The Watts Riot at PopTech/Patrick Flanagan breaks out the Big Glove

For the unitiated, it can be hard to tell when Reggie Watts is having you on.

Reggie Watts

A moment of awkward fumbling with mic cords and equipment goes on for too long until it becomes obvious that he’s having fun at your expense – you laugh even though you know he’s essentially mocking you for feeling sorry for him; a rich professorial English voice pontificates about meaningless topics, stringing together nonsensical phrases (“The last thing on our minds is the first thing we hate the most…” “As a race of androids, we…”) in an effort to sound as PopTech-like as possible.  Later he flips the script, using street vernacular to talk about the conference like it was an urban event (“What is PopTech?  You know what I’m saying..”), carrying on for almost too long until you realize he’s gone completely meta on you – NYC teenager meets philosphy grad student.

He fills in the spaces with a sophisticated (but still silly – “Got two kidneys and a pancreas/Keep your hands where they are…”) one-man beat box/hip hop set that uses a drum machine and keyboard to create looped sample madness.  The subject matter seems inane but for those who can keep up, it’s deeper than it appears at first listen.  He wants you to laugh but he also wants you to know he’s smart enough to play to the Camden Opera House crowd.

Endearing is a strange word to use for someone like Reggie, but it fits – nerd chic (if PopTech has a style, it’s as good a term as any) meets the kid at the back of the class. It’s easy to figure out why he’s a friend of the organization.

Patrick Flanagan

Throwing over the two-Wiimote approach that launched his YouTube career, Patrick Flanagan rocked a new Edward Scissorhands-like glove of sound Thursday.  Replete with arcade buttons and springbok horns, the glove allows Flanagan to use all of the fingers on his right hand as well as regulating pitch, volume, and tempo through motion control as he works a massive percussion set without ever touching a drum.

How does it work?  Everything starts of with two controllers one Wiimote and his new glove – that are attached to a laptop that is then attached to various robotic pads, sticks, belts, and shakers that make the magic happen on a large assortment of traditional percussion instruments.

Informed by the percussive style of Armando Borg, Flanagan has a deep appreciation for the essential imperfect humanity of music; but the engineer in him just wants to make his robots sound more human.  Above all else, the evolution of Flanagan’s set up gives him a chance to stick it to YouTube critics who wonder why he doesn’t just learn how to play the drums.  After listening to five bongos banging out staccato 1/32nds in overlapping patterns, it becomes obvious: only a robot can play that fast.

(Photos: Thatcher Hullerman Cook)

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