Berlin Cymatics Loops

The livelooping tour that some of my friends did this spring (concerts and workshops in Paris, Florence, Brescia, Prague, Dresden, and Berlin) ended in Berlin, with the fourth Berlin International Livelooping Festival, organized by Leander Reininghaus.

I was supposed to play another [mi,mi] guitar duo here with my friend Michael Frank but unfortunately he had to stay home because of health problems in his family, so I had to play alone.

Somehow the idea of looping with stomp boxes, as we do with [mi,mi], stuck in my head and that’s what I found myself doing … although I could also have done the digital loop thing, playing alone. Musically it was big fun to use stomp boxes, but my suitcase that I took on the train – containing my little red guitar and lots of metal pedals – was so heavy when I had to carry it up and down the stairs in the Cologne train station (some parts of which doesn’t feature lifts) that I felt very sorry for this decision quickly.

Luckily, I was picked up by my friend Volker in Berlin, we did a beautiful walk through the parks in Kreuzberg, and had fabulous Indian food.

And I could stay for the two nights with my old pal Markus Reuter. Here he enjoys our first breakfast together:

On the day of the festival I visited Berlin’s music instrument museum which showed a special exhibition about the history of electronic music. There was a local website with more information but I wish the exhibits had had headphones with sound examples or even videos. So it was all a bit sparse, but seeing all those magical pieces of gear was wonderful anyway. Theremin, Ondes Martenot, Trautonium, Hugh LeCain’s tape recorder keyboard, Fairlight CMI, Synclavier … and many classical synthesizers were there, plus the first drum computers … there is something about old analog equipment that is utterly fascinating for some reason.

The livelooping evening was opened by none other than Gary Hall who happened to be in town on that day for the Superbooth synthesizer fair. Gary was the inventor of the legendary Lexicon PCM42, one of the first groundbreaking digital livelooping devices.

Bodo Orejuela’s quite wonderful cymatics light show (of water vibrating with the sound) accompanied the livelooping acts, of which there were so many that everyone could perform for only 20 minutes – but that made it all even more entertaining.

My own set featured my trusty red Hohner GT2 guitar and various sound manglers. Livelooping was done by the relatively new Montreal Assembly „Count To 5“ pedal which does amazing tricks that are very addictive, followed by a 20 year old Digitech PDS-8000. I used three different distortion/fuzz boxes, sometimes all at once, so the sound was raw, even a bit brutal at times. Wonderful 🙂

As usual, I had only thought about (not even „planned“) the first 30 seconds of my improvisation. Often when I plan to do something on stage, I find that it doesn’t quite work the way I thought it would, and instead, it develops into something completely different. This has happened so often that have given in now, instead only trusting my momentary impulses and my intuition. That feels just right to me. During the recent livelooping gigs I did in Paris and now in Berlin, it worked out well enough to be interesting or even beautiful to the audience. It makes me trust this when people come to me afterwards and tell me how great it was (of course, people who didn’t like it usually don’t come to me to tell me). After my sets, I usually have almost no memory of what I did. Something about this is very funny.

Nelly Meunier tried to videotape my set but of course it was too dark for my cheap camera. The sound was recorded with a microphone, including pedal clicks and audience noise.

On the next morning, we all met again for the traditional loopers brunch before we said goodbye to each other. A core group of five loopers will spend the night in my house on their way back from Berlin to Paris (for three of them the trip will continue to California and Japan). Then this particular adventure ends. I feel very privileged and happy to have been part of it.

Paris Spring Loops

„Paris Spring Loops“ was the title of this year’s international livelooping festival, organized by Nelly Meunier and Emmanuel Reveneau. The festival lasted for a week and contained several loop workshops and concerts in several venues (and the logistics were complex).

Nelly and Manu had scheduled me for a workshop or two (I showed the students some of what can be done with the 25 year old Gibson Echoplex Digital Pro) and for four concerts – three solo shows and one duo with my „The Absurd“ band colleague Michael Frank (who also did a wonderful solo set).

I was very happy during this week, although there was little sleep and lots of standing in traffic jams, and not much time for tourism, except for one little trip to Pigalle and Montmartre. The Paris spring sun was warming my body, and meeting my old friends again (and getting to know a few new ones), and spending lots of time with them, was heartwarming. The concerts were all interesting, some of them mouth-open breathtaking, and my own (completely improvised) concerts all came out nicely – people liked them and I was quite happy with them – so happy that I put the three solo loops on this Bandcamp album without any edits:

Cover photograph: Olivier Malhomme

The first show was based on my digital setup: Plogue Bidule with various plugins, this time controlled by a Novation Launchcontrol which felt much more stable than the pair of Nanokontrols I had been using for years. You can see me controlling loops and effects on this video of the show:

I also videotaped the second and third solo shows but hadn’t chosen a good camera position (my head is cut off on the videos) 🙂 but you can listen to them on the Bandcamp album. Both featured the „Frippertronics“ tape delay instead of the computer, plus various stomp box delays.

photograph: Joel Gilardini

The 50+ year old tape technique (more about it here) produces some amount of hiss but several people told me that they actually liked that hiss – something about it being analogue and warm. Not sure about this, but it is a package deal I guess, and people loved this thing.

It sure looks awesome, especially during the final concert where I put it into the center stage and it looked like an altar – a loop altar. Which made my colleague John Connell fall on his knees and pray to it 🙂

The international livelooping scene, organized around the festivals that were started 17 years ago by Rick Walker (purple-haired this time) in California and have since spread to many cities, consists of a very friendly bunch of people. There is no competitiveness at all, and everyone is totally respected with their individual way of expressing themselves with loop music, regardless of the level of professionality (which varies wildly of course). The „newbies“ who learned about livelooping during our workshops and did a few sets themselves probably felt safe on stage because of this friendliness.

I’m getting used to improvise on stage more and more but while I learn to trust the unknown, and show my not-knowing without safety net, I still quite enjoyed the friendly feedback and encouragement that I got during this week. Sometimes I’m still surprised at how much some people love what I do 🙂

Some people even liked this relentlessly adventurous guitar duo with Michael Frank:

A week that made me happy … while I write this, I think of 8 of my looper friends who got themselves squeezed into a van, with all their suitcases and gear, and continue a little tour of Europe – today, they are in Florence, then later in other places in Italy, then in Prague, Dresden and finally Berlin where I will meet them again. After that, the van will travel through Cologne back to Paris. What an adventure! I’m glad though that I can sleep in my own bed again, life on the road is too hard for me 🙂

Photos by Laure Sornique, Olivier In-Mobile Malhomme, Joel Gilardini and me: