In Spain, a band makes waves with a new musical instrument

MADRID -- Spanish electronic superstars Majestad are leading the movement to use technology to revolutionize the music industry, lowering the price, not the quality.
Written by Jennifer Riggins, Contributor on

MADRID -- It's no secret that, when public and education budgets are cut, music and art programs are usually one of the first to go. Spain with its rich cultural history is no exception. The capital city alone has gone in the last two years from subsidizing two-thirds of its music programs, to cutting off all funds. Parents hit by high unemployment and cut salaries can't afford these new charges and 40 percent of all students have dropped out of music programs, leaving Spain not only in a financial crisis but at risk for a cultural one.

"More than any time in the recent history, we should be led by passion now," said Pepo Marquez, head of popular Spanish electronic band Majestad, arguing that music in Spain is less expendable than ever. "You turn on your TV, you see so much shit coming out of it, so many people screwed by government, so many nations screwed up by their banking systems, so many families in Spain ending up on the road with no house or anything. We have to, at least at this point in our lives, try to give to this mess some beauty."

It seems technology is providing an important low-cost alternative to Jose Ramirez guitars and Stradivarius violins, allowing people of all ages and budgets access to music, and Marquez is leading the way.

Since this summer, he and his band Majestad have been making international news as music revolutionaries, for integrating mobile applications into their live and recorded music.

Marquez said, "We're just a regular band actually," finding it bizarre that technology is where they've made their name in music. "Art is to grab whatever is close to you and to use it to create, instead of buying some specific gear." For him, that was his iPad.

Since last July, when Majestad played a concert using their voices, guitars and iPads at Movistar's AppDate exhibition, "things have been a little out of control," with them gaining national and international attention as forerunners of the music and tech industries, pushing for particularly electronic and hip-hop music to be more cost-savvy and for the masses.

In fact, popular indie lifestyle blogger Yorokobu compliments Marquez as "a restless ass in the Spanish independent music" scene, saying that such a toy as the iPad placed in his hands -- he has played with well-known Spanish bands like Garzón/Grande Marlasca, Buena Esperanza and Nine Stories -- becomes "a weapon of mass destruction."

Martinez simply replaces expensive sound boxes and rhythm machines with simple apps that he says sound 99 percent the same to the human ear -- even a musician's. "It turned out, [the iPad] it's not a game. You could start to make music and it sounded very real. Nobody around me was using apps for making music," he said.

Majestad won an artist's residency to develop their music with Red Bull Academy at the Matadero art space in Madrid. Marquez and one of his band-mates also act as the house band every Thursday on Torres y Reyes, a public Spanish television show that focuses on how the Internet changes our lives.

Grateful for what they've gotten recently, Marquez is still baffled by the huge amount of attention he and Majestad have been receiving, thinking using apps to compose is only logical. He's convinced he has garnered this attention simply because he's in the notoriously Luddite country of Spain. Of course, with the vast majority of employed Spanish people making about 1,000€ ($1,350 USD) a month, a 500€ iPad might seem like a modern luxury.

"We've been quoted as revolutionaries and we're not, we're just people that have things to create music, no matter what they are. I think that's the history of music." This all started by a friend giving him an iPad and then him Googling the "Best 25 apps for music for an iPad." Within a month, he had already written a few songs with his iPad.

Marquez says the goal of any band is to "combine everything to try to sound like we want … to sound like they have in their heads." And the app stores are limitless resources for this. Where else, he says, can you find 35 different bells, 15 different glockenspiels, and about 200 million sounds from nature?

When asked if other musicians should be worried that the machines will replace them, Marquez said not at all, that "without them probably 50 percent of the music that we know now would never have been written." He continued, "I would rather have the money to buy all these analog machines but I don't have it. But the difference between now and two years ago is that now I can have the sound that's 99 percent the same as that I wanted."

In the past, electronic music achieved this using rhythm machines, like the AKAI that allows you to record different sounds, but now there's an app for that. He said, apps "can create some of the best rhythm sounds in history," like Funk Box, which stores sounds since the late '70s. It "only costs about seven bucks and you'd have to spend more than 7,000 bucks to have that. And the human ear cannot hear the difference."

He is all about making music not a pijo (rich-posh) activity but for the masses.

"I don't think the grand piano should only be reserved for the people who can afford to play the grand piano," said Marquez. He thinks apps are fantastic ways to get more young people interested in music, at a low-cost risk to parents. "I wish I had had this when I was 11 or 12 because I believe I would be a better musician now."

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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