On my recent electronic music show, Plugged In, I had the pleasure of having a friend guest DJ a set of old skool Electro. He ending up bringing an dazzling tool to do this. The open source hardware monome can mix and add effects. Its extremely minimalist interface gives you no visual indication of what the buttons do, they just flash in amazing patterns. Its beautiful to watch, especially when you turn the lights down.
The machine takes some musical know-how, but also a bit of DIY tinkering, as you buy the components and them assemble them yourself. And it is fully customizable to be connected to your computer and programmed as you like. As the website FAQ states, “by having separate light and button systems, the device can be reconfigured infinitely. new applications and uses are continually being invented.”
The Personal Telco Project is a Portland nonprofit dedicated to the idea that people should have a bigger say in how their electronic networks are operated.
They began in 2000 by turning people’s houses and apartments into wireless hotspots (or “nodes”), and then set about building networks in public locations such as parks and coffee shops. If you’ve tried to connect to a wireless network while at a local cafe, chances are you’ve connected to one of these.
Here’s a google map that shows the expansive reach of their current nodes (green) and also locations that are listed as a potential note (yellow):
Zoom out and you’ll see that the network reaches into Gresham, Beaverton, and Vancouver, Washington. There is a more interactive map on their website.
How does it work? Their website describes the network as simply local businesses and individuals who have voluntarily opted to share their wireless signal. Participants only need to modify their router settings to unlock access and let members of the community know that they are part of the Personal Telco network. This makes your network public but Personal Telco volunteers can help you if you want to keep parts of your network private. With a grant from the Meyer Memorial Trust, volunteers have also been able to initiate new hotspots:
Personal Telco believes that telecommunications should be driven by the community, not corporations. Companies like Comcast, for example, can set very high rates for their internet services, partially due to a legal loophole by defining what they offer as “entertainment” rather than communications. Legalese does a very good job of illustrating how the corporate world has no interest in the participatory potential of new technologies.
Like many cities, Portland has watched wireless initiatives come and go, with MetroFi being one of the larger services to end its operations last year. The private company won the city’s bid to cover the metropolitan area but their business model of using advertising to fund their service had failed. The network they began to build around Portland has left a number of their transmitters behind, which has led some to suggest that a community-driven effort, such as Personal Telco, put them to good use. The hardware will be considered forfeit if MetroFi does not remove them by April, which is very unlikely at this point. Continue reading →
What is a Beat Off? Well maybe not what you think.
Recently, local joint Holocene hosted one of a series of these where electronic musicians are given a variety of short samples of music and are challenged to come up with some dope beats in one hour. Wanna hear what it sounds like?
The challenge is open to the anyone who signs up (until capacity is filled – they cram as many people as they can onstage).
Each contest seems to bring new musicians into the fold and inspire others. Many use laptops with custom sampling software while others keep it old skool with MPCs – machines that run as a MIDI sequencer and drum machine.
Organizer Erik Beats has been setting the recent ones up and he came on to my music show to explain the process. You can listen to that interview here with some samples of the performers music.
The Republican National Convention set new standards for conventions and for protests. Not only was it the largest operation for both the RNC and protestors alike, but it was the largest instance of police infiltration and pre-emptive raids in America’s recent memory. Eight organizers of the “welcoming committee” (protest coordinators) are facing serious charges. As the Friends of the RNC 8 website states, they were originally charged with conspiracy to riot in the 2nd degree in furtherance of terrorism, a felony which is the first ever use of Minnesota’s PATRIOT Act.
One of the stories to be overshadowed by the crackdown was the ingenious use of cell phones and social networking to coordinate the mobilizations. A small collective of tech groups and individuals gathered before the convention to organize the Tin Can Collective. Among their communications efforts is a program called Tapatio. Tapatio is a collaboratively-developed, open source computer program described as a communications resource for the radical anti-authoritarian community that was made for the RNC.
Participating in the Tin Can Collective was Hackbloc, one of many hacktivist groups that use their technological expertise for social or environmental justice. Hackbloc states their mission is “to research, create and disseminate information, tools, and tactics, empowering people to use technology in a way that is liberating, and facilitate building of affinity groups that will support and strengthen their local communities through education and action.” Among their points of unity are autonomous organizing, security culture, and internet neutrality.
I spoke with eVoltec, a member of Hackbloc, about their efforts during the RNC and the role technology can play in autonomous organizing.
There’s electronic music. And then there’s video game electronic music.
While electronic musicians are known for their inventiveness, those in the chiptune community have created something else entirely.
Air Fortress on KBOO
I was able to record the Mircropalooza music festival held at Portland’s Ground Kontrol. The bar/music venue also houses a variety of old-school arcade games so it was all too fitting to see chiptune musicians from across the region perform amongst the blips and blinking lights.
Air Fortress was another musician and I brought him on to my electronic music show, Plugged In, that airs on the the local community radio station, KBOO. You can listen to Air Fortress give a live demonstration of how he creates his sounds.