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”?

  • usedtobe

    yamaha vss30 and the CS01II, both so awesome!

  • liliththekitten

    Yamaha QY-70, Roland MC-202 and SH-101, MicroKorg, Korg 707, Casio HT-700!

  • http://virb.com/steo Steo

    Macbook + Launchpad + nocturn + Lacie Firewire Speaker.

    Ideally it will be:

    Macbook Pro 17"+ Launchpad X2 + Zero SL 2 + iPad + ion Blocker Rocker

    ((Steo))

  • YETI

    I spy an omnichord. Those are so amazing. I wonder if anyone has bent one of those. . .

  • http://zvukofor.blogspot.com zvukofor

    Macbook + Launchpad + Akai LPK + iPod Touch

    My setup is on batteries for about 4 years already, but that's not mean we could cut mains away, especially for PA )))

  • John Grabowski

    There are already battery-powered PA units, amps, etc available from Roland, and PAs with rechargeable batteries from Alesis, Samson, and others already available as well.

  • leMel

    Around 1992 or so, Keyboard Mag ran a review of the Yamaha QY20. The capabilities and UI were a revelation. 6 rechargeble batteries later, I had something I'd dreamed of since my first glimpse of a casiotone – a true miniaturized workstation the size of a paperback book.

    Later (much later) upgraded to a QY70 which is still my go-to grab n go jam instrument. Wonder what kind of QY would be possible today if Yamaha ever revived the product line? BEST EVAR.

  • Asterion

    Nice article! I love battery-powered stuff since I'm generally too lazy to plug anything in. That said, here's some stuff I have and some stuff I'd like to have:

    Korg DS-10, Microkorg XL, Korg Microsampler, Korg Monotron

  • http://vizzie.com vizzie

    This project is creating a people-powered PA for hosting DJs, bands, and other electronic artist types.

    http://lowres.info/

  • Marc Ferris

    Yamaha NP-30 and Piaggero portable keyboards, too. http://www.yamaha.com/yamahavgn/CDA/ContentDetail

  • http://www.humankoala.com Human Koala

    gameboy + nanoloop : 2 or 4 battery => 3 month of music ;)

    need some battery powered speaker now ;)

  • TweakingKnobs

    Yeah !

    unplugged , hilarious.

    Estan hechos unos makinas ;D !!!

  • http://lineara.tumblr.com relaxing

    Novation BassStation

    Korg Poly-800

    A battery powered looper can be useful for building grooves (Boss RC-20.)

    EHX makes a battery-powered 4 channel "Mini Mixer".

  • Sasa Rasa

    Peter, in answer to your question my favorite battery powered devices are Korg Kaossilator, Korg mini kp, Stylophone, Casio Sk-1 and Casio HT-700.

    Not far from this article's point, let me bring to your attention the work Chris Carter (of Throbbing Gristle fame) is doing for his solo project
    http://chriscarterchemistrylessons.blogspot.com

    He's using battery-powered devices to create incredible soundscapes. Picture here
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/chris_carter_/455524

    Audio at http://soundcloud.com/chris_carter

  • Refund

    Kaossilator!

    Laptop!

  • faber

    Anyone who uses devices running on regular AA batteries,

    i can thoroughly recommend eneloop rechargeable batteries from Sanyo.

    By themself they discharge very slowly (just like regular non rechargeable batteries) so you can store a couple of fully charged packs ready for use when you need them. Additionally they're said to cope better with cold temperatures.

    I bought my 16 cells and an overnight charger new on ebay for a very good price and I'm very happy that I finally did that. It won't even take half a year for this investment to pay off.

    Before searching for a charger I didn't know that rechargeables have gotten that convenient, so I want to let you know that we're finally there :)

  • http://www.concretedog.blogspot.com concretedog

    I love my behringer mxb1002, 10 channel mixer, 5 mic pres, real faders…all can run of a 9volt battery…it can even supply phantom power allbeit at a wierd 19v!

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  • tony

    Hey I live in the city where these guys perform and this is great that a small city from North of Spain gets this much attention there are many great electronic musicians here.

  • Chris Thorpe

    Bee-Gees Rhythm Machine – as used by Kraftwerk

  • liliththekitten

    The QY100 is still available but at this point it's a 10-year-old design with a SmartMedia slot. The 70 is just a great little box and the sounds are surprisingly very useful. I would love a new QY!

    Also, Boss DR-202 though the "synth" sounds are pretty bad, the kits are OK and its fun. And the SP-202 which doesn't respond to velocity. Yamaha SU-10 does tho, fun too

  • Aaron

    My favs: Korg-DS10, DS/DSi running homebrew (namely CellsDS and GlitchDS), Gameboy running Gameboy Camera (has hidden 303-style app), Kaossilator, Mattel Synsonic Drum machine, Edirol M 10MX battery powered portable mixer w. digital out. I also find a ton of use out of the Belkin 5-way headphone splitter which works bi-directionally.

  • http://www.myspace.com/sumsumsun sumsun

    I love the Korg MicroSampler.

    Not only is it awesome for playing live but taking it to the beach or the park and sampling and pitching waves and birds on the fly is awesome. Its super portable and the ability to play all your samples is super cool.

  • solipsistnation

    MC-202, TR-606, assortment of stompboxes (delay is the most important), battery mixer and battery amp!

    For extra fun, throw in a Yahama CS-01 synth or a Casio CZ101.

    I was hauling around The Backpack of Techno in the mid-90's, so I am well aware of the potential of portable gear.

    I also once set up the 202, 606, delay pedal, and mixer and headphones on an airplane and spent a happy couple of hours jamming along to myself in the air, while watched with confusion by the guy in the seat next to me. Clearly this was pre-9/11…

  • Damon

    I'm looking forward to hybrid gear

    "The New KeySynth 3000 Workstation – Powered by both battery and gasoline, so as to save on fossil fuels."

  • http://routeit.noisepages.com gbsr

    my gear runs on kryptonite.

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  • http://donnyandtherobot.tk/ donnyandtherobot

    Casio CZ-1000. Runs on D batteries haha. Also got the gakken sk-150 and a speak n spell. Plus a little guitar amp called the little smokey that came, speaker and all, squished inside a cigarette box. oh yeah, and the casio rap man. classic, vintage cheese

  • Charlie Lesoine

    Roland SP-404SX

    CASIO VL-1

    CASIO PT-80

    Stylophone

    KORG Monotron X2

  • Jeremy Hand

    I have to agree with the folks above giving love to Yamaha's QY series – the QY70 was the first piece MIDI gear I ever owned…picked one up after reading about Bjork using one, and I wish I still had it!!! Easy to use, surprisingly good "XG" sounds, not too much of a "gas-guzzler". I +1 the idea of Yamaha (or any other company) refreshing this product line/concept – a portable SP-XOX or MPC is great as well, but sometimes having a general purpose soundset and sequencer in yr pocket or backpack is all you need.

    I think I'm heading to Ebay now…

  • http://www.edisonsdemo.tumblr.com edison

    @yeti

    man… I tried to bend one…

    it was one of my first 2 or 3 attempts…

    fried the shit out of it…..

    never worked again :(

    that and a furby were my casualties…

    sp202….. that box has been through everything!

    amazing ….

    I think when the OP1 drops though… it'll be the leader of the pack…

    if not the most expensive leader of the pack ever

  • http://www.johnpazdan.com JohnP

    Novation Xio 25, though it needs an amp, sounds great and has a 2 channel mixer built in..batteries, usb or ac.. and a Hohner melodica which don't need no stinkin' AC..or DC for that matter.

    As Peter said in the article though..the challenge comes from powering the sound system. More efficient power amps (class D?) and speakers that require less juice..put in spaces with systems built in that use the physical aspects of the room/stage to deliver the sound more efficiently, power wise..in a fixed installation, solar powered amps/mixers etc so the whole PA is off the grid.. Any place doing this..yet? The pedal powered PA sited above was interesting. With nano technology in the wings, would it be possible to harness the power of 1000 dancing people at a club to power a system? I will come back to the present now..take out my melodica.

  • http://routeit.noisepages.com gbsr

    @JohnP:

    just use an fm transmitter running on batteries and reqiure your audience to bring their own fm receivers. problem solved.

    silent disco, anyone? ;)

  • Moxie

    Casio SK-1. The best thing ever. Also, of course, the CS-01

    I also tend to bring an Electribe (EA, ES or ER-1) on the commuter train every now and then. Not battery powered to start off with, but can run quite a few hours on a RC-car battery pack :-)

    I have a qy-70, but I haven't quite been able to get properly into it. Anybody got a link to a good starter tutorial or something?

  • http://nickkent.net nick

    Buchla Music Easel or Synthi A-KS

  • http://www.swinghammer.com Swinghammer

    Cracklebox!

  • http://music.ece.drexel.edu/people/prichardson Patrick

    I'd checked out all those bygone "portable 4-tracks reording to SmartMedia" devices, and the real sleeper hit was the

    Zoom PS-04…simple interface, great battery life, onboard mic, and an advanced drum machine where you could program your own beats (with accents!). Their Drum machine's FAST (Formula Assisted Song Transcription) allowed you to script long equations of pattern numbers like algebra (with nesting!), which would look like:

    4*(P1+P5)+3*(P2+2*(P1+P4+P6)+P1)+3*P7

    It was SO much fun to use their cheesy hip-hop and jazz kits to make "underground beats" literally underground on the Philly Trolleys.

    Some guy years ago made an app to export the song/pattern files to off the SmartMedia Card and onto MIDI.

    Would have been totally worth it.

    When the PS-04 was stolen, I was interested in checking out Boss's Micro-BR, but it just didn't do enough to bother.

    Korg is really throwing down the gauntlet to revive the "fun on a dry-cell" market.

    I hope Yamaha and others answer, and we get something more than the same tired old sounds and paradigms from Boss.

    There's some real magic in battery devices to get away from our computers (and their screens), and the way that limited or codified functionality can really spark the "problem solving" side of our musical creativity.

    I like when that is augmented that with the GUI & storage power of a (USB-MIDI) software editor for librarian/deep-editing purposes to come back to.

    I really want to see a QY-type device with software librarian this coming NAMM. Long live the MIDI-DIN socket !

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  • http://www.musikgear.com musikgear

    The tetrazzi Organus by peter Blasser !!! 9V battery and EH reverb…

    Sweet

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  • http://bitsnibblesbytes.wordpress.com Stephen Stamper

    My battery-powered Science Fair Microcomputer Trainers, but to be honest, due to their size, they ain't particularly portable… See http://bitsnibblesbytes.wordpress.com in case you're wondering what the hell I'm talking about…

  • http://antisound.net stk

    Peter: "From concerns environmental to practical, power is now a real variable."

    Well if you're really concerned about environmental matters, that should be a photo of a rechargable battery up there. Or better still, a human-powered turbine..

    Chemical batteries == serious environmental problem.

  • http://www.lazytrap.com Aaron

    @Patrick

    "4*(P1+P5)+3*(P2+2*(P1+P4+P6)+P1)+3*P7"

    That's insane. The Akai XR-10 used that exact same method of song sequencing and it was asbolutely rubbish. Most people could not figure out how it worked because the extremely poorly written engrish manual did not do a good job of explaining it. I still have and love my XR-10 but it took me a long time to bother giving a F about song mode enough to sort it out. I was unaware any other hardware used the same sequencing method. Crazy!

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  • Krz

    Public Disturbance and Meat Hands have electro- busked in Vancouver, Canada.
    See youtube for solo Public Disturbance. Meat Hands plays with Elevator Compactor.