Percussionist Nat Grant talks live looping and the local festival that gives it a voice
If you’re a live music buff, chances are you’ve seen a band or two incorporate a loop pedal. Most of the time it’s used to sustain a rhythm, or just sample some background noise, but who knew there was a whole community of musicians forming around the technology?
If anyone can speak to the beauty of the instrument and the community it has spawned, it’s Nat Grant. The Australian percussionist, who just completed her master’s degree in music performance, is one of the headliners of this year’s Y2KX+1 International Live Looping Festival—one of many annual events in town that has helped put Santa Cruz on the music map—taking place this weekend at Pearl Alley Studios in Santa Cruz.
Since its inception 11 years ago, 250 artists have participated representing 20 countries, and the festival has spawned 75 mirror events worldwide. The last five Santa Cruz mayors have even declared an “International Live Looping Day” in its honor.
“It was incredibly inspiring to witness over 50 artists all performing with some kind of live looping element, and to see all the unique and interesting ways people find to incorporate live looping into their music-making,” Grant says of her first experience performing at the festival in 2009. “For what sounds like a very niche and limited festival concept, the results are remarkably varied.”
Local music teacher and live looping artist Rick Walker founded the festival in 2001, and has since publicized the festival worldwide with the help of multi-instrumentalist and composer Steve Uccello—who coincidentally released a collaborative album with Nat Grant last year called Melbourne, Monterey. The album, which features both sampling and looping, is the perfect festival warm-up for first-timers.
Grant received her musical training on Western-style drum kits, but she became inspired when she started messing around with a loop pedal as an undergraduate. She admits that learning the equipment hasn’t been easy, however.
“For most live looping musicians I would say that the looper (whether it be hardware or software) is just another instrument in their rig,” explains Grant, who uses two different types of equipment: ‘stompbox’-style pedals, and a computer software program called Ableton Live. “Some play it a lot, making a real feature of it, others use it more sparingly.”
Grant’s final musical offering is hardly comparable to any mainstream artists. The only possible analogy might be Amiina, the string quartet that typically records and sometimes tours with Sigur Rós (another group that relies heavily on sampling). Her use of the loop pedal is more subtle than some artists, utilizing it mainly to form rhythmic patterns (first with percussion) from which to build songs upon. That means, computerized feedback and white noise are merely supplements to familiar sounds, rather than anchors to her tracks.
Whatever your musical predilection, chances are it will be represented (within the context of looping) over the weekend. “There will be something for everyone, from ambient and experimental artists, to incredible vocalists, looping bands, and more technology and gadgets than you can possibly imagine,” says Grant.
“There is such an inclusive vibe to this festival as well,” she adds. “It is a really unique and special experience, and the live looping community is an incredibly open and welcoming one.”
The Y2K-X Live Looping Music Festival takes place Friday, Oct. 14- to Sunday, Oct. 16. Performances will be at Pearl Alley Studios, 120 Pearl Alley, Santa Cruz. Tickets are $15 in advance. For details, go to Y2kloopfest.com.