I began (and have spent the bulk of) my musical career (such as it is) playing unamplified music. Microphones, amplifiers, pickups…these things remain in some ways utterly mysterious to me. There’s still a little part of me that actively dislikes playing and singing amplified music. It’s somehow twisted, distorted, misplaced. The sounds aren’t coming from where they should be coming from, and the tech colors the sound in ways that I sometimes find profoundly off-putting. In the symphonic setting, we don’t talk about controlling stage volume as if it were different from house volume. When I play with the string quartet, I control the dynamics of my instrument directly, and I never have to worry about a cord frying out. I just play louder or softer, that’s all. With electric instruments, things can never be that simple or direct, and I feel like I lose a level of control over the sound (plus there’s the stage volume/deafness problem).
Just the same, I like me a good, crunchy electric funk bass, baby. And I love the effects that electric instruments and amplifiers can create — sometimes these sounds are simply marvelous, and they can’t happen any other way. Sound tech can be just plain fun, and it can compensate for the loss of immediate player control over some things with a whole world of player control over other things that would otherwise be impossible.
This week, I’m experimenting with electric instruments a little (time permitting). My first attempt is a song I was never able to convince the jam band to play (booooooo! *grin*): Concrete Blonde’s fun vampire tune, Bloodletting (from the album of the same name). It’s got a big ol’ bass grind going, and it feels like it would work well as a sort of stripped-back blues tune. That’s sort of what I tried to do, anyway.
Obviously, my version didn’t go particularly well. :) The main point of this little exercise, really, was not so much the production of a good, interesting cover as it was an attempt to learn a lot more about electric instruments. I’m still not really good enough on 6-string or bass to carry this off the way I want to, but I took a shot, and I learned a lot about my instruments in the process. I bungled my way through the guitar part on my Eastwood Classic 6 — I wanted that semi-hollowbody countrification, and I almost figured out how to make it work. The bass part was a little easier, but I’m not sure I like the amp simulator I used in Garage Band. I probably should’ve let the grind go and simplified the sound more. The break was played on my electric violin, run through a very fuzz-heavy amp simulator — I think it’s the part I actually liked the best, even if it isn’t perfect.
Well, that’s how it goes — failures, too, are valuable for learning!