Rana June grew up in McLean, VA, a neighborhood in the shadow of the CIA’s Langley headquarters, one surrounded by defense contractors, and the kind of place where the average overheard conversation is peppered with acronyms and abbreviations. One acronym you rarely hear there, however, is DJ, which is a prefix June acquired in 2010 when she first gained attention as “the iPad DJ,” a foundation she has worked hard to expand upon.
The only acronyms and abbreviations that ever mattered to a young June, however, included USB, modem, Telnet, HTML, and MP3; and speaking in code wasn’t playing spy, it was computer programming. “Steve Case [co-founder and former CEO and chairman of AOL] lived a few blocks down from me,” reflects June. “The Dulles corridor [a nearby high-density region of corporate headquarters] was such a technology hub. I’ve been on a computer since age four . . . the idea of instantaneous communication was always a part of my life.”
Admittedly flirting with a childhood interest in politics, not uncommon for someone growing up within the Washington, D.C., Beltway, June eventually went the high-tech business administration route. This ultimately led to her involvement launching Medialets, a mobile analytics/rich media ad platform that has grown alongside the Apple App Store, which is equally apropos for someone McLean-bred, as the first brick and mortar Apple Store was opened in nearby Tysons Corner Center mall in 2001.
It was following the introduction of the iPad in 2010 that June found a way to merge her longtime interests. “This just happens to be the area that I’m the most passionate about: the intersection of data, music, mobile technology and human-computer interaction,” she says. First performing with a traditional setup of two iPads cued through a DJ mixer, June used programs such as Korg’s iElectribe and Sound Trends’ Looptastic HD to sequence rhythms before Algoriddim’s Djay was released as a one-size-fits-all solution for less ambitious mobile party rockers. Inspired by the clips in an evolving scene structure from Ableton Live, informed by analyzing the chords and keys that elicit the most audience response, June has used an understanding of behavioral patterns and multitouch processing to book gigs as she integrates in-house, purposely engineered apps, and tactile consumer technology (such as Microsoft Kinect and Google Glass) into her self-defined workflow.
“It’s not just some auditory change [I’m triggering]; they can come up and watch me physically manipulate this music and create a brand new auditory-visual emotional experience in connection to that song . . . it’s a three-dimensional version of DJing,” says June. “It’s performance art meets music production . . . the name ‘iPad DJ’ was given to me by someone else; I’ve always associated more with music producers.”
Content for shows comes both from commercial singles and June’s home studio, which is centered around a MacBook Pro Retina 2.7GHz quad-core Intel i7 laptop running Logic and Native Instruments Komplete 8 suite, as well as Native Instruments Maschine and the Waves Mercury bundle, Spectrasonics Omnisphere and FXpansion DCAM Synth Squad, among other programs. Various hardware controllers, interfaces, and monitors allow for live guitar and outboard synths to be incorporated.
Using a meticulous preproduction nomenclature system, June has metatagged all her clips, noting key, BPM, genre, even applying keywords for mood; this all-inclusive compiling allows June to do away with excessive pre-cueing, which helps compensate for some unavoidable latency in iOS, which is still a developing operating system on sleek but far-from-over-clocked hardware. Assisting in combating latency (as well as multitasking and gestural) issues is June’s increasingly multifaceted custom setup, which now uses 16 iPads to trigger drums, leads, bass lines, and samples, as well as to manage reactive lighting for the iPads’ custom Plexiglas performance surface and collect biometric data that could one day potentially be interpreted and interpolated into a performance that uses heat-mapping and pulse to read an audience’s real-time response to the music’s direction.
|June assembling her rig.|
|Mobility is key to June’s performances.|
“There are so many different timbres of sound that you really do need the ability to experiment live . . . so that contributes to the importance of the redundancy factor,” says June. “It’s just helpful to be able to queue up several things and then to make decisions. I think it really helps the artistic process.”
Facilitating the transmission of this ensemble to the audience is a selection of Shure hardware, including the PSM 900 wireless in-ear monitoring system, the UR1M UHF-R micro bodypack transmitter, the UR4D+ UHF-R+ dual-channel receiver, the UR2/KSM9 transmitter, plus the PA805SWB and UA860SWB antennas. Having a proven wireless component partner allows June the flexibility to achieve more mobility and audience interaction than a traditional DJ can accomplish. In addition, June maintains a Mackie Onyx 1640i mixer to administrate what is essentially a live multitrack session.
June recognizes that the technology is constantly evolving, and she is glad for it. She looks forward to and hopes to contribute to advances in mobile processing power, wearable technology and inter-device communication that will contribute to removing friction between the creative process and performance. “There is that Steve Jobs quote, quoting a Wayne Gretzky quote: ‘I skate to where the puck is going, not to where it’s been.’ That’s why I wake up every morning.”
June is always looking for new data to quantify and new innovations to amalgamate. Always with an eye to future shows and moments of inspiration, she keeps her treasured means of artistic expression close to the vest.
Tony Ware is a writer/editor, audio enthusiast, and the proud owner of one well-loved iPad 2, which he uses to defeat bad piggies and make flatulent basslines when not scouring the Head-fi.org forums in search of the perfectly tuned accessory.