A rare interview with Squarepusher, the experimental electronic musician, was posted to the Lowdown the other day. I had heard, somewhere, that he was a bassist, but I since I'm not much of a fan of techno I hadn't paid much attention. He talks about how his electronic side project became more well-known than his work in bands, and then plays a short solo on six-string bass without any effects. It's surprisingly melodic. I'm still not really interested in his techno pieces, but I am impressed with what he does.
What was interesting was the reaction from one of the bassists, who was conflicted about Squarepusher's use of chords on a bass. He wrote that he wasn't sure why the solo shouldn't have been played on a guitar or a piano, instruments with a higher range, instead of on a bass where the lower strings weren't being used constantly. The poster also wondered why this was considered "pushing the limits of bass" when similar techniques have been used on other instruments, ones capable of greater polyphony. Later, he clarified that he's still working out his thinking on this. I don't want you to think this was some sort of blood feud. But I did take it personally, a little.
I don't pretend to be some kind of unbelievable pioneer on bass guitar. But one of my pet peeves is to be told that I sound "just like a guitarist," or to be asked why I don't just play my music on a guitar. I play bass because I like the feel and the physicality of the instrument, as well as the sound it makes. It's frustrating to be told that I can't make a different kind of music just because the bass "isn't supposed to be played like that."
A lot of that comes from playing rock music, as far as I'm concerned. For a young musical form, it didn't take long to solidify the arrangements--and particularly in the wake of classic rock and hair metal, to solidify the guitarist's hold on center stage, much to the dismay of every other instrumentalist on earth. Not to mention the relegation of the bass guitar--itself only fifty years old--to a limited style and role. Go beyond that, and for a lot of people you might as well have grown a third arm.
That's why I don't really listen to people like Squarepusher or Vic Wooten on a regular basis, but I'm really glad they're out there. It's hard to try to expand the instrument's role, especially when perception works against you in two ways: either you're playing too many notes, or you're just imitating your betters.