Aaron Lumley (North Bay, 1981) is a Canadian double bassist and improvising musician. Inspired by a tradition of pioneering, creative contrabassists, Lumley started teaching himself to play the instrument at age 25. This self-guided approach led him to eventually study under both Wilbert de Joode and John Eckhardt. In the decade since taking up the bass, Lumley has become active in a diverse global community of musicians spanning the fields of free jazz, free folk, noise rock and contemporary chamber music.
Lumley’s musical approach is rooted in improvisation and sonic exploration. His playing acknowledges the manifold sound worlds contained within the acoustic string bass. He looks forwards while simultaneously reaching backwards; contemporary playing technique sounding out on an old-school gut string setup. In mid-2016, Lumley began tuning his instrument in fifths—CGDA— for greater range, resonance and heaviness. Foxy Digitalis’ Bryon Hayes describes the bassist as a “forager, searching for new methods to escape the limitations of technique, the human body, and the physical science of acoustics.” Lumley’s sound and approach are heard at their most elemental in a solo context. He has released two albums of improvised solo double bass music—Wilderness (self-released, 2012) and Katabasis/Anabasis (Small Scale Music, 2016) and performed numerous concerts in cities across Canada as well as in Berlin and Amsterdam.
Lumley frequently collaborates with other musicians, composers, choreographers, movement-based performers and visual artists as well. His newest recording—Strung Out (self-released, 2017)—is an acoustic duo with Dutch guitarist Jasper Stadhouders. Lumley has performed and/or recorded in improvised contexts with the likes of Cactus Truck, Arto Lindsay, Hamid Drake, Joshua Zubot, Frank Rosaly, Terrie Ex, David Prentice, Philippe Lauzier, Ab Baars, Tobias Delius, Matt Valentine, Colin Webster, Kristoffer Alberts, Matthew ‘Doc’ Dunn, Ryan Packard, Not the Wind Not the Flag, Harald Austbø, Jason Sharp, Kyle Brenders, Eschaton, Michel Lambert and Eric Chenaux. As a sideman, Lumley has interpreted compositions by Marielle Groven, Isaiah Ceccarelli, Malcolm Goldstein and Yannis Kyriakides. He has also contributed bass sounds to various projects by Montreal’s Ensemble Supermusique, Jean Derome’s Résistances Project, the AIMToronto Orchestra, film scores by Olivier Alary, Saltland and Esmerine’s award-winning album Dalmak (Constellation Records, 2013). Stretching beyond the realm of the purely musical, Aaron has also created and performed scores for dance pieces by Sasha Ivanochko, Manuella Tessi and Andrea Hackl. Once, Lumley performed a five hour drone piece by visual artist Antonia Hirsch invoking the resonant frequencies of the big bang. For the moment, the bassist resides in Montreal…
“There is a way of walking in the woods, not along trails, but by following the natural openings in the underbrush. Leaving the path, a wanderer enters into slow, sometimes difficult negotiations with the forest. The way forward is circuitous and occasionally confusing. An opening does not remain open for long. Thick trees, rocks, and wetlands bring changes in course. You push through curtain after curtain of branches and vines, half-lost, cut up by thorns and feeding the horse flies. Sometimes in these moments, the forest will offer up a revelation: it could be the sound of an owl flying under the canopy or maybe light catches steam rising from the phosphorescent moss that covers the ground. It could be many things. It is something new, a phenomenon that you’ve never experienced before. Yet what has been revealed is something older than anything you can really wrap your mind around. A moment like this can wake you up from where you think you’re going or wherever you’ve been before. At this moment you no longer stand apart from what is all around. Then you see that you’re standing in a clearing and at the edge there is a break in some of the branches. You step through and keep going.
For me, making Wilderness was a similar kind of experience. One or two pieces started with a simple idea that I had worked with beforehand but most began with just my double bass in the room: playing, listening, reflecting, responding. I am interested in exploring certain types of tone, texture and structure but there is also input from the instrument, the space’s acoustics, limitations of the body and my own subconscious. At times, this tangle of elements yields revelations: inspiration to play past the point where I am completely in control or know exactly what I’m doing. These moments reveal unseen pathways into new sonic territories, new techniques and unknown parts of myself.”
— Aaron Lumley, From Wilderness’ liner notes
“Besides physical strength, playing the double bass also requires an energetic willpower that is too rarely met, considering the want of vigour of most bassists in their attack of the string.” — François-Joseph Fétis, 1828