Percussa micro super signal processor

Photo (CC-BY) Anton Fomkin. No endorsement intended. (I like Energizer, too.)

If the last decades in technology were about speed, this decade promises to be about power. I don’t mean horsepower: I mean power as in electricity. From concerns environmental to practical, power is now a real variable.

After years of misreading Moore’s Law to mean that all technology would forever double in speed (that would be absurd, and wasn’t what he meant), even those lusting after gadgets have begun to think about power consumption, too. People want longer battery life and leaner energy bills – and psychologically, there is something more than a little ominous about watching an oil well spew petroleum into the Gulf of Mexico. New processor technologies are all about doing more with less, with the lower-voltage chips powering Intel netbooks and longer-life Intel laptops to the ARM architectures inside the iPhone, iPad, Android, and other hot-ticket pocket items.

Music’s part of that trend, too. It’s a natural evolution from production as a room – in the studio – to production anywhere, to production without wall sockets. Musicians are using those other mobile devices (iPhone, etc.), of course, but more conventional, music-specific hardware is getting in on the act, as well. Music industry giant Roland made battery power a feature of their exhibit at the NAMM trade show in January, showing off a whole orchestra worth of battery-powered instruments, and has a new generation of DSP that more easily runs on batteries. Rival Korg has found some of their hottest items, like the compact KAOSSilator, are the ones that you can run even away from a battery socket. And there are many other examples, including mobile recording and practice tools and coach class-ready MPCs. It’s not just about mobile devices: it’s about freedom from wall sockets.

All that is something busking musicians figured out long ago: if you can run on batteries, you can play music anywhere, including outdoors. But this isn’t just for buskers: it can mean impromptu music jams without digging out power strips, the ability to bring a few music gadgets onto a sofa and play with friends, or sitting in bed in the evening with some headphones working out musical ideas – no massive power bricks needed.

So, okay – what can you do on batteries? We’ve seen a number of mobile jams; the latest comes from a group in Spain. Juanjo Javierre writes:

We are five musicians from Huesca (north of Spain) We are member of a workshop called ART LAB Huesca. Last week we play a concert with instruments that works only with batteries: Omnichord, Otamatone, Tenori-on, Nintendo DS, Casiotone, Kalimba, IPad, Stylophone…. An unplugged electronic concert! It´s a joke but we are great fans from your blog and we want that you have the video.

It may be a joke, but it’s something I’m increasingly interested in. The ensemble they’ve entitled “Art Lag Geek Orquestra,” and you can see they’re having a blast. Now they just need a battery-powered mixer and PA, both of which are very possible.

art-lab geek from Art Lab Huesca on Vimeo.

So, I turn the conversation to you: what’s your favorite battery-powered device? iPhone? Casiotone? Got something not mentioned here? (Mobile field recording ought to get a nod, too.) Or do you find for live performance away from the grid, the key word is “generator”?