Ever since seeing my first Monome in person at a Daedelus live show several years ago, I've harbored an obsession with those beautiful little machines. I've spent countless hours pouring over the forums at monome.org, fascinated by the vast creative potential of its minimalist design and the community built around the device. So, when I heard that Interface was hosting an L.A. Monomeet—featuring Monome founders Brian Crabtree and Kelli Cain and chief proponent Alfred Darlington, AKA Daedelus—I knew I couldn't pass up a rare opportunity to see and hold Monomes in person as well as listen to pioneering artists discuss their craft.
Photo credit: Charlie Visnic
My first introduction to Interface L.A. was through an event held in November at the Bootleg with Lucky Dragons and Mike Gao. There, Interface L.A., a collective of Monome-wielding performers dedicated to growing the local digital art community, presented a fantastic multimedia event curated to explore human-computer interactions through concerts and demonstrations.
Interface's L.A. Monomeet 2011 was similarly thrilling. The gathering featured 12 mini sets—performances from Joe Newlin, ioflow and Darlington among them—with visuals by OICHO. We arrived at the Downtown Independent as Delaware's No Sir E was wrapping up his set, beating the air with his fist while waving his controller in the air. Side Brain followed with the debut of the Powerglove, an original Nintendo controller from the '90s modified with USB capabilities that he used in conjunction with his Monome. Then, with one hand on a Monome encased in Legos, and the other atop a glowing cube construction, Merbert Moover—one of the core members of Interface and the Karmetik Machine Orchestra—conjured up deep dark eerie beats suited to experimental horror films while fire dancers leaped through trees on the screen behind him.
Photo credit: Yeuda Ben-Atar
Non Projects producer Asura used Merbert's box, his own Monome, and a program called DJ64. Rather than highlight the technical aspect of his music, he played a few gorgeous new songs from his Golden Soil project with vocalist/multi-instrumentalist/girlfriend Ana Caravelle. Interface L.A. leader Altitude Sickness demonstrated a program he developed called Smacktop, which triggers samples with the tap of the side of a laptop. "When you're smacking your computer, not everything you want to happen will happen, but sometimes things that need to happen will," he said.
A pair of multimedia artists and programmers known as FlipMu focused their presentation on their work building the Chronome and Arduinome adaptations of the Monome and the C++ app they've been developing, which sends out every single message that the Monome sends and receives, but with two extra messages added: color and pressure. Live instrumentation was integrated into Anenon's mesmerizing set. The Non Projects founder looped his own saxophone performance and manipulated it in real time to create an intensely textural and ethereal composition.
Photo credit: Yeuda Ben-Atar
One of the most captivating pieces came from Crabtree and Cain, which featured a strange short film they made specifically for their Monomeet composition. As Crabtree took to the stage, an image of an ax lodged in a tree stump appeared on the screen. Then, a girl materialized, her ice cream melting in slow motion and dripping down her hand as she focused all attention on her iPhone. Finally, two girls emerged, playing in a field while dressing and undressing over and over again. Through it all, Crabtree produced delicate chimes reminiscent of Brian Eno's meditative Bell Studies for the Clock of Long Now. Daedelus closed the night with a short set of mostly upbeat songs, including a beautiful rendition of "One and Only" off his latest album Bespoke that he rarely plays live. Rather than showcasing his tools, he offered to stick around after the show to answer any remaining technical questions.
L.A. Monomeet 2011 had a surprisingly good turnout for such a niche event. While, in the past, these kinds of meet-ups have often ended up being five guys in a living room, Interface drew a sizable crowd to the single-screen theater. If Interface L.A. continues to grow at such a rapid rate, 2012 will be a superb year for the burgeoning organization.