FMP/FREE MUSIC PRODUCTION - An Edition of Improvised Music 1989-2004

FMP CD 102

Peter Kowald


Similarly different
A bass is still a bass (but a house is not a home ... )
Two basses are two basses
Two bass players are two different people.

Musical conversations, question and answer games, ways of reacting, elements of dialogue or discussion exist in many musics in the world: Inuit-women even sing into each others mouths – it's cold and windy in the arctic, (nice how they burst out laughing after each piece, they say in order to release the tension after the heavy breathing movements. Say what?).

Musical duets are always a bit in danger of turning into small talk. Between the poles of "you can kiss my .... " and "hand in hand we are going ... " the duo strides with determination or waddles along, slides and hops through the different areas of material and time: bull-headed ego trip and dependently sticking together are abysses to the right and left of the fine line between self-sufficiency and togetherness. Not-wanting-to-have-anything-to-do-with-each-other or we-could-meet-more-often are parts of this freedom with which this music is often referred to in a single breath.

Intuition, first of all, can do without material and time (Intuit and Inuit meet in the eternal ice ... ) Maybe meeting in the air – a couple of meters above the basses at best.

We know: double basses can sound and resound very different: bowed and plucked, deep sounds (when you turn down the bottom string, so low that you can hear the different vibrations) and highs (the highest bass note I heard was from Fernando Grillo: he had placed a finger on each side, to the right and the left of the bow-hair and pulled the bow between the two fingers, you can't grip the strings shorter than the thickness of the bow's hair (horses' hair, by the way); it was a pure tone), the most diverse range of glissandi, natural and artificial harmonics, double stops, arpeggios, slaps, hitting the strings / finger board / bass body, the list could go on. The family of the improvising bass players knows any number of such tricks, they're common knowledge by now. Sometimes new ones appear, inventive spirits.

Two of the selfsame instruments producing similar sounds have, at the same time, both difficulties and opportunities: Duplication tends towards extenuation and inflation (putting something down and then trying to top it sounds more like a burden).

In the best case (which we always like to assume for our improvisations) doubling can lead to pleasant/powerful fortification: pulling together on the same string also gives a good sound.

Deep fat sounds or subtle weaves in the harmonics sing simultaneous songs of togetherness and independence: double basses like boxes of relationships (and woe betide, along comes yet another one with that joke that they burn longer).

Two basses are two basses. Two bass players are always two completely different people. That's only to be expected. Many thanks to all three.

Barre Phillips came to Europe from the USA in 1968 and lived with us in Antwerp for about 3 months. He was practising almost all of the time, sometimes as early as 7 o'clock in the morning in the small kitchen, so he wouldn't disturb anybody. In a few afternoon duets in the living room, I picked up an enormous amount. If I had prepared something, had practised and played it to him, he never said that it was good; always only: it's getting better, it's getting better. Sometimes he'd only say; that's far out, man, far out. Or: that's groovy.

With Barry Guy there were often long nights in his kitchen (in Blackheath/London) and always a small barrel of beer, the pubs close early and you still want to have a drink with friends and neighbours. And if it goes on until early morning and Barry then goes to the studio and, for example, records Mozart-symphonies without even seeing the charts beforehand and receives record prizes etc, well .... Sometimes I wanted to be as fast as him; I never made it, though.

In 1971 (and I've known him roughly since that time), Maarten Altena, had a broken arm in plaster. And because he wouldn't have been able to play the bass for weeks, he put the neck of the bass and the strings into a cast and did the solo recording "Handicaps". I thought that was a funny-radical step (to forget about everything you had learned and just see what would happen), and so I repeatedly tried to imitate this, mentally. This, obviously, led to something different, again; which was also imitated/cogitated.

David Walter 87, has been professor of bass and ensemble at Juilliard since 1969. His previous appointments include the Manhattan School of Music, the New England Conservatory, Shanghai Conservatory and Indiana University. His symphonic career includes tenures with the Pittsburgh Symphony and fourteen years with the NBC Symphony under Toscanini. He worked on a regular basis with his long-time friend, Pablo Casals, as well as in Casals' orchestras. David Walter gives masterclasses, workshops, seminars and lectures throughout the world.

Translation: Isabel Seeberg & Paul Lytton

zurück / back