A Conversation with Experimental Bassist Darin Gray: Playing Art Hill, Radiolab Live and More
In a recent Radiolab short, host Jad Abumrad said that you simply make noises that you don't expect a bass to make and can turn your "bass into a tuba literally so that it can sound like a lion." How did do you go about discovering these interesting tones and textures?
Nathan Kaye On Fillmore is Darin Gray and Glenn Kotche.
A long time ago, I started working on another acoustic upright bass solo album. I had this friend named Michael Colligan, who is an amazing improvisation musician. He's a fantastic reed player and one of the first guys to improvise with dry ice. He used to do a lot of things with reed mouthpieces with tubes swing them around -- that's where I got the initial idea to use mouthpieces and tubes and wanted to figure out how to bring that to the bass. I didn't know if it would work but put tubes inside the upright bass bass. I don't know if you want to call it a technique exactly, but I began to work with that. I used brass mouthpieces instead of reeds because I love the sound of the trumpet.
My idea was to become this sort of trio by myself in which I could work with brass, bass and percussion simultaneously interacting with each other. It's taken awhile to formulate since it's somewhat of a complex notion to pull off, but I'll get there. I use tuba mouthpieces, pretty simple trumpet mouthpieces and blow all of these tubes into my bass. It acts like some sort of resonator for sound coming through the tubes and even amplifies acoustically. This idea worked out really well for Radiolab Live's theme which is roughly the end of the dinosaurs and sounds that were sort of in that world.
This fall, you're embarking on a 20+ date tour of Radiolab Live, known for its signature blend of storytelling, science, and music. How did you happen upon this opportunity, and what's it like working with all of the mixed media?
I've worked with dancers and filmmakers but certainly have never done anything like this before. It's been really interesting because Jad is a composer -- I believe he was a composition major in college. Glenn and I brought a bunch of music and snippets to play with the story line they had. He would come around and ask what do these things do and what do you do with this, and then he'd listen to me play with sounds and evaluate them. Luckily, we had a lot of things he liked. During a rehearsal in Massachusetts, they invited us to do the tour. I still can't believe that Glenn can do any of the dates -- it's very rare that we have a few months of a year to work together, even though we've been a band for 14 years.
For me, the most exciting part of this tour is that Glenn and I get to spend a lot of time together. I'm really excited to be able to do some writing and recording on the road with him. It's a cool tour. The Radiolab people are just fantastic. We had a walk-through for the show at the Solid Sound Festival where we sat around a big conference table like you would for a play. It was pretty immediate and great how the connection was between us. Glenn and I both knew we were in a room full of like-minded people on the same page as us -- It was totally a table full of nerds really excited to create. They've been adding Australian dinosaur puppets and all these comedians. It seems like they're going to do video screens and make it into a big multimedia thing. I feel very lucky to be able to do what I do!