Loop!Station and Cheap Computing Power

23:36 Sun 06 May 2007. Updated: 01:37 07 May 2007
[, , , ]

I went to 330 Ritch Street last night to see Loop!Station at the Digital Bliss release party. They were great, and I came away with a bunch of CDs. I also came away impressed once again by the impact that cheap computing power is having on culture.

Loop!Station are a vocalist and a cellist who feed their sound into devices that record and then immediately make available for (looped!) playback samples of the input. In other words, they can play a line, or sing a line, and have that repeat as they go on from there, layering other sound on top of it.

This makes for a rather interesting sound, and I like that sound and their style. But they’re clearly dependent on the technology—no “loop stations”, no Loop!Station. Then again, you could say the same about the cello… but my thoughts were about the fact that this is a new style, a new niche that’s expressly made possible by this technology.

The act before Loop!Station, Divasonic, was also heavily technology-dependent. The eponymous singer set her entire “backing band” up on her laptop and sang along to that. Also sang through it, since the laptop (plus the sound engineer) produced a number of effects, including a heavy reverb for her voice, all processed live. Again, something that wouldn’t have been possible more than a decade ago.

(Divasonic had a strong voice, and I liked some of the music, but I couldn’t stand the lyrics.)

In addition, for both acts, there was video projected onto screens around the stage. This video was also produced by a laptop, and wasn’t just pre-rendered but rather also included live shots of the musicians, composited live.

These aren’t necessarily revolutionary uses of technology. In fact, the point is that they’re becoming ubiquitous, and that they’re allowing more people access to more modes of expression than was previously possible. The beginnings of this was apparent in the late 90s, has grown ever more so. Hand-in-hand with the exploding ability to produce creative projects has been the unprecedented rise of a medium for spreading that content, the Internet. In 2002 it was already possible to both make and spread the parodic genius of Fantasy Bedtime Hour using relatively inexpensive equipment. Five years later, the equipment is better and cheaper, and the channels for distribution more numerous. (YouTube much?)

In considering challenges to the cultural control exerted by “big producers”, I’ve usually concentrated only on the distribution side. But the other factor, the increasing technological sophistication available to anyone who wants to create (in the privileged parts of the world, granted, but this is still an amazing development covering hundreds of millions of people), is also having a powerful impact on culture.

(Aside: the big producers (think MPAA and RIAA) love to slam the new technologies for “pirating” “their” “product” (egregious use of quotation marks sadly warranted), but isn’t the alternative scarier to them? If everyone is watching Jon Stewart, South Park, Battlestar Galactica, Heroes, and The Simpsons on YouTube or off torrents, they can cite “loss of revenue” from what they would have gotten if those viewers had paid… but what if they hadn’t? What if the viewers were watching FBH, Chad Vader, Ask A Ninja, Home Star Runner, or Red vs. Blue instead? That would be worse for them, even if they don’t get why right away. No, we’re not yet at the point where “amateur” production quality matches the professionals, and may never get there, but this is still a major cultural shift we’re in the middle of, and if the big producers actually get their wish and somehow yank all of their content that isn’t paid for, they might push a lot of people into the arms of competition they don’t even take seriously yet.)

I liked 330 Ritch, and intend to try it as a hangout spot at some point. It seemed like it would be fairly mellow without a gig happening, and I’d like to see if that’s in fact the case.

Also, if you’re out late in San Francisco, you could do a lot worse than trying out the veggie nachos at the Bagdad Café in the Castro. They were really damn good.

Leave a Reply