It’s difficult to say if the makers of the Eniac and Whirlwind (the first computers), George Devol (who built the first programmable robot in 1954) or William Higinbotham (who built a prototypical version of Pong in 1958) had any idea that they were sending out signals to future musicians. Who could have predicted Kraftwerk?
We do know for certain that Devo was picking up some signals from the scientific vanguard. And now we know that the democratizing impact of easy access to technology has managed to spread the geek seed far and wide. And we’re all the better for it, musically and otherwise.
This weekend dozens of musicians will converge upon detroit contemporary to pick up the legacy these pioneers kicked into gear. It’s the aesthetic mission of the “Transmission of Binary Sound Codes” (if the fest title is to be taken at face value) to put a post-postmodern spin on the sonic uses of alternately obsolete, timeless and cutting-edge technology. But it’s more than just a science fair, it’s a rock show, good people of Earth! For two days, almost two dozen acts take charge of the inventive legacy and make it dance, jitter, shake, stutter, chill and trip out.
From electro beats to over-the-top metal theatrics, synthesized robotic role playing to improvised post-rock explorations, Binary Sounds offers a glimpse of the collective fringe of rock ’n’ roll to the curious who think that there has to be something out there besides two guitars, bass, drums and songs about love and loss. (That’s a gross oversimplification, cuz there are, of course, tales of robot love that will no doubt be expressed this weekend.)
The fest is organized by Detroit analog electronics duo the W-Vibe, whose anything-goes approach to bending obsolete video games, analog synths and thrift-store electronics to its puckish will captures the spirit of this gathering pretty well. In typically understated fashion, Dan Augustine of the W-Vibe, explains the fest’s origins: “I did a show last year called ‘Transmission of Binary Sound Codes.’ It was one night at Jacoby’s … It was so much fun that I decided to do it as a fest this year. There you have it. I’m not trying to make any kind of statement. I’m no Bowie, Dylan or Lennon. I’m just Dan.”
The show gathers bands from around the country, but most of them hail from right here in our own back yard, giving rise to the notion that, indeed, there is life out there besides that which springs from the garage. The headliner for Friday night’s show (hitting the stage at 2 a.m.) is Ann Arbor’s Midwest Product, whose debut LP just dropped on Ghostly International. Midwest Product makes much of its converging influences which, at first blush, include New Order, Kraftwerk and post-rock improvisers such as Tortoise, plus a hint of that special musical place where new romantic met R&B (think early Prince, perhaps). Since the fest begins at 5 p.m. each afternoon, there will be plenty of other attractions. And one of the great things about Binary Sound Codes is that you probably haven’t heard of most of them (and, indeed, they may be one-off experiments that could only survive in such an open-eared environment.)
On Friday, you’ll find Detroiter Matt Borghi playing synthetic-soul soundscapes (7 p.m.) and a band called Escape Pod from Ohio that promises something akin to “early Stereolab jamming with the Sonics.” (10 p.m.)
Saturday’s lineup is a more freaked-out affair featuring the 1-2 sonic punch of NYC’s Japanther — making much, much cathartic racket with only a simple drum kit, a bass and a few other sound toys — followed by the Detroit-Chicago collective, 7000 Dying Rats. The Rats are known as much for ear-searing metal bombast as for conceptually themed stage shows — all done with a firm grasp of metal’s potential to be both invigorating and hilarious. The group hits the stage at 2 a.m.
Saturday also offers an entirely different kind of metal with a rare area glimpse of Grand Rapids’ favorite stranded robotic spaceling, Mechanik. Mechanik (who performs at midnight) makes old-school motorik disco-pop for people who would like to become robots. Also Saturday are the fest hosts, the W-Vibe (10 p.m.), the Analog Ninjas and mdr (aka Charles Hughes of ebeling-hughes renown in a solo performance).
So is it your duty now for the future to attend? That might be overstating it a bit, but showing up at dc for the fest would certainly, um, send the right signals.
“Transmission of Binary Sound Codes” is Sept. 7-8 at detroit contemporary (5141 Rosa Parks Blvd., Detroit). Shows start at 5 p.m. each day. Call 313-898-4ART or see detroitcontemporary.com for more info.E-mail Chris Handyside at firstname.lastname@example.org