April 29, 2010
Better Than: The ninth season of American Idol remixed by Moby.
It's a good thing that the Flux Summit's bar was situated in the same room as its music critique contest. Nervous electronic music artists needed a stiff belt before auditioning their precious creations to a panel of seasoned judges during the event's Test Press segment. The Flux Summit is a free quarterly music discussion and demo event that takes place at Pyramind Studios, a digital music training and recording facility situated in the shadows of megalofts and Moscone Center on Folsom Street near 4th. The night consists of a panel discussion on a topic of interest to the electronic music community, a mixer featuring the aforementioned bar and catered snacks and software demos from gear companies such as Propellerheads (creators of Reason) and Ableton. The night culminates with Test Press, where judges and an audience evaluate a host of pre-submitted tracks by up-and-coming artists, singers and producers.
Although Test Press has been running for six years, the Flux Summit is the new encompassing evening intended to support SF's electronic music and technology community. And the community definitely came out for this installment, packing Pyramind's club-like main performance space and hallways. Frequent hostess and local vocal gem Audio Angel was buzzing around making sure the activities were on schedule while Pyramind founder and instructor Gregory J. Gordon prepped panelists David Earl (a.k.a. sflogicninja), KONTROL's Alland Byallo, Propellerhead rep Gerry Bassermann and Om Records honcho Chris Smith. Previous Flux panels have debated web 2.0 promotion techniques and the struggle nightclubs and after-hours events have had with the police and city.
This month the panel debated a far more esoteric topic: How producers navigate all their creative options. Not exactly earth-shattering stuff. Still, to the large producer community in attendance, the panelists lifted back the mysterious curtain that often envelops successful producers and revealed their own struggles keeping up with the myriad software programs and changes in production tools. The phrase "working in the box" - using solely computer software to create music - was bandied about frequently as the panel debated everything from using vintage synths (or not), how to master a track and why it's the most important step in production as well as the pros and cons of Pro Tools, Logic 9, Propellerheads Record, Ableton and other software tools.
At times the discussion was stilted by jargon and tech-talk but there were lighter moments such as when Smith admitted he's "not much of a tweaker" (no, not speedy drugs but spending hours on sound design). The panel agreed that artists like Massive Attack and Boards of Canada have achieved a balance between sheer creativity and engineering mastery, a position the panelists said young producers should aspire to. Earl and Byallo also described the creative process as "a sickness," where the biggest challenge is the ability to be "done" with a track. The audience seemed to agree. Pointing to his fellow panelists Earl quipped, "We're all sick!"
After a few audience questions, participants took a break and hit the bar or took in a demo of Propellerheads' recently released Record software in a side studio. Filmmaker Kevin Epps, was mingling in the halls and talking about his latest project tentatively titled Chocolate Chip, about the untold story of African-Americans' contributions in Silicon Valley. Miroslav Wiesner from booking agency Surefire Sound, Terrance Allen from the SF Entertainment Commission and DJ John Friend were also debatin' and conversatin'. Also on hand was Lauren Segal from NextAid, a dance music community non-profit that raises money for AIDS orphans in Africa. She announced winners of a raffle and announced NextAid's current online auction in progress on their site.
At 8:30 the lights came down again and it was time for Test Press. The judges panel included Byallo, Kush Arora (Dread Bass, Surya Dub) and a house music producer Alvaro G. Velilla from Om Records. The Test Press session serves as a fitting climax to Flux with its combination of American Idol artist-to-artist showdown and opinionated panel judges doling out the criticism and praise. Judges rate each track on a scale of 1-to-5 and audience applause on a sound meter is also measured to determine winners. The judges seemed to sincerely be impressed by the array of house, funk, downtempo and moody electronic tracks offered. However, it was clear some participants needed to work on their performance names as much as their music. Generic artist tags such as Dope Beats, Raj and Electrofunkadelica weren't impressive but their guts to audition their music in public and the quality sounds they brought were admirable.
Personal Bias: This writer has both judged Test Press and moderated a panel.
Random Detail: Pyramind is housed in the same building as Salvation Army's business offices.