About Live Performance

I’ve been thinking about live performance lately. I figure for now, because of lack of cashflow for hardware, if I ever manage to get enough songs together for a set of my own shit, it will just be me rocking out tweaking effects on rendered multitrack versions of my songs… but even then… will the audience notice? I could probably get away with playing minesweeper on my laptop during a show and noone would even know the difference.

Which begs the question: does the performance of electronic music even matter? Perhaps I should spend the entire time on stage chopping apart an acoustic guitar with a hacksaw, in a somewhat lazy attempt at dadaism… would that be more entertaining then convincing the audience I’m composing in realtime? Do they even care? Is this why Trent Reznor feels the need to smash his synths on stage? (hell, they’re not even doing anything… they’re bloody empty boxes! my Mac is performing the entire song backstage!!)

So my question is this: Obviously performance is important to keep the audience engaged, or we wouldn’t have issues with laptop stigma… however… to what ends is it important? … that is, is the illusion of musicianship more important, or is the show more important? There are relatively few ways to show one’s musicianship with electronic music, but if we put musicianship on the backburner, the audience knowing full well that we’ve composed the music in the first place, and open the stage to other forms of expression, is that enough?

And even moreso: Is it imperative that we, as electronic musicians, focus MORE on the show than on the musicianship?

another topic touched on some important points with this, tweaking filters is all well and good but there is enough power in laptops these days that people ought to consider more meaningful structural control of their music which goes beyond re-arranging loops and adds greater fluidity and improvisation to their music. this is why rewire would be useful in renoise to integrate with a highly flexible modular environment such as max/msp. well i think so anyway.

showmanship may have it’s place… after all people that go to live shows want to be entertained, but i think alot of people in electronic live performances substitute jumping around or wearing silly constumes for actually doing anything musically interesting.

so im just saying, wear the trout mask replica, but make the music trout-like first.

BYTE-Smasher, I believe the important thing is whether you feel fulfilled with playing minesweeper or tweaking knobs. If you don’t feel the urge to do something live, then there are prolly better ways of entertaining your audience than pretending.

Dancing, for example :D

Myself, I always had doubts about DJs doing anything relevant live.

Well, anyone who simply dances around stage in a bunny suit is obviously not very creative anyway… there are much more interesting things one can do in synch with their musics. Juggling… tap dancing… self flagellation… reciting free verse… grating cheese on top of a half naked clergyman… making animal balloons… you get the picture.

And in regards performance with musical value, I’m actually quite appalled at the almost complete absence of electronic musicians that have a vocalist as part of their act.
I understand the resistance to vocals, as they are often considered to be what makes mainstream acts mainstream, but there’s a reason for this: vocals add a human element to your music. People can identify more with Atari Teenage Riot than they can with Xanopticon because ATR has vocals that can be linked to some sort of ideal… in ATR’s case, a socio-political ideal. Perhaps you don’t want your music to be linked with an ideal of any sort, but then you have to make it stand on its own merit… and that is a harder task than most musicians can face on their own. In a world with infinite musical diversity, music for music’s sake becomes a futile redundancy. In fact, I’d beg to guess that music without social context quite possibly degenerates into a useless war for titles such as “most hardcore”, “best melody”, “best buildup”, “most distortion”, “fastest breaks”, and “most obscure use of sexual sample” … far from what music should be. So, lets ditch the box around our musical minds people, and start thinking of how we can make our art more engaging, and more meaningful (or meaningless, depending… I’m looking at you, dadaists!).

xanopticon doesn’t need vocals. in fact i can’t imagine vocals doing anything but ruining the music.

still there is plenty of room for free-jazz-flashcore crossover. :P

I wasn’t trying to bash Xanopticon… in fact, I love Xanopticon… just trying to point out that ATR exudes significantly more social meaning than Xanopticon does. For this reason and this reason only, ATR has a larger fanbase, and is undoubtedly going to be the better live act.

xanopticon explores a different kind of social meaning, such as the limits of sound, perception of music, potential of technology in society. its a different kettle of fish to shouting “hunt down and kill the nazis” for sure, but there still plenty of interesting meaning in xanopticons music, and if anything its the dehumanised sound (and yet still human) which he achieves which is the most interesting thing about what he does. but ATR are gonna have a bigger fanbase because they write hardcore techno which ultimately has great hooks behind the noise. i think thats more important because ATR are to a certain extent style over substance. and i say that with much love for ATR and xanopticon seeing as they are two of my favourite artists, but really i dont like ATR because i want to join their anarchy club. But yes ATR may well be the better live act because of the human interaction etc. and the shouting about revolution with lots of capital letters, but i think if xanopticon actually made his music improvisational in a live context it would be mind-blowing and potentially better than ATR. I don’t know if he’s done that yet, or if its mostly pre-planned since i havent seen him yet. I think my point is there are amazing things that can be done with or without live instruments and human voice etc., but it takes alot of work to do that with electronic music… but would be worthwhile.

can i add to that if you look at the brixton ATR recording, thats mostly just improvised noise, so it doesnt have alot of social meaning beyond the noise itself, if xanopticon made something of freeform as that live it would be totally awesome. if ATR are the better live band its more likely because they are just more improvisational in every way including the electronic bits (brixton hasn’t much vocals on if i recall)?

another point to consider though is that xanopticon is just one dude. i often wonder how much electronic music in the live performance context at least is lacking from being only one individual, i think alot of us are missing out on the inherent benefits of working with other musicians, and in a live context this interplay between musicians is what really kicks it off. this is why we need to clone xanopticon so there are four on stage and one can play the accordian.

DJs get around this i think, because they are playing a bunch of different records from different people, so it is a collective musical effort to a certain extent. but one guy playing pre-sequenced music doesnt even have this going for him.



Daft Punk anyone?

I doubt they’re doing anything relevant to their music other than standing their bouncing their head to the beat while performing live. It’d be crazy to play live while wearing those suits.

Anyway, I’m performing live for the first time on saturday 7th of June, and I’m not risking anything, because I think it’s more important that my music gets heard/plays without freezing etc just because I want to show off on stage. Therefore I’ve already ordered a tambourin, shirts with me and my friends band name on em, we’re going to pretend to throw pills to the audience (although they’re actually going to be childrens vitamins-pills, they’ve got smiley faces on em, how convenient) while we play a tune with lyrics that goes “have another pill”.
We’ll mix these elements somehow into the show while the tracks plays, mixed into each other beforehand in audition.
We also managed to get a friend of ours to play bass on the tunes.
And another guy to assist us on vocals.
If anything they’ll at least entertain the audience while me and my buddy pretends to actually play anything live.

My point is, of course, that you have to be creative to entertain the crowd. Make sure that even if they don’t like your music, at least they’ll like the show, and for that reason maybe check out your webpage etc.

EDIT: I’ve also considered to order some form of costume stuff, maybe a loose beard to rip off when the music goes nuts, just to add to the effect.

you know?


I think this is a good thread Byte, and an important issue a lot of us face here. I’ll give my point of view, bearing in mind that my experience playing live is:

  1. Playing in a variety of traditional bands, playing ordinary guitar parts.
  2. Playing a computer centered performances which can be roughly described as avant garde soundscaping mixed with loose djing.
  3. Playing live improv guitar with heavy effects and on-the-fly tape loops, with a band that focuses on artists grooves and freestyle MCing.
  4. Playing solo live guitar as in point 3 but more ambient and emotional.
  5. Playing guitar and singing to a computer backing track of my darkish-pop songs.

Of all these points 3 and 4 are the most enjoyable and usually gain the best response from the audience. Point 2 had serious academic value, but not much soul to it. Point 5 (only attempted once) was a serious disaster: not only were my vocals not up to scratch, but the relentless pace and stiffness of the computer killed the vibe completely. I’d like to attempt that again one day, but I’m more than likely to do much more of point 3 and 4.

Vocals are great if the singers is good, but not at all necessary. In live two things are prime: performed human grooves - and soulful improvisation. Both those point have to engage an audience, if they become too technical or esoteric then you’re masturbating on stage and alienating everyone (although the RIGHT flourish every now and then is good). Remember, people go out to hear music and be moved on two levels - the beats and bass move the animal within them, the melodies and sonics move the thinker in them. It can be either relevantly contextual OR timeless, but in either it has to be fucking good.

I personally prefer timeless music these days, a little above context. But if we’re talking live you can do both: invite your favourite local activist group along to the gig to do a speech and have a stand. Hell bring a few of them along and you might even get a nice ideological class of the titans while some bookya jungle is playing on stage.

Collabs live are a great idea. You can stick to your strengths that way without trying to attempt everything at once. Find a local improvisor of any melodic instrument, work out a set or plan from scratch and throw yourselves in the deep end. Great learning experience.

Great topic!

I’ve, just as Foo?, been playing live with many different setups.

I’ve been in classic rock setups, sometimes stretching things adding a keyboard.

I did a performance piece with 100% pre-recorded sound. I had mounted lights around a wood workshop, on the machines of which I had sampled to use in the track (sequenced with modplug). The performance simply consisted of me and the wood work teacher plugging in and pulling out the extension cords according to a script in time with the music.

The guitar/vocals + computer thing works quite well for my project Ninja Massacre. Played everything from really small gigs setup on the floor in front of a handful of people, to festival gigs with around 200 watching. Sometimes I use a 3x2m textile backdrop or a video backdrop. The computer backing is made with Renoise, but I’m using a foot pedal to trigger rendered wavs.

I’ve also done a few experimental setups using delay loops and hardware effects that allowed a great deal of improvisation. But using no sequencer the compositions got very repetitive/primitive/crude.

Now I’m working on a project based around my Monome 40h and some 8-bit hardware, synths + effects. I’m pretty much looking for as much improvisational options as possible. In my early setup I used Ableton Live, but now I’m looking into Bidule as it’s modular and I ran into some corners in Live. With the Monome, midi knobs + the hardware setup, it will be pretty easy to follow what I’m doing for the audience. I’ll probably use some video or other visuals as well when the situation calls for it.

So to sum it up, I pretty much think anything goes as long as you provide a good show. DJ’ing or sitting behind a laptop is not much of a show, but can in some situations be good enough, at least better than sitting at home.

I didn’t see hollow synths with NIN…

But anyway, I think live performances is a more pure way to experience the music. If the artist is doing something interactive to the music and/or to the crowd, instead of playing minesweeper.

and if you are in the hood this saturday.
my renoise driven band No repair is performing in amersfoort.

very nice people there and you can crash for the night anyplace you want but the bar. that one is mine ;)

I was joking about that dude :P

i really want a jedi robe.

But really, that joke isn’t a far stretch.
When we played Elektrostat last fall, a Norwegian synth/electronica two-day festival, the contract clearly stated that playback vocals wasn’t allowed. We are only two on stage: Main vocals, and me behind a laughably small midikeyboard, trying my best to help out on backing vocals.

So there I stand, a reformed guitarist (remember to stretch, people - muscle pain/tendinitis doesn’t necessarily go away), playing simple onehanded leads and pads. Most of the music is on minidisc, and I’m terribly selfconscious about how little is actually played live.

Still, playing most of this, let alone all of it, is just not feasible. There are too many parts, and even if we did bring enough people to play all of them, many are heavily automated, or one-off effects, and playing them would require so much attention to turning knobs that I’m sceptic as to it resulting in an interesting performance.

Most electronic music is built this way. The individual parts aren’t especially complicated, but the whole is. Most will have to compromise, like we have.

And I’m not totally convinced the showmanship is all that important. There are plenty of rock bands whose live performances are a string of gimmicks. I know all the tricks are rehearsed, so headbanging, stick juggling and the like doesn’t convince me it’s heartfelt or artistic. Most live bands don’t improvise a lot either.

What does convince me is far more etheral, and can only be spotted in the movements and facial expressions, however minute, of the performers. If you enjoy yourself, I will know.

If I don’t see you, I really haven’t any way of telling wether the performance is live, and most likely, I don’t care. I’ve seen amazing, and terrible performances, both by full bands and people staring at a monitor. Playing live isn’t always better than playing “live” or DJing. Just believe in what you’re presenting.

I have to say, the one thing that pisses me off beyond all belief about live performances is when the lead vocal’s “effects” are prerecorded… it sounds like shit when the main vocalist is off sync with a recording of his chorus’d voice… why not just use a damned effect pedal and get it over with?

The last show I played (dubbed my retirement show) was a video projection of me DJ-ing, projected onto me standing behind the DJ booth, drinking.

My comeback show, if it ever happens, will be a projection of me EBAY-ing for old vinyl records while I stand behind my laptop, on stage, EBAY-ing.

Edit: This is not a joke. The former already happened, the latter is the condition for any future shows I will do.

Fukking genious :D

Musicians tend to take themselves too seriously anyway, especially on stage