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Oh Say, Have You Scene?

5/1/2002

Whether through luck, adventurousness, or a good network of friends, many of us are fortunate enough to find ourselves, at some point in our lives, in contact with a “cool scene.” The cool scenes that interest me show abundant creativity, knowledge (maybe even wisdom), cooperation, and inspiration. Such scenes focus a collective energy on an idea that may range from the specific and explicit to the vague and unknowable. In a cool scene, one is awash in a palpable, life-changing electricity that opens doors of perception and stokes the fires of imagination. It's a most amazing experience that stays with you your entire life.

A cool scene may start with a single person, but it takes a number of people to reach critical mass. What is less evident is the great importance of the number. When a couple of dozen people are involved, they tell and involve others, and things begin to coalesce. This is often the real peak of the scene — while it is still small. But word spreads, and the scene grows into a movement. Once it expands beyond a few hundred people, things change. As the scale increases, the idea's purity becomes diluted as a simple result of more points of view in the mix.

A slow decline starts from this juncture, though the scene may remain good and worthwhile for quite some time. Eventually, however, if it continues to expand, it will start to stagger under its own weight and, at some point, will simply collapse, dissipate, or shrink radically.

The life of a scene is as brief and finite as our own lives, and its decline or death is just as inevitable. If that death can't be avoided, neither should it be feared, though the passing may be mourned. As long as there are humans with hearts and minds, cool scenes will arise.

Getting the most out of a burgeoning scene comes from recognizing as early as possible that there's magic happening and appreciating and enjoying it as fully as you can. That realization came to mind recently when I dipped my toe into a small underground community of musicians who call themselves loopers. Loopers make music built around the idea of feeding source material (typically instruments they play) into long, repeating delay lines and then adding to, modifying, and/or playing on top of the looping sound.

I've just returned from Loopstock, a one-day concert and minifestival where barely three dozen people converged on a small dance studio warehouse in San Luis Obispo, California, from points as far-flung as Oregon, Boston, and Brazil. They came to perform, to listen, and to discuss a variety of takes on looping — from a three-piece synth band to DSP Demon Richard Zvonar mangling snippets of recorded music to a solo tuba player — all working with long delay loops. Probably over half the attendees were performing.

It was evident to all that something special was happening at this seminal gathering. The event was free and the performers unpaid. In other words, the attendees were there purely out of interest. This created a wholly noncompetitive atmosphere in which people were delighted to show and tell all their looping ideas and techniques. The understanding audience showed tolerance for the difficulties of a technology-dependent medium. Most of all, everyone was appreciated for what they contributed: not just the performers, who surely received hearty applause, but even a few attendees who were hailed as heroes for having created some of the loopers' favorite toys.

Each attendee left invigorated and inspired. Will Loopstock grow or happen at all next year? I certainly hope so. The looping scene should have a long time to grow before it becomes co-opted, corrupted, or otherwise brought low. But no matter whether or when that happens, that day in San Luis Obispo will remain a Golden Moment in the lives of those who were lucky enough to catch the quick left at the Mitsubishi dealership and discover the little warehouse tucked back from the street.

If you find yourself in the middle of a community brimming with life magic, don't be afraid, don't try to hold onto it too hard, and don't try to figure out what it is. Just savor the moment and cherish the memory.

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