The hardest part of getting through a NAMM show is wearing a badge that identifies me with Berklee. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m proud to represent the institution, and while my affiliation opens many doors, there are scores of alums in all aspects of the music industry who love re-connecting with their alma mater. If you want to travel to NAMM incognito, get your badge from Harvard.

The best spokesperson for any product is an artist who uses the product, and uses it well. This year, I was pleasantly surprised to see one of my former students, New York electronic artist Matt Moldover, talking about his work and performing at the Ableton Live booth. While sharing a common school experience with fellow alum Dan Lehrich, profiled in an earlier blog entry, Matt has taken a very different path, establishing a profile as performing artist.

Moldover performing 

Matt was one of the legion of guitar players that comes to Berklee each year. While most are looking to follow in the footsteps of one fretted deity or another, Matt always wanted to forge his own path, and after getting in the Music Synthesis major, that was combining interactive electronic performance with the guitar. At Berklee he discovered MAX, and soon was on to the idea of extending what he did as a player to sound from electronic sources. Matt didn’t want to play in a band, he wanted to play with sound.

Matt also got turned on to DJ and club culture. Moving to New York after graduation, he found a scene for like-minded electronic performers, and jettisoned his first name, becoming the artist known as Moldover. Being a player and a geek, he was in the right place at the right time when Native Instruments came out with Guitar Rig. The first time I saw him at NAMM, he was the Guitar Rig guy at NI. While he gave knowledgeable and convincing demos, I got the sense a different muse was calling. At a party in LA we had a chance to talk, and I got a glimpse of some of the projects he was working on, the first of which was the Interstellar ReMix Wagon for Burning Man, 2004.

The thing I didn’t quite realize about Moldover was that he was really pretty good at building stuff. His next project was the Octamasher, a performance system fueled by Ableton Live that gave eight “mashers” a tool to communally create a club mix. Social networking and interactive performance might sound like a research project at the MIT Media Lab, but this is a guy with a laptop, hacking a bunch of cheap keyboard controllers and hitting parties…. pretty cool.

Sometime last fall came a new website and the birth of “controllerism.” According the the site, Controllerism is “the art of manipulating sounds and creating music live using computer controllers and software.” Perhaps Matt will be the first to make both YouTube and dictionary.com. But, what I saw from him at the Ableton booth this year was a virtuoso performance that combined electronic music with the spontaneity and inventiveness of a jazz soloist, swapping clips of sound for notes and scales.

Dan Lehrich and Moldover may seem at opposite ends of a very wide playing field, but what really fascinates me is the real passion they both have for creating immersive performance experiences using computers and physical interfaces. While research in the field of interactive music systems continues at the highest levels of academia, it’s really cool to see real innovation happening on the street as well.