The Loop 2016 series of blog posts chronicles Mmmmaven’s Ableton intern and former student, Katharine Fountain, on her journey to Berlin to attend Ableton’s Loop Summit. Loop is three days of discussions, performances, presentations, studios sessions and interactive workshops aimed at exchanging ideas at the cutting edge of music, creativity, and technology. Click here to learn more about Loop, or connect with Katharine via Instagram or on Soundcloud .
Breakbeat Deconstruction: From Hip Hop to Drum & Bass and Beyond
The first presentation that I attended explored the sonic impact of breakbeats and sampling in music production, and was delivered by Dr. Jason Hockman. In addition to being an electronic music producer and co-founder of Drum & Bass label Detuned Transmissions, Dr. Hockman also holds a PhD in Music Research from McGill University, and a Master’s in Music Technology from NYU. He is currently a lecturer in audio engineering and conducts research in music informatics at Birmingham City University.
It was interesting to see how both limitations and advancements in music technology contributed to the way in which breakbeats have been interpreted and sampled over the years.
He illustrated this by sharing numerous examples of how famous breaks such as the Amen were used across a variety of tracks and genres spanning decades. One of my favorite tracks used in his lecture was Tango’s 1996 release “understanding”, which features pitch shifted hi-hats over a heavy rolling bass line.
Synth Build with Bastl Instruments
Every participant at Loop was given the opportunity to sign up for one “Workshop”. There were so many cool things going on that it was almost impossible to choose; however, I was drawn to the modular synth building workshop hosted by Bastl Instruments. Based in Brno, Czech Republic, Bastl is a dynamic and community driven company focused on producing hand-made electronic musical instruments. Many of their instruments are available through their boutique the Noise Kitchen as DIY kits that you can build yourself (fully formed versions can be purchased too!). They also have a cassette label called Bukkotapes. With so many cool projects going on, I was really curious to learn more about this company.
Full disclosure: I had no previous experience with soldering or even with modular synths, but I figured that if there ever was a time learn – this was it!
We were each given a bag containing the parts that would eventually become our mini modular synths. The model that we would be constructing during the workshop was called the Kastle.
The board – a piece had to be soldered into each and every one of those holes! It took me a couple of tries to get the hang of it, but after a while it became easier.
Huddled around a small table in the drafty but charming Kultursaal, 2 Canadians, an Italian, an American, and a Brit got to work soldering.
Almost ready for the final touches!
4 hours later…my very own DIY Kastle Mini Modular! It ended up taking most of us quite a bit longer than anticipated to finish our synths (so long, in fact, that we were kicked out of our room to make way for the next event!). Nonetheless, it was a really fun project, and I enjoyed the sense of camaraderie that I felt with my peers as we discussed music and helped one another to finish our synths.
The crew from Bastl Instruments were really friendly and helpful, and overall it was a great experience! I spend so much time working with music technology every day, but seldom do I stop and think of how everything is working underneath the surface. It definitely added a fresh perspective to how I view electronic instruments, and I would definitely recommend trying something out like this if you ever get the chance!
Robert Henke Presents: Fragile Territories
Next up, I decided to check out Robert Henke‘s laser based audiovisual installation Fragile Territories. Located in the dark and somewhat creepy Sound Chamber. Henke aka Monolake used a series of complex algorithms to create this laser based audiovisual environment. Delicate lasers would draw images at random, while the crackle of electricity oscillated indefinitely.
Every so often, a dark shadow would appear and along with the deep rumble of sub frequency sounds, overwhelm the prior sonic and visual imagery.
Given the acoustics of the space, as well as the audiovisual environment created by Henke, I found these moments of the installation to be the most powerful. I revisited Fragile Territories several times throughout the weekend.
Morton Subotnick & Lillevän in Concert
Day 1 concluded with a collaborative performance between one of the pioneers of electronic music Morton Subotnick, and visual and animation artist Lillevän. Subotnick along with designer Don Buchla, is credited with inventing one of the first analogue synthesizers, The Buchla Series 100, in 1963. It was a nice way to end the day!