When Bird and bebop took jazz out of the dance halls in the 1940s, they framed a revolution. Musicians transferred their musical labs to dark, intimate clubs where technical precision and experimentation surpassed showmanship and entertainment, transforming jazz into music as much for the musician as it was for listeners.
Look now to small venues in San Diego-places like the Roseary Room downtown, the Whistlestop in South Park or Kadan in Normal Heights-and you'll find the same electric buzz of improvised creation.
It's the budge of fresh aural art. It's "live electronic."
Live electronic is electronic music exploded, the way Bird exploded the sax and transcended it night after night.
"Software has advanced and sort of blurred the lines between DJ'ing and playing live," says DJ Jon Baker, of San Diego's BrokenBeat Collective. "Pieces of songs/loops-original or someone else's-can be put together and reformed dynamically creating a completely new piece of music. When a traditional vinyl DJ is "in the mix,' this same idea is used. However, software allows for many more options."
And possibility rewards as much as it disappoints.
Baker uses a turntable, laptop and chaos pad (an outboard effects machine) to "give it extra flavor, extra spice... options for adding synth-type sounds on top of a track, or affecting the track that I'm playing in my laptop."
These composer-performers are also technicians, masters of the magneto, channeling the cosmos into the sound of the city, the music of the grid.
"You can use a shitload of external hardware-the spectrum is really broad," says Irwin, of San Diego-based Irwin's Conspiracy. "I don't think that's ever been the case in the history of music, for a genre to have such a broad scope of equipment that you can throw on stage and call "live electronic.'"
Irwin should know. He hotwired his first midi-theremin 10 years ago. He still uses one, along with electronic drums he can loop through a laptop and "other modules," if he desires.
Baker expands: "Now there's becoming an overlap where you'll see someone who actually programmed an effect or a music program, and then he's also creating music, so he can actually get into some programs where you get into the code and tweak a program and reprogram it using computer code, and use that to play live, which is mind-blowing."
"In this field," Irwin says, "you do look over people's shoulders and you look at what their strengths are, and you give private props to the people that are doing extra."
They are smooth grunge ridemen, an electromagnetic counterinsurgency, faces lit by the bluelight hum of a laptop, while listeners lean in to watch, fascinated.
"We're actually creating an event for people to go to where they can see this," Baker says. "People that use their laptops to create music don't really go out to clubs. If we can get them to go out, then that becomes a hub, a place where people can meet, and that's when [you get] kind of a sound of San Diego."
People who attend these events where electronic music gets its bebop on share the risk involved with publicly tinkering with an accepted genre.
"You have to have that skill to be able to roll with whatever happens," Baker says about dealing with split-second changes in volume and effects.
"I can have a disastrous night," Irwin admits, "and it shows. You can hear it, you can see it. And then other nights I get lucky and really create something that only happens at that time because I was making the music at that moment."
Baker agrees: "If the musician starts to struggle, the crowd kinda pulls for him, and if he pulls out of it and recovers, then it's kind of like a roller-coaster ride that everyone takes together. The more risks you take together, the greater the reward if it works well."
This shit hits hard, with sounds fading in and out, woven into complex, seamless mixes. House, original beats, industrial, hip-hop, all synthesized, united in the moment.
"I don't think there's been a truer genre since jazz," Irwin says. "Live electronic truly is very reflective of the whole jazz mentality. There's not a lot of structure, it's all about your own structure and your own arrangements [and] there's very few rules."
It's a 21st century sound, for sure. And it just might be the sound of the 21st century-technology in harmony with spontaneity, music that breathes, speaks, and most of all, acts."Affecting change rather than being effected," says Irwin.