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BASS LOOPING INTERVIEW from 2001
I was doing some live looping research for a writer doing an article for a
drum magazine and
stumbled upon this 2001 roundtable interview with Michael Manring, Steve
and myself that I had completely forgotten had existed.
This really brought back fond memories and made me reflect on how far
come in the
past 6 years in the live looping scene.
In The Loop
A Roundtable discussion with Michael Manring, Steve Lawson, and Rick
by Daniel Elliott
Most of the time it's business as usual for the professional music
community, but every once in a while something really interesting happens.
And fortunately for me, I was lucky enough to be there when it did. Last
July, solo bassists, Michael Manring and Steve Lawson, along with
percussionist, Rick Walker got together for a five date Northern
tour affectionately billed as The Worlds First Bass Looping Tour. This
a follow-up to the highly successful Worlds First Bass Looping Festival
took place in Santa Cruz, California last January. About a week before
tour kicked off, I got together with Michael, Steve and Rick via online
to talk about their inspiration for this wild and wonderful idea.
Daniel: I'll start out with some questions. Feel free to interject at
Steve: Great Daniel. Go for it!
Daniel: Can you give me a little background on looping, specifically Bass
Michael: I'll take a crack at this. I'd say that looping probably goes
to the first experiments with electronic "Musique Concrete", but probably
the most listened to more modern beginning was with Robert Fripp and Brian
Steve: Was that when you first became aware of it Michael?
Michael: Yes. I had read about tape experiments about the time I got some
of those early records where those guys would actually make a long loop of
tape and run it through a reel-to-reel machine. Of course, there was the
original Echoplex - as far as I know the first device designed for tape
stuff. And I suppose you could consider the Mellotron a looping device.
Steve: The Mellotron was definitely a loop device! We all owe a great
to Rick Wakeman. laughs
Michael: I don't think it was too easy to make your own Mellotron loops,
Daniel: How does tape looping and digital looping differ other than the
Rick: There is so much more flexibility with the advent of modern,
Steve: I think that physicality played a big part in how people related to
tape looping; you could see it going round. You could keep the tapes if
covered the record head.
Rick: I used to do this in the early eighties, in shows with people like
Henry Kaiser. We would disengage the erase heads on the old tube
Echoplexes. It gave us 3 minutes of loop time. We would do a long piece
then walk off stage and let it be intermission music.
Steve: Yeah! I've read about doing that, Rick - I was far too young to
anything to do with it though. laughs
Rick: Such a baby.
Michael: There were tube Echoplexes?
Rick: Yeah. They're modeled, along with the transistor ones, in the Line
DL-4. I love how those machines degraded the signal; great for live
Steve: Digital information is far more nebulous, getting back to the
original question. I wouldn't say it's more malleable, but it certainly
made a few things possible that weren't before, like better signal quality.
Rick: Certainly, and significantly, the ability to sync which we will use
lot in this tour.
Steve: Definitely! The syncing and the ability to do all the things that
you could do with tape but at the touch of a button makes it much more
available to people like me who would never have got out a splicing block
and chopped up bits of tape. Now, the skill set required to be involved
looping is much smaller - you don't need to be proficient at tape editing
and tape-head modifying.
Michael: The skill you need now is pushing little buttons at exactly the
Steve: Exactly, Michael! And I can cope with that. I can push buttons in
time (most of the time), so looping is now available to a putz like me.
Michael: Well, of course, it's not just pushing buttons, but how you push
Rick: Actually, Steve has inspired me to work with loops that aren't
Daniel: What do you mean?
Steve: Shall I explain that?
Rick: Yes, explain.
Steve: Basically, when I began looping, I would panic if the loop wasn't
spot on, but I soon began to realize that after a period of time playing
over a particular loop, the glitches became part of the groove, and I
play to them, and overdub in time with the original loop. I started to
the contour of a loop as a landscape with peaks and troughs, which I then
work on learning, so that I can work with it rather than against it
Rick: The Balinese have a concept, 'Jam Karet', or 'time is rubber'.
Michael: It's a fun game to record random loops of noise and then try to
find the groove within them. Tim Alexander loves to do the random loop
thing. We did some of it on the first Attention Deficit record.
Steve: That's a great record, Michael!
Rick: You would think that this technology would be limiting, but it has
been incredibly liberating to me for these reasons.
Steve: Absolutely. You start to relate to music on a far more
level, rather than a verse/chorus back and forth level.
Daniel: So when did the idea of Bass looping come along?
Michael: Hard to say when bass looping started, but Jaco Pastorius's live
solo, 'Slang' got a lot of bassists interested.
Steve: Slang was certainly one of the first, but before Jaco, Eberhard
and David Friesen were both experimenting with looping on upright basses.
Daniel: Rick, being a percussionist and the mastermind behind this little
shindig, why did you choose to bill it as a 'bass looping' fest as opposed
to a 'looping', fest?
Rick: We started the Worlds First Bass Looping Festival because Steve
a gig in Santa Cruz and I'm a marketing genius. laughs
Steve: .And a humility expert. laughs
Rick: Specifically, because I fell in love with putting on festivals with
great limitations as a way of inspiring new music and creativity. I' m
proud to say that I have introduced 28 artists in the last two years who
never played out of their bedrooms Ironically, when I produced the
First Bass Looping Festival, I performed as a bassist, but on this tour I
may be the only one to not play bass at all.
Michael: We're living in interesting times now with all the possibilities
that technology offers, all the world's cultures on each other's
old conventions breaking down. I think bassists like looping because we
very aware of the concept of accompaniment. Oddly, I think bass lends
well to layering, too.
Steve: Preach it Manthing! I guess it's the range and the combination of
all the elements of music - rhythm, harmony and melody - that makes bass
good for this rather rarified form of megalomania. There is definitely a
bassist mentality that lends itself to the kind of subservience to the
that is required in looping. And the bass is designed to play with other
instruments, which means that space is inherent in the sound.
Daniel: In that Santa Cruz Show last January, Rick and Steve did some
interesting things with the bass and a pair of drumsticks.
Michael: Let's keep it clean, now! laughs
Rick: Yeah, I malleted Steve's bass as he controlled the harmony. Neither
one of us knew where it was going
Steve: You mulleted my bass? Oh Malleted. My mistake.
Rick: Mad cow kicking in.laughs This game produces great results with
bassist that I've tried it with.
Steve: on the subject of games, I think that it's a really important part
experimentation to 'play' in the child-like sense of the word. Too much
'new music' disappears up it's own ass 'because the people doing it have
forgotten that the basic model for childhood discovery and experimentation
is 'play'. And that's what Rick's mullet game does; it introduces a fun
element that may or may not have hugely significant musical results. As
was, the piece was pretty cool. One journo said it was the highlight of
Michael: Yeah, I guess we all have the desire to feel that what we're
has more significance than just goofing around! But, goofing around is
Steve: And the lesson is to learn that goofing around is sometimes more
vital and progressive than reading a textbook. As Michael Franti said 'I
deadly serious about us having fun'.
Rick: I love that quote.
Steve: Franti is THE MAN! He's possibly the most important musical
influence on my life at the moment.
Rick: How did you get involved with looping, Michael?
Michael: I've always goofed with little echo machines, but getting my
JamMan was a revelation.
Rick: Me, too, I felt like my life changed that day.
Daniel: How about you, Steve?
Steve: I'd read about Michael using one, and was fascinated by the idea,
then when I started to write for Music Magazines, I requested one for
review - the perks of the job.
Daniel: You mentioned earlier that in this show, the three of you are
planning to sync your loops together? After building multiple layers with
both basses and adding layers of looped percussion, won't it sound very
Rick: Not if we're good musicians.
Michael: People used to think that you could never have two basses playing
simultaneously, but I think the available texture of the instrument is so
vast that it lends itself well to playing many parts in music. Clutter
be a useful texture at the right time.
Rick: I have muting switches on the board and plan on doing a lot of real
time mixing so we have that dubbing potential of muting and un-muting
live. This helps with clutter.
Michael: We're starting to bridge the gap between live and recorded.
Steve: Definitely! I also find that there's something meditative about
looping - the repetition of it is like prayer, or chanting, or liturgy.
It's a monastic pursuit... potentially.
Michael: That's a strange phenomenon! Even a loop you don't like at first
will get interesting as it repeats
Rick: Someone once said meditating is listening to God and praying is
talking to God; looping lets' us do both simultaneously.
Steve: I sometimes leave the same loops running for up to 13-14 hours,
listening to the interaction. Not great for the audience, so I restrict
such practices to my little office, which is in a church and has a very
inspiring stained glass window
Daniel: Fourteen hours!!! never mind Mad Cow Disease. I think you have
Looper's Disease. laughs
Rick: Mad Looper's Disease, hmmm.another marketing concept..?
Michael: A corrupting influence on our youth hopefully! Looping, I mean.
Steve: We live in such an immediate culture that 14 minutes is considered
epic and if that's the cooking time, it's considered inedible.
Michael: Maybe looping makes you listen to things more closely.
Rick: Definitely! I'm astonished by how little listening seems to happen
Steve: It also, as I said, means that music evolves - the layers build up,
and the origins are still there.
Michael: Kind of like taking a picture so you can study a single moment in
Steve: There is definitely the feeling of being involved in something
something of value, something truly creative here. This is art for the
of art, for the sake of the journey - no definitive statement, no great
to make cash by watering it down, no agenda other than to make it
and that feels great! But, also quite alien in the modern entertainment
climate. I went to see Abe Laboriel play last night, at the Baked Potato.
For the second set there were 6 people there, four of who were on the
list, so $20 worth of audience. He and the other guys just played their
asses off. I've never seen anything like it. He was jumping up and down
beating up on his bass like Bill Laswel and loving it - grinning and just
being thankful for the gift of music. That was the same thing; not
the audience, but counting the blessings of being able to play music with
like minded people.
Michael: Abe is great, such good energy.
Daniel: Michael, a recent article about you stated that, "Few bassist have
put more energy into stretching the instrument's boundaries" than you
Where does your creative energy come from?
Michael: Thanks! I'm not really sure where creativity comes from. In my
case I think it's probably mostly adolescent curiosity. It's that goofing
around thing again. There seems like there is so much that needs to be
tried. I feel we've barely scratched the surface of life's possibilities.
Bass is just a good symbol for that concept.
Rick: Every drawn breath is a blessing; every time we get to be creative
share that with others is a blessing
Steve: What we're trying to do is something beautiful, something honest,
something fun, something of substance. Bass is a great symbol of newness.
It's such a young instrument, and as a result is diversifying so fast,
the number of strings, to tuning, to new pickup technology like the
Lightwave pickup, to modeling, e-bow, extended techniques, processing,
hipshots, all that stuff.
Rick: Guys. I hate to break in, but I have to go. Thanks so much Daniel.
Daniel: See you soon Rick, and thanks.
Daniel: The Hyperbass was a pretty creative way to expand the instrument.
Steve: I agree. The Hyperbass is so far the pinnacle of that expression
newness, an astonishing vision of where electric instruments can go - all
credit to you and Joe Zon for doing it.
Michael: Thanks Steve. I don't know if I can accept such a compliment!
There is so much more to do with the bass that I find it a little
overwhelming. Thank goodness there are folks out there like yourself who
are really taking the instrument to interesting places. I'm just goofing
around with my one tiny corner of what's possible
Steve: For me, watching you and seeing the paths you've taken through
has been so inspiring, from the duo stuff with Michael Hedges through the
solo material, Cloud Chamber, SadHappy, Yo! Miles, Attention Deficit,
Larkin, John Gorka. Your enthusiasm for music in all its facets is
something that has served as a parallel path that makes it all a bit less
Michael: Well, Steve I feel incredibly lucky that our inspiration goes
Daniel: Michael, what started you down the road of alternate tuning? Was
an accident - boredom with a certain key signature?
Michael: Alternate tuning was a possibility so I was curious about it. It
just happened to yield a lot of sounds I like.
Daniel: Steve, do you also experiment with alternate tuning?
Steve: Only drop D and C really, but I've just got a cello, to explore
fifths tuning a little more. I use alternate tunings to bust out of my
comfort zone, to force me to play new things if I feel like fourths is
Daniel: Do you get to do much looping with your other projects? Ragatal,
Howard Jones etc.
Steve: Ragatal was pivotal for me, as we wanted to be able to do solos and
duos within the band set up, so it gave me something to aim for with
to performing solo. My first solo live things were with Ragatal. No
with Howard though, sadly.
Michael: How did you like working with the Indian rhythmic concepts Steve?
Steve: The main lesson I learnt was that the fundamental music unit was
silence - zero or nothingness seems to be central to a lot of Hindu
and music starts from there, so the whole idea of music growing from
was revelatory. Also, the degree of intricacy in the subdivision, but the
elasticity of the timing was beautiful. I recently did a Ragatal gig with
two extra percussionists and a sitar player, as well as tabla, guitar,
electric violin and me. That was mind-blowing to be soloing with that
on behind me. The Ragatals give the music that same meditative quality
loops have - that sense of instant familiarity.
Michael: very cool! Wish I could've heard that. I'm sorry to say I've
to scoot now, too. Thanks for the intriguing conversation, guys!
Daniel: Thanks Michael. I'm looking forward to meeting you in person.
Michael: Thanks! See you soon!
Daniel: Let me ask you one last question Steve. What do you recommend for
other artists interested in venturing into the Looping concept?
Steve: Just do it! Get a simple loop box like the DL4 and get started.
Experiment - nothing is off limits. It's only sound after all and you
aren't going to do any harm with it! I'd suggest getting a few CDs as
Probably mine would be cool. laughs Also, the David Friesen live CD.
Daniel: Thanks Steve. I'm just so excited about seeing the three of you
Steve: We're excited about playing. I'm looking forward to seeing you
Daniel: See you then.
Steve: God Bless!
Daniel Elliott has been playing bass and writing songs for about 20 years.
He's also been highly active in supporting and promoting music in the
Northern California region. He is currently recording an album with the
band, The Threshing Floor, which should be available in November and will
begin working on a solo album very soon. Other recent endeavors include
establishing the publishing company, Much Grace Music and working on a
tentatively titled, The Art of Worship.
Daniel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org