All About Jazz: The web's most comprehensive jazz resource

Serving jazz worldwide since 1995
All About Jazz: The web's most comprehensive jazz resource


Tom Abbs: Combining Music and Film

By Published: June 23, 2008
class="f-right s-img">

Playing Bass and Tuba Simultaneously

AAJ: You are a multi instrumentalist and play bass and tuba, and though I've never had the pleasure of seeing you play live, I've heard you playing bass and tuba simultaneously on record, or bass and didgeridoo simultaneously. And it strikes me that this is almost a characteristic, that with Yuganaut you are making music but you also have the videos there for people to look at, that you are always pushing at the boundaries of what is possible. What drives you to play more than one instrument at the same time? What are you going for?

TA: I've played tuba and bass for all my adult life at and I sit in my practice room and I have all these instruments around me, and it just comes to me: wow, what if I could put that sound with that sound, and I try to figure out how. It's almost like I can't help myself. I love both instruments equally and to play just one I feel that sometimes it's like I'm missing an arm. It's like I wish I could play tuba now for this part. And I started out just switching between them as fast as I could. I would have my tuba right next to me and pick it up really quickly, and I would play like the bridge of a song on tuba and then switch right back to bass.

Then I figured out—I made some pedals to operate the valves with my foot and was able to keep playing bass and tuba at the same time. I made a harness for my didgeridoo and inserted it through the bridge, so I could blow on the didgeridoo at the same time as playing the bass. And then more recently I've attached a violin to the didgeridoo, so I can switch to violin, and then bass, and then didgeridoo. I have a tambourine thing attached to my foot so I can have percussion going at the same time. I love all these sounds and they are part of my personality so that I want at my fingertips at all times. That desire is there on a personal level.

Of course, meeting Geoff and Steve who are obsessive in the same way with their instruments was, like: OK, this makes a lot of sense.

AAJ: And you also play as a solo artist as well, so it provides you with other avenues of expression.

TA: Yeah, sure. The idea when I'm playing percussion, bass and tuba, that I have basically a trio—a bassist, a drummer and a horn player going at the same time, and I don't have to pay a drummer and a horn player for the gig! [laughs]. There's no personality conflicts, it is very simple. And besides it is a thrilling experience to do that. I can't quite describe what it is like to have those three voices going. It's like being on a roller coaster, in a personal way.

Tom AbbsAAJ: I've noticed on some of your recordings, particularly on the CIMP label, that there is a sort of whooshing sound. Where does that come from?

TA: [laughs]. Well, I think it's from playing tuba for so many years. When I play bass I blow air out of my mouth, and as I'm phrasing, like a singer would phrase, I blow out during the phrase and then I take a breath, and then I continue to blow, and I almost can't help it. I try to stop it on recordings, and I thought I would never admit this, but I often stick a piece of washcloth in my mouth to stop it from happening and it's quite embarrassing for people to see and people laugh at me. But if I don't want that sound on the recording I have to chew gum or something. And people often say: "what is that sound?" and they can't figure out where it is coming from. I've tried to stop it for years. I got fired from a gig once for doing that. But it's just left over from playing tuba for so long. I just associate exhaling with my phrasing.

AAJ [laughs] So playing the tuba simultaneously is probably the one way to really prevent it.

TA: I've got to have something in my mouth. If not a mouthpiece then something.

AAJ: On your website you describe yourself as a multi instrumentalist and a film maker. It seems that film is becoming increasingly important to you as a means of expression. Are you ever going to movie away from music purely to film?

TA: Absolutely not. One thing that differentiates my film making from maybe a dedicated film maker is that I've always started with the music. And like with Knox, I recorded the music first and then made the film to it. Or I always have a musical idea that comes first before the images. Again, it is trying to get the visualizations I have in my head, while I'm playing, out and onto something that somebody else can see. It's that process. I really hold that dear. I don't ever just want to make films.

I'm actually not even interested in just scoring other people's films, necessarily. I really like the process of the images coming from the music and not the other way around. So I can say pretty definitively that I'll never leave music. Having an instrument in my hands, that makes me feel whole. A camera in my hand is not the same. Editing film is not the same. It's all creative and I enjoy it and it is all an extension of music, but to me it is an extension of music and not in itself fulfilling enough.

comments powered by Disqus