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Steve's Blog: Solo Bass & Beyond



Illuminated Loops II out now

May 9th, 2018 | No Comments | Categories: New releases · Subscription news

 10 Months on from vol 1, Illuminated Loops II has just been released to my Bandcamp subscribers. The Bandcamp subscription is still my main mechanism for releasing (and funding) the music I make – when you sign up, you now get 40 releases straight away. And you also get the next 12 months of music. All for your first year’s subscription. It’s a crazy deal, designed to invite people who are interested in what I’m doing now to get some context and discover where it has come from. And so far that’s the only place to get the two Illuminated Loops recordings… There’ll be a LOT more recording from this project coming up later in the year… Sign up now at stevelawson.bandcamp.com/subscribe, to make sure you get it all as soon as it is released.

This album, Illuminated Loops II, is the music from our Feb 25th 2018 show at Tower Of Song in Birmingham. As before, this recording is in some ways just a relic of the show itself – that it works so well as a standalone musical experience raises all kinds of questions about whether the fact that something is enjoyable affects what it actually is… if the music made no sense without the art happening at the same time, would it cease to be music, or at least worthwhile music? The art as a static entity is in the same precarious position – it’s beautiful and intriguing to look at, all the moreso if you know its origins, but the static version is just what’s leftover after the show. The unfolding, the interaction, the experience of before/during/after – the consequential nature of it all, of it coming into being – that’s ‘the work’, the show, the full experience.

But, having said all that, don’t let it stop you enjoying the music! I’ve been saying for a while that making music in the context of Illuminated Loops results in work that is significantly more interesting to me than anything else that I do as a solo artist. Obviously because it’s not really solo – all of this is co-credited to Poppy and I because the music as it is wouldn’t exist without her. You can definitely hear my vocabulary in there, my musical accent, but the script is one that is developed between us as we go along. The fact that the music I make serves a dual purpose – the music as a journey through time, and the sound as trigger for Poppy’s synaethesia gives me a license to go to new places… The 2nd set here begins with a looped two note bass line played in on the Quneo – I’ve never used the Quneo for bass parts before, and hadn’t planned to this time! The whole soundtrack is littered with strange and surprising sounds that are meshed together via my long-developed ‘unfolding’ aesthetic… And, in listening back to it now as I write, I remember that when I mixed it, I left in all the crackles and pops and artifacts that were present in the audio on the gig, because they were part of what Poppy would’ve ‘seen’ and therefor drawn… In a pure ‘album recording’ setting, I’d have probably edited some or processed them in other ways, but here, they’re all there as part of the sonic canvas (in case you want to do your own synaesthetic representations and draw from the same source!)  There is some video from this show around, so hopefully we’ll get that into a publicly releasable form soon, so you can see a little more of how it works!

I love this project so much, and I hope you get some sense of what’s happening from this. And if you’re lucky, you’ll get to see it live soon – we really need to do more of it (weirdly, the thing that’s holding it up is me getting clearance for the research bit of my PhD from the ethics department at the Uni!) keep an eye out, and hopefully see you at a show soon.

You can also read more about the Illuminated Loops project from Poppy’s perspective on her website – poppyporter.co.uk

 

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The Beginner’s Guide To SoloBassSteve…

May 6th, 2018 | No Comments | Categories: Musing on Music · Random Catchup

TOO MUCH MUSIC?! What does too much music look like? Is it possible to have too much music? I know that there are some artists that have massive catalogues whose work I have no idea how to approach. Do you start at the beginning and work forwards? Do you jump in with the biggest selling, or just the most recent to see where they’ve got up to?

My own catalogue is, obviously, huge. I honestly don’t know off the top of my head how many albums I’ve released. That’s nuts, right?

So, anyway, to help you out, I’ve just gone over my solo output and annotated it a little as a Beginner’s Guide To SoloBassSteve – just a bit of context about each one. So of these albums are subscriber-only, so for those (and to get ALL of them right now) you’ll need to subscribe over at Bandcamp. The big thrill there is that once you subscribe, you OWN them all – it’s not a Spotify renting-access-to-streams-and-playlists thing, these are all yours. So if it takes you a few years to get through this lot, that’s OK. They aren’t going away. You’ll have them to download, stream via the Bandcamp app and even re-download if your computer dies as often as you like. The music is yours – click here to find out more about the subscription – http://stevelawson.bandcamp.com/subscribe

So, jump in, have a read, see how you get on, I’ll link to each album so you can just click through and have a listen!

2000And Nothing But The Bass – my first album, recorded live in concert except for the last two tracks, one of which was live at home, the other a duet with Jez Carr on piano. A bit like looking at baby photos for me now, but there are still quite a few people for whom it’s their favourite album of mine. Got ridiculously great reviews when it came out, probably reflective of how few solo bass albums there were then!

2002Not Dancing For Chicken – first ever studio solo record. Was actually recorded twice, and I really wish I had all the earlier recordings still… Recorded direct to stereo two track, and destructively edited, still sounds pretty good considering. Features a couple of tunes that became live staples for the next decade – MMFSOG, Jimmy James and Highway 1. Was released while I w as on tour with Level 42, so solo VERY well on release, and got a fair bit of radio play, magazine coverage etc… remastered in 2012, to sound way better than the original, and also remove the comic sans from the artwork 😀 😀

2004Grace And Gratitude – probably still my most popular album – a consolidation of all the things I’d learned up to that point, and a pretty pivotal blend of all the elements that went into making up my sound at the time – big tunes, heavy ambient experimentation, beautiful chord progressions and weirdness! More radio support for this one, bizarrely. And I once reworked the title track for a beer advert, which sadly wasn’t ever used (mostly sad cos that meant I didn’t get paid… 😉 )

2006Behind Every Word – More composed that anything else I’d done to that point, features two amazing special guests – BJ Cole and Julie McKee, also was the first thing I’d released that had an outside co-producer (the 1st version of Not Dancing was co-produced by Jez Carr, but didn’t see the light of day because my insistence of recording with a mic’d amp was a stupid move) – this time it was Sue Edwards, who remotely monitored what I was up to, and gave pivotal feedback that made the album about 10 times better than it would’ve been…

2002/2004Lessons Learned From An Aged Feline Pts 1 & 2 – two very limited edition releases that came with the 1st 100 CDs of Not Dancing and Grace And Gratitude – lots of other things I was recording at the time. Started a trend for producing way more music than would fit onto a single CD…. (LLFAAF Pt 3 only exists as MP3s, and that came out with Behind Every Word) Pt 1 has my first couple of mahoosive ambient tunes on it, and they still sound good…

2010Ten Years On: Live In London – live album to mark the 10th anniversary of my first solo album. Recorded live at Round Midnight in London. Not a bad record of what I sounded like, but also the beginning of the nagging feeling that playing compositions wasn’t really what I should be doing live…

2011 – 11 Reasons Why 3 Is Greater Than Everything – first studio solo album since Behind Every Word, recorded in Catford and Muswell Hill. Remixed a year after it came out to reflect my improved skills as an engineer. Features a couple of my favourite ever solo tunes, and features LOTS of big tunes, and a little bit of epic strangeness – mostly reflective of how my sense of harmony had developed in the interim. Some less obvious tunes in there that I still really dig…

2012 – Believe In Peace – improvised live in an art gallery in Minneapolis, proved very popular, and still gets a lot of love today. I think this was my first all-fretless album… The artwork was from the amazing display of art by Geoff Bush that inspired the music. Recorded during a Tornado!

2014 – What The Mind Thinks, The Heart Transmits – the album that SO many people had been asking for for over a decade – a single ambient piece, recorded as the soundtrack to a guided meditation on a retreat. Super-popular with people who do yoga, meditate, or who just like really relaxing music to drive or sleep to! Followed another two year-long break from focussing on solo work following the life-consuming FingerPainting project!

2015 – Closing In (subscriber exclusive) – the first Bandcamp subscriber-only solo release, this was the ideas I’d started to develop on the journey to making the next two albums, and is the bridge between the first 15 years of my career playing only bass and nothing else, and then adding in the drums and synth stuff on the next two albums… ALL CHANGE!

2015 – The Way Home/ A Crack Where The Light Gets In – Two albums released on the same day, and the first things to come out publicly featuring my new set-up with the Quneo being used to play drums and some keyboard parts. Everything was (and is) still recorded live with no overdubs, but I have the option to play other sound and particularly to incorporate more obviously the hip hop influence that has been there in the background for my entire music life… Beats and weirdness galore – a new adventure to be sure!

2015 – You Guys, Let’s Just Talk About Nail Varnish – compilation of tracks recorded for the Bass The World YouTube channel.

2016 – Well, Say Hello Then (subscriber exclusive) – a lil’ EP recorded to introduce my brand new bass (my first new instrument in over a decade. Features some lovely ideas, is better than it’s slightly rushed existence might suggest!

2016 – Referendum – recorded just before and the day after the EU Referendum here in the UK. A hopeful then despairing collection of music that still emotionally resonates and became a favourite with a lot of people. Vertigo may be my single favourite ever solo piece…

2016 – Hands Music (subscriber exclusive) – Recorded at the launch exhibition for brilliant German photographer Marc Mennigmann’s ‘Hands’ photo project. Fully improvised as background/contextual music for the exhibition, is an interesting mix of very ambient and very poppy/tuneful. Has a couple of sneaky covers in there. V popular with subscribers…

2016 – Colony Collapse Disorder (subscriber exclusive)/ The Surrender Of Time / Towards A Better Question – 2016 produced a ridiculous amount of solo music from me… recorded in the same sessions, these three recordings consolidated the experiments that began with the previous two albums. The feeling of integration between the Quneo and the bass as a combined instrument, seeing the whole thing as one big music-generating thing, is way more fully expressed here (I’m even playing them at the same time on a couple of tracks) – Colony Collapse Disorder was originally just the first half, but a subscriber suggested that it felt like the beginning of something bigger, so I recorded the second half as an other track, put them together, and that’s what we have! The beat side of things is getting more varied and the hip hop more conspicuous.

2016 – Hark/Winter – Christmas single, that doesn’t really sound like a christmas single 🙂

2017  – Illuminated Loops (subscriber exclusive) – not really a solo album, even though it’s just me playing on it. The recording of my first performance with the great Poppy Porter – Poppy has synaesthia, which means she sees sound, so she draws what she sees while I play. I then treat it her art as a graphic score. It’s all kinds of fun and results in some very interesting music. My new favourite project.

2017 – PS, You Are Brilliant – a deep, experimental record with some big tunes but a lot of pretty intense textural experimentation, and deeply strange hip hop beats. A big step forward for the new set-up and probably my favourite thing I’ve released solo so far…

2017 – Small Is Beautiful (subscriber exclusive) – the subscriber only accompaniment to the PS… only one track with any Quneo as all, lots of stuff with minimal looping and maximal mellowness. I love this, and is no doubt popular with all the subscribers who prefer my solo stuff from before I started messing around with electronics so much 😉

2018 – The Long Game (subscriber exclusive) – first solo release of 2018 is live album from the 2018 London Bass Guitar Show – both performances came out really well, and this is them. Foregrounding some of the Quneo-as-piano experiments I’ve been working with, rather successfully. Also the first solo release to feature my Elrick SLC signature fretless.

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So there you go. I plan to do the same for the collaborations at some point soon. Hopefully it’ll help you dive in and find the ones you like the sound of! If you want to post your own thoughts on the albums, PLEASE do, either here in the comments, or via your Bandcamp collection so they appear next to the album!

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New Video – The Strangest Of Things

May 4th, 2018 | No Comments | Categories: looping · music gear

Here’s a thing I haven’t posted in a while – a new video up on YouTube, called the Strangest Of Things (for reasons that may become apparent when you hear it.)

The other day, I got a new pedal – it’s one I’ve been wanting to try for a LOOOONG time, so I was excited to sit down and get some experimenting time in with the Pigtronix Mothership 2 Analog Synth. Those of you who’ve been following things here fro a while will know that I view pedals and processing as part of my instrument – change a pedal and it fundamentally changes what my instrument is. I don’t view it as processing a bass guitar, but building an instrument that makes a range of sounds in a number of ways. So sticking something as radically sound-altering as a synth pedal in there has all manner of amazing possibilities.

As you can maybe see from the pic, there’s a TON of control over the sound – meaning you can either get a very specific sound you want and leave it (the other video I posted yesterday to Instagram was more of that kind of approach, trying to get Bernie Worrell’s keyboard bass sound from Flashlight…) or you can have it at hand-height and tweak it the way you would a modular synth.

So, here’s the video:

I’m running my Elrick Gold Series SLC signature fretless 6 into a signal path that includes the Aguilar Tone Hammer, Pigtronix Philosopher compressor, Jule Monique tube preamp, MOD Duo running a wide stereo chorus, EQ and a cab sim, and then the MXR Reverb for those trapped chords in the middle. The fretless seems like the perfect instrument for experimenting with synth, as it gives you a second way to control the portamento on the notes – the Mothership 2 has a ‘glide control’ – you can hear that towards the end, where the notes start swooping up and down in insane ways – but I can control that glide as well on the fretless just by sliding 🙂

The cut-up effect at the beginning is all done in the Looperlative LP1 – the effect is ‘quantise replace’, and I’m swapping out 1/16th of the loop each time, sometimes with a block that’s an octave higher (by changing the speed of the replaced bit) and sometimes it’s pitch-shifted (but slowing down the loop by a particular fraction while the replace is happening) – it starts chaotic, and suddenly this amazing glitchy beautiful ostinato emerges! The filter at the end is the Kaoss Pad Mini – the drums and the glitch-line are on different tracks in the LP1, so I can route that synth part to the aux out which has the KP Mini after it.

The glitchy drum sounds are a sample set I assembled from various sources in FL Studio played in on the Quneo. The whole thing is improvised live and unedited.

I love this stage of getting ideas together with new parts to my instrument – it’s slightly Jackson Pollock-esque in that you get to throw ideas at the canvas and see what happens. How well defined the canvas is depends on how cavalier you are with the rest of the parameters. Here, I’m pretty familiar with that quantise replace function on the Looperlative, though as this is a completely redesigned version of the software (running on the first of the new hardware boxes! yay!) it does actually respond slightly differently… But it’s in 4/4, and it wasn’t to hard to work out what the key centre was once the glitchy line was running (though I can’t fully predict what the notes will be with the pitch shifted replace function! I mean, I could work it out, but I like the madness of it 😉 ) – so this is experimental stage 0.1 – definitely in Beta mode. Some of the synth stuff has wonky squirrelly pitch, though that does feel more like a 70s thing, given how unpredictable the original voltage controlled synths were…

More soon!!

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10 Collaborators Who Changed My Music Life. Pt 7 – BJ Cole

April 26th, 2018 | No Comments | Categories: 10 Collaborators · Musing on Music

Today’s influential collaborator is BJ Cole, and for someone who changed my music-life as much as BJ did, there’s precious little documentation of us playing together. This is because the vast majority of the development that happened for me while playing with BJ happened in my living room. For a couple of years we got together as often as possible to just play. Sometimes it was every other week. When we were busy, our sessions were a little more spread out. But it was time and space to experiment with a particular kind of abstract textural improv that was utterly formative for me. BJ was quite involved with the London Improvisors Orchestra at the time, which gave him space to apply his mind-bendingly broad approach to the pedal steel guitar to some pretty out music. He was also working with Luke Vibert and others on the EDM scene, so his development of his own voice was an extraordinary thing to witness – especially in a musician who was already the most influential practitioner of his instrument that this country has ever produced (for those who don’t know, BJ played the pedal steel part on Tiny Dancer by Elton John, and played with David Sylvian, Robert Plant, Bjork, Deacon Blue, Paul Young, REM, Beck, and was in the Verve, as well as making groundbreaking ambient records under his own name).

Our experimental sessions in my living room were space to push ideas to breaking point – BJ had a Gibson Echoplex, and I had my Looperlative (or probably a pair of EDPs when we first started playing together) so we could create a massive layered sound – we built, and the dismantled, a whole load of cinematic and occasionally terrifying soundscapes. The great thing about it for me was that, because we had a tendency to occupy similar sonic territory (the steel has a huge range, and as I was using the eBow an awful lot at the time, we were both producing a lot of sustained chords in similar registers) I had to listen more intently than ever to try and find the space where our sound-worlds met. Often in those sessions things would go off the deep end, and we’d end up with harsh noise (I wonder if any of that music is on a hard drive somewhere? We did record a lot of it…) It was a project that involved a lot of trial and error, a lot of rescuing of improvisations that got away from us.

The thing that I think made it most interesting for me was how successful the music was whenever we played live. Those safe-sessions in my house allowed us to push boundaries that meant that when we played live, we had a whole load of experience to fall back on, and were less apt to fall over the cliff-edge. Allowing yourself to find what happens when things get too messy, or when sounds pile up to the point where it begins to lose meaning – those are important and formative experiments. I’m deeply grateful to BJ for all the time we spent finding sounds and ideas, pushing things too far, and then applying it to a range of gigs in different combinations – my favourite of our projects was a trio with Cleveland Watkiss. We played a number of times at my night, The Recycle Collective, and it was an amazing experience and a great combinations of sounds. But I also loved opening for and sitting in with BJ’s group at the time, with Eddie Sayer on percussion and Ben Bayliss on laptop, playing the music from his brilliant Trouble In Paradise album.

It was such a privilege to get to play with a musician of BJ’s stature, but moreso a musician of his deep, ceaseless commitment to moving forward in his own creative path. I learned as much just from the experience of playing with someone who was already ‘a legend’ in the pop world, already absolutely at the top of his game, but who never stopped reaching for new things, who was ceaselessly curious about what else he might be able to do with his instrument. I carry that inspiration with me every time I pick up the instrument, and I really hope we get to play together again soon. It’s been way, way too long.

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10 Collaborators Who Changed My Music Life. Part 6 – Poppy Porter

April 25th, 2018 | 1 Comment | Categories: 10 Collaborators · Musing on Music

OK, here’s an interesting one. The 6th collaborator on my list that changed my music-life is Poppy Porter, and it’s apt that I’m writing about her today because the new issue of Bass Guitar Magazine has just come out with an interview with me in it, and a lot of what I’m talking about is this project.

What’s interesting is that, in the context of our duo, Poppy doesn’t make sound in order to make music. Our project, Illuminated Loops, involves me improvising, and Poppy – who is synaesthetic – drawing what she sees while I play. And then, I get to see whatever she’s drawing as she does it, and treat it as a graphic score for the music that comes next – to reinterpret the shapes and patterns and colours, the pastel strokes and swirls, and turn them back into music. It’s one of the most enjoyable projects I’ve ever been involved in, and has resulted in a bunch of music that is both wholly me and simultaneously entirely dependent on Poppy’s input for it to be what it is. It’s a co-creation project, where the lines between the visual and the audible are blurred in terms of who is making what happen.

For both Poppy and I, Illuminated Loops is a chance to inject another stimulus into our work, to see what happens when something else shapes the process. For me, that’s have the twin focus of both making a noise with the aim of ‘triggering’ images, and then reinterpreting them, and for Poppy, it’s taking a process that’s done for a while – that of turning the images she sees while listening to music into art – and making that a real-time performance. That’s a pretty terrifying shift of modality for an artist who makes things in a studio and then presents the finished work. To have a creative process that ends in a product suddenly morph into a performance is a massive change of context, and has big implications for the aesthetic of her work. For my part, I end up making a different kind of music in this context – it’s both me and not me at the same time. It’s all my sounds and stems from my musical vocabulary, but I react to things differently, and assemble things in a different way because of the visual cues and the that glorious feedback loop between Poppy and I.

With all of that magic going on, it’s no surprise that this project is at the heart of my ongoing PhD study, looking at my audience’s experience of improvisation. So we should be doing a lot more Illuminated Loops shows in the near future. Til then, grab a copy of Bass Guitar Magazine, and have a read of the new article. And if you subscribe to me on Bandcamp, Illuminated Loops vol I is already available, and vol II is out in the next couple of weeks (spoiler – Vol II is easily one of my favourite recordings I’ve ever done 🙂 )

And definitely check out Poppy’s work on her website – www.poppyporter.co.uk – and have a read of her blog, she’s a fascinating thinker, and extraordinary artist.

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10 Collaborators Who Changed My Music Life. Part 5 – Theo Travis

April 22nd, 2018 | No Comments | Categories: 10 Collaborators · Musing on Music

And on the 5th day, Steve talked about working with Theo Travis.

Day five of the ‘collaborators that changed my music-life’ series, and we reach someone with whom I had from the very first time we played a quite amazing synergy. Not til I played with Daniel Berkman did I find another musician with whom it felt like we could do nothing wrong… Theo and I met on a gig in Norwich, the day after the end of the tour I did opening for Level 42 in 2002 – it was a mini-festival of solo performers, each of whom had to overlap with the next player. I’m trying to remember which was round it went, but I either joined the end of Theo’s set, and then ceded to Roger Eno, or the other way round. Suffice to say, the little bit of crossover in my playing with Theo was enough for us to make plans to play together again soon after. It must’ve been very soon after, because I remember the first time we played, I was still using a Soundblaster soundcard, with just a stereo input, and I replaced that with some of the money I made on the Level 42 tour!

Playing with Theo was the pinnacle of the early collaboration period for me, and there was pretty much nothing we ever did that I didn’t love. It was really interesting because our sound was constantly developing and evolving through the time we played together, but we never went through a period of making a bad noise. Some of the musical relationships I’ll be detailing in this series were great because they provided space for experiments that didn’t initially bear fruit, but Theo was definitely the first person I played with where just about everything we ever did was releasable. He was also the first melody instrument collaborator that I’d had – although his exquisite use of the DL4 allowed him to do some amazing textures and harmony – for a lot of the time, my primary role was harmonic and textural, and that gave me space to focus on those sounds, on building my vocabulary of textural pad sounds and looping techniques to layer them in interesting ways. Which had a massive effect on my solo playing thereafter (compare Not Dancing For Chicken with Grace And Gratitude, and you’ll hear what playing with Theo did to my solo work!)

When we finally recorded For The Love Of Open Spaces, every track was a pure improvisation. No discussion of keys or moods or anything, except on the track ‘Lovely’, where I said ‘let’s try one without any looping’. But, for every track we did, we tried to repeat the same idea, and see if there was a better take of that idea once we’d played it through. The whole album is first takes. While we did quite successfully transition those recordings into re-performable compositions, at the time, the spontaneity of the original each time was where the magic was.

Theo and I played a fair bit together between 2003 and 2006, including a Jazz Services-funded tour, from which we have a really good live recording that I’ve recently remastered and will be reissuing soon as part of an expanded deluxe download version of For The Love Of Open Spaces, along with a remaster of our earliest record – It’s Not Going To Happen, which was released in a limited edition of 100 to the first 100 pre-orders of the CD when it came out in 2003. We also met up recently when LEYlines opened for Soft Machine, and talked about doing something new together. I really hope that happens. Theo’s a wonderful human, and a quite extraordinary musician. Go check out his other music on his Bandcamp page.

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Ten Collaborators Who Changed My Music-Life. Part 4 – Andy Edwards

April 21st, 2018 | No Comments | Categories: 10 Collaborators · Uncategorized

Right, day 4 and we’re going to bring this right up to date because today is his 50th Birthday, and we’re going to talk about Andy Edwards.

And to talk about Andy, requires me to talk about drummers. Because, for the most part, I avoided drummers in improv situations for close to a decade. I played with a couple in that time who were AMAZING (Seb Rochford and Roy Dodds), but for the most part, I wanted to steer clear of trying to do my loopy-layering thing with drums. This was for a number of reasons – one was simply that there was more than enough groove-based music with drums on it happening elsewhere. It felt like a creative space that was pretty swamped and I didn’t at the time have anything specific I wanted to bring to it. But it was also because finding drummers that could follow as well as lead was really hard. Finding drummers whose sense of dynamics was a smooth line from silence to deafening, with everything in between being a possible choice, was REALLY hard. So many drummers that I heard playing in (idiomatic) improv settings assumed that their job was to play like it was a normal gig in whatever style they were most comfortable, and just leave the harmonic and melodic elements to everyone else, rather than treating it as a a genuine open act of co-creation with all the potential for variation that that supplies.

I obviously found the most brilliant foil for that in Daniel Berkman, but not long after that I also started playing with Andy Edwards.

Andy’s career path was one that saw him become a bit of a legendary prog/chops/crazy-time-signatures and polyrhythmic genius drummer, alongside playing with Robert Plant in Priory Of Brion. Not the obvious start point for a groundbreaking Stevie-Collaborator, but as we talked more (we teach in the same college – Andy manages the course, and found me online before convincing me to go and teach with him) his history in improv, and our shared love of so many experimental forms emerged. Particularly a mutual obsession with Miles Davis’ 70s output. So Andy and I started doing improv gigs. Initially with invited guests to come and play with us – Julie Slick, Jem Godfrey, Bryan Corbett – it was duo-plus-one, and we got to explore some fascinating territory with each of them (the gigs with Bryan and Jem are available to my Bandcamp subcribers!) And then we started playing as a more regular trio with the third part of our teaching team at Kidderminster, guitarist Phi Yaan-Zek, calling ourselves LEYlines.

Andy has brought two wonderful things into my music life again – one is playing with an acoustic drummer that has the most extraordinarily brilliant sense of space and dynamics, and the other is the option to get seriously heavy! That we can explore the intersection of metal and improv, blending it with all the other prog, experimental, jazz and electronic ideas that get thrown in by the three of us, is a joy.

Andy and I have a brilliantly interdependent relationship as a rhythm section. Neither is reliant on the other for anything, and can couple and decouple a groove for any given length of time. I can wander off into ambient territory, or noise, or weirdness of some sort, and Andy will do whatever he feels is the right thing to do for the music, rather than bringing any weighty expectations about what ‘ought’ to happen to the gig. His extraordinary technical and stylistic knowledge gives us so many places to go in any improv setting, and that coupled to the unpredictability of what he might turn up with gear-wise (it could just as easily be a guitar and a MIDI drum kit as a set of acoustic drums) keeps everything as fresh as can be. I look forward to every opportunity I have to play with him, especially in LEYlines where our shared and ever-growing vocabulary is an art project all of its own.

So happy birthday, you old bastard, thanks for keeping me constantly on my toes and making me reach deep for the best that I bring every time we play!

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10 Collaborators Who Changed My Music Life. Part 3 – Michael Manring

April 20th, 2018 | No Comments | Categories: 10 Collaborators · Musing on Music

Day 3, and today also happens to be the 20th anniversary of my first website going online! The one that eventually became this site here. When I got my first laptop in 1997, it was because I’d started writing for Bassist Magazine, and the first thing I ever wrote to them I actually hand wrote and posted to them. So, that was insane, and I needed a way to get stuff to them more easily. So I bought a laptop, and not long after, a dial-up modem for it. I got myself a Compuserve address, and used some kind of by-the-minute dial-up access thing for a while, before finding an email company in Orkney via some excellent geek friends, called Zetnet. Zetnet email came with webspace, but I initially assumed making a website required expensive software and stuff that I didn’t have. It didn’t take me long to work out that if I knew just a little HTML, I could hand code a site just in notepad, and if I saved the text files as .html and one of them was called index.html I could upload them to my Zetnet space and have my own website! What an extraordinary thing. The version on archive.org dates it to 20 years ago today, but in thinking about it, that may actually be the day that I added a counter, as that’s what the image shows…

Anyway, what does this have to do with collaboration? Well, one of the first things I was able to do when I got online was start to contact my music heroes, people I wanted to be able to interview for Bassist magazine, and the companies that made the gear I was interested in. I remember finding Modulus’ website, and discovering that their artist relations person was also a big Bruce Cockburn fan…

And one of the people I first got in touch with was Michael Manring. I already had his Thonk album, and having read a bunch of interviews with him, was deeply inspired and influenced by his take on solo bass. This was before I’d released anything solo, but I was starting to play things at guitar shows, and I was on a record with a quartet called Ragatal, with flamenco guitar, tabla and electric violin. I sent a copy to Michael, and we struck up an email correspondence.

Fast forward to my first NAMM show in 1999, and I met up with Michael and interviewed him for Bassist mag. I was driving up to the Bay Area to visit Rick Turner, Modulus and Zon Guitars and found out that Michael was playing a solo show opening for Trey Gunn (who I’d recently interviewed for Bassist Mag in London). So I thought ‘I’ll go to the show’. Michael offered to let me stay at his house, and I set off. But I had no map, and sat nav didn’t exist then. So I drove through San Francisco, with no idea where I was going, out the other side, and over the Golden Gate Bridge. That was obviously not the way to the venue (which I only knew was called the Last Day Saloon and was in-or-near Chinatown) – so I turned round, came back over the bridge, guessed a turning, eventually stopped and asked someone randomly who told me I was about three blocks away… 🙂

Anyway, that’s not what this is about. Collaboration is the theme here, and Michael became a collaborator the following year, when we both played a solo bass gig in Santa Cruz and did a thing together at the end. Over the next few years we did a LOT of shows both in California and around England, and in those duo shows I got to discover much of what was possible at the intersection of two bass guitars (albeit to heavily processed and decidedly weird bass guitars). We played sold out shows, did clinics together, and drove a lot of miles – I think at this point I’ve probably done more shows with Michael than any other improv collaborator besides Lobelia. And the whole thing was an extraordinary eye-opening experience. Remember, here was the person who introduced me to the idea of looping, whose records made me want to be a solo bassist, who had inspired me for many years, and there we were playing loads of weird and wonderful improvised music. We’ve never rehearsed together, never played not in front of an audience. Only twice ever played a prewritten tune together (we did Autumn Leaves as a duo, and played Blue In Green in a trio with David Friesen… Oh, and we did a version of All Blues in a trio with the very brilliant John Lester when he opened for us on tour!)

Part of me wishes I had more recordings of those early gigs. Part of me is happier to remember how they felt than get hung up on what the music actually sounded like. But I was being stretched, trying to rise to the challenge of playing improvised shows with easily one of the most brilliant musicians ever to pick up the bass guitar. He was ceaseless in his encouragement and support for me – and still is! – and he became a supremely valued friend.

There were so many things I learned playing with Michael, and watching him play solo, so many times when I wondered if what I was doing was any good, and his words of encouragement dispelled doubts. And none more so than when we played a house concert at the home of the inventor of the Looperlative, Bob Amstadt, in 2012, and I suggested doing two solo sections in the first set and then some duo stuff later on, and he said ‘no! let’s do it all duo!’ And we did, and I was finally able to record what we sounded like properly, and get it out there. The album, Language Is A Music, is still subscriber-only, and you can get it here – it’s something that I’m not only deeply proud of as a work of art, but which represents almost two decades of playing together, of friendship, encouragement, of growing as a musician and improvisor, and learning from one of the greatest musicians I’ve ever heard, let alone been on stage with.

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10 Collaborators Who Changed My Music Life. Part 2 – Jez Carr

April 19th, 2018 | No Comments | Categories: 10 Collaborators · Uncategorized

Right, so today is part 2 of my new series, and we’re talking about Jez Carr! Jez is such a monumental presence in my improv career, I’m genuinely not sure I’d be doing what I’m doing now if it wasn’t for his influence…

We met at a jam session arranged by a mutual friend that I’d met on a session gig – and really hit it off. We started getting together multiple times a week to play (to the point where one of his flatmates in a freudian slip on the phone counted me amongst the residence of their flat 😉 ) and his studio engineering expertise was integral to me being able to turn my initial live minidisc recordings into my my first solo album. We dumped them into Protools, recorded an extra duet track for it, and that was …And Nothing But The Bass.

We then set about recording the first fully improvised recording of my life, and playing the first fully improvised gigs together – Conversations was an utterly pivotal experience for me, and still stands alone amongst my recorded output as a collaboration on which I used just one pedal (a Line 6 DL4) and as such it favours interaction over construction to a great degree. Jez was the person with whom I started to properly build my melodic and harmonic vocabulary as an improvisor. We did a ridiculous number of jazz gigs together, which were mostly standards gigs, but we’d sneak in as much improv as we could…

His presence in those formative years, and the experiences we had together making music around the turn of the millennium are indelibly present in everything I’ve done since, and I’ll be forever grateful to him for his friendship, trust, sense of adventure and truly beautiful piano playing. A life-changer, for sure 🙂

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10 Collaborators Who Changed My Music Life. Part 1 – Daniel Berkman

April 18th, 2018 | No Comments | Categories: 10 Collaborators · Musing on Music

I’ve been meaning to do this for ages, but for the next ten days I’m going to post about one collaborator each day that has changed my music life. There are way more than ten who could fit the bill (maybe I’ll enjoy it so much I’ll keep going after ten, we’ll see) but we’ll start with these ten:

Day one, I’m want to talk to you about Daniel Berkman. I met Daniel because of another fabulous collaborator, Artemis – though I hadn’t met either of them when she suggested that Daniel and I should do a gig or two together. Sure, says I. I showed up to the first gig – a house/loft gig in San Francisco hosted by another new friend, Jimmy, and we met while setting up. As we started getting a sound, it dawned on both of us that playing solo sets and a little bit of a duo thing at the end was a bit of a waste of this opportunity, so we did two entire sets of improvised music, and finished wide-eyed and wondering if it was a fluke… But the gig we had the next night in Oakland was at least as fabulous as the first one, and something magical had been set in place.

The following January we did 8 more shows, then ended up releasing the recordings of all 10 shows – pretty much every note Daniel and I had played together up to that point (we didn’t jam in soundchecks, or play tunes outside of the gigs – just get on stage and see what happens) – the recordings also feature Artemis on vocals, and her presence became such an important part of the emotional/artist arc of the gigs, each set climbing towards a vocal finale.

Working with Daniel brought with it the most extraordinary sense of possibility – his skill set as a multi-instrumentalist is unfathomably huge, and the crossover in our taste from electronica to pop music to weird shit to folk and jazz was equally huge. So we got to go to a lot of different places. It was a really formative collaboration for me in terms of how percussion and drums related to what I do as an improvisor – a whole load of ideas and experiments fell into place in that particular musical setting.

Right now, I’m finishing up mixing the 11 shows for our third tour together, which should be out in some form or other later in the year.

For now, you can check out the work we did together via the players embedded below, and Daniel’s extraordinary solo releases on Bandcamp too… Go buy his music and follow what he’s up to. I hope we get to play together again soon 🙂

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