As Moore's law marches onward, laptops have grown in stature as much as they have
slimmed in sized. They can dish out multimedia mastery with the best of their
studio computer cousins. This has lead to the laptop becoming a powerful weapon
in a performing artist?s arsenal. mutednoise interviews Zach Huntting (Zapan),
contact for LaptopBattle.org,
for insights on a new series of musical competitions that pit man and portable
machine against one another.
1. Gear for making incredible music in real time exists and the setup is no more
complex than an average laptop.
2. The Laptop Battle competitions take a 'punk rock' approach to traditional 'glossy'
electronic production and performance.
3. If the ambitious artists, like Zapan, have their way, look for Laptop Battle
Superstars on a cereal box near you soon.
1. How did you get started using technology for music? Was
it with more traditional gear (synths, grooveboxes, etc) or a computer based rig?
|Laptop Battle Promotional Poster
I began as a dj and stumbled onto computer-based recording/sequencing (digital
performer) as a way to 'perfect' my mixtapes. After a brief hiatus, I began using
a turntable, groovebox, dr. sample and tape recorder/microphone setup to branch
out into more individual productions. It wasn't long before a good friend of mine
(Cory Heindel) sent me a copy of Reason and asked me what I could do with it.
I made my first completely original 74 minutes of music with reason and Cool Edit
2. How did you become involved with participating and promoting
I'm part of an artist collective / record label / etc called fourthcity,
and, among other things, we put on a Monday-night multimedia event called 'the
weekly'. I was talking with Kris Moon, who has been doing music and events in
Seattle for like forever, and Bobby Karate (a.k.a. bruno pronsato), who is one
of Seattle's few true electronic music idols, about doing a different type of
event. We decided on some sort of collaborative 'laptop circle', where we would
each send different, minimal contributions to the group signal. A week or two
before the event Bobby Karate suggested Kris and I take a look at Chicago's intermittently-held
event. After which we decided to do something along the lines of an 'everybody
plays separately' type thing. Nobody really knew what was supposed to happen outside
of a few people, so the night was extremely unorganized. Bobby Karate succeeded
in exploding the native subwoofer though. Since more than a few of Seattle's tight-knit
'scenesters' were in the audience the event was followed by quite a bit of email/bulletin-board
discussion. After that, we proposed the idea of a bigger (and costlier) show to
the fourthcity board, who approved it, and the biggest all-local electronic music
event in Seattle's history was born.
I had only been using my laptop as a performance instrument since 2002, and had
already noticed the obvious lack of visual stimulation that overshadowed most
laptop-music performances. Show-goers don't want a guy hunched over a laptop programming
sequences (unless it's Luke Vibert). They want action. We made all the battle
performances three minutes long, and the participating musicians, for the most
part, have all pushed the arts of performance and on-the-spot composition forward.
I love the laptop battle!
3. What are the specs on your performance machine? What software
are you running, what sound card do you use, etc? Are there any limitations you
find yourself with?
Currently I use Ableton Live, Digital Performer, and Reaktor on my Apple Powerbook
(1gig memory, 1gig ram, but still lots of limitations). I also use a Novation
K-Station [highly recommended], a couple cheap Casio synths, and pretty much every
sample/recording/conversation I can get my hands on. I don't really use a [separate
external] soundcard when performing, but probably would if I wasn't so damned
lazy. My computer runs really slow, especially when I use Reaktor and Digital
Performer together, but it does an okay job on stage.
4. Why laptops? What?s possible with a laptop that can or
can?t be done with a live band or DJ vinyl?
There's a lot of stuff that's possible with a laptop that isn't available anywhere
else. Computers have revolutionized music! I've taken samples from almost every
instrument I?ve heard of, mapped them to software samplers, and stored them on
something that weighs less than ten pounds. I can compose on the plane, fix wrong
notes with one click-and-drag motion, and edit compositions to my heart's content.
One of the biggest advantages to using a computer for songwriting is that you
can be the whole band, which obviously reduces the number of times you have to
change your band-name cuz of someone else's ego.
seems to resonate a type of 21st century punk attitude to music making: damn the
polish of more conventional studio productions and embrace the excitement of making
something in the moment on what?s available. Do you think that is an accurate
observation? Are we about to see the same artistic liberation as we did twenty-some
years ago when working-class English teens started banging on guitars? Or am I
just reading way too much into friends having weekend fun with their iMacs?
Definitely. It seems like every year computer-based music is becoming more and
more paint-by-numbers, more calculated, which often translates to 'too sterile'.
Our crew is really diverse, so just as often as I play all-laptop shows, I?ll
be jamming between a drummer, a turntablist and a guy on a keyboard. Being exposed
to as many different types of music as possible is a very under-emphasized necessity
for modern composers. I think it's impossible *not* to see the impending musical
revolution - we'll be hearing soon from people we've never heard from, those who
weren't able to communicate their vision to the other members of the band, people
who don't leave their rooms. it's very exciting. Big up cojilabs for the laptopbattle.org
6. You already have a couple of music software companies
sponsoring these events. Can you see a time when laptop manufacturers jump on
the bandwagon and start sponsoring individuals or groups? If so, how far away
is the laptop battle community from having one of its own do a Nike-like endorsement
with an Alienware or Dell?
In less than a week, laptop musicians will be sponsored like pro skateboarders.
Software companies will use their sponsorships to promote upgrading in a timely
fashion. Sponsored laptop producers will give on-site demos at the neighborhood
computer retail outlets. This month's Transworld Laptopper will feature
your favorite producers layin' it down on their electronic notebooks in sequenced
step-by-step glossy color photographs for the bedroom heads to emulate. In the
advertising section of the same magazine you will be able to order a custom laptop
designed by your favorite superstar. Finally, rules will be set by the Fourthcity
International Laptop Battle Association regulating the size and placement
of sponsor logos worn by producers engaging in official FILBA competitions. Several
companies already have 'artist pages' where artists who use their software/hardware
are promoted in exchange for 'testimonials'.
7. How long till MTV picks up on this and ruins it?
Well, we've already got our fair share of weird investor dudes trying to poach
on our domain name... However, one of our specific goals for this project is to
unite genres that are often, especially in larger cities, distant or completely
separated. Although everyone makes different sound/art from one-another, they
make sound/art in a similar manner and with similar instruments. We can only benefit
from a little intermingling (hey idm-ers: the hardcore and junglist crowds still
have 'fun' at shows!). I don't subscribe to the theory that the popularization
of something hurts it irreparably. The laptop battle phenomenon isn't going to
be popular forever, but if it's success continues for long enough, someone with
money who thinks it could help them do whatever it is they want to do is gonna
take it out in the open. If, because of that, it becomes too silly or 'played'
for the underground, then the people who actually know how to do it right will
have to decide whether to continue battling or find something else. In any case,
computers don't yet enjoy as much respect as a musical performance with instruments.
MTV could help that out a lot.
8. What advice would you give someone who has just read this
and wants to give it a shot?
Take lots of vitamins, don't smoke cigarettes and enjoy the world's most rewarding
hobby! Remember, the easiest road to 'success' is to do what everyone else is
published on mutednoise.com,
April 2004... http://www.mutednoise.com/
originally at url http://www.mutednoise.com/articles/gear/2004-04-09.cfm