Last week I was Ableton’s guest for Loop, their delightful “summit for music makers.” I was on a panel about technology in music education, and I got to meet a lot of amazing people and hear some good music too. Here’s my live Twitter feed from the event if you want a fine-grained accounting. Otherwise, read on for some high points.
First of all, let me describe my experience of academic conferences. If you’re speaking, sometimes they waive the conference fee, sometimes not. You’re usually responsible for your own travel and accommodations. Sometimes your university will reimburse you for those things, in part or in full; sometimes not. Ableton, on the other hand, booked my flights and hotel, picked me up from the airport, and generally treated me like a rock star throughout. A person could get used to that.
I had never been to Berlin before. East Berlin feels more like Eastern Europe than Western Europe. The vibe is much like pre-gentrification Williamsburg: crumbling industrial buildings full of artists, low cost of living, lots of graffiti.
No one much misses totalitarian communism, but if the anarchist collective near my hotel is any indication, people are ambivalent about neoliberal capitalism too.
Loop took place at Funkhaus, a gargantuan studio complex built by the German government for state radio broadcasts. Now it’s part recording studio, part concert venue, and part event space. It could easily have been used by Terry Gilliam for locations in Brazil.
One of the more remarkable architectural features is this semicircular hallway. Ableton set up an installation here called the “musical blind date”, a pair of networked computers at either end, each running Live. You could enter into a collaborative jam session with a person at the other end, and it was impossible to see who it was.
At the end of this hallway was the Jam Room, a studio full of synths hosting an ongoing improvisation with a rotating cast of strangers. I lost several hours in here on the vocoder pictured in the foreground.
There were a bunch of vendors showing off all kinds of cutting-edge electronic music gear. This motion-controlled techno performance software is totally impractical, but it looks really cool:
There were various multimedia art installations set up around the venue, including this psychedelic computer animation.
The green room for performers was the control room overlooking Hall One, a cavernous space built for live broadcasts of symphony orchestras. I was inspired by a talk about creative process to run up there and make a track. (On the screen is Kaki King, not Justin Bieber.) Here’s what I made:
I won’t try to summarize my panel discussion, because it was all about the issues covered by this blog, and because I was too in the moment to remember specifically what all we talked about.
We had a good turnout and it seemed to go over well. Most of the audience seemed to be educators, but a bunch of Ableton executives came too, which was exciting for me.
Most of the conference was focused on the creative side of music tech. Abayomi demonstrated Ableton’s spiffy new wavetable synth.
A panel of beatboxers talked through their onstage tech setups, most notably the gigantic pedalboard that Katie Gately uses for live vocal processing.
The legendary sound engineer Susan Rodgers talked about her work with Prince and her research on the neuroscience of music perception.
William Basinski and Jlin, whose austere musical sensibilities do not prepare you for their extreme in-person goofiness, effectively did a comedy routine about the challenges of life on the road for a touring avant-garde musician.
There were a bunch of strange and interesting performances too. The Nile Project is an ensemble of musicians from each of the countries that the Nile River passes through. They raise consciousness about environmental issues facing the river, but also put on a high-intensity show.
I’m still digesting all the conversations I had with people, not to mention all the musical and technological ideas I absorbed. It was a pretty extraordinary experience; if you can go next year, I would recommend it.