Last weekend I attended electro-music 2013 in Huguenot NY. This was my fourth year attending this wonderful festival, and as always I came away with many new musical concepts and friendships.
Highlights included dueling theremins, triple Eigenharp performances and large analog modulars. Attendees ranged from all over the US, and as far away as England and Belgium.
My first performance at the festival was with collaborator Robert Dorschel from Syracuse, NY. We performed a piece based on a composition Rob created called “Empty Nest”, inspired by his son’s journey off to college.
The next day I participated in the Zero Input Mixer Collaboration that included Adam Holquist, Dale Parson, Joo Won Park, and Bill Manganaro. Zero Input Mixer is a concept that involves creating sound simply with feedback loops within a mixer, then sending those sounds through effects. I’ve posted our performance. Warning: This is not for everyone, but it was tons of fun, and I’d love to do it again.
Saturday night I gave my solo performance which consisted of a debut of an optical theremin experiment, and a Launchpad piece that I developed before my move to Millville. Visuals were provided by Laura Woodswalker. I’m still going through footage from the weekend, but hope to post something from this segment soon.
There were so many great performances, and the variety of what folks bring to this festival is outstanding. Onewayness was very active with multiple collabs and a solo set and Jez Creek did some great work with his minimalist setup and visuals by Michael O’Bannon. Kip Rosser, always a highlight, had unexpected technical issues last year, but came back full force with his own Bose PA and knocked it out of the park. Robert Dorschel’s solo set included an interstellar flight theme complete with Rosie the Robot.
Ryan and Sarah Rock (performing as Oneir0naut) brought something a little different, with mostly instrumental songs with one or two vocal lines, including a piece that had the line: “Stay off of my hippopotamus!” Hidden meanings or just fun?
The workshops this year were pretty intense. They’ve always been good, but the depth and breadth of topics this year was worth the price of admission alone. It’s hard to catch everything at once – performers, great conversations in the hall, demos of gear – you want to see the performers as much as possible. I made this year the time to immerse myself in as much new information as possible, particularly as I expand my home studio and get involved in more projects.
In that spirit, I attended several workshops:
Using Ableton Live for Generative Music Applications – Neil Alexander: Ableton is THE program for electronic music these days, and it is so deep in terms of interface, features and programming options that if I retain 10% of what Neil showed us I am doing OK.
Virtual Versus Real Synths – Robert Dorschel: Rob’s philosophy of mathematics over sampling for recreating classic synth sounds was expounded via demos of various programs and plugins. While I tend to argue that a) few can hear the difference and b) it’s simply easier to carry software than hardware, there are some clear cases where developers have cut corners in the products they are selling. There are also many mall developers doing great work out there to preserve the sounds of the past. Lots of resources for further exploration.
Moog Guitar – John Morley: As a guitarist and technology nerd, any development in the expansion and evolution of guitar is of interest. We were lucky to have John give this talk, as this instrument is so much more (and so much different) than what one would think at first glance. In essence the pickups feedback magnetic energy to the strings, which makes the instrument feel like it is playing itself a times. But this energy can then be used in new ways to create sustain and playing techniques not possible on a traditional guitar. It’s not for everyone, and as John pointed out – you can find better guitars. But this really isn’t a guitar, except in shape and form factor. It’s also not really a synth, as it produces no synth sounds. It’s all about pickup energy and sustain, and what you do with that (run it through effects, use the control voltage options) really makes the difference in what sounds you get.
Using the Teensy microcontroller as a MIDI controller – Gordon Good: This workshop explored the Wii Nunchuck MIDI controller, developed by Gordon Good. We built the controller from a small kit. The controller uses a Teensy microcontroller to create a basic MIDI input device that can trigger any MIDI instrument on a computer. Participants walked away with a working device, and Gordon is hoping that participants in his workshop hack the controller to do more things. More to come on this!
The Launchpad and Ableton – Aaron Todd: Aaron combed the Interweb for answers to some creative techniques and didn’t find exactly what he needed. So he developed his own mind-blowing lighting effects and instrument layouts on the Launchpad. If you thought the Launchpad was just a means to “push a button to make music” the techniques Aaron is using show it is a blank slate for creating unique instruments.
MIDI and OSC Controller State Machines in ChucK – Dale Parson: This was probably the most “heady” workshop, and the least useful for me personally, though there are some deep concepts here that showed the world of MIDI controllers – and what manufacturers give you with their presets and default settings – is really only the beginning if you want to get deep into customizing physical devices with software.
This year we were blessed with all around great weather. As always, the festival ran on time, with performances and setup running very smoothly in most cases. Meals were not extravagant, but sustained us through the weekend and the cafeteria style mealtime gave everyone a chance to relax and chat. Only quibble I had was that smoke from the smoking section outside the one end of the main building came right back in and made it difficult to breathe. Hopefully that will be rectified next year. Oh, and the Cave Cricket was harmless, if menacing.
It was great to see Todd Campbell, also from our area, attending. I wish more of our area electro folks could afford to attend (everyone pays – even performers). I often wonder why this enthusiast’s festival isn’t bigger, but at the same time it seems just right and perhaps if it grew it would lose some of its charm. Special thanks to Greg, Hong, Howard, and Paul and everyone else for another great weekend.
For many more photos check out my Flickr set for EM2013.