Last night, I went to ORICON '99, the first annual Operation Reinformation convention/gathering. The chief scientists of ORI were there themselves headlining, and for the moment I'd have to say that their performance--the first of theirs I've seen, although I've been familiar with their software and met one of them before, since they're local--was truly astonishing, one of the information events of this time period. People packed into CBGBs to see Television and Patti Smith, people standing on chairs to keep warm in the Fisherman's Cove to see Pere Ubu, any International Pop Underground event during the 80s, being one of the few people to actually see Slint while they were still together (full disclosure--I wasn't)--ORIcon was one of those events. People drove 20 hours to get there (shades of Woodstock? Nah, this is too scientific). It was one of those events where, well, you had to be there, and if you weren't, then ten, fifteen, twenty years down the line, you're going to wish you were. I don't know about you, but I was there.
I showed up a bit late, just missing the Joysticks, but in time for Satan's Robot and k/Rad Labs doing a joint performance on cheap Casio keyboards run through various guitar pedals into a cranked Jazz Chorus amp. Pretty impressive, and nice as hell guys, to boot. They got very funky toward the end, and if pop culture can strip away a few layers of that fin de siecle irony it's picked up this decade (the future seemed much less certain, but we knew what our values were during the Reagan-Bush era, which might be one of the few things I'll say for that era--and I say this as someone whose values are diametrically opposed to those of Reagan and Bush), and acquire a few more layers of a different kind of irony, these guys might pack a serious commercial punch. And even if they don't they pack a damn good info-punch. I like the post-net-era milieu to their performance, too: just like the Who smashed guitars, k/Rad sacrificed an old, obselete laptop. This is actually much more appropriate than guitar-smashing, too--if the musician's not going to be using the guitar, someone else could have gotten some utility out of it, but a laptop that can only run DOS 3 or something is pretty much a doorstop. I mean, any lower and you're banging rocks together. I ended up picking up three tapes from these guys.
Megamagnapore wasn't performing as such, but was illustrating a corporate report (Compromise and Optimization) that cuts straight to the hypothalamus of the contemporary corporate being. Kicked around by your substandard job? Of course you are, and now we know exactly why. For that matter, there's some justification for it. Remember that knowledge is power--not necessarily your power, but power nonetheless.
ProtoVex turned in a performance that combined several of the things I always liked about late '70s-mid-'80s fringe synthy New Wave (from the biggies like Joy Division, the B-52s, and Wall of Voodoo, down to the really obscure stuff, like Crash Course in Science): cheesy keyboards, bass carrying the melody, a good drummer, and tuneless female vocals. (I know this last one doesn't apply to Joy Division, so don't bother correcting me.)
The evening came complete with a fashion show, featuring cutting-edge styles for the lab, the home, and everywhere else. Whether you're reinforming a major population center or just replenishing your supply of liquid spoon, you can be dressed perfectly for the occasion. (This means foil, 5 1/4-inch floppies, Tyvek, bubble wrap, prostheses, and furniture components. Getting the picture?)
After this, imagine my delight to be treated to a full set of the Evolution Control Committee. The conceit was the ever-popular hanging-out-in-the-bunker-after-all-the-missles-got-launched-during-the-Y2K-crisis shtick. (More Reagan-Bush nostalgia!) Several songs I haven't heard before, separated by a George-and-Gracie routine between Mark and "Braniac 2000," and the two hits closing the set: "I Want a Cookie" and "Rocked by Rape," of which I later picked up the single. (This last title will make sense if you've heard the tune, or if you have a photographic memory for a certain major-network news show. Disclaimer: the song does not take any kind of position on rape itself, so don't go complaining to anybody.)
A brief performance by Man? or Astro-Manny (you'd have to be a Pittsburgher to get it) preceded the rockin' cerebral throbbing of ORI, who gave the audience a full-body reinforming. ORI is a band that wrote its own software to play samples directly from the Macintosh (and, shortly, Windows) keyboard--total random access to samples, with decent key control options, not a lot of equipment to haul, and a completely reinformed sound supply and sense of humor. The software's running on PowerBooks, but they've got extended keyboards plugged into them to give them some freedom of movement.
I once heard a certain band I liked (Reagan-Bush era flashback here) described as sounding like a "hoe-down at Hewlett-Packard," but I think ORI might more appropriately wear that particular 10-gallon orange hardhat. Imagine all those half-formed corporate-advertising-informed media-percolated memories and reference points removed from your head, soaked in a carbonated benzene-serotonin solution, twisted into a square knot, used to haul a horse trailer, and put back in. That's what it's like. And, let me tell you, it's deeply satisfying. I picked up their two full-length CDs, CTRL and the new one, Universal Standard 84000. Both are (or should be) available from the ORImart.
The software, BackToBasics, is available as a downloadable save-limited demo, and you can unlock the full version for a more-than-fair shareware fee. ORI is more than this generation's Kraftwerk; they're a way of life. No, they're more than a way of life--they're a business plan, and you are gonna feel way stupid if you don't invest. You know what to do.