Bass Is a Feeling

I’ve really been enjoying all the feedback I got on my “treble culture” post. One idea that’s been especially interesting is the seemingly common notion — repeated & affirmed by many commenters — that we tend to imagine/assume bass even when we don’t hear it.

I suspect that this phenomenon may be at work more frequently than we think. Indeed, I suspect that even when we’re in the presence of a good enough system to “hear” bass, it’s hardly bass at all if we’re not feeling it. Comments from Nina and Beni emphasized this point, but nothing brought it home quite like last night’s Mos Def & Talib Kweli concert at the House of Blues.

As you can see in that picture above, the speaker stacks at the HoB are pretty damn serious (see the arcing array rising from the stage). Corporate sheen aside, I can’t remember being in a club with a system that pumped like that. The highs and mids could have used some teasing out — 30 years in & soundmen still haven’t figured out how to mix hip-hop unmuddily? — but the “lows” were perfect. It feels a little odd to call them “lows” actually, since rather than hearing the bass frequencies I felt like I was being inhabited by them, body cavities vibrating in sympathy. There’s no way I could translate this physicality for you — YOU HAVE TO BE THERE, simple as that — but this little video, and the crushing distortion produced by the bass therein, gives some sense — if a kind of bizarro, fractured representation — of what it was like.

I’d love to hear more thoughts on this, if anyone has any.

I’ll leave you with an apropos photo c/o Botswana brethren, Ruff Riddims. Seeking to push their sound out, they’ve been building their own speaker boxes, which are as beautiful (and, I’m told, as awesome) as the studio they built last year. Moemedi, aka Red Pepper, says they’re going to build four more like these, for the other side of the flatbed!

& if you think that’s impressive, here’s what Mr. Ruff himself told me yesterday:

Ruff: today I started molding bricks for the new night club that I dream of building
me: bredrin, you’re an impresario!
Ruff: we have 200 bricks so far
me: 200 bricks so far!
Ruff: yes and 4000 is where we must reach
me: brick by brick! that’s some real industry right there
Ruff: I told the guys helping me that, a journey of a thousand miles begins with one step and they where very motivated and laughed too.
me: i’m sure they can see by the studio and soundsystem that you mean business
Ruff: the thing is the building where the club is now is sold and so we need a place to party so I will build one
me: necessity is the mother of invention

What I’d give to feel some Botswana bass bouncing off 4000 bricks!