The “robot bass clarinet” is an electro-acoustic instrument inspired by Eddie Harris, Miles Davis, Don Ellis, Ian Underwood, Les Claypool and Bootsy Collins. The robot bass clarinet pairs a low Eb student model bass clarinet with a Barcus-Berry in-the-mouthpiece pickup and a very specific set of electric guitar and bass effects to produce a power-tone. Thanks to Perry Tee, Tadas Paegle, Throb Henson, Seth Benjamin Bortolotti, and Isaac Asimov for assistance, consultation or inspiration in the development of the robot bass clarinet and the positronic pedal board.
After years as a baritone saxophone specialist in high-energy, technically demanding jazz and funk bands, my classical clarinet training and bass clarinet prowess merged with my low-end and bass role interests, and the robot bass clarinet was born. It was very important to me that this instrument/constellation be given its own name, because, in the woodwind and brass world, we can see many examples all the time of gifted players becoming enamored of the many creative possibilities offered by amplifying and electrifying their instrument, thereby giving them access to all the fun tone, pitch, and time-based effects that guitarists, bassists and keyboardists have perpetual access to. BUT, what ends up happening is a brief fling with the cool shit that you can do, a kind of fevered dabbling, but somehow the instrument and the effects never merge to form a new being, a new instrument: they remain separate components, like a horse and buggy. With the help of the above colleagues, and with absolutely no approval or consent from any of my University professors, I began my own long-lasting (yet still fevered, I suppose) journey into what I was calling “organic electronics.”
As a woodwind composer-performer, this instrument galvanized and boosted my rhythmic integrity (as the bass function/bass player replacement in two progressive rock bands), blasted my circular breathing ability into extreme states of proficiency, and gave me a better seat to observe small ensemble inner-workings from the bass chair. My roommate and top gear advisor at the time, Perry Tee, insisted that I had to get the album Led Zeppelin II and learn all the bass lines from this album, which I did. Later, the first six Black Sabbath albums provided endless training for this bass role and bass line ability, broadening my spheres and abilities as a woodwindist in ways that I am only now realizing are almost completely unique in the world of clarinets, saxophones, flutes and all wind instruments. Wind players, so fixated as we often are on melody, almost never develop a true set of bass line, bass role, ensemble underpinning skills–and this is often surprisingly true even of cellists and tuba players–and certainly a stigma around or predominant inability to circular breathe is at the root of this rarity.