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Steve's Blog: Solo Bass & Beyond



Musicians Who Use Looping: A Beginner’s Guide.

October 31st, 2010 · 4 Comments

As you’re no doubt more than well aware, the whole process of real time looping is essential to the way I make music, whether it be live or in the studio, solo or collaborating – it’s a very long time since I last did a gig that didn’t have some element of looping in it. Certainly, one listen to my latest solo live album shows that – this is entirely live, there’s nothing added here, just the gig… (click the ‘buy’ button below to download the album and pay whatever you think it’s worth for it)

[Jan 2014 edit] And my latest project, FingerPainting is a duo (and sometimes a trio) that relies on multiple musicians looping at once and sometimes looping each other! Every note that Daniel Berkman and I have ever played together has been released – check it out in the sidebar there, or get all 10 shows for just £10 here.

The basic idea is this – a looper is an effect that allows the musician to record what they are playing and then loop it while they play over the top. Almost all looping devices allow you to do multiple layers on that loop, and some of them allow you to do fun things to the loop once it’s recorded – reverse it, slow it down, speed it up, stop it, restart it, remove some or all of the layers… [Read more →]

Tags: Musing on Music

A Decade In Music

December 7th, 2009 · 19 Comments

We’re rapidly approaching the end of the decade.

A decade that began just a couple of weeks after my first ever solo gig.

That gig, unknown to me at the time, marked a pretty huge turning point in my music career.

The ‘session’ work I’d be pursuing and doing up til that point was to dry up pretty damn quick when word got out that I was doing gigs on my own, but equally fast, word spread about what I was up to to the people who might like to listen to it, and I started to play more and more shows, and in August 2000 put out my first solo album. A decade later, and here we are… Where? I’m not sure. [Read more →]

Tags: music reviews · Musing on Music

Buzz experiment thoughts: Measuring Levels Of Connection…

June 22nd, 2008 · Comments Off on Buzz experiment thoughts: Measuring Levels Of Connection…

The other day I wrote my first post for MusicThinkTank.com – a really great collaborative blog with contributors from across the spectrum of ‘what’s happening in the music industry these days?’ – I was really excited to be asked to blog for them, as there are some fantastic thinkers writing for the site that I’ve learned a lot from over the years. (please feel free to read the post and comment over there)

One of the really nice things about writing for them is the brief to be brief. So my first post is just that – short and to the point. But it does mean that I get to expand on the thoughts over here 🙂

So, as I say over there, one of the things that the buzz exercises are making me think about and be more aware of is the whole area of ‘level of connection’ or ‘depth of impact’. There are two vague levels on which this stuff can be measured – abstract and metric. The abstract level is probably best summed up as ‘your own perception of the level of ambient awareness’ – or just the sense that more people seem to be clocking who you are and what you do.

The metric level is actually a whole series of interlocking metrics measuring LOADS of different ways that people engage with what you do: from audience attendance at gigs, CD and download sales, free download hits, web page hits, return visits, RSS feed subscribers, mentions on other people’s blogs and web forums, quantity of email interactions… etc. etc.

What’s vitally important to remember here is that what you’re dealing with is not a set of statistics that need improving, but a number of unique individuals who are all engaging what an aspect or aspects of ‘that thing you do’ in subtle and unique ways, and are all in a position to be drawn closer into what you do, if only it is presented to them in a way that is relevant and of value.

But in order to understand and quantify where each of those people are in their relationship with you, we first need to come up with some vague staging posts along the way, from no knowledge of even the area you work in to becoming a patron/sponsor/financier of what you do.

Let’s have a look at a few of those introductory stages:

Notice that a person’s level of connection with you begins before they even know who you are: knowing something about your field is a level of connection – it’s latent, but can prove vital to them a) finding you and b) understanding what you do. So for me, it really helps whenever anyone else is successful as a solo bassist and/or musician using looping. Every time KT Tunstall or Imogen Heap does some live looping on TV, it expands my pool of latent connection. Every time Victor Wooten plays a solo spot in a Flecktones gig, and a bunch of non-bassists see how cool solo bass can be, my pool of latent connection expands.

As and when those people are drawn into my orbit, they’ll have some frame of reference for what it is that I do, something to relate it to, a peg on which to hang their labels for it, beyond ‘nice music’. They’ll see it as a cool hip thing, and I’ll piggy-back on the residual level of cool that solo bass or looping has for them. This, in my experience, has way more real-world lasting value than the pretense that what you’re doing is utterly unique and groundbreaking. The majority of people connect better with familiarity than they do with ‘extreme novelty’…

The first level of actualised connection is name recognition. How many times have you had a conversation with someone who says ‘do you know ******’ and you say ‘I’ve heard the name’… and often you have. You know precious little about them, if anything, but their name is there, in your sphere somewhere.

If that happens 2 or 3 times with the same person, your curiosity is tweaked and you may google them, especially if you’re sat in front of a computer when it happens. And name recognition turns to first level engagement with what you do – finding whichever web-presence ranks highest in google for you and checking it out… So they’ve found you, and have done so based on the feeling that they might be missing out by not knowing about you…

The obvious point to make here is that this relies on them meeting 2 or 3 people who are inspired to talk about what you do – something that is latent in a lot of your audience, most likely. There’ll be a whole load of people who like what you do who don’t think to talk about it, cos they don’t realise you need it. As I’ve said many times, and will keep saying til people realise it’s true, I’m utterly reliant on word of mouth to get people to hear about what I do – both because I can’t afford broadcast ad-space and because I dip under the radar of most mainstream music media channels… the occasional play on Radio 3 or 6Music and the very occasional article in the national press can’t sustain any level of buzz enough to help support a career – though it’s great to have listeners now who first heard me on Late Junction or read about me in a mag (I’ve been interviewed by, reviewed by or featured in The Sunday Times, Jazzwise, Bassist, Guitarist, Bass Player, Bass Frontiers, Total Guitar… etc. etc. and lots of music related websites. Sounds a lot bunched together like that, but means precious little when spread out over 9 years in the context of building a career… …more on the real importance of reviews and interviews coming soon!)

But how is that measured? We as musicians need to make ourselves available for feedback – whether it be email, forums, tweets, myspace comments, blog comments, last.fm shout-box comments… Encouraging a culture of “letting artists know that we’ve found them and we like them” is a huge part of making music ‘sticky’, so that it pollenates beyond our ‘primary reach’.

So, comment thread: other than me (though if you’ve just discovered me, you can tell me where too!), who was the last independent artist you heard that got you excited? Feel free to video comment and play some of the music in the background 🙂

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

Imogen Heap live video online…

September 19th, 2006 · 4 Comments

MKS on the forum posted a link to this video of Imogen Heap live on Rehearsals.com – it’s a really really high quality vid, and she starts out with her voice ‘n’ loops version of ‘Just For Now’ which is incredible – definitely one of the most marvellous bits of musical loopage I’ve ever heard. Go and have a listen, and marvel.

Tags: Musing on Music

More recycle bookings…

July 27th, 2006 · Comments Off on More recycle bookings…

Been busy over the last couple of weeks lining up the musicians for the new few RC gigs – lots of the people have had on my wish-list for ages are now booked! Yay!

August 23rdSebastian Rochford, Andy Hamill and me. This is a bit of a dream line-up. Seb’s one of my favourite drummers I’ve ever played with. We did one gig together in Brighton a couple of years ago, and he listened so well to the loop stuff, and played beautifully. An immensely creative chap, and Mercury Prize nominee last year, no less! He’s in Polar Bear and Acoustic LadyLand and plays with lots of people in the F-IRE collective.

And Andy Hamill. As well as officially being of the nicest people in jazz ever, Andy’s also one of my favourite double bassists anywhere. If you’ve heard either of Theo’s last couple of albums, he’s the low end on there, but has also played with 4 Hero, Carleen Anderson, Shea Seger, Theo Travis, Mark Murphy, Nitin Sawhney, Chris Bowden, Boris Grebenshikov, Cara Dillon, Tracey Thorn, Kylie Minogue, Ben Castle, Ursula Rucker and Harry Hill!

I’ve been wanting to try a trio with drums and double bass for ages, and feel so lucky that the first time I get to try it is with two musicians of this kind of quality. Wow.

And then, as if that wasn’t enough, on Sept 20th, we’ve got saxophonist Jason Yarde, one of the most celebrated young british jazzers of recent times. An outstanding performer, composer, improvisor – a really really interesting musician, who will add something completely new to the RC vibe, for sure. Another huge talent.

And with Jason and I, making a very welcome return, Leo Abrahams – currently out on the road playing guitar for Roxy Music, is also Brian Eno’s guitar monkey, and has worked with Imogen Heap, Nik Kershaw, Ed Harcourt, Paul Simon and a host of other great people. He was excellent last time, he’ll be just as great this time.

And at the moment, it looks like October is going to be BJ Cole and Ingrid Laubrock joining me. How lucky am I? Yay!

Tags: Music News

Friday Random 10 on saturday…

June 17th, 2006 · Comments Off on Friday Random 10 on saturday…

a day late…

1. Pigs, Sheep and Wolves – Paul Simon
2. Part IV – Mark Isham (from Tibet)
3. Just For Now – Imogen Heap (sadly not a live version – this was the single greatest live looped performance I’ve EVER seen when I saw her do it in London and Brighton)
4. Rain – Iain Archer
5. Little More Time With You – James Taylor
6. Making Flippy Floppy – Talking Heads
7. Off The Wall – Michael Jackson
8. Creeper – Gary Peacock and Ralph Towner
9. Meanwhile – Art Lande/Jan Gabarek
10. I Will Find The Way – Pat Metheny

…now that’s a compilation I’d buy!!

Tags: Musing on Music

Learning the songs…

April 24th, 2006 · 1 Comment

This is the fun bit – learning the stuff that came out all improv-y and naturally on the recording so that I can play it live!

A couple of the tunes should be fairly easy, given that I’ve had them written for a while – ‘Deeper Still’ (that’s the tune for Eric Roche, it now has a name, write it down so you know what I’m talking about in future) is easy enough to remember, just a bitch to try and play in tune! Scott Peck is fine, cos I know it, though it’ll be odd going back to playing it solo now that I’ve been listening to it for a few days with BJ Cole‘s pedal steel part on it. HappyHappy I can remember, fairly well, as it’s very easy and fairly short.

I’ve just learnt ‘Nobody Wins Unless Everybody Wins’ – a fun little tune with lots of multiply of sync’d loops to get thing to come back a long time in the future. I can play that.

Now I’m just checking out the title track on the album, trying to remember how it goes! Am listening to it at the moment. And have just remembered what happens in the middle. G2 no. 1 routed through G2 no. 2, both of them recorded into the looperlative… the hardest thing to remember is how to set it all up before the tune begins, which aux sends to route to where, which buttons to push to make sure the right things are being recorded into the Looperlative.

In other news, loads of people have been checking out the tunes on my MySpace page – major amounts of plays! MySpace is, indeed, as Imogen Heap’s manager mentioned to me a couple of weeks ago ‘the new radio’.

Right, back to learning these songs!

Tags: Music News

(I'm gonna drive) 500 Miles

April 6th, 2006 · Comments Off on (I'm gonna drive) 500 Miles

It’s true, I’ve done 500 miles in the last couple of days. Yesterday after a daytime of teaching and listening through the newly recorded tracks from Monday and Tuesday, I headed off down to Brighton to see Imogen Heap play again, accompanied this time just by Zoe Keating on cello. I’m really glad I got to see the duo version of the gig, as well as the full band version last week. Imogen really is one of the most engaging live performers I’ve ever seen. Fantastic stuff.

Bumped into Steve – Cathy Burton’s keyboard player – at the gig, with his fiance, and offered to give them a lift home, as their last train was only just after Imogen had started. Ended up being a v. v. long diversion, and I got home at nearly 3.

Had to be out of the house again before 9, to drive to Nottingham for a day’s teaching stuff at Broxtowe College – a load of other pro musicians and I were brought in to critique the bands, help them with arranging, rehearsing, performing etc. It was a lot of fun, and I was paired up with Kieran Pepper from The Prodigy to work with these bands together. I then finished up the day giving a quick masterclass/Q & A sesh to a group of bassists. Much enjoyment all round.

However, I very nearly didn’t make it to Nottingham. On the way up, my brakes started to make some strange grinding noises – that nasty metal-on-metal noise that means your break pads are going. By the time I’d got to Nottingham the break pads had gone completely, and the grinding noise was hanging around beyond the pedal being held down, indicating that the brakes were beginning to stick. I got the car as far as a garage (Hi-Q in Beeston, if you’re interested), and they got it up on a ramp straight away. Weirdly though, the adaptor thingie needed to undo the locking nuts on the wheels was totally threaded, and useless (a call to the lovely Rev. G revealed that this wasn’t the case last time he changed a wheel… much strangeness). A resourceful young chap in the garage was able to hammer a socket-set thingie onto the nut and remove it, so we were off again, but with the 15 minute walk from there to the college I got there about half an hour after I was intending to.

Still, they fixed the brakes, I picked up the car afterwards and paid them £128.00

So now I’m knackered, too much driving. Wanted to go and see Cathy Burton at The Half Moon this evening, but was just too tired.

SoundtrackLola Perrin, ‘Fragile Light’ (gorgeous solo piano from possible future collaborator… watch this space…)

Tags: Random Catchup

Imogen Heap gig

March 31st, 2006 · Comments Off on Imogen Heap gig

This is one I’ve been looking forward to for quite a while. I first saw Imogen Heap play at the Kashmir Klub about 6 years ago, at a ModernWood Management showcase gig, along with Nik Kershaw (who also had Leo Abrahams on guitar, to be featured at the next Recycle Collective gig) and the Dum Dums. I then bought her debut album in the US for some tiny amount of money, and it very quickly became one of the favourite CDs in this house. It’s great.

Last night she was playing Shepherd’s Bush Empire – a pretty huge venue for someone who this time last year was just finishing up recording a self-produced CD. However, between then and now, the track Hide And Seek from that CD, ended up being featured at some critical moment on The OC (I’ve never watched The O.C. – I’ve been to Orange County, and if the TV show is accurate, I can’t imagine in being very interesting, and if it isn’t, I’d just get annoyed with it). It was a huge radio hit all over the place, Radio 1 played it a lot here, and Imogen was right there in the spotlight where she belongs. The album’s lovely, BTW.

So, anyway, the gig – Shepherd’s Bush Empire – a v. large and pretty prestigious gig, though not the friendliest for the musicians or the audience. I’ve ranted here before about venues owned by Carling, and SBE is one of them with the corresponding focus on beer, leading to people talking. At times it was impossible to hear what Imogen was saying between songs, and during the two supports there was a bit of chatter coming from the main floor.

Ah yes, the support – first support was Zoe Keating – someone I’ve had a fair bit of email contact with as she’s a looping cellist, and was, I think the third owner in the world of a Looperlative, after me and Rick Walker. Her solo set was lovely, featuring unprocessed looped Cello (and the best live amplified Cello sound I’ve ever heard – apparently it’s an AKG contact mic, will get the details for any geeks wanting to know). Very lovely stuff.

Second support I didn’t get to hear much of… We arrived just before 8 so we could see Zoe play, and thanks to the craziness of guest-list goings-on, I had a ticket, but TSP’s hadn’t arrived yet ( we were meant to be going with TAFKASB, but she had to go to some punk gig instead…) so I went in to see Zoe’s set (not fair on TSP at all, but as my ticket was on Zoe’s guestlist, it would have been pretty dreadful to miss her solo set), then came out again to find TSP and sort out tickets. Which was all during second support.

Sadly, while my first ticket was seated upstairs, second tickets were standing downstairs only. We’re too old for that, but we did anyway, found a place by the stairs where TSP could see the stage and settled in for an evening of chronic backache.

Imogen came on and did her first number just solo, looping her voice with a Repeater (she so needs a looperlative!) – it was one of the most musical, clever, groovy and entertaining loop performances I’ve ever seen. It’s interesting that often the best loop-based performers are those that don’t make a big deal out of it, but that’s by the by. The rest of the night was a gorgeous mix of solo loopy stuff, solo piano stuff and was the first time she’d showcased the full band, with Zoe being marvellous on cello, plus drums, tuned percussion and a second keyboard player (the second support bloke), augmented by a few things on laptop.

Imogen’s stage presence was somewhat akin to an amiable old-school TV chef, like a glammed up Fanny Craddock cooking up the perfect gig; ‘now we’re going to add some Cello – would that be lovely?’ – sadly the constant chatter of audience members lubed up on nasty overpriced lager from the venue owners meant that a lot of the between song asides were lost, but the whole vibe of just chatting to the audience instead of trying to whoop them into some frenzy was right up my street.

All in all, musically and performance-wise one of the finest gigs I’ve seen in a long time, some of the most sophisticated looping and a whole slew of stunning songs (including one of the duets she did with Urban Species years ago, just her, the rapper from the band and piano – lovely stuff!). I just can’t wait to see her play the Barbican or Festival Hall, or the Albert Hall – somewhere with seats and an audience encourages to STFU during the whole gig.

The After-show party was a bit of a long wait – I really wanted to meet Zoe, so we stuck around for about 45 minutes til she showed up. Well worth the wait, as it’s always lovely to meet online-chums face to face. Also got to say hi to Imogen, who I’ve met on a few occasions before, but she couldn’t remember where. :o)

If she plays near you, DON’T MISS IT.

Tags: Musing on Music

Third musician for the April Recycle Collective!

March 27th, 2006 · Comments Off on Third musician for the April Recycle Collective!

Well, it’s been an enouraging couple of weeks. I’ve been asking lots of lovely musicians to take part in the Recycle Collective, with a very very positive response. Those who’ve said they want to take part in the future include Seb Rochford, Byron Wallen, Andy Hamill, Rebecca Hollweg and Oroh Angiama. Lots of fantastic musicians, all lovely people too!

And what’s more, the third musician that’s playing with Cleveland Watkiss and I on April 29th is Leo Abrahams, an amazing guitarist and looper that I first saw live playing with Imogen Heap and Nik Kershaw at the Kashmir Klub about 5 years ago, and who played after me at Greenbelt last year. He’s hugely in demand, working recently with Brian Eno, Ed Harcourt, Stairstailor, David Holmes and others, and having worked in the past with Paul Simon and Nick Cave amongst others. I’m so excited about both hearing Leo’s solo set, and what he Cleveland and I will come up with as a trio!

Head over to Leo’s myspace page to hear some of his lovely solo music.

All this means that the Recycle Collective continues to be unmissable.

Tags: Music News