Inside Ableton Loop 2018

Our report from LA on the music company's annual conference
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In the four years since Ableton launched their annual Loop conference, attendance has swiftly grown into one of the most coveted tickets in the industry, thanks to their savvy methodology of curating the presenters, performers, and audience. In contrast to other manufacturer-sponsored events, Ableton’s branding remains ephemeral, always placing the emphasis on the talents of artists who share their individuality, demonstrate their techniques, and captivate concert halls with utterly authentic performances. The audience itself veers strongly toward outliers and innovators who are so far ahead of the curve that after three days of nonstop intellectual stimulation, they return home brimming with insights and inspiration that lingers long past the event.

Unlike previous years — where the event location was Funkhaus in Berlin — Loop 2018 took place in Los Angeles, closer to Ableton’s US satellite HQ. And the timing of the event, immediately after the controversial US elections, served as an anodyne to an anxious climate.

Juana Molina demonstrates her compositional techniques in an intimate standing room only presentation at EastWest Studios

Juana Molina demonstrates her compositional techniques in an intimate standing room only presentation at EastWest Studios

Stephanie Cheng Smith demonstrates her electro-acoustic digital instruments at the “Touch, Code, Play” panel, moderated by Peter Kirn

Stephanie Cheng Smith demonstrates her electro-acoustic digital instruments at the “Touch, Code, Play” panel, moderated by Peter Kirn

The panoply of Loop 2018 artists and intellectuals took the stages throughout Ableton’s venues at the EastWest studio complex and neighboring area, with main stage performances at the legendary Montalban theatre in Hollywood. While extreme diversity in thought and personal authenticity is the underlying theme of Loop, inclusiveness and community are the actual results.

Highlights included performance/presentations by popular artists like 1500 or Nothin, an alliance of Grammy-winning composers and producers who tour, teach, and consult with emerging artists to hone their craft. Argentinian singer/songwriter Juana Molina delivered a captivating performance at the Montalban, followed by an intimate studio session at EastWest studios, where she went into great detail about her production process, covering details like her intuitive method of writing in conjunction with a ring modulator.

Close-up performances included a stunning real-time improvisation with cello visionary Clarice Jensen and Korean electro-acoustic percussionist Sowall, expertly moderated by Ableton’s Dennis DeSantis. Another panel, consisting of hybrid physical-digital musical instruments from Astrid Bin, Dan Moses, and Stephanie Cheng Smith, was guided by CDM’s Peter Kirn and included extensive demonstrations from each innovator.

Argentine polymath Juana Molina captivates Loop attendees with a once-in-a-lifetime concert

Argentine polymath Juana Molina captivates Loop attendees with a once-in-a-lifetime concert

Award-winning producers, 1500 or Nothin, perform on the main stage at The Montalban theatre in Los Angeles

Award-winning producers, 1500 or Nothin, perform on the main stage at The Montalban theatre in Los Angeles

Another jewel of the event was called “5 Takes” and consisted of short presentations on a disparate range of musical and business topics from Abid Hussein, Toni Blackman, Craig Schuftan, as well as an emotional and compelling speech on the critical importance of music education from Patrice Rushen.

Modular synthesis technology was well-represented by several artists, including a fun workshop by Ricky Graham focusing on open source tools for modular design, and several talks from Richard Devine, demonstrating his unusual approach to modular composition.

On the final day, Steve Duda — the pioneer behind über-synth, Serum — gave a riveting talk on his autodidactic philosophy for software development. Considering that he conceived and developed Serum nearly single-handedly, hearing his experiences firsthand was a fantastic way to introduce nascent developers to the art of softsynth design, whether in Juce, C++, or Ableton’s own Max4Live devices.

Jazz legend Patrice Rushen explores her childhood experiences learning the craft of musicianship and composition

Jazz legend Patrice Rushen explores her childhood experiences learning the craft of musicianship and composition

Academic and CEO of Delta Sound Labs Ricky Graham oversees a hands-on workshop on open source modular

Academic and CEO of Delta Sound Labs Ricky Graham oversees a hands-on workshop on open source modular

Even after four years, Loop continues to be the premiere event for cutting-edge musicians and artists from every corner of the globe, and while 2018 had a distinctly different flavor from previous years, it will undoubtedly be savored by its attendees for a lifetime.