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squarepusher interview and bass solo


froad92

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I came across Squarepusher back in high school while going through a techno phase and didn't realize he was a bass player until much later. This has inspired me to dig through my worldly belongings and dust off my only Squarepusher cd.

 

I think it's time to go buy more.

 

Andre3000 and Squarepusher...who'da thunk it?

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Yeah, I saw that interview the other weekend on the Culture Show on BBC2, was quite interesting - couldn't believe how much the guy looks like Simon Pegg.
Now theres three of you in a band, youre like a proper band. Youre like the policemen.
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First off, I applaud anybody's efforts that show that the bass doesn't only have to fill the bass role in an ensemble to support a melody instrument/voice. As he says in the interview portion, there are no rules as to how the electric bass guitar -- an instrument invented only a relatively short time ago in the '50s -- should be played.

 

However, if you listen to his style of playing, this isn't a whole lot different from what guitarists have been doing for far longer (and lutists before them). In fact, he's using pretty much just the guitar-range of notes on his 6-string bass, so it seems fair to ask if the music wouldn't be better served by being played on a guitar.

 

Just recently on the GP forum another YouTube was discussed. (Too lazy to look it up right now.) The guitar player in question not only played a bass with chordal accompaniment -- like Squarepusher is playing -- but at the same time a melody line using the higher-pitched guitar strings.

 

So for this style of playing/music, I'd say the guitar player has the advantage. If somehow Squarepusher were to use the full range of his instrument and make the music unique to bass, then maybe his playing would be more significant. Of course it's hard to incorporate those notes without muddying things up. (Well, I'm sure greenboy would have something to say about that, if he were around. ;) )

 

Even so, there's nothing really unique about trying to cover all the parts of a song on a single instrument. Keyboard instruments have been doing this forever. Are keyboards inherently better at solo play? Well, they can be used to sound at least 10 notes simultaneously using just one finger per note over a very wide (typically 8-octave) range; that's kind of hard (in fact impossible) to do with either a 6-string guitar or bass.

 

In order to achieve piano-like polyphony on a string instrument in which notes are decided by stopping (i.e. fretting) the strings, a better choice perhaps is an instrument designed for two-hand tap, such as a Chapman stick or Warr guitar. Here you can have a 10-string (or more) instrument and sound 10 notes simultaneously. (If you're not stopping the strings, you're looking at something along the lines of a harp.)

 

To Squarepusher's credit, he's incorporating the very bass-centric technique of slap. Not everybody is a fan of the extended slap bass solo, but it may be interesting to develop that part of Squarepusher's technique while still maintaining the self-accompanying chordal part on the higher-pitched strings. (Perhaps he does this already, although it is not evident from the clip provided.)

 

Other players that have gone this route have typically not been very successful. Although usually quite demanding from a technical standpoint, from the general listener's standpoint the lack of melody leads to boring music, or "wanking". It might go over well enough as a short interlude to ensemble playing, but might not do so well as the basis for a 3 hour solo concert.

 

That's not to say it can't be done. There are successful solo bass players out there. The key seems to stem from playing songs, not just wanking, and having the goal of producing music the general audience is more likely to want to listen to, rather than solely providing "fireworks" to try to impress other musicians.

 

Now, it could very well be that I'm just not informed and Squarepusher is one of these solo bass players. It just doesn't sound like it to me based solely on the clip provided.

 

To be fair, this clip was called a "bass solo" and not "solo bass", so as I mentioned earlier it probably fills that role perfectly well, more or less. It does tend to fall a bit on the "wanky" side of things to me, though. Impressive chops, yes. Overall musicality, not so much.

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I liked the interview and the bass playing. Yes, he didn't play anything I haven't heard before, but that's the first time I've heard him playing that way.

 

There aren't a whole lot of players out there who will be able to play in a style that we haven't heard before.

 

It makes Squarepusher's music more interesting to me to know that his main instrument is the bass.

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Originally posted by RicBassGuy:

However, if you listen to his style of playing, this isn't a whole lot different from what guitarists have been doing for far longer (and lutists before them). In fact, he's using pretty much just the guitar-range of notes on his 6-string bass, so it seems fair to ask if the music wouldn't be better served by being played on a guitar.

 

Just recently on the GP forum another YouTube was discussed. (Too lazy to look it up right now.) The guitar player in question not only played a bass with chordal accompaniment -- like Squarepusher is playing -- but at the same time a melody line using the higher-pitched guitar strings.

 

So for this style of playing/music, I'd say the guitar player has the advantage. If somehow Squarepusher were to use the full range of his instrument and make the music unique to bass, then maybe his playing would be more significant. Of course it's hard to incorporate those notes without muddying things up. (Well, I'm sure greenboy would have something to say about that, if he were around. ;) )

What advantage? Why does the guitarist have the advantage just because his instrument goes higher? Does that make the tin whistle the best solo instrument? Why don't you say that the guitarist lacks low range, and therefore the bassist has this undefined "advantage?"

 

And really, shouldn't the music be what we judge?

 

I don't understand why we have to compare and contrast this.

 

Even so, there's nothing really unique about trying to cover all the parts of a song on a single instrument. Keyboard instruments have been doing this forever. Are keyboards inherently better at solo play? Well, they can be used to sound at least 10 notes simultaneously using just one finger per note over a very wide (typically 8-octave) range; that's kind of hard (in fact impossible) to do with either a 6-string guitar or bass.

 

In order to achieve piano-like polyphony on a string instrument in which notes are decided by stopping (i.e. fretting) the strings, a better choice perhaps is an instrument designed for two-hand tap, such as a Chapman stick or Warr guitar. Here you can have a 10-string (or more) instrument and sound 10 notes simultaneously. (If you're not stopping the strings, you're looking at something along the lines of a harp.)

When did polyphony become a measure of excellence?

 

To Squarepusher's credit, he's incorporating the very bass-centric technique of slap. Not everybody is a fan of the extended slap bass solo, but it may be interesting to develop that part of Squarepusher's technique while still maintaining the self-accompanying chordal part on the higher-pitched strings. (Perhaps he does this already, although it is not evident from the clip provided.)

 

Other players that have gone this route have typically not been very successful. Although usually quite demanding from a technical standpoint, from the general listener's standpoint the lack of melody leads to boring music, or "wanking". It might go over well enough as a short interlude to ensemble playing, but might not do so well as the basis for a 3 hour solo concert.

 

That's not to say it can't be done. There are successful solo bass players out there. The key seems to stem from playing songs, not just wanking, and having the goal of producing music the general audience is more likely to want to listen to, rather than solely providing "fireworks" to try to impress other musicians.

 

Now, it could very well be that I'm just not informed and Squarepusher is one of these solo bass players. It just doesn't sound like it to me based solely on the clip provided.

 

To be fair, this clip was called a "bass solo" and not "solo bass", so as I mentioned earlier it probably fills that role perfectly well, more or less. It does tend to fall a bit on the "wanky" side of things to me, though. Impressive chops, yes. Overall musicality, not so much.

Did you really think so? It wasn't like Vic Wooten up there. I liked this solo very much--I felt that it was pretty melodic, and although I'm sure the technique was very impressive, what I liked was the way that it didn't necessarily sound difficult.

 

This tendency to say "well, it's a bass player doing a solo bit that incorporates chords--why doesn't he just play guitar? or harp? or piano?" contradicts what you agreed with earlier--that he's stretching the role of the bass. It doesn't mean he has to go out and play something no-one's ever heard of before. He just has to play something other than the usual band support role--not that there's anything wrong with that.

 

Pardon my pique, it's just I get this a lot. People ask me why I don't just play guitar, or say that I sound "just like a guitarist." And, well, I play bass because I like it. The implications that I should be playing a "real" chordal or melody instrument (instead of faking it on the bass--trying to be above my station) get a little old.

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Originally posted by RicBassGuy:

Now, it could very well be that I'm just not informed and Squarepusher is one of these solo bass players.

Yes.

 

Squarepusher is a great player but his whole schtick is more about the seamless infusion of progressive electronic music with his live playing. You can get some of his cds on amazon.com for pretty cheap. You should check it out.

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I don't see the relevance of pointing out that these notes could have been more easily played on guitar (or piano or harp or...) - music is about more than notes, it's about sound and this only sounds like this because it's played on 6-string bass guitar.

 

I thought it was a pretty cool and musical solo - and interesting to hear it in comparison to his usual crazy electronica plus bass madness.

 

Alex

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Originally posted by Thomas Wilburn:

What advantage? Why does the guitarist have the advantage just because his instrument goes higher? Does that make the tin whistle the best solo instrument? Why don't you say that the guitarist lacks low range, and therefore the bassist has this undefined "advantage?"

 

And really, shouldn't the music be what we judge?

 

I don't understand why we have to compare and contrast this.

IMO, the guitar example in question has the advantage because all six strings are being sounded simultaneously. The way the 6-string bass was being played in this example it could have been a 4-string with ADGC tuning. So guitar plays bass+harmony+melody whereas bass plays bass+harmony (in this example).

 

Well, I was trying to judge the music. ;) I've heard the same style of play with the addition of a melody done on guitar. There's no melody in this example, as I recall.

 

I'm still a fan of extended-range bass (ERB). I think a melody could have been played on the 6. Better yet might be Jason's 7-string. It's not that guitars always have the advantage, it's just these particluar examples. And yes, I agree, ERB does have the advantage over guitars by having an extended lower range (and I have said exactly that before in this forum).

When did polyphony become a measure of excellence?
Well, maybe I wasn't clear. For the style of music attempted it certainly is advantageous to be able to sound more notes simultaneously than were played in this example, i.e. including a melody.

Did you really think so? It wasn't like Vic Wooten up there. I liked this solo very much--I felt that it was pretty melodic, and although I'm sure the technique was very impressive, what I liked was the way that it didn't necessarily sound difficult.

 

This tendency to say "well, it's a bass player doing a solo bit that incorporates chords--why doesn't he just play guitar? or harp? or piano?" contradicts what you agreed with earlier--that he's stretching the role of the bass. It doesn't mean he has to go out and play something no-one's ever heard of before. He just has to play something other than the usual band support role--not that there's anything wrong with that.

 

Pardon my pique, it's just I get this a lot. People ask me why I don't just play guitar, or say that I sound "just like a guitarist." And, well, I play bass because I like it. The implications that I should be playing a "real" chordal or melody instrument (instead of faking it on the bass--trying to be above my station) get a little old.

Thomas, I welcome your pique!

 

If you would have asked me roughly a year ago when I first found the LD what I thought of this clip, I would have said the guy was an awesome player and left it at that. I would have judged him solely on his technique and how easy/hard I felt it would be for me to cop it. It would have been some other guy that would have said it was a boring, self-gratifying display. (I don't think I went that far.)

 

So it's not surprising that you found a contradiction. There's probably still a contradiction inside of me as my own opinions evolve.

 

Like I said, I don't know the performer in question or his works. I thought Jeremy put things in perspective rather nicely. To paraphrase, it'd be like watching Mariah Carey pick up a bass and play like that. If this was Mariah's vid maybe I would have gotten that point.

 

So, Thomas, I wasn't trying to make the broad statement that guitar is a superior instrument to bass, or that bassists shouldn't attempt this style of play. Sorry if I got your blood pressure up. ;) As far as pushing the boudaries of bass, I say push on! :thu:

 

There was a thread recently by KF3 asking about solo bass. I think that's so awesome to view (and use!) bass as a solo instrument, on par with anything else out there.

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Originally posted by C. Alexander Claber:

I don't see the relevance of pointing out that these notes could have been more easily played on guitar (or piano or harp or...) - music is about more than notes, it's about sound and this only sounds like this because it's played on 6-string bass guitar.

Agreed, Alex, even playing the exact same thing on bass instead of guitar is going to sound unique due to the tone/timbre/whatever of the bass.

 

I think my point about comparing to other instruments is simply, "Do people find solo bass as entertaining as other instruments played solo?"

 

For example, I find the Stu Hamm two-hand tap version of "Linus and Lucy" to be as entertaining as it is when played on solo piano.

 

At least I think that's what I was going for. I think I need to check my meds. (Wait a minute, I'm not on meds. Doh! :D )

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