Environmental Sustainability – one of the joys of being self employed is that I can (and do) turn down work if the environmental impact of doing it is going to outweigh the benefit of the work. I can choose to spend more and get a train, rather than a cheap flight, and soak up the cost because I think it matters. That control feels vital…
- Political Sustainability – this is a more tricky one, especially as every area of life involves compromise, but I’m deeply wedded to the aspect of being small that gives me political agency within my work. Being micro and stay micro is itself a counter-cultural act, and carving out a space where you can make art that is explicitly political without being beholden to someone else’s agenda is a luxury we’d do well to cherish. I certainly don’t take that freedom for granted, and make a lot of my decisions about the future with that freedom in mind.
Scale is another area that requires unpacking – especially in music, where the aims of so many people are unquestioning and depressingly hyper-modernist. Much of the music world is still obsessed with the metrics of success that applied in the late 20th Century, the triumph of giantism, and it’s inherent rush for the middle ground creatively and culturally, the competitive element that left so many crushed by a system built to push everyone through a funnel towards huge sales and huge gigs… Choosing something other than that is still often seen as ‘what you do because you can’t play stadiums’.
But realising that the kind of interactions with my audience that I cherished only really happened at a small scale, that there was an upper limit to the size of event that really worked for me was liberating. It took me out of that particular conversation about growth in numerical terms, and allowed me to think of growth in terms of creativity, consistency, how regularly I can do shows, reputation, the kinds of collaborations I was able to make happen… How to increase your standing as an artist or practitioner without playing to ever-bigger audiences is a really tricky question, but one that we micros are well placed to ask.
So how does the desire to scale in terms of impact weigh against the need to stay small in terms of the experience? It’s a juggling act I’m still working through, and one that requires a different conversation about priorities. And that leads us onto the third of our ’S’s…
Success… what is success? Is it a place you intend to arrive at, or is it a state of being? Is it your ability to navigate change successfully, or will it be something that is measurable only in hindsight? I have a mixture of ‘targets’ that help me with planning, but ultimately, success is about the ongoing curiosity of my creative exploration. So many other people have an expectation of what my ‘success’ should look like, what I should be pursuing and how I should go about it. Sometimes it’s to the point where they consider me irresponsible and/or lazy for not pursuing the business side of my work ahead of the creative side, and I have to be sure what it is that I value in order to push back against that.
But I also have to have some kind of idea of what order of success in those kind of economically measurable and observable terms is needed for me to be able to keep doing what I do, and to reach whatever creative targets I set for myself. Where is the perfect balance of creative freedom and audience size for whatever venture it is that I’m involved in? These are conversations I have to revisit on a very regular basis so as not to get sidetracked.
So, what are those questions for you?
- How do you prioritise sustainability in its myriad forms?
- What do you imagine is the perfect scale for your venture? At what point do you think growth would start to inhibit your other aims, personally, creatively, philosophically?
- What is success? In what ways are you already a success? How can that success be maximised?
- What is it that you value most, and how does your business plan help you to maximise the impact of those values on your life and the lives of those around you?
Last year’s Small Is Beautiful provided a lot of food for thought in asking and answering those kinds of questions and I’m looking forward to exploring them again in new and different ways this year, and maybe finding some new questions, new aims and new goals.
See you there?
“What Is The Work?”
It’s not a question we really ponder much as musicians, even though it’s one we would answer quite differently if we delved into the language we use. ‘It’s all about the music, maaan!’… yes, but what is the music?
Live music? That’s the main thing?
Or is it the recordings? Are recordings the thing, and if they are is it making them, or experiencing them? Do we make them to be amazing standalone art, or do we make them to be amazing experiences? Does the theatre of experience (for example, shifts in how and where people listen to music) change the work? What role ‘purist’ thinking in this?
Or is ‘the music’ the songs? Are the songs the thing, and if they are, do we just love recordings and gigs because they bring them into our lives? What of music with no songs?
Is it the experience of playing it? If so, what’s the purpose of an audience? Just money so you can keep playing? [Read more →]
[this is a VERY long write-up of four days I spent in Demark last week. Hopefully it’ll be worth the effort]
From whence cometh inspiration?
No idea. Not a clue.
I really don’t have a handle on where inspiration actually comes from. Or what it actually is.
But I do know that I can massively increase the chances of stumbling into it by surrounding myself with curious people, especially those who are working in fields other than my own.
Being primarily an instrumentalist, I’m constantly working with an abstract/concrete duality. The purpose/message/inspiration of a particular piece may be concrete, but the interpretation – if it happens without some kind of written/spoken introduction – is at best culturally mediated and often entirely abstract. That so many people seem to hear something of my intention in my music is itself an amazing affirmation that I’m not insane to see it as having a ‘purpose’.
What’s this got to do with the 2nd Inspiration Lab at Cantabile 2 in Stege, Denmark?
Well, everything. The limits of my own musical practice are always where the interesting stuff happens. I’m interested in edge spaces, overlaps, the bits where the circles in the Venn diagram of humanity change colour as they overlap in different combinations.
In the arts, we often gravitate towards influences and influencers who can obviously help shape our own work. Songwriters get into other word disciplines easily, musicians who make records are inspired by films – time delineated documents of a series of events, easy to mulch into a musical expression of a similar aesthetic… it’s often the music in the film that starts the process anyway… [Read more →]
Drummers! Drummers have always played a massively important role in my music. Almost entirely by their absence. The conversation around what I do – perhaps not surprisingly, but still with some level of irritation – almost always gravitates towards ‘I’d love to hear what you do with a drummer!’. It’s kind of the curse of being a bassist. We’re seen as half of the rhythm section. It’s an instrument that was INVENTED for loud rhythm sections. Its voice was deeply integral to the development of rock and roll, pop, hard rock, prog, funk, soul, R’n’B… It is the sound of pop music. Bass and drums, that’s what makes it not-folk or not-chamber-music. As a voice outside of that, it’s still woefully under-explored…
So my decision to mostly avoid drummers, certainly in the context of my solo work (the decision to see all ‘band’ work as collaborative and never ‘my band’ is a huge part of this) is one that puts what I do apart from what most bass players do. It works as a USP, but has also been a very very useful set of limitations for exploring a new vocabulary for the instrument. I’m not the first to do this, by a long shot, though the degree to which it has dominated my work is unusual. [Read more →]
This is the first of two posts today – the 2nd one will have gig news and some recording news, but first here are two videos that have gone live in the last week.
Yesterday I posted this one, that was recorded as a video test, and turned out rather nice… Was checking whether I could do video and multitrack audio at the same time on my laptop. Turns out I can, as evidenced here.
Lots of lovely pedals are featured – MXR bass preamp (on the floor out of shot), Dunlop Volume Pedal, Markbass MiniDist, Darkglass VMT, MXR Bass Fuzz, MXR Bass Chorus Deluxe, MXR Bass Overdrive, TC Electronic HOF mini, MXR Bass Envelope Filter: [Read more →]