Layers of ambient beats reverberate back and forth across the walls of the room as the sound waves resonate through the audience. Psychedelic videos project onto the white backdrop. The sounds escalate, climbing their way to a musical peak, and then gradually zone out into the distance, fading into an eventual silence. The artist stands up and takes a bow. The next artist takes the stage and begins to play beautiful folk music, adopting the unusual combination of a banjo and a violin bow.
This is Loopfest.
Last month, Rick Walker hosted his 10th annual Loopfest, a live digital looping festival. Seventy artists came out from 17 different countries to perform in three different cities over the course of nine days. Four shows took place in Santa Cruz occurring from Oct. 13 through 17.
Walker, a longtime friend of and familiar face in the Santa Cruz music community, plays a huge role in spearheading the movement of bringing live digital looping out of obscurity.
“Part of the reason why I started this festival in the first place was that I was really excited that there’s this new mode of communicating,” Walker said.
Electronic music has been around since the advent of synthesizers in the 1960s. Aided by technology, music looping came into play around the same time. It generally uses repetitions of sounds, layered on top of each other to create a complex rhythmic sound texture.
“When digital looping came out, what it did was that it completely freed the musician to either think of new sounds, or to re-contextualize their instruments,” Walker said. “Looping freed us to start thinking more about sound and rhythm over anything.”
From 1999 to 2000, Walker hosted around seven small-scale festivals in Santa Cruz at What Is Art, featuring 35 artists, 30 of whom had never played live before.
“Everyone was in their closets. I felt like I wanted them to get out and do it,” Walker said. “And since then, tons and tons of artists have put records out and are out there performing their music.”
Many of the performing artists who fell under the umbrella of Walker’s new interest are newbies who had the talent, but not the opportunity, to perform in front of a live audience.
“It’s wonderful to come out here and be with other Loopers, because I am the only one out in Finland doing this,” said Finnish performance artist Mir-0.
In fact, all 70 artists travel from all across the world entirely on their own expense. None of the artists are paid for their performances.
“People think I’m crazy out there, and then I come here and suddenly it works,” Mir-0 said.
Digital musical looping is widely applicable to any genre of music, and serves simply to expand an artist’s selection of instruments and rhythms, thereby generating a huge variety of musical sounds that have never before been produced.
“With a tape loop, you’re free to use all kind of sounds that you would not normally use,” Walker said. “I can basically make a whole drum set using Frisbees.”
Walker said he will not host another Loopfest next year because of the work it demands.
“It’s just a tremendous amount of work,” he said. “I haven’t been able to produce any of my own music because it just takes up so much of my time.”
Although Walker will not be putting on the event next year, he hopes that it will happen. He said the Loopers are determined to make it work.
“Loopfest will continue on next year,” said Scott Erickson, a member of the audience at Loopfest. “This event was put on through a collaborative group effort. Most of these people here have contributed something to the putting together of this event. That’s not going to stop. This is Santa Cruz we’re talking about.”