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One-Man Band: Turkey's Erdem Helvacioglu performs this weekend at Pearl Alley Studios as part of the Y2K7 International Live Looping Festival.

The Y2K7 International Looping Festival Arrives

This weekend, Santa Cruz opens its gates to one-man bands from everywhere.

By Paul Wagner

Forty-eight performers from 12 different nations. Musicians schlepping guitars, horns, cellos, high-hats, pedals and racks of electronics from Turkey, Singapore, Norway, Italy, Germany and Brazil, all to converge in one place. Thirty hours of live performances. Music equipment companies bringing their latest products. It's perhaps the most ambitious international music festival ever held in Santa Cruz: the Y2K7 International Live Looping Festival. This mammoth, multiheadliner concert is organized by drummer/percussionist/producer and musicians'-rights organizer Rick Walker, who with characteristic humility cites the efforts of his all-volunteer crew. "For the seven years of this festival," he says, "everyone has donated their time, from sound crew to volunteers and artists." The astonishing nature of looping itself seems to inspire the commitment. Remember the old echo machines—utter "Yo!" once and out it comes seven times more? Around 1995, two companies—the old maker of those machines, the Echoplex, and Lexicon Jam/man—released digital versions that repeated infinitely with no degradation in sound. All a musician had to do was play a pattern, kick the machine on and off in exact time, adjust the volume and add a few more patterns, and voilą: a musical composition.

The possibility of making solo orchestra music right on the spot attracted a wide group of musicians. The prime loopers' website, Loopers' Delight (, gets a million hits a month. And it attracts performers—everything from musical composers to solo tuba players, according to Walker.

Watching live musicians loop—the foot-banging to establish rhythms, repeated attempts to play the one perfect loop, feet flying on and off pedals, sprinting for new instruments to loop, and desperate lunging for controls just in time to change musical sections, is fascinating for audiences, who often break into applause simply at the gymnastic efforts involved. Fans have successfully lobbied Guitar Magazine and Drum Magazine to cover the Santa Cruz fest, instrument makers now attend and unveil their newest loop devices, and 50 other loop festivals in 15 nations have broken out as a result.

This is perhaps why the festival has steadily grown in size since British bassist Steve Lawson phoned Walker in 2000, asking where in America he might play. "I suggested we find a place we could do a small gig" with other bassists, including him and brother Bill, Walker says. Putting the word out on Loopers' Delight, the three got sufficient responses to book the Rio Theatre, where 500 looping fans showed up. After several other Bay Area gigs, Rick Walker conceived a regular yearly festival, and the Y2K2 Festival, held in autumn of 2002 at the Cayuga Vault with 20-plus performers, launched the series. He's done it again every autumn since.

There's only one limit the festival imposes: "Pre-made loops are not allowed," says Walker. "We're really interested in people playing instruments live; something that has live energy to it." And Walker welcomes any artist who wishes to perform. "It's a paradigm unlike any other—a festival for everybody, from extremely accomplished musicians to complete newcomers," he says. "No other festivals have that paradigm, anywhere else, and I'm proud of that." This weekend, looping fans will find Norwegian bassist Arild Andersen, who's recorded with Sonny Rollins and Chick Corea; and Italian classical pianist Fabio Anile, who's constructed numerous museum sound installations; German guitarist Leander Reininghaus; and Henry Kaiser, musical inventor and stage companion to hundreds of performers from Richard Thompson to Michael Stipe. Observes Rick Walker: "It's the highlight of the year for the looping community."

No wonder why.

Y2K7 INTERNATIONAL LIVE LOOPING FESTIVAL happens Friday, Oct. 19, starting at 8pm, and Saturday-Sunday, Oct. 20-21, starting at 1pm, at Pearl Alley Studios, 120 Pearl Alley, Santa Cruz. Tickets are $10/per day at the door (no one turned away for lack of funds). For more info visit

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