Environmentally Insane - October 1993
This week, in preparation for the upcoming NorthWest CyberArtists performance,
Steve Macatee asked me to find out exactly how much power I would use to
operate my live act. I made some interesting discoveries that I previously hadn't
thought too much about. It seems I have made some energy conscious decisions in
becoming a modern musician.
Three and a half years ago when our first child was brand new and it was
approaching "Earth Day", I was on the edge of going environmentally insane. I was
concerned about the future like all new parents, and I wanted to do what I could
to ensure that my son would at least have a good example to follow, so I became a
vegetarian. I rode my bike to work - and that's 46 miles round trip, mind you. I
was serious. We outfitted the house with compact fluorescent bulbs and carefully
watched the power consumption elsewhere in our home. I bought rechargeable
batteries and three chargers - one of them is a solar charger. I even built and used
a solar box cooker. I tried to step lightly on the earth.
And to conserve electricity, all I did to express myself musically was play acoustic
While I enjoy playing acoustic guitar, I couldn't help thinking about the electronics
that I had in the closet. I had some old - er, I mean vintage - gear like a drum
machine and some analog synths and my old Tascam Portastudio. Finally I couldn't
keep myself from the need to do electronic music again, so I blew off the dust and
called Steve Turnidge for advice on buying new, energy efficient equipment to
complement my old gear. Armed with his advice and several issues of Electronic
Musician, H&SR and Keyboard, I made some purchases. Now I call my basement
studio The Submarine because of all the lights and knobs and buttons and screens
surrounding me when everything is up and running.
At home I sequence on three platforms and shuffle MIDI data around between
them, depending on my needs. The three levels of sequencing range from simple
to sophisticated, and the power required to run them increases with the
complexity. So things are set up so that I can turn on just parts of my system at a
time, and unused gear can remain off while I work on other instruments.
- My first level of power consumption:
I have mentioned the wonder of portable MIDI before. My most energy efficient
component in the studio is the Yamaha QY-10. It uses six rechargeable AA
batteries, or a low draw adapter. I do a lot of preliminary sequencing on this unit
while chasing kids around the house, sitting on buses, or lying in hammocks. It has
an eight track sequencer and lots of functional sounds to use to get the ideas down.
My song "I Blame You" was sequenced entirely on the beach on Vashon while I
watched my son play in the sand.
- My second level of power consumption:
The Korg 01/WFD is a synthesizer which has a very powerful 16 track sequencer
with editing capabilities and great drums and effects. I bypass the need to turn on a
lot of external processing gear by using the 01/W to its fullest. It also has its own
floppy drive so I don't need to power up anything extra to save information and as
this is a self contained unit, I also enjoy the luxury of running an extension cord
out to the yard to work outside now and again. It's very refreshing. I took the
01/W on vacation this year so that I could play with a beautiful view of the water.
What I sequence on the QY-10 I can record on the 01/W and then re-voice,
introduce program changes, use effects, pan, copy, or cut and paste all I want.
- My third level of power consumption:
I can take the 01/W (or QY-10) MIDI output and record it to my computer's
sequencer for more extensive sequencing. This is the easiest way to work.
Unfortunately my computer is not energy efficient, just a standard mini-tower with
most of the slots full, so I feel guilty -I really do- whenever I use it for long periods,
but it becomes necessary. At this stage I run external effects, additional synths and
drum machines, mixers, amplifier, triggers etc. It is an absolutely beautiful display
of blinking lights and screens I must admit, but I feel guilty for using that power!
Which brings me up to why I thought about writing this article. I just saw in
National Geographic an ad for IBM's new energy efficient computer. For the first
time I find myself daydreaming about something from IBM. A flat LCD screen, a
small footprint (OK, so peripherals would have to be external) and an
ergonomically designed keyboard. In the ad, I saw that the monitor was mounted
on a cool black stealth-like stand that I could almost see Captain Picard sitting
beside! Of course a notebook computer would meet my energy conscious
requirements, but what I find exciting about this ad is that they are selling energy
conservation, instead of the opposite and more standard approach of trying to sell
us the computer with the greatest power supply to handle all of our multi-media
needs. I like the idea of having a computer on my desk that sits quietly and
operates at cool temperatures. And with such futuristic style!
I know I'm a bit weird about this energy thing, but here's the deal - I can't see the
point in wasting some finite resource, generating nuclear waste, or stealing water
from fish, farms and folks just to make music. My impulse, after all, is to create,
not to destroy; Ignoring how much energy I use would be a shame.