stevelawson.net

Steve's Blog: Solo Bass & Beyond



cats and websites

May 25th, 2006 · Comments Off on cats and websites

Sorry for big absence from blog-world – two big things have been going on. Firstly, and most tragically, the ginger fairly aged feline has been very unwell. You know about the cancer, which at the moment isn’t showing up the way it was, but he’s now got very serious kidney failure, (creatin level of over 800, which is off the chart), and there’s pretty much nothing they can do. We’ve been trying to get his blood levels settled, but he’s not enjoying the renal food and isn’t really improving anyway, so we’re now pretty much resigned to giving him whatever he wants to eat so he can enjoy his last week or two on earth. It’s a horrible horrible moment to reach – it feels like condemning someone to death, even though there’s no way he’s going to suddenly get better. The will is there to keep fighting for him, but he’s got nothing left to fight with. It’s a dark time in Stevie-Towers.

The second hugely time consuming thing of late is moving my website over to a new server. Copying the stuff over was no problem at all – the Captain took care of that in his usual uber-geek cleverness way – but once there, it became clear that OSCommerce wasn’t going to run on a server running the latest versions of PHP and MySQL (like I know what I’m talking about). So, ’twas time to find a new shopping cart – this time I’ve gone with Zen Cart – it looks quite similar to OSC, but I’m assured by geeks who know that it’s more secure, and much tidier code-wise. I’m almost there, almost completely up to date with the shop – it’ll hopefully go live over the weekend, with advanced order on ‘Behind Every Word’ available, which will include the free download album ‘Lessons Learned From The Fairly Aged Felines (Lessons Learned Pt III)’ – I just need to finish mixing that, zip it up into a zip file with some artwork, and maybe a couple of tracks from ‘Behind Every Word’, and it’ll all be on sale then. I’ll then over the next week or so get Lessons Learned Pt I, Conversations, Open Spaces and It’s Not Gonna Happen up for sale, and hopefully replenish the Street Team Stash with all manner of goodies. Busy time for a bassist cum web designer. :o)

Also, just in, I’ve been booked for an open-air gig in Portsmouth (at least, I’m assuming it’s open air, as it’s for a boat race of some kind, and they generally don’t happen in doors) – I’ll posted the deets as soon as I can.

Tags: Aged Felines · Random Catchup

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

Last night's gig

November 17th, 2005 · Comments Off on Last night's gig

Last night was the first of the Recycle Collective gigs. Usual Darbucka affair WRT to getting there, setting up, dealing with people who are ‘just there to eat’ etc. But all fine.

Music was great – Trip played a fabulous set, as always, and went down supremely well. The sound was great (well, except an earth hum off his bass whenever he wasn’t touching the strings, which was less than ideal…) and his between song banter was funny and engaging too. Good stuff.

After him, our first surprise guest of the series – JazzShark had sent me a link a week or so ago to a guy she’d seen live, called Jeff Taylor – the MP3s on his MySpace page were amazing. a few days later another message arrives from La Shark that Jeff is coming to London. So we exchange emails, meet up for lunch on Monday, and he says he’s coming to the gig, so I suggest he brings his guitar.

He did, and so I got him to play three songs, which were fantastic. A great performer/vocalist/guitarist/songwriter. The whole thing. He really ought to be huge. I’m sure he will be, and the select audience from Darbucka will be able to see that they saw him first.

Then onto Theo and I – we played a mixture of the tunes from Open Spaces and some improvised stuff, including a marvellous improv thing with Jeff on beatbox/vox/weird noises. the sad part of all this (sorry, guys) is that once again, the minidisc has let me down and is blank. It might be that it was still blank from the last time I tried to record a gig, and I’d not formatted the disc. either way, I’ve once again missed out on documenting some marvellous music. Bollocks. It’s getting to be something of a frustration with me – I’ve not been able to record a live gig for lord knows how long, and would really like a document of how I’m playing these tunes now (and I really ought to have had a copy of the Edinburgh show!) I need to come up with a fool proof way of doing it. If I had a roadie I’d get a rack-mountable minidisc deck wired into the rack so I could just put a disc in and go, but I just haven’t got the car space or the muscles to carry it.

So all in all, a great night’s music. The only disappointment was the size of the crowd, which was surprisingly small. I guess there are a few factors, like the Jazz Festival being on, and it not being that long since my last Darbucka gig, but it’s been well publicised… It seems like Theo and I generally struggle to pull a good crowd in London, which is frustrating, as it’s probably the most rewarding musical collaboration I’ve ever been involved in. He does fine if he’s playing with his quartet, and I do fine if I’m playing solo, but together it doesn’t seem to get the peoples in.

The next Recycle gig definitely needs to be bigger. I know these things are meant to grow, but still…

Anyway, it was a fab night, those that were there seemed to love it, Trip got to play London and went down a storm, and we all got to hear Jeff Taylor in a setting that we’ll remember for a long time.

Today, Trip and I are down at the ACM in Guildford for another clinic/masterclass thingie, which will be a lot of fun – it’s a great school, and is always good to go and play for the students there. Hopefully we’ll leave them with something quality to take away.

SoundtrackBill Frisell, ‘East/West’ (new double live album from my favourite guitar player – great stuff, a return to form)

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nice news

November 2nd, 2005 · 1 Comment

this morning I got an email from not-at-all-evil Dan, saying that ‘For the Love Of Open Spaces’, my duet CD with Theo Travis, is included in the new edition of the Penguin Guide To Jazz On CD.

Surely not? Aha, Amazon has a searchable book feature, so I head over there. Do a text search on me, and sure enough there’s an entry for it. Can I read it? Er no, for some reason Amazon tells me I’m not allowed to. So It’s over to The Cheat and his wikkid skillz to get a copy.

He then furnishes me with a JPG of said review, which reads thusly –

***(*) For The Love Of Open Spaces
Pillow Mountain PMR 0014 Travis; Steve Lawson (b). 7/03.

Lusciously beautiful without descending into New Age clap-trap, the music here walks an awkward line with great confidence. Both musicians make extensive use of loop technology (although, as they proudly say, no synths or midi-triggered sounds), and the result is a series of mood poems crafted with skill and a capacious melodic bent. Lawson gets a bit rocky here and there and maybe a couple of the pieces stat around a little too long, but in what is often a threadbare genre they’ve done very well.

How nice is that? ‘Luciously Beautiful’ is a fab quote for posters etc. and 3 1/2 stars is v. good for the Guide (they are, quite rightly, very precious about 4 and 5 star reviews).

And it times very nicely with the recycle collective gig that we’ve got coming up on Nov 16th – all the more reason for you to book that baby-sitter now and come along to the gig!

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New things at last.fm

September 14th, 2005 · Comments Off on New things at last.fm

First there was audioscrobbler. then they added last.fm, a sister internet radio station that chose tracks based on your audioscrobbler profile.

Hang on Steve, what the hell is audioscrobbler in the first place? Oh sorry. You see how at the bottom of most blog posts, I have a list of what I’ve been listening to, and the word ‘soundtrack’ next to it is in bold. Well that’s because it’s a link. if you click that link you get taken to a page that gives you details of every bit of music I’ve played in itunes over the last year or so. It has charts of who I’ve listened to the most, and for each artist it has charts of how many people are listening to them, what tracks are being played the most, etc.

Anyway, that was the scrob. And they also had last.fm, which had much the same information available on it as the scrob, but in a slightly crappier format.

So the whizkidz behind it decided to combine the two sites, and give the new site a bit of an overhaul. and it’s now last.fm. go and have a look. Do a search on an artist or two. then check out my page – the one that’s always linked from the bottom of the blogs. You’ll see what I’ve been listening to. How clever is that?

Anyway, they’ve also made it much easier for record companies to upload their music for the radio stations. So I’ve just been uploading the Pillow Mountain catalogue. check out the pages there for Grace And Gratitude and for For The Love Of Open Spaces. From there you can preview the CDs, or add them to your last.fm radio station (personalised radio, for free, with no adverts. Oh yes).

All in, last.fm is a music geek’s paradise – head over there, sign up and geek out!

Soundtracklast.fm solobasssteve radio (you need the Last.fm player and a last.fm account for this link to work)

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Last Night's gig.

July 6th, 2005 · Comments Off on Last Night's gig.

So last night was the gig with Theo Travis and Orphy Robinson at The new Vortex in Dalston.

The old Vortex, in Stoke Newington was a vital element in London’s Jazz-life. Along with the 606 and The Bull’s Head, it was one of the few places where you could regularly get to see the best of London’s jazzers playing in a small club for not much money.

So when it close about 18 months ago, it was a bit of a loss. There was talk for a while of it opening up in Hackney’s ill-fated Ocean venue, but then that went belly-up, and it looked like the Vortex was no more.

So it’s great to have it back, just off the A10 in Dalston. Very easy to get to, nice room, all back how it should be.

The fun thing about this gig was that it was the first time that Orphy and Theo had met, let alone played together. I’ve played with both before, obviously, so I was the link.

I set up with a mic on Orphy’s vibes so I could loop him, though had to be judicious so as not to loop Theo too (Theo’s loop-ideas are so incredibly well formed, that bits of his flute and sax cropping up in my loops is not really desireable).

Anyway, the gig went superbly well – we played a bunch of tunes from Open Spaces, and a load of improvs, with Orphy playing vibes and piano (I’m still not sure how well piano works with the thickness of sound that Theo and I get – I remember spoiling a duo gig with Jez at Greenbelt one year by putting far to many layers down and not really finding that gorgeous sparseness that is there on Conversations)

The audience was tiny, as per lots of midweek gigs at the Vortex, but David, the owner, loved it and wants us back for a weekend gig.

The only downer was that I was feeling steadily iller and iller as the evening went on (and not in the Beastie Boys send of the word ‘ill’ either)… I’m still not sure if I’ve beaten this cold or the worst is yet to come. We’ll see.

Anyway, it’s great to see The Vortex back happening again – check out the programme here.

Soundtrack – Tim Berne live at the QEH

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Composition famine…

March 11th, 2005 · Comments Off on Composition famine…

I’ve not written any new music for quite a while. It’s not a problem – most areas of music tend to happen in terms of flurries of activity followed by plateaus, whether it be technique, concepts, composition or whatever. And right now, I’m working on arrangements of other people’s tunes – something I’ve done very little of as a solo player. I used to do a short version of ‘Fly Me To The Moon’ to finish gigs, and these days do ‘People Get Ready’, and now have just worked out a lovely solo arrangement of ‘What A Wonderful World’. I’ve also been working on a version of This Must Be The Place (Naive Melody), the Talking Heads track, which sounds great, but is really hard to play!! I need to make sure it’s well hammered into my skull before I attmept it live. It involves some pretty tricky looping (well, tricky for me…)

So I’m having fun with other people’s tunes (and maybe I’ll finally get round to having a go at ‘The Fish’ – something I’ve had a number of people nagging me to do for a while (yes, you, Catherine Street Team and California Bob!)

And as an off-shoot, I’ve got the beginnings of a new tune. It might end up as a solo piece, or maybe in one of the collaborations. This Monday and I met up with a fantastic drummer called Andrew Booker. Andrew has his own duo/trio (recorded thus far as a duo, now have a guitarist as well) called , whose CD is really cool (bass and drums duo, with Andrew singing like a less-heliumed John Anderson).

Anyway, he plays a tiny electronic kit, and adjusts really well to the slight imperfections of my loops, so we’ll hopefully be launching said trio on the listening public before too long – playing the tracks from Open Spaces with a drummer certainly took them into a very different space…

So, despite the famine, much creative noodling is taking place, and many new avenues are opening up…

Soundtrack, ‘Ghost Town’; , ‘Slow Life’; , ‘Live’; , ‘Stones’; , ‘Polarised’.

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A timely reminder.

February 16th, 2005 · Comments Off on A timely reminder.

Was rehearsing with this morning for the couple of gigs we’ve got coming up over the next two weeks, and was reminded once again how much fun playing with Theo is! It really is the simplest most immediately effective musical hook-up I’ve ever had, and I’ve had quite a few others that were pretty painless. When we were trying to remember how ‘Flutter’ goes (the opening tune from For The Love Of Open Spaces), we actually played the first minute of the tune twice in a row – that’s the most work we’ve ever had to do on anything!

Anyway, we were sounding just fine, and it gave me renewed impetus to get more gigs with Theo. He’s a fantastic musician and a top bloke. If you haven’t got his new CD, Go here to get it.

And now I’m listening to – those of you in the US will probably have heard her (she was on Letterman recently), those of you in the UK might have heard of her if you keep up with David Torn-related news (he produced the record), but she’s pretty much unknown on this side of the pond at the moment. She’s a solo acoustic guitarist, in the Hedges/Forcione/Roche/Ross school of playing, and is magic. Writes great tunes and is a great performer. I’m hoping to bring her over for some gigs together this coming summer. ‘Til then, check out her site and buy the CD on-line from the states!

SoundtrackKaki King, ‘Legs To Make Us Longer; Steve Lawson and Theo Travis, ‘For The Love Of Open Spaces’; , ‘Matthew Garrison’.

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Another fine gig with Theo

October 7th, 2004 · Comments Off on Another fine gig with Theo

This afternoon, Theo and I had a gig in the Royal Festival Hall Foyer – which, dispite being in ‘a foyer’ is actually a really really nice gig – big audience, lovely atmosphere, perfect for big spacious loveliness.

The setlist included a handful of tunes from For The Love Of Open Spaces – Flutter, Uncle Bernie, In A Place Like This and Lovely – one each of our solo tunes (I did Grace And Gratitude) one arrangement each of a tune we’ve written (Amo Amatis Amare with Theo on soprano sax, and then All I Know from Theo’s Heart Of The Sun album), and a couple of big spacey improvs.

All in all a top gig – the sound was great and we played very well indeed. Very positive reaction from the audience, and we’ve already been booked to play there again. Good stuff.

Theo’s one of the easiest musicians in the world to play with – an expert looper, and an amazing listener, he slots in around what I’m doing and directs the music in very subtle ways. It’s great being on stage with someone who is such a fine melodic improvisor and does textural ambient stuff as well. A real treat.

I’ve been listening to Theo’s new album, Earth To Ether, a lot over the last few days – it’s a hugely diverse representation of most of the things Theo’s been up to of late. There’s stuff with his quartet, a solo flute-loop thingie and a couple of songs with Richard Sinclair (70s prog-pop stalwart, out of Caravan/Hatfield And The North etc.) Richard’s voice is a little disarming at first – mainly because it’s so rare to hear jazz sung with an english accent. Richard avoids the trap of brit singer trying to sound like they grew up in New York, but he’s SOOO english that it takes a bit of getting used to it. But I’m used to it now, and really enjoy it.

There’s a strong pastoral, rural feel to the album – Theo seems to be inspired by open space a lot (hence the title of our CD), and it gives everything he does a very warm feeling. The other brit saxophonist I’ve been listening to a lot recently is Ben Castle – another superb musician, and every bit as eclectic as Theo. His is an urban eclecticism that provides a fantastic compliment to Theo’s broad sonic vista. Ben’s stuff also sounds like he’s playing whilst smirking a lot of the time – lots of very comedic stuff, but he always makes you feel like you’re in on the joke. Very clever stuff, hugely enjoyable. I strongly recommend both CDs – Ben’s is called ‘Blah Street’.

SoundtrackMatthew Garrison, ‘Matthew Garrison’; Theo Travis, ‘Earth To Ether’; Ben Castle, ‘Blah Street’; Jackson Browne, ‘Looking East’; Sheila Chandra, ‘Moonsung’.

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radio days

July 28th, 2004 · Comments Off on radio days

Last night was big fun! not Big Fun – they were a crap 80s pop group – no, big fun for me, on four different BBC radio stations simultaneously! The Sue Dougan show is broadcast on BBC Radio Kent / Solent / Southern Counties and Berkshire, 7-10pm, monday to friday, from Tunbridge Wells. I was down in Sussex visiting my grandparents yesterday anyway, so it timed well.

We’d planned for me to go in and play live, but due to (perfectly reasonable) concerns about the possibility of tripping the power circuit with all my music gear, it ended up not being possible – so I’d carried all my stuff in for nothing. Still, it didn’t matter, as it meant that Sue just played tracks from Grace and Gratitude and For The Love Of Open Spaces instead, and chatted for ages about my whole process, purpose and inspiration for doing music. Sue asked a lot of very interesting questions, and not being a bassist, passed on the ‘what strings do you use?’ question. All in all, much fun was had – big thanks to Sue and her producer Steve.

What else of late? Central heating boiler started leaking a week ago, so we got John the plummer round, and a very fine plumber he is too. Yesterday and today he replaced the boiler and swapped over our totally-useless-70s-style skirting board radiators for normal ones. As I was away visiting my grandparents, The Small Person was left with the job of moving all my stuff in my office/studio to give John The Plumber access. No mean feat, given the amount of crap I’ve accumulated. Still, it’s a great excuse to actually tidy up… yeah, riiiight…

Other than that, I’ve been sorting out flyers and press releases for my edinburgh festival dates – the venue people are incredibly pedantic when it comes to style, but it’s probably a good thing, and I’m pretty nifty with Quark and Photoshop so it’s not taking me long to make the changes.

oh, and on Sunday, my mum, The Small Person and I went up to the Otter Trust in Norfolk for a day out – TSP and I had been there before, mum hadn’t. It’s such a cool place – otters are exceedingly groovy animals anyway, but the trust also has deer and wallabies and millions of ducks ‘n’ geese. A fine day out. ‘Twas also nice to find out that the captive breeding and releasing programme of the otter trust has brought the wild otter levels back to where they were about 50 years ago, to the point where they can’t release any more without upsetting the balance. Very good!

Stuart Maconie played ‘Shizzle’ from the new album on his Freak Zone show on the other night, and describe it as ‘if david lynch directed Seinfeld, this would be the theme tune’ – very nice! :o) 6 music is a fantastic station – I listen to Jane Gazzo’s Dream Ticket in the evenings, and stream Bob Harris and Tom Robinson‘s shows during the week from the archive.

In other music news, much of last week was spent recording with Calamateur, AKA Andrew Howie. I’ve known andrew for over a decade, he even bought my old bass off me when I left college, and he’s since become a fantastic singer/songwriter. His latest album, The Old Fox Of ’45, is wonderful, and we were working on some new stuff, some of it was me putting bass and strangeness onto tracks he’d already been working on, one of the tracks was just a vocal and guitar that I then messed around with a bit and added some bass and strangeness to, and the last one we did from scratch, using varisped samples of a crappy old nylon acoustic guitar I’ve got here, some weirdness from the Kaoss Pad and Andrew’s voice. All fine stuff! Sadly, most of it is pretty much unplayable live, or we’d do the new tune on the upcoming gig dates we’ve got together…

Soundtrack – Lewis Taylor, ‘Lewis Taylor’; Billy Bragg, ‘Talking With The Taxman About Poetry’; SplatterCell, ‘OAH’; David Torn, ‘What Means Sold, Traveller?”; Talking Heads, ‘Sand In The Vaseline’; me.

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