(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles…)
If not for the sheer smorgasbord of sounds, the preview showroom Wednesday at the Anaheim Convention Center could have been easily mistaken for a "Star Trek" set rather than a display of music products.
Wires and cords linked to whirring, humming, Space Age gadgets snaked across the floor around an abundance of blinking laptop screens at the annual gathering staged by the International Music Products Assn., a Carlsbad, Calif., trade group that still uses the acronym NAMM from its old name, the National Assn. of Music Merchants.
A cacophony blared -- a thick, often digitally manipulated screen of thumping drumbeats, reverberating guitar squeals and violin trills.
At the Yamaha table, a representative fiddled with an electronic musical device reminiscent of a silver Etch-a-sketch called the Tenori-On. With a grid of LED switches, the contraption can produce what the company calls a "musical soundscape" of bleeps and hums.
Across the room, musician Jerry Riopelle wiggled his fingers through the Beamz instrument to create a slightly synthetic-sounding jam. The apparatus looks a bit menacing: To elicit the sounds, players wave their hands through red laser rays shooting between the prongs of a gray plastic trident.
There was a $40,000 double-neck 20th anniversary Dragon guitar from Paul Reed Smith Guitars. Musical instrument maker Hohner, which is 153 years old, presented a $1.99 harmonica application for the iPhone.
The NAMM event is one of the largest trade shows in the multibillion-dollar global music products industry, which is thought to have taken a sales hit of about 10% during the recession, NAMM spokesman Scott Robertson said. Still, interest remains high in the show, which runs through Sunday and is expected to draw more than 80,000 attendees and more than 1,500 exhibitors.
The preview displays mostly featured digital merchandise designed for performers of all skill levels. Some participants, such as British producer and record engineer Ken Scott, said the products allowed musicians to be more flexible and independent, without the stifling presence of record labels and expensive studios.
"Music has become a huge business run by attorneys and accountants, and they're killing it fast," said Scott, who has worked with the Beatles, David Bowie and Pink Floyd. "Now musicians can control their own destiny."
Scott was promoting his virtual Epik Drums collection of audio grooves compiled by five well-known drummers and created through Sonic Reality Inc.
Several companies were debuting instruments dedicated to popular performers. Taylor Guitars of El Cajon unveiled its Taylor Swift Baby Taylor guitar, named after the teen songstress.
KISS lead singer Gene Simmons held court in pale snakeskin boots and jeans while showcasing his $699 GS-AXE-2 bass guitar, a reproduction of the battle-ax-shaped instrument he originally played. A limited signed edition of the guitar, paired with a Simmons meeting, sells for $5,000.
Blackbird Guitars of San Francisco, coming off a healthy year despite the recession, showed off its sleek, carbon-fiber instruments. With their funky Picasso-esque shapes, the guitars and ukuleles are lighter and more durable than conventional products.
Electronic instruments powered by sensitive software dominated the show, including the bassoon-shaped Eigenharp Alpha from British company Eigenlabs. With more than 120 keys, the instrument can record audio loops, alter tempo and layer sounds during live performances.
Several companies touted their products as being easily adapted to different environments. The small-scale HD-1 drum kit from Roland Corp., with cushioned and insulated parts, can be hooked to a laptop and headphones and played quietly in an upstairs apartment.
Even traditional instruments were trying to shake off staid reputations. The clarinet got a makeover in the Nuvo Clarineo, a smaller and lighter instrument designed for young children, complete with white plastic and neon stripes.
Wood Violins promised "all sorts of mayhem" with its angular electric violins and cellos, featuring names such as the Viper, the Stingray and the Sabre in shades including Purple Sparkle and Silver Blue Fall.
"We're the last frontier, since guitars have pretty much exhausted themselves," a shaggy-haired representative said. "It's not 'Guitar Hero' anymore -- it's violin, viola and cello hero."
Producer Scott said the variety of products shown at the preview could save the day for music companies.
"It just shows that the whole music industry has promise," he said. "That it's alive, vibrant and not falling apart."