Tag Archives: moog

Electric Bass Baggage

Back in 2011 I had what I saw as an “apex moment” as a bassist. My weird little network of connections in the freak music, Zappa, and Beefheart world led to me getting asked to play at a festival in France. The primary motivator in this was the unavailability of former Zappa/Mothers bassist Roy Estrada, and my limited but real connection to former Zappa frontman Napoleon Murhpy Brock and his band The Grandmothers. Two weeks after being asked, I was preparing for Rochefort en Accords 2011 at a house outside Paris.

I have already blogged about the while experience, but this little post is about what I feel now that I have some time, distance, and perspective on the situation. The short of it is that I paid a price for not having strong reading and transcription skills. My forte of having a voice and an ear of my own was trumped by me not being very good at playing like someone else. My ability to play Zappa and Beefheart music is based on my ear, and at times it was clear that my ear was not true enough. The way I hear the part was not going to cut it, especially standing next to people like Napoleon, or Beefheart alums like Jeff Tepper and Eric Drew Feldman. Add in my somewhat odd take on blues standards, due to not having played that stuff in a while, or my inability to play note-for-note off Jeff Tepper’s solo efforts, and the reslt was some competent playing, some fun playing, and one train wreck that I could have avoided by saying my least-favorite word: “no”.

The eventual result was me taking a break from bass, and putting time into synth and electronics. One big reason was to let the bass “rest” for a bit. But the thing that became clear with some time away was that there is a huge amount of baggage that comes with an instrument. When you play bass there is a feeling among other musicians, and other bassists, that the “easy” stuff must be easy for you, when in fact the easy stuff is not easy. If I walked on stage at your typical blues/rock open mic, I couldn’t get through Angie, or Wild Horses, because I don’t practice it, never have, and the intervals and harmony are alien to me. OTOH, play enough Zappa and you learn certain things that keep you on track and make it look “easy”. If someone called “Bamboozled By Love” I might very well nail it. Like most things in life it isn’t easy, but practice is one way to reduce the appearance of effort.

I have taken a hiatus from my instrument of choice before. Variously to play guitar, mandolin, harmonica, synth, dulcimer… or to focus on recording and composition. This time it is the same , but different. I feel that I may have run afoul of the bass-gods by not holding up my end on the basics. The road back from that can be hard, as I know, and it will involve some work that I have avoided for a long time. I expect that I will come back stronger and more versatile, but even if I don’t, I will come back wiser and more willing to put my foot down for myself and my muse. Bass is a cruel mistress. People expect you to hold down the bottom and stay out of the way. The depths to which that offends me are considerable, and I realize that I have to abandon much of what I have done in the past to achieve a clean break from some of those expectations.

I wont go as far as calling my Rochefort gig “Pyrrhic” since I don’t consider the aftermath to be devastating. To the contrary. It was what I said it was: “apex”. It was the apex of a journey started more than 10 years earlier when I put my bass up for consignment and took off on a vacation to Italy with my wife. I have learned many times that you might have to divest of everything before getting a clean start. You might have to say “never again” to have the opportunity present itself, again.

The new journey began much like the last one: a project with my friend Peter Riccio, with a goofy band name and no particular expectations. I don’t expect this journey to be easier, harder, better, or more fruitious. But it will be a journey, and with any luck it generates something I can look back upon with pride, and maybe it has an apex on par with that week in France, and maybe I will have learned enough not to worry about apexes by then.

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Fuchsprellen follow-up and thoughts on 2012

As luck wold have it we were jumped by a snow storm on December 26, resulting in a cancellation of the Fuchsprellen gig at Best Video in Hamden. The forecast called for aout an inch, maybe, and mostly rain, and we got half a foot of snow instead. That is typical of southern New England, where the rain/snow line can be fickle and turn a drizzle into a whiteout in short order. Good call by BV to shut the tig down. The roads were a complete mess.

The rescheduled gig went down on January 3, but I am counting it as a 2012 event. Because I can. The folks at Best Video have done a super job of retooling one of the best video rental shops in the state into a video/cafe/performance venue, and the kicker is that their performance area sounds great. That has a lot to do with the baffle effect of the video racks and the false beams in the ceiling. Anyhow, thanks to Hank Hoffman for making it happen.

The whole event provided a symmetrical closing to the year-that-was. The project that was to become Fuchsprellen kicked off in January with Peter Riccio and Me playing a duo set on a snowy night, when the gig should have been canceled, at Never Ending Books. We followed that up with a short run of gigs based on my sample/synth/guitar setup and Peter’s drum kit. That led to a run of shows and workshops with New Haven Improvisers Collective, which gave me some time to think about my own projects while still playing and performing. And that led to expanding the instrumentation, which allowed me to cut back on the scope of my live rig, and created space for additional voices. The culmination was was having Richard Brown sit in on sax, alongside Stephen Chillemi on various reeds and percussion (including vibraphone). My live rig? Animoog for iPad, with Moog Filtatron for iPhone, run though a Mackie mixer to the house PA. Delightfully minimalist. The results were beyond my expectations and I believe that the stage has been set for a noisy and productive 2013. I like it like that 🙂

Coming Soon: Fuchsprellen clips on Soundcloud, and a Fuchsprellen EP on Bandcamp.

And what else is new?

The duo-project with Peter Riccio, known by various names but most recently Journey to the Twin Planet, played a spooky little gig on April 1.  That is, coincidentally, the same day I had the first back problem in about 4 years.  And what a pain in the back it was.  Aside from the minor victory of not puking on stage from pain, and the minor defeat of having to call 1-800-MOTRIN to gut my way through it, it was a fun time.  I hope to take some lessons from these gigs and come back with a tighter and better act the next time around.

One big upside was that I was able to road test Animoog on he iPad as a performance instrument and the verdict is: we have a winner.  This app is everything I ever wanted in a synth, and is so much deeper than I expected.  The good news is that you can call up a preset and get right down to playing music on it.  Pick a keyboard layout you like and let it rip.  Beyond that you have a level of control over synthesis that is unbelievable.  Everythig from initial parameters, evolution, multitouch and extended-touch gestures, delay settings, built-in looper…. daummmmmmmmmm.

That also means that Moog, Inc. is doing something that was by no means a fait accompli: They managed to take a company that could have fallen over a cliff after Robert Moog’s passing, or worse been sold to some crap-factory like Korg*, and is now making a fantastic line of real tools for real musicians.  The analog synths they are making now are among the best they have ever created, and are probably just flat-out The Best.  They have a range from entry the level Phatty to the Voyager XL.  All the while making MoogerFooger modules and Moog Theremins.  Oh, and they make a couple of killer iOS apps, and have very nice merch. Pay them a visit.  Warms my heart, it does.

I’ll revisit this soon, and be posting links to some JttTP audio real soon now.  There are a few clips up at my Soundcloud.

* I own Korg gear, and it is not crap, but it is not Moog either…