Small but perfectly formed.

Cambridge gig with Theo last night, at CB2. It’s a lovely venue – very rustic in that it’s just the cellar of the restaurant with a load of chairs and some lights in it, but it’s free, quiet and the food upstairs is marvellous (recommended for dinner even when there’s no gig on!).

I had a feeling before the gig that it was going to be really full – not sure why, but in any event it turned out to be bollocks. It was a pretty small crowd, but a lovely group of people – like a handpicked audience of really nice listening lovelies.

Because Theo and I recording the gigs on this tour for a possible live album, we panicked a bit when we realised we’d left the minidisk at home. No problem though, as a quick call to Dweez meant that the able and equipped Tony arrived with tiny laptop (like the Rev. G’s Psion, only a proper computer), soundcard and cables to record it straight off the desk.

The gig itself went really well – doing the improv stuff with Theo is up there with playing with Michael Manring in the ‘best fun two people can have on stage’ stakes. The range of sounds and ideas that he conjures up is remarkable. And the recording seems to have come out beautifully, on first listen. Will transfer it to computer, boost the level and see how clean it is later on, but it sounds like it could form a major chunk of the live CD!

And today, Cleveland is coming round to make lovely noises and play Looperlative games.

And finally, congrats to the Rev. G on his new job in computer-geek world rather than bible-geek world – much deserved, but certainly the church’s loss.

Expanding the possibilities of solo bass performing

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.

Gotta love macs.

Ever since TSP and I got an iBook last summer, I’ve wrestled with trying to get things on the laptop to print via printer sharing on my XP PC. now that the iBook is connected to the internet independently of the PC, I thought ‘ah, it’d be nice to connect it straight to the printer as well’. So I go to the Epson website to find the drivers. ‘no driver available’ which at first seems like a bad thing, but the second sentence says ‘possibly because it’s already built in to OSX’ or something like that.

So I plug in the printer, and hit ‘print’ and up comes a box that tells me it’s an Epson Colour 680 (oh yes, 2001’s finest technology) and proceeds to print the document.

Live with OSX gets easier and easier. Roll on the 12 intel-powered MacBook…

Soundtrack – Andrew Buckton, ‘Now, But Not Yet’ (probably my favourite of all the albums I’ve played on that don’t have my name on the cover. The whole process was a pleasure from start to finish)

I. Officially. Rule.

First up, big thanks to all techie geeks who attempted help with the router/hub/modem thingie problem – Lovely G, TH and Christian Renz, all fine peoples with some top advice.

However, in the end it was me who came up with the solution. Yes, me. I’m sat here thinking about the problem, and how everyone says ‘but ethernet ought to connect automatically’. TH in fact pointed out that I ‘must have had the ethernet connected to configure the modem in the first place’. And that’s the bit that sparked my next thought… My problems all seemed to stem from the fact that I’d configured it all via wireless, so it saw the Wireless as the primary internet connection, and wasn’t sending the right DHCP info to the ethernet side of things at all.

So, I do what every self-respecting geek-in-a-fix does, and restored the factory settings on the modem, turned off the airport on the laptop, plugged in the ethernet and started again.

This time, it worked like a dream. DHCP assigned LAN IP details (shark, ask TH) to the ethernet side of things, I was all hooked up in seconds, and could properly configure the wireless side of things to actually have a password on it! Yay for me.

However, more important than all of that, I could also then do the software update for the Looperlative, fixing a bug I found two days ago (Bob uploaded the fix yesterday – how’s that for customer service???), and cleaning up the audio even further (it already kicked the arse of every looper I’d ever used)… So scratch that title – Bob. Officially. Rules.

Oh yes.

Wireless and screenless

thanks to the house insurance company demanding that we get window locks fitted, I had to completely dismantle my office yesterday (those of you that have seen my office are currently receiving oxygen at the thought…). The lack of a desktop computer to hook my laptop up to, and the marvellous experiences I’d had with wireless in the US (wi-fi is the finest invention since the Ebow), I decided it was time to get a wireless hub.

Four hours of tweaking and two calls to Onetel later, and I got it working. It’s worth noting that if you’re trying to configure a Zoom X6 5590 wireless modem and router that you can’t write to flash from Safari – I tried for ages and couldn’t get it to work. As soon as I switched to Firefox (which I didn’t even know I’d downloaded for mac!) it worked a treat and I was able to configure it. Well, configure everything except the password for the wireless network, so at the moment, anyone in my area can access my network, though not my computer, thankfully.

One of the methods I tried to get the router configured was to hook up my desktop computer and try that, but when I did it appeared the screen wasn’t working. I tried the screen with my laptop and that was fine, so it seems my video card has gone west. Need to get some advice today on fitting new video cards from either the Lovely G or The Captain…

But at least I now have WiFi in the house, the nicest upshot of which is that i’m sat here in total silence – no humming fans on my PC providing noise pollution. I can go and sit in front of the TV and do all my email things while watching family guy, and life is good.

Tonight I’m playing in Petersfield with Theo – first night of our tour, playing a whole load of new music, some favourites and some new versions of old tunes. I’m really looking forward to it, though I’m still feeling a little jetlagged. It’ll be my first theo gig with the Looperlative, which will be fun.

And tomorrow we’re at the Vortex in London – please come along!

Sunday in CA

Starting any day with a tofu and tortilla scramble is a good way to ensure it’s going to be a good day. Yum – must get recipe from Jeff.

Lazy breakfast followed by recording – an hour’s duo material, looped and processed trumpet and me doing my looperlative thing. Some amazing music – Jeff uses a looping/processing rig on his laptop, programmed in Max/MSP, which is an unbelieveably versatile set-up. loads of great sounds and ideas coming out – I’m listening the the CDR of it at the moment, unmixed, and the only downer is that Jeff’s signal picked up some radio interference at points. It’s rarely a problem, and in a couple of places sounds very cool, but it’s a shame it’s there… we’ll work with it, edit where necessary. All in all, it’s some great music, and will probably crop up as a download album in the online shop soon.

Also bought myself a US phone today – last year I ran up a MASSIVE mobile phone bill, without actually spending long online at all! So I’ve just bought a prepay phone and a load of minutes, to save me lots of pennies when calling TSP and also phoning chums in the US.

Time for sleeps now.

Much more productive day today

Today was better – started off with lots of practice, which doubled up as a way to continue experimenting with the laptop looping set up. Am just experimenting with what kind of tolerance the processor has for varying degrees of looping and processing all happening at once and what the optimum buffer size (and therefor latency time) is. It’s a bit of a faff, but I think it’s coming together… Should be able to get something workable soon…

Also managed to get some nice things to wear on stage, and find out how much my programme printing is going to cost – the nice people at The Bass instutute in london sent me their ad through to stick in it, so I now need to put it together with some bio stuff and an ad for my website and online CD shop, and we’re away! That’s probably the main job for this evening.

Anyway, knowing that quite a lot of bloggers read this, I have a cheeky request, which is that you blog about my edinburgh show, and link back to this site – that way it should send a whole load of traffic my way, and get all the Edinburgh-bound readers of your lovely blogs to come and see the show, and then I won’t need to phone you up to beg for food when I lose my shirt on the show, thus posting one blog thingie will save you having to console me on my failed show for hours on end… go on, I dare ya!

the two links you need are to the edfringe.com page for my show – http://www.edfringe.com/shows/detail.php?action=shows&id=BASS where people can get tickets, and to the front page of my website where people can have a listen to some MP3s and find out a little more about the show!

and you can include this picture if you like, too!

thanks!

Caught in a flyerless limbo

you know, this leaving the flyers til the last minute thing was a really bad idea. And yes, TSP did point out to me about a month ago that I really ought to have all that stuff finished by now so that it was all ready in good time. Did I listen? Well, yes, but I procrastinated, and there was obviously something really important to blog about, and flyers got moved down the list, and then it was time for lunch, and then I did some bass practice, and that was the end of third day. And Steve looked at it and said ‘oops, didn’t get much done there, then’.

The problem now is that the BIG job before Friday is getting all the flyers and posters out all over Edinburgh, and it’s more than we can comfortably do just on wednesday evening/thursday. Today and yesterday I could’ve been toddling all over the city sticking up posters and letting the lovely people of the Burgh know about the show, so they could come flooding through the doors in their ones and I could go home a newly minted hundredaire!

So today, I’m actually going to stay in Berwick, I think. I was planning on going to Newcastle, but thought that was just too much unneccesary driving, and I was going to go to Edinburgh, but there’s not much to do there yet, so I’ll stay here, work on some tunes for the gig, head into town and buy a shirt or two for onstage (Berwick? stage clothes? this’ll be a challenge) and generally take it slightly easier, preparing for the maelstrom to come.

Had a good play last night with the laptop looping set up. Managed to get it working so that the processing was only happening post-loop, and not to my main bass sound, which was cool, but then that stopped and I couldn’t work out why. And I couldn’t use any pitchshifting as it was way too processor hungry. Methinks this is going to take some major tweaking of latency settings etc. to get it to be stable enough for gigs.

Soundtrack – right now I’m listening to ‘I Don’t Want To Know’ by John Martyn over and over, as I’m hoping to do a version of it on the gig, and am trying to soak up a lot of his melodic stuff. It’s a really simple chord progression, almost too simple, but I’m sure I can make it do what I want to do.

The perils of a laptop life

the downside of ever switching computers is that all the info that one needs in an email archive is on the other computer. And there were a couple of people who emailed me about wanting to start bass lessons just before I left to come here, and I can’t get to their addresses (trying to talk the people staying at my house through logging on and finding emails on my computer would be pretty much impossible).

So, if it was you, please email me again, but be warned – I’m not teaching again now until the 19th August. After that, I’m booking stuff in now…

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