A few months ago, I got a note from Michael Bierylo, the chair of the Electronic Production and Design (EPD) Department at Berklee College of Music. They were planning a conference, and was wondering if I would like to be part of a presentation and/or a panel or two. I thought it would be great: I could hang out with some EMusic-heads, and also spend a little time with my former co-worker (and continuing friend) Matthew Davidson.
Little did I know what I was going to find. When the schedule came out, I was surprised to see it anchored by three keynotes, including former ARP president (and serial entrepreneur) David Friend, Daniel Haver from Native Instruments and Marcus Ryle from Line 6. Yikes! Then the performance, featuring Suzanne Ciani and Jordan Rudess, and exhibits from everyone from Ableton to Yamaha.
One of the highlights for me was the first keynote, presented by David Friend. I must admit having a special place in my heart for the guy, since he was one of the people behind the book “Learning Music with Synthesizers”, a tutorial in sound generation and working with an ARP Odyssey that was the beginning of my journey into synthesis. He described the development of ARP as a business (he was their first president and salesman), but also talked about ARP as an extended family. Throughout the rest of the conference, I was surprised by the number of attendees that had some historical relationship with ARP, and the way the company had touched several generations of electronic musicians.
I was honored to be invited to be part of a few sessions, including a walk-through of using ROLI Blocks to control an Ableton Live performance rig, and was part of a panel that included Suzanne Ciani, Tony Rolando, Matthew Davidson and was chaired by Richard Boulanger. Wow! The discussion was about performing with modular synthesizers, but we ended up talking about inspiration, initial states and even ‘where to get gigs’. It was awesome.
I also got to sit in on a number of sessions, and there was some great stuff. From watching Ableton’s Huston Singletary do live sampling of an ancient Minimoog, to watching Kelly Snook amaze people with the mi.mu gloves, there was some very inspiring sit-downs.
But maybe my favorite was a presentation by some of Matthew Davidson’s students working as the “Berklee Modular Ensemble”; it was a live performance with some magical behind-the-scenes tech (Ableton Link and a MOTU-based AVB network) and use of the canonical Berklee modular to create a wonderful set (the image at the top of this article).
The conference also included an amazing performance by Suzanne Ciani, Jordan Rudess and, in somewhat of a resurrection, the Berklee-based band Ictus. It was especially fitting for Ictus to play, since this conference also served as a celebration of Dave Mash, the founding chair of the Music Synthesis Department (what is now the EPD Department) and stalwart technology advocate at Berklee. Ictus was a band pulled together by Dave, and a group of Berklee faculty pulled together to play some of Mash’s music in a modern form. It was a great gathering (featuring my friend and everyone’s mentor, Dr. Boulanger) and rocked the David Friend Recital Hall.
Bet there were other performances scattered throughout the conference, often wedged into sessions of various types. My favorite of these was an ad-hoc performance by Brian Crabtree during a session on grid controllers; it was a beautiful 4-minute nugget of Brian, a monomer, a small isms case and tasty inventiveness. Just awesome.
I’m hoping – and am secure in my guess – that Voltage Connect will continue. It was a great chance to interact with Berklee College of Music, its many students past and present, and the music development world in an interesting way. This wasn’t NAMM, and it wasn’t an academic conference; it was something else: a celebration of the vision and work that has made our community possible. Cheers!