I came back from the UK last night with the remains of my CD collection. There’s so much in there that I’ve missed, especially since much of it that I copied to MP3 format became unusable, thanks to the bad batch of CD-Rs I burned them to before I moved and left them behind in the UK, three-and-a half years ago.
My Michael Manring collection was particularly missed. Michael has been using his electric basses in weird, wonderful, and (above all) musical ways for well over twenty years. He has worked primarily with the Windham Hill label, accompanying the late Michael Hedges on stage and in the studio. His first album, Unusual Weather, didn’t arouse much interest, being New Age of a melodic sort. His second, Towards The Center Of The Night, showed that there was something much more interesting afoot, with several fast tempo pieces, but it was the solo instrumentals that spread his name way beyond the New Age fraternity. He developed a two-handed technique that is all the more astonishing for being used on a fretless bass – where finger placement needs to be precise and sure if the results are to sound musical. Geometry was the most frightening, and led to something of a “shredder” tag, but Blue Orleans is far more atmospheric.
The cat was well and truly out of the bag, and he could afford to go to town a little. His next album Drastic Measures featured the Zon Hyperbass he co-designed to better support the use of extra-light strings. The reasoning behind these strings is the wide range of tunings he uses, and all strings on the Hyperbass also feature detuners at both ends, so he can modify the tuning in the middle of a piece. Red Right Returning shows this new capability off marvellously, but the other showcase piece, Watson & Crick, has Manring playing two instruments simultaneously. It’s not a gimmick: this hand separation is familiar to piano players, but he can also take advantage of the “open” strings for textures and sonorities unique to the bass.
Both albums also showcased the work of Paul McCandless (woodwinds) on several tracks, and my favourite Manring track of all is the bass-and-oboe duet Oyasumi Nasai*1, which could be called a lullaby or a dreamscape, recorded beautifully. What next? Well, the New Age fashion was pretty much over by 1990, so THOŇK (1994) and The Book Of Flame (1998) contain some monstrous playing featuring the likes of Steve Morse and Herb Alexander (from Primus). Since then I’ve lost track of Michael Manring’s activities, but I’m looking forward to hearing what he does next.
*1 Japanese for “Good Night”; literally, “please go to bed”.