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Steve's Blog: Solo Bass & Beyond



Two Contrasting New Musical Experiments (Video)

May 9th, 2009 · Comments Off on Two Contrasting New Musical Experiments (Video)

photo of a painting from the Urban Scrawl exhibition in London, April 09Here’s the two latest bits of ‘public beta test music’ that I’ve put up online.

They contrast a couple of different possible uses of the functions I’ve been exploring on the Looperlative of late – the first being using the replace functions as an ancillary bleepy effect in an otherwise mellow ballad, and the second being a full-on rhythmic bleep-fest, that veers much closer to glitch-core (though the fact that my rhythmic reference point is just a fairly slow ‘four on the floor’ kick-drum style pattern is a little less interesting than you’d expect from something more obviously IDM…) [Read more →]

Tags: looping · Music News

Teaching Ideas Pt 3 – Teaching is therapy

July 8th, 2008 · Comments Off on Teaching Ideas Pt 3 – Teaching is therapy

I think it’s safe to say that for almost every person playing a musical instrument, there’s a part of it that is about exploring a part of their character and personality that they don’t get to exercise elsewhere. Whether that’s me as a solo bassist writing music that expresses all the stuff I struggle to put into words (which is why so many of my tunes are inspired by death), or the bloke who works in a garden centre learning speed metal to play in a pub on friday evenings, because he’s desperate for the garden centre to not be the sole defining entity in his life, there’s something that music gives us that would otherwise be sorely missing from our lives.

Being a ‘bassist in a metal band who happens to work in a garden centre’ is actually a pretty cool place to be in life. It has cache with your work friends, it has the security of a wage from the job, and it’s not the kind of job that’s going to drag you off away from rehearsals with your band, which means you can be fairly well committed to what’s going on.

It also often means that you can afford to have – and have time for – lessons. So when I get to meet with players in that situation, and am entrusted with the task of providing them with the tools, the process and the inspiration to learn more about their instrument, my role becomes a rather therapeutic one.

It’s not good enough in that situation to dismiss the style of band the person plays in and hand them pages of scales and arpeggios to learn, along with a load of tunes that you the teacher like.

No, a degree of personalisation – both of content and delivery – has to take place in that kind of transaction for it to be of value. I spend the first couple of lessons with a new student discovering things about them – why they play, what they play, what they do when they first pick up their instrument, and technical bad habits they’ve picked up, any erroneous ‘rules’ they’ve been told by other people about what you can and can’t do with music, any bogus (or useful!) terminology they’ve picked up in the past, and what they instinctively are capable of.

I very often get them improvising in the first lesson, just as a way of showing how lax the rules are on what ‘works’ and doesn’t ‘work’ – within some fairly broad tonal boundaries, anything can sound ‘good’ if you keep it simple enough, and build on it… the value of discovering that creativity doesn’t require induction into Dumbledore’s Inner Circle or the Knights Who Say Ni! or something (see my Creative Choices blog post for more on that).

I also get them working things by ear as early as possible, and encourage them to experiment a lot with fun things that may or may not end up sounding cool…

Why? Music is an incredible space for us to stretch the boundaries of what we define as our own creative limitations. It’s an utterly benign form, given it’s completely abstract nature (lyrics notwithstanding) and as such the worst that happens is you make an unpleasant noise. So you can go nuts and see what happens – it’s like taking a wild lashing serve when you’re break point down in tennis, only nobody loses if you get it wrong. It’s like declaring your love for a colleague on the day they leave the office because you’ll never get another chance, only no-one’s going to laugh at you.

Music is a space in which people can discover what they are capable of, and a good music teacher makes that possible, inspiring and an attractive proposition.

Tags: bass ideas · Musing on Music · teaching news · tips for musicians

Last.fm-buzzing – day one results + free stuff :)

June 19th, 2008 · 1 Comment

OK, one day into the last.fm buzzing experiment, and the first thing that’s clear is that this is going to take a little longer. Twitter buzzing takes a maximum of 20 seconds beyond reading the blog post. You find a link, you twurl it, you tweet it. Simple As.

I did, however, have twice as many listeners on last.fm yesterday, compared to my daily average, and also visits to this site are also still up way above the average… Not sure how much of that is interest in me or interest in the results of the experiment. Either is good!

The Last.fm thing has a bigger pay-off – you’re listening to a load of music you presumably find interesting – but it takes a LOT more time, from the actual listening time, to navigating the site, to deciding where to comment, to finding out how this ‘loving tracks’ thing works.

So, here’s the first ‘prize’ for those of you that haven’t got it already: A free album to download from Last.fm – it’s my most ‘ambient’ album yet, with two massive long ambient epics, and a few shorter tracks, all to be downloaded and listened to in your own time. All I ask is that you sign up for last.fm and listen to them with the plug in switched on (once you’ve got it, if you set it to auto-load when you turn your computer on, you don’t even have to think about it, it just logs what you listen to, and when you want it to, can suggest interesting new music, or generate radio stations for you – all for freebs, how cool is that?)

What’s also note-worthy is that no-one has – as far as I can see – commented on there yet – I guess there are too many choices. So today, if you read this, please comment on the artist front page

I’m trying to find a way in their ‘music manager’ software of tracking when tracks are ‘loved’… the most obvious page for me to follow is the Fans page – which auto-updates whenever anyone plays some stuff on there. It’s great to see in real-time what people are listening to (though also slightly alarming when people start with my earlier albums – for some reason, the top two most played tunes on there are from Not Dancing For Chicken, which came out in 2002… guess you can’t control what people listen to :)

Anyway, the experiment goes on, please, join in today if you’re on last.fm, or fancy signing up, download the free album, and enjoy!

Tags: Geek · Musing on Music · New Music Strategies · tips for musicians

The experiment Pt 2 – Last.fm-Buzzing

June 18th, 2008 · Comments Off on The experiment Pt 2 – Last.fm-Buzzing

OK, Pt II of the experiment is an easy-ish one, if you’re already on Last.fm.

In case you don’t know, Last.fm is an online radio/playlist/social network site – the heart of it is an ENORMOUS catalogue of songs, many of which can be streamed on demand, and all of which crop up in radio stations, based on the music that people who like what you like like. :)

There are also artist-specific stations, (you can go there and listen to ‘artists similar to Steve Lawson’, for example, and will get a play list of stuff that’s listened to by people who listen to me…)

So, here’s today’s experiment (feel free to sign up to last.fm if you’re not on there already).

there are four bits to this –
1) Listening
2) Tagging
3) “Loving”
4) Commenting

A little more detail on each:
Listening is easy – just head to my last.fm artist page and hit play – for the track to register, you need to listen to at least a minute of it I think, so if you do skip around a few tracks, do play more than a few seconds of each one.

Tagging is also dead simple – when you go to my artist page, you’ll see ‘User Tags’ in the top right of the screen. Click on ‘Tag This Artist’ underneath it, and start by clicking on each of the ‘popular tags for this artist’ that you agree with. The more times a particular tag is used for an artist, the higher they ‘rank’ in the radio stations associated with this tag – more taggers=more radio play. Feel free to add your own tags too, by typing them in the box.

Loving a particular track can be done either in the embedded player on the site, or via the downloaded Last.fm client – just click the big heart button when you’re listening to a tune you love, and it’ll bring it up more often in your radio station, and log it as something worth listening to.

And Commenting is again, I guess, self explanatory – you can comment on any page on last.fm – artist, album or song, so feel free to add more than one comment – a short comment on the artist page would be great, some more specific stuff on your favourite album of mine would be even better.

The purpose of this experiment is to see how deep the connection goes with Last.fm listeners, and also how much the radio stations are affected by this kind of thing – I get pretty accurate stats back from last.fm about how many radio listeners I’ve had, and can see the ‘recent listeners’ list for me as an artist, as well as individually for each track and album.

So go to it – you can even do a lot of the listening and loving here on the MP3s page, but you’ll have to head to last.fm for the tagging and commenting.

thanks so much! Those who comment and listen to the most tunes this week, that’ll add towards the Cd prizes, for sure!

I’m working on bringing some thoughts together about how we measure the quality of connection/interaction with our web-audience… will blog that soon.

Tags: Geek · Musing on Music · New Music Strategies · tips for musicians

Twitter-Buzzin' – some early results…

June 17th, 2008 · 2 Comments

Thanks so much to all of you who took part in the great Twitter-buzzin’ experiment! It was firstly a whole lot of fun and the most obvious traceable statistic is that it the number of unique visitors to my blog and the wordpress part of my site more than doubled, and unlike most traffic spikes, the ‘average time on site’ stayed as high as it does for my regular visitors… So the new visitors sent in by my tweetin’ lovelies were engaged to a greater degree than most of the random traffic that comes to my site without any ‘buzz generation’ going on.

However, what also became VERY clear is how impossible it is to accurately track the spread of organic buzz – or rather, it’s impossible to track buzz where the buzz-generators don’t explicitly sign up to being tracked…

What I tried to use was tweetburner, which tracks clicks on twurl.nl so you can see who’s been clicking your links, and, I thought, tracks who else had tweeted it. Except it only tracks accurately those who are signed up for tweetburner, not all twitter users (which makese sense, given data protection and privacy considerations, I guess!) – so while it does show the sites/external apps that are clicked on, it doesn’t say which account generated those clicks, which made it a lot trickier to follow. There are some indications, in terms of whose twitter URL the clicks originated from, but most twitter users are using a client of some kind…

I was able to get some more accurate stats by upgrading my MyBlogLog.com account to pro, and see more details about where clicks were coming from, and by cross referencing that with my Google Analytics stats, I get some idea of where traffic is coming from. But it’s all very much long tail stuff – loads of single clicks from disparate sources add up to a whole lot of traffic.

Conclusions Pt 1 –

And I guess that’s the nature of ‘buzz’, real buzz – it’s not about having one link appear on stumbleupon for a few hours, getting 500 visitors who never come back, and stay for about 6 seconds on your site. It’s about peer proliferation – friends telling friends, inviting them to check out something cool, something relevant, something connected, something of value. One of the interesting bits that was equally un-metric-able was the number of people who were listening to my (or mine and Lobelia’s music, since some of the twurl links were to youtube vids of us… ) – a few tweets came back talking about it, but again, unless people had opted in to having their music listening tracked by last.fm, or chose to comment or rate the youtube vids, the buzz was largely unmeasurable…

So in terms of prizes, I’m a little stuck at the moment to tell who got who to come here… but there’ll be another few parts to this experiment before CDs start whizzing their way around the planet, so rest assured, the prizes are still there to be had.

For now though, a huge thankyou to Banannie, Documentally, ihatemornings, knackeredhack, andycoughlan, t1mmyb, garethjms and to otir and tapps who took the concept over to plurk

For now though, did anyone tweet you back about it? Anyone message you to say they thought it was cool? One day is a short time in which to track these thinsgs and I intentionally kept it as ‘spam-free’ as I could – I wanted this to be about a group of friends helping out and seeing what happened…

Pt II coming later – Blog-Buzzin’! :)

Tags: Geek · Managing Information Streams · Musing on Music · New Music Strategies · tips for musicians

The great "Twitter-Buzz experiment"!

June 16th, 2008 · 5 Comments

OK, here’s the plan – I’m interested to see how much of a buzz a modest number of twitter-followers can create about a particular site/service/artist/whatever, so I’m running a competition, in which y’all get to come up with whatever ideas you like to send your twitter-readers back to my site, or to my videos on youtube, or music on last.fm. You could pick a fave song, video or blog-post and link to it, you could use it as an example of something, you could even just tell your twit-friends about the experiment (this isn’t a clandestine thing at all!) – it’s just to see how well twitter works for generating buzz…

The key to this is that a) the links are put on twitter, b) you use http://twurl.nl to shorten your url, and c) you tweet me the shortened url so I can retweet it and be able to follow the number of times its clicked as a result.

And yes, there will be prizes, which will include a few of my CDs, and some never-before-heard unreleased stuff, as well as previews of forthcoming albums (again, unavailable anywhere else) – a lot depends on just how effective the competition is – there’ll certainly be a top prize for the most amount of ‘buzz’ created, as measured in number of people clicking your link, which can be to a blog post, or some of the media, or the front page of my site, or whatever, and you can get other to re-tweet the same link, and it’ll count as yours…

If the results are interesting (and I’ll publish them all here), we’ll try the same with blogging about it, and then again with embedded widgets, with stumbleupon, and so on, and see if we can find which is the most effective form of ‘buzz creation’. And hopefully everyone will win – you’ll have some fun coming up with interesting ways to point people to what I do, I’ll get lots of new visitors to the site, a few people will get a load of great new music for nothing and we’ll all find out a little more about how this works. Oh, and whoever wins can write a guest-post here, outlining what they did… Does that sound like fun? Feel free to register your intention to join in in the comments below, then get tweeting.

Remember:
1. Use http://twurl.nl to shorten the URL (web address – you paste the address into the right field on the site, and it gives you an alternate one, that’s easier for me to track)
2. link to my website, a blog post here, a last.fm track, youtube vid, my myspace or reverbnation page.
3. only link to it on twitter
4. direct message me on there with the URL so I can retweet it, and then track it via tweetburner.
5. sit back and watch the prizes roll in.

Tags: Geek · Music News · Musing on Music · New Music Strategies · tips for musicians

Finding inspiration – improvisation on a theme.

May 10th, 2008 · Comments Off on Finding inspiration – improvisation on a theme.

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

Tags: bass ideas · Musing on Music · tips for musicians

recorded music as an advert for gigs – the death of an artform?

October 19th, 2007 · 1 Comment

This post started out as a response on the stevelawson.net forum to a comment from lovely Tom who said, “Perhaps the last few decades have been an anomaly and we will go back to live concerts being the mainstay of the music industry”

To which I responded thusly (i’m cross-posting it here, because the notion that records can be given away by all musicians as a way of publicising gigs has become the standard answer to why file-sharing is ‘great!’, even though that’s not what Tom – a vinyl junkie and great supporter of musicians – meant)


Steely Dan would be screwed then… no more Peter Gabriel or Blue Nile albums, no more records that take 3 years of writing and experimentation to come up with…

I think the thing that is being missed here is that recorded music is already an ‘advert’ for live music! And vice versa. A lot of times, the only money I make on a gig is CD money. Take that away, and I don’t make anything. The idea that we’re moving back to a live music economy would be just fine if there was a commensurate shift in the way venues viewed music, but the vast majority of gigging opportunities in cities are about selling beer. So the musicians are in the bar area (or at least ‘a’ bar area), playing to people who are drinking and talking, aren’t paid to be there, and get to do 30 mins max because the higher turnover of musicians means that each of them bring friends along who drink… So the bar makes a few hundred (or a few thousand, in some cases) quid, and pays nothing (and then complains that the PRS are robbing bastards because they charge them a licence for broadcasting music – hah!)

The way that musicians make money is fragmented already – I get paid for gigs, I get paid for CDs, I get paid for teaching, for masterclasses and clinics, occasionally for session work (live or studio, though most of my live work outside of my own music is pro bono for friends), royalties for live performance and radio airplay (thank God for the BBC/PRS) and very occasionally for writing about music. I’ve made money on t-shirts before now (not much), and i’ve received a fair amount of payment in kind from music equipment manufacturers, but precious little towards keeping a roof over my head…

In any one year those levels change throughout the year. This year has been a lot about gigs, music gear demos (did a fair bit for looperlative earlier in the year in Italy and Germany), and so far, not much about music sales (the Calamateur Vs. Steve Lawson album has sold a few copies, but certainly nothing to compare with a ‘proper’ CD release, sadly…)

The beauty of the music scene is its breadth – there are people who are all about the gigs, and people who are all about the studio creations, there are bands who manage to come up with an image and brand that means they make literally thousands a night on merch and live off that money (the Stourbridge scene of the late 80s/early 90s).

If recorded music just becomes an advert for gigs, it will not only be the death of an income stream for musicians, it’ll mean the death of an artform, as album-as-work-of-art become album-as-advert. (whoever heard of a 30 minute ambient advert?) As a synonym, imagine what it would mean for world cinema if all films were given away for free, and paid for by product placement and TV-style ad-breaks?

I seriously want to do more gigs, play more live music, and I would indeed be happy to spend my life just playing live and releasing documents of that process. At least, at the moment I would, because all my albums are essentially live anyway. But there are LOADS of great artists whose contribution to the artistic quilt is their remarkable skill in the studio, a skill that requires time, and money and expertise and training and years of trial and error. All of which need to be paid for somehow, and won’t happen if they are playing 250 nights a year in order to make some dough…

[blog-only addendum]

it’s funny how in the course of the discussion some people look forward to a golden age when all musicians are paid via some kind of music license (Gerd Leonhard et al), despite it meaning that there are going to yet again be middle men creaming it off – interesting that Gerd talks about this being a way for artists to get remunerated directly, but hasn’t yet mentioned the need for a multi-billion dollar intermediary such as google, yahoo, news corps etc…. unless he’s suggesting the setting up of a global non-profit organisation whose sole purpose is to make sure that the new music license (which lots of people will see as a tax) gets distributed fairly… meanwhile, the musicians at the very end of the long tail will just drop off…

One possible scenario that scares me is that we see a ‘mainstream’ licensing scheme, so you can get all the James Blunt you want as part of that license, but running along side it is a sub culture of ‘art music’ performers and recording artists, who still charge, and who operate within a community of arts patrons. To some extent it’s already happening (I’m guessing that people who buy my CDs and downloads, either here or at gigs, do so with a very different sense of investment in what’s going on that even those who by a David Sylvian, Bill Frisell or Blue Nile record in HMV), but the idea of such a schism is unappealing purely due to the implied elitism of the mainstream/art-music split – I don’t really want to be part of some elitist musical world, but I REALLY don’t want to be told by ‘the market’ that need to play shorter snappier tunes, and maybe start singing, in order for my music to connect with an audience fast enough for them to ‘get it’ and come and see me live…

The thinking goes on…

Tags: Musing on Music · New Music Strategies

John Peel: A Life In Music

September 19th, 2006 · 2 Comments

Just finished this book, by Michael Heatley and have come to the conclusion that, should the body of work exist to support such an endeavour, I could happily read about John Peel for the rest of my life.

I say happily – I get the most jumbled mixture of feelings when reading about Peel, ranging from nostalgia for the late 80s, gratefulness that someone like him ever existed and dread for what the music world could descend into in its post-Peel state, all underscored by an aching sadness that he’s gone, and disappointment that I never met him. (He did walk past me once, outside Broadcasting House – maybe I should’ve stopped and said something. I think I was probably lost for words though…)

I can’t think of the death of anyone else that I haven’t actually met that has affected me as much – the more I think about it, the clearer it is what an influence listening to his show had on me in Berwick in the late 80s/early 90s. You’d have to spend a good couple of years in Berwick, without the internet or freeview, to fully understand the significance.

And the weird thing with Peel – and a testament to his broadcasting uniqueness – is that they can’t rebroadcast his shows. It wasn’t about ‘legacy’ music, or playing ‘classics’. It was about playing what grabbed him now. As much as i’d love to listen again to those shows from the late 80s, filled with Cud and Bongwater, Napalm Death and the Bhundu Boys, The Pixies and Marta Sebastian, Kanda Bongo Man and BoltThrower, they aren’t what Peel would play now, and repeating them isn’t what he was about. When Ronnie Barker died, his legacy was palpable, celluloid, archived and repeatable. Peel’s is wrapped up in the experimentation of hundreds of thousands of bands through the last 50 years, inspired to say ‘bollocks to convention’ and try something new, something that mattered. You can’t turn that into a retrospective series, beyond getting endless bands to say ‘yup, without Peel, I’d be driving a van’. And they queued up to do so when he died. Genuine tributes to the man who handed them a career.

In this book, I’m reminded of how so many of those people that I listen to, so much of the music I love was launched on listener’s ears by Peel. Just about every non-jazz influence I have can be traced back to Peel’s patronage.

Anyway, it’s a fine book – read ‘Margrave Of The Marshes’ first, but get this one to fill in a lot of the geeky musical info.

Tags: Musing on Music

Expanding the possibilities of solo bass performing

February 17th, 2006 · 1 Comment

Obviously, with the way I play solo, technology has a big influence on the direction my music heads in. I feel rather pleased that I got the concept right on my first album (at least, right in the sense that I found a way of performing that let me say what I wanted to say), but the limitations at the time were the technology that I had available to me. even that was part-way along a journey that began when I got my first effects unit (a Korg A4) in 1993. Looping entered the picture in about 95 when I got an ART Nightbass, which has a 2 second sample and hold function, which piqued my interest, and which great hugely when I was sent a Lexicon JamMan to review for Bassist Magazine in 1997 (truth be told, the JamMan was already out of production by then, but having read an interview with Michael Manring in ’95, I’d been wanting one ever since, so managed to get the last one that Lexicon had in the UK, wrote a review of it, and created a demand for a product that was no longer available..!)

Anyway, the JamMan had 8 seconds of loop time when I got it – a huge jump up from the 2 seconds in my Nightbass and that provided me with ample experimentation room (if anyone remembers the very first version of my website, when it was on ‘zetnet’, before I got the steve-lawson.co.uk domain, each page had a soundtrack loop, created with the jamman, a CD player for getting drum loops, and my basses, and none of the loops were more than 8 seconds long, cos that’s all I had.

I saved up my pennies and upped the memory in the JamMan to 32 seconds in 98/99, and by the end of 99, played my first solo gig and wrote the tunes that became And Nothing But The Bass, with one looper and my Lexicon MPX-G2 processor. I managed to do some clever things with manual fadeouts (the middle of Drifting on that album has me fading out the JamMan underneath some ambient stuff, then running the ambient loop down to silence for a split second so that I could start looping again to go into the second half of the tune!)

The possibilities with a second looper soon became apparent and a DL4 was procured for another Bassist magazine article. That gave me a whole load more possibilities with backwards and double speed loops, and was used to great effect on Conversations.

The along came the Echoplex – I’d seen Andre LaFosse using one in California, and while not wanting to sound like him, saw what the possibilities were for all those fantastic multiply/undo/substitute and feedback functions. So I got one, and recorded Not Dancing For Chicken with an Echoplex and a DL4 (I think the JamMan was still in the rack at this point, but I didn’t use it). Then I got a second Echoplex, just in time cos my DL4 died… and eventually ended up with four, though I rarely had more than two hooked up at a time. Open Spaces was done with two Echoplexes and the Lexicon (and Theo using a DL4).

The next development stage was an important one – post-processing. With the way I’d been looping all along, the signal chain went fingers-bass-processor-looper-amp. the problem with that was that once it was in the looper, I couldn’t re-process it. I could do some fairly major restructuring of it with the Echoplex, but couldn’t put more reverb on, or delay, or whatever. So I got a second Lexicon unit, and started to be able to route my loop signal, or the signal from the first Lexicon, into it. And that’s how Grace And Gratitude was done – that string pad-like sound that comes in on the title track is me running the loop through a huge reverb and two delays (the Lexicon with my Kaoss Pad in its FX loop).

And that’s how my setup stayed until the end of last year. I started work on a new album towards the end of September, but soon stopped again, when the marvellous Bob told me about his new invention, the Looperlative – Bob had been talking about building a looper for a long time, but now he had the parts and was building his first prototype, and had a feature list, that made it clear that it would completely change the way I was able to perform. the biggest change simply being that it was stereo, so all those lovely ping-pong delays and high-res reverbs would stay intact when I looped them. Oh yes.

The story since then is fairly well documented elsewhere on this blog (just do a search on Looperlative), but the latest developments have been a string of software updates over the last four or five days, that have sent the Looperlative into overdrive. It already has 8 stereo channels, over four minutes of loop time, zero latency and an ethernet port for all those lovely updates, but now Bob has implemented a load of new features, the two best ones being the ability to program up to 8 (EIGHT!) functions to any one midi pedal to happen simultaneously (which means you can have it so that you’re in record, end the loop, reverse it, switch to the next loop, sync it, switch to half time and start recording all with one button push, for example!). The possibilities are enormous. The other great new function is ‘cue’ which arms a track for record, to start recording as soon as any other track is stopped, so if you use the synced stop, you can have it so that you start recording the moment the previous track stops playing, and you can then switch backwards and forwards between them as verse and chorus (or up to 8 different sections to switch between).

So the process of writing and arranging solo music just got way harder in one way, and way easier in another. suddenly the technology is there to do much more complex arrangements that I’ve ever done before, in stereo, with minimal button pushing, but I’ve got to conceive of what’s possible, program the box and experiment before the ideas can evolve… I’m guessing that each track will start the way they always did with me – a single loop which I start layering, and eventually realise needs another loop. And I now have a whole other range of options to start imagining as I go on. I’m rather excited about what this means for the next album!

If you’re into looping, you owe it to yourself to check out the Looperlative – there really is nothing like in on the hardware market (and if you’re like me, the temperamental nature of laptops means that hardware is the only way to go. All hail Bob of the Looperlative, granter of wishes and builder of dreams.

Tags: Musing on Music