A conversation with Dwight Loop will probably include references to the new Prophet 12 polyphonic synthesizer, MIDI triggers, contact mics, and the ARP 2600 modular analog synthesizer (which helped give voice to R2-D2 in Star Wars). He might also mention “The Beam,” an instrument custom-made by his friend, composer Michael Stearns; Loop described it as “a long, stringed instrument that has a lot of pickups and sounds like some monstrous creature coming out of the earth.”
The Beam has its own place in filmography, playing an integral role in Stearns’ soundtrack for the 1985 IMAX film Chronos (directed by Ron Fricke). Loop hopes Stearns will perform on a 12-foot version of the instrument at the (re)launching party for Loop’s long- but intermittently-running radio show, Earwaves. The party, dubbed the Earwaves Electronic & Experimental Music Festival, takes place Saturday, Oct. 19, at the newly completed Lumenscape Studios in Budaghers (formerly the New Mexico Outlet Center).
The Earwaves program dates back to 1979. Loop, then a recent transplant from Michigan, had been volunteering at Albuquerque’s KUNM station for two years and doing occasional freeform shows when a slot opened up for a specialty show. “I had wanted to do something really specific — electronic, new music, really the whole range of contemporary music — and I happened to be at the right place at the right time.”
His Thursday night show was on the air for eight years and then went on hiatus for a few years before transitioning to KSFR, where it ran from 1990 to 1995. “There was a real boom for new music and experimental stuff through the late ’70s and early ’80s because it was all wide open. Albuquerque was still kind of the Wild West, and it seemed like anything you wanted to do you could do here, if you were determined.”
Determined to have an impact both on and off the air, Loop performed his own music live and created a nonprofit called New Music New Mexico. With the support of grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, Loop was able to showcase some of his favorite electronic and contemporary artists. His goal as a promoter was and still is, “not just bringing in outside people, [but] also encouraging local people to come out of the woodwork, or out of their garage and basement studios.”
Loop’s commitment to this is manifested in the Earwaves kickoff event. Though he just moved back to Santa Fe from the Bay Area in September (admitting, “I’ve left three or four times now, but always come back — this has always been my home base, in a spiritual sense”), he has been hard at work curating the October event. On one hand a sort of reunion party for him and similar-minded music enthusiasts, or “the tribe” as he puts it, it is also more officially a celebration for the return of Earwaves to the air after an almost 20-year absence. Somewhat paradoxically, the radio show is now hosted by SomaFM, based in San Francisco. However, SomaFM has international reach as a high-traffic, listener-supported internet radio station (www.somafm.com).
In terms of programming, the newest iteration of Earwaves is designed to offer a more “historical look at contemporary music. A lot of people don’t know where this music comes from, and now you have this whole new generation using keyboards and electronics, but some people don’t quite understand the whole development. First it was just tape machines, and the cutting up of tape; before samplers, you had to do it analog … so I’m getting an amazing collection together of both the historic stuff, and trying to get some of the current innovators in there as well.”
He is applying the same inclusive vision to the event. Along with local and even national staples of experimental and contemporary art, such as composer Stearns and video artists Steina and Woody Vasulka, Loop plans to highlight members of the next generation. One example is Marisa Demarco, an Albuquerque-based writer and musician. Under the name Bigawatt, she incorporates contact mics, homemade electronics, and vocals into her performances.
Lumenscape Studios is an ideal spot to showcase such music, not only because it has the infrastructure to support live music and visual and video-art performances, but also because of its surreal setting. “It’s a very cool space, kind of like a Twilight Zone thing out there at the old mall, with the grass growing up in the cracks between the sidewalks.”
“It won’t be that type of situation where you have sound going on all the time — one big passive blur of sound,” Loop added. “It wouldn’t really satisfy any of the musicians, being in an environment like that. This is not a DJ event, either. It’s all live music. There will be certain things going on on the main stage, and then we’ll switch over to the video room when there’s a break and have an art presentation, so that will provide a constant back and forth.”
And, while Loop is excited to be at the event (he is performing with his Bay Area synth jam band, SpaceBrane), he emphasized that just “being” is a gift; in 2002 he was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer and told that he was unlikely to live for more than a year or two. “It’s been 11 years, and I’m still cooking. So part of [the celebration] is about persevering. And now I get to do my Earwaves show internationally, so I’m a pretty happy guy.” ◀
The Earwaves Electronic & Experimental Music Festival takes place from 4 p.m. to 2 a.m. on Saturday, Oct. 19, at Lumenscape Studios (601 Frontage Road, Budaghers; formerly New Mexico Outlet Center). Tickets are $15 at the door or $10 in advance from www.holdmyticket.com. See www.earwaves.net for details, and visit www.somafm.com/earwaves to stream the show.