When you return home from the annual Ableton Loop event, do you call it Loopback?
Whew! Whatta week. Several of us ventured to Berlin a week or so back to attend Loop 2017 - a three day gathering of talent, enthusiasm, and music. Here's a bit of what we saw and heard....
Let's get the work part out of the way first: My colleague Tom Hall and I were flying the Max flag as presenters. Tom did most of the heavy lifting - prowling the Hall 2 podium like a rock star and dropping gen~ wisdom to a packed house (along with our friends from Mod Devices)
and leading a smaller but equally full house on the joys of hitting the edit button on Max for Live devices (and making their own, even).
I led a roundtable discussion on creating step sequencers in Max during an evening when I expected that everyone would already have staked out space at the bar at Trésor. I was cheered and surprised to find that I had a lively crowd arrayed around the giant Egyptian funeral barge of a conference room table, and (I hope) a good time was had by all.
The Train Moves, The Scenery Changes
I noticed that someone in the Forum asked about product announcements at the Loop event before it started. While that might have been a reasonable expectation the first time out, this is Loop's third year. As time goes by, the Loop event is transforming itself into a different beast entirely, summed up by the second half of its title: A Summit for Music Makers. Simply put, Loop has moved from its early more software-focused days to a much more diverse and wide-ranging event - a diversity apparent in terms of musical approaches and styles, in its presenters, and in the event's attendees.
For the second time in its three-year lifetime, Loop was hosted in the Funkhaus, once the home of the GDR's broadcast and recording facilities. It's an amazing space - composed of great-sounding rooms of many sizes (many of which are used as project studios). Our hosts transformed it into a warren of amazing spaces for amazing conversations, helpfully salted with cheerful and friendly people in yellow shirts who seemed to know where everything was....
This was very useful when trying to find the quickest route between the interview/performance on beatboxing and the meetup you'd spontaneously planned in the Jam Room.
One consequence of the wide variety of options is that our own group experience of attending Loop was a little bit like "The blind men and the elephant" - each of us came away with very different experiences and inspirations and ideas. I'll list a few of mine....
Loop was true to its word in terms of being about music makers - presentations varied in terms of the tools used to make the music (in addition to our presentations, there were sessions on Supercollider, Node.js, and the Composers Desktop project), as well as the technologies used the realize them.
The focus on the tools used to make music took some interesting turns into more idiosyncratic approaches, too. I was particularly struck by the sessions about how composers and performers created their own more idiosyncratic approaches to producing electronic sounds - a great panel discussion moderated by Mark Zadel that included Alice Eldridge, Gijs Gieskes, and Koka Nikoladze.
I've read the Invisible Jukebox feature in The Wire magazine for years, and always wondered how the actual discussion itself looked and worked in real time. Loop gave me a chance to see one in action in real time and real space - Ben Frost in conversation with Wire's Francis Morgan.
Far-ranging and amazing. From now on, I'll read the thing in print and wonder what I've missed or what was edited out due to space.
...or, finally, the chance to just sit back and play fanboy (Jenny Hval and William Basinski) in a room with a really good gang working Front Of House.
...And It Wasn't Just Me
I've also asked some of Cycling '74 folks who were there at Loop with me to chime in about some of what they found interesting and compelling over the course of the week, as well. Florian Demmer
Loop '17....Wow! I've been in the luxurious position to attend every single instance of Loop in the last 3 years and I'm still more than impressed by the way this project evolves and grows while still managing to keep this familiar, intimate vibe alive.
In fact, I found myself in a position where the programming and opportunities were slightly overwhelming - what to see, who to meet and who to chat with... I gave up and just "floated" and enjoyed the whole conference. It turned out great and I had an awesome experience fueled with unlimited amounts of valuable input. It's hard to pick favorite moments from the vast sea of impressions that is still stuck in my head. So, instead I'd like to point out one theme that re-occured over the whole weekend: An event like this really sources from the honesty, openness, the level of participation of everyone attending, performing and organizing. The way that happens at Loop is special and therefore it feels like having a focused weekend with A LOT of your friends (let's ignore that you didn't know some of them before) in an inspiring environment and setting. Based on that moments like walking through setups with Doseone, Katie Gately and SK Shlomo can feel as intimate as listening to records with Gilles Peterson, watching a performance by Nosaj Thing & Datio Manabe can feel as private as following an important discussion about "Music as a Voice in Society". Thank you for that!
Adam Neely’s New Horizons in Music: Polyrhythms talk wasn’t on my radar, but through a chance meeting with Adam’s wife (Justina Soto, an accomplished vocalist in her own right) in the foyer of the hotel, we ended up catching a taxi together and she told myself and Gregory Taylor about the talk, so it shot to #1 must see for me after her introduction on the ride to Funkhaus.
Adam is a bit of a YouTube sensation. His channel covers music theory across a broad range of topics, and he breaks it all down into bite-sized pieces so you don’t need a degree in music theory to digest it. Funnily, I use a lot of polyrhythms in my personal work, but I hadn’t explored the theory behind them at the level of detail that Adam outlined.
I was completely captivated, Adam has character and a lot of it - I think I could sit and listen to him explain the nuances between the differences in paint drying for hours. The beauty of everything that Adam presented was that there were 2-3 threads in the presentation going at once, and the real-world examples he was showing were simple and captivating.
One of the great examples during his talk was a kick drum loaded up in Ableton Live on multiple tracks that shows the different polyrhythmic ratios played against one another. Here is an example of that!
Another highlight for me was seeing Caterina Barbieri play live for the first time. I consider Caterina a friend as we’ve talked regularly online over the past year, but this was my first time meeting her.
Caterina’s performance started with a conversation with Dennis DeSantis, where they both discussed the conceptual rationale behind her work. I’m a fan of minimalism, melody, polyrhythms and above all creative use of arpeggiation, so it goes without saying that Caterina’s work strikes a chord with me.
One of my favorite aspects of this performance was the movement in time and tempo. Letting myself get lost in the arpeggiation and closing my eyes led me to interpret much of what I was hearing as a continuous drone. There’s certainly a psychological aspect to Caterina’s work (and some friends who were in attendance had some trouble with it) but for me this just added to the performance - I feel that great art should challenge one perceptions of what they like from time to time. It’s still an experience, and there are countless times that I’ve not liked something on first listen/look and later gone on to love it. I look forward to future works from Caterina.
It was my first Loop - and even though I'd heard a bit about Loop in the past, I didn't know quite what to expect from it this time around. It's a delicate balancing act, figuring out exactly how to meet the needs of everyone coming to the festival. Some people want to be entertained, some people want to learn something new, and everyone wants plenty of opportunities to meet people and make connections. Sitting on top of everything there's a strong sense of messaging and positioning—Loop isn't about Live the software, but it is very much about Ableton the brand. In addition to demos about how to work with Live and listening sessions with various composers, there were plenty of talks about a range of social concerns that intersect with music maker culture. These talks were some of my favorite parts of the whole experience: how to make music specifically for YouTube, or how blackness can be a creative force both for music composition as well as urban planning.
I was excited to see good representation for Max at the festival. Tom's gen~ talk was a big hit, especially when the audience got to see the huge range of guitar pedal effects that could be realized—in hardware—using gen~. The other big Max moment was a bit more subtle, but after Daito Manabe talked about his work with Nosaj Thing, he cracked open his sizable performance patch and showed the whole audience how he used Max for realtime video. I caught up with him after the presentation, and he showed me a bit of his future work, still using Max.
One thing that really stuck with me after hanging around Loop was the tremendous profusion of music making workflows. It really did seem like there were at least as many ways to make music as there were people making music. There were two big takeaways for me.
- Don't make any assumptions about how people will use a piece of software, or even what or whether they'll prefer to use hardware or software. For every person singing the praises of of the Push because it got them away from their laptop, there was someone whose favorite way to make beats was with their keyboard and trackpad.
- The technology itself doesn't really seem to matter. It's all about patterns, affordances, habits, etc.
All in all, it was a great experience - and I'm looking forward to seeing it again next year.
Lilli Wessling Hart
Loop really began for me with Dennis DeSantis' warm welcome in the main hall. It was short and perfectly presented. He talked about the space around us, the people and events at the conference, the world and then rounded it out with talking about the community.
In addition to the Cycling '74 events and talks and the happy, collaborative buzz around Funkhaus, there are three other events I especially enjoyed.
Luckily, I got to attend these events with my coworker Jill. (We work in different states, so that's a special event on its own.) She and I had a fun time --- as we usually do -- checking out a variety of music and installations.
I was blown away by the Khaled Kurbeh Ensemble. The main hall felt like it was built just for this kind of performance. The space had a warm glow that added to the incredible sound.
The Sonic Bed installation has been around for many years, and I've always been curious about it. Max was one of the tools used in its creation, so I couldn't pass up the opportunity. Think: Massage with sound.
I attended the Daito Manabe and Nosaj Thing discussion and then the performance later which was the last event of Loop. Hearing how Daito and his collaborators at Rhizomatiks combine Max with other tools (including drones!) was really fascinating. I've always enjoyed their work, and learning about the inspiration and the process takes my appreciation to a new level.
While the other guys were attending hyper-creative sessions, I found myself drawn to some of the more technical offerings. One area of technology that was well-represented was Web Audio, focused on the Web Audio and Web MIDI APIs. This was interesting to watch, since there was a lot more discussion about how people wished it would work rather than a heads-down push to learn how it works right now. Nevertheless, some of the workshops and overview presentations did offer an inviting onramp for playing around with the technology.
But it was actually the discussion of Web Audio technologies in the context of education that was mind-expanding. Whether we talk about simple applications like the Groove Pizza, or full-blown DAW attempts like Soundtrap, having Web-situated apps means no-installation, easy-to-access tools that can work in almost any educational environment - and at home. There’s a strong future here, and it was good to see such compelling discussions about this new technology.