Audeze talks with Bassist and Composer Kim Cass

June 11, 2024

Kim Cass is an American Bassist and Composer based in New York City. His work is focused on expanding the role of the upright bass in experimental compositional settings. Submerged deep in the waters of Polyrhythmic language, Kim approaches the bass with an organic sense of organized chaos. His improvisation employs a technique utilizing harmonics, specialized hand positions and open strings.
Kim Bass wearing Audeze LCD-X headphones
"The headphones added such clarity to the experience. The comfort while wearing them was astounding, to the point where I didn't want to take them off!" - Kim Cass
Here's our chat with Kim:
Can you pick out any highlights from your work that you're particularly proud of?

'20 Beat' from my debut album 'Kim Cass'

'Kim's Line' from Sam Ospovat's album 'Ride Angles'

'Stretch Goal' from Matt Mitchell's album 'Phalanx Ambassadors'

'Pizza Time' from Kim Cass and Noah Preminger's album 'The Dank

How would you define your main role on most of the projects you work on these days?

I am hired for many recording projects which require my specific voice on the bass, and even more specifically, my musical language. The musicians and composers I work with vary widely, but many require a certain rhythmic concept that I can bring energy into. This could be an open concept that I am expected to invent within, or (what is more common) a complex concept that I can execute and invent within. Feeling certain structures can be very challenging if they are new to a musician. I feel like I have been placed in so many of these structures now that I can adjust quickly and function more easily than before. On another topic of harmony, I typically strive to bring an expanded role of the bass to the projects I work on. I manipulate the range of the bass by utilizing a heavy amount of natural and false harmonics. Using idiosyncratic 'bass fingerings' mixed with open strings, ghost notes and harmonics, I have found a unique sound that explodes out of the instrument. This has become my signature sound, and I try to bring it to each project (if it fits!)

How did you get started in music? What kind of music did you listen to while growing up and how has that progressed?

I began experimenting on a miniature electric guitar in the 3rd grade, inspired by the 'screeching' guitars in the film 'Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure.' I began electric bass lessons with my teacher Joseph Wainer during this time, and fell in love with it. Joe was (and is) a great drummer, so we would jam. He turned me onto Jaco Pastorius, Stanely Clarke, Weather Report, Miles Davis, John Coltrane and much more. There was a competitive drive in those early days for me, because we would enter Jazz Competitions in my home state of Maine -in both Big Band and Jazz Combo categories. The competition was fun! Music was like a sport in some ways. I loved music like Primus, Metallica, and much of the alternative rock of the 90's. I began listening to a lot of Jazz in High School, such as Kurt Rosenwinkel, Dave Holland, Joshua Redman and Mark Turner. As I have grown older, I find myself listening to a lot of my old favorites, including Micheal Jackson, Random Pop, and the great jazz singers like Ella Fitzgerald, Mel Torme, Nina Simone, Peggy Lee and Sarah Vaughan. I also am really fascinated by the compositions of Arnold Schenberg, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Morton Feldman and Alban Berg among other composers.

Can you name any factors that influenced the course of your musical life? Heroes, role models, moments, interactions, etc?

Two moments come to mind immediately, both involving virtuoso saxophonists. The first was when I was studying at NEC in Boston. I was roaming the halls of the St. Botolph building, probably early for a class, and heard some **beautifully haunting** tenor sax from one of the classrooms. It was an old building, and very reverberant. I listened to this incredible unaccompanied sax for about 15 minutes until it stopped for a prolonged silence. I peeked in the door, and saw a small older gentleman with a large white beard sitting and clutching his horn. I took the risk of entering the room and nervously introducing myself. This was the first time I met Joe Maneri. I then signed up for his weekly class focusing on Microtonality, which was one of my favorite parts of my college experience. Another experience, oddly similar, was when I lived in Oakland California years later. I went with some friends to an early afternoon concert at Mills College, where there would be a soprano saxophonist playing. I was unfamiliar with the musician by name, but the moment he started playing in the large chapel hall, I recognized his playing- it was Evan Parker. He proceeded to play one of the most amazing sets of improvised music I had ever heard. It was utterly unique, instantly recognizable, and continues to inspire me to this day. In some ways I have modeled my own playing after that experience and the effect it had on me.

Can you briefly describe a moment of frustration from your past work, and what you may have done to overcome the obstacles? Would you approach it differently now?

I used to write things for bass that were uncomfortable. I viewed them as challenges and strived to figure out a way to make them happen, even if it led to some serious frustration. Now, I really put a lot of value in comfort, because if the music is physically comfortable, I can take it further. This has been helpful, for instance, taking an older bass line and manipulating a few notes to make the position easier. That way, the line could potentially be faster and longer. Many times, the comfort of a part can allow notes to ring longer and over each other, which can be very beautiful on the bass.

Is there any gear you find yourself turning to most when working on a project? What are some of your favorite tools/instruments recently?

In my basement studio, I rely heavily on a few key pieces of equipment. I create tracks in the DAW Ableton these days, with a standing desk, laptop and additional large monitor. I utilize an analog looper that I have been using for about 20 years: The Boomerang. I use this to experiment with my Roland XP-10, Yamaha PSR 36 and Casiotone 610 keyboards. Although I primarily record my upright bass in professional studios, I do record it at home for certain projects. When I do this, I use an AEA R-84 passive ribbon mic thru a Cloudlifter mic preamp. Another key element to my sound is an amplifier: I typically mic an amp in isolation to add punchiness to my sound, and clarity to my harmonics. I recently upgraded to an Ampeg PF-50 tube amp into an Ampeg PF 12" cab. Headphones are an integral part of my work and process. Having recently made a HUGE upgrade to the Audeze LCD-X open back headphones, I'm in a new world of sound. These headphones allow me to hear my instrument very clearly while playing, and provide unmatched clarity while reviewing and editing studio stracks. I absolutely love them.

Do you have any words of wisdom for people who might aspire toward a similar path for their own careers?

Find out what makes you, you. What is the quality in your playing that sets you apart? How can you push the barriers of your instrument, your compositions, your improvisation? I would encourage everyone to pursue something unique, even from project to project in your own catalog of works. And remember that music is fun- allow yourself to enjoy and bond with your instrument and music. Talk to your instrument, reassure it.

How long have you been working with headphones, and how do you typically use them in your workflow?

I began using studio headphones during my first album around 2014. I was doing some very basic edits for my tracks using the program Audacity. I had some limited experience in studios wearing headphones, trying to play with them on one ear- it can be a struggle to hear the bass properly and play in tune with both ears on, depending on the music. I have since made huge improvements to my headphone methods, after recording over 20 albums in the past 8 years in NYC. My individual headphone mix is crucial, and taking the necessary time to balance, bass mics, bass amp, bass DI, with the other instruments in the group is absolutely essential. I usually take a photo of my headphone mix settings and send it to the rest of the band. My studio workflow involves recording with headphones, listening back on monitors, then listening back on headphones. I also like to listen back on car stereos, airpods, boom boxes, bluetooth speakers -everything. It is important to hear recordings in every way that people will be listening to them, not solely on audiophile top level gear.

How have your Audeze headphones affected your work? Can you tell us what you've been working on with them recently?

My Audeze LCD-X open back headphones have been amazing for my upcoming release on Pi Recordings, Levs (out June 28th 2024). It features my bass playing and compositions, Tyshawn Sorey on Drums, Matt Mitchell on piano, Laura Cocks on flutes and Adam Dotson on euphonium. This album is a showcase of 6 in depth compositions and several improvisations. The core piano trio is executing dense harmonic and rhythmic material. Flute, euphonium and samples are interspersed in the tracks, creating moss-covered woody layers. I spent 4 days in the studio recording this project, and the Audezes did not disappoint. The headphones added such clarity to the experience. The comfort while wearing them was astounding, to the point where I didn't want to take them off! On a completely separate note: the aesthetic and design of these headphones is unmatched.

Audeze LCD-X headphones