cruft for the world.

February 1, 2006

lecture time.

Mad:ox recently told me that he got a chance to play a live gig as part of a festival. The festival is in England, where he lives, so it's probably quite different from what goes on at a Canadian musical festival ... i.e. there's probably a lot of Morris Dancing.

Mad:ox asked me what gear I was using at the recent Tachikoma shows, because he doesn't play live a lot and wondered what he should bring and play with. I realized it was kind of a long and boring answer, so naturally I decided to post it on this here blog.

My approach to the performance of live electronic music is as follows: I generally have a certain number of 'clocked' devices that output synched audio tracks or midi tracks, and I also have a certain number of 'unclocked' devices which I play live, use to filter the clocked audio, or use to intentionally trigger sounds in conflicting tempos.

Let me give an example and it'll be much clearer;

For the most recent Tachikoma show at The Butcher Shop, my clocked audio device was an MP3 player with instrumental, 'karaoke'-style backing tracks on it. I arranged my songs in order and triggered them with the play button. The unclocked device I used was an Alesis AirFX: this is a line in / line out filter box that simply processes in real-time whatever audio you send through it. Also, another unclocked device was my voice, singing into a microphone. The advantage of this situation is; the 'boring', prerecorded materials are invisible to the audience; they can't even see I’m holding an MP3 player. The 'exciting,' visually noticeable interaction with the songs comes from the unclocked devices. Audience members saw me wave my hand over a box, and heard the backing tracks change; they also saw me sing along in real time.

It doesn't matter what your clocked devices are; they could be a dozen synths all receiving midi in real time, or a cd player with your instrumental backing tracks. The key point is that the clocked devices are generally boring, if that's all you use. If people can see you twisting knobs, banging keyboards, or vocoding yourself, they'll make a connection between the sound and the visual. If all they see is a guy bent over a laptop, even if there was an enormous projection of the screen of the laptop behind him, it still wouldn't be that exciting to watch.

I just was offered a show, today, too; at that one, on February 7th, I'll be performing a 15-minute track of improvised electronic music. I'll be playing Gameboy, Nord Micro Modular, MS2000R, analog drum machines, and electronic toys. None of these will really be the 'master clock' ... they'll all just play together, out of synch, and weirdly. The real visual element of that show is that I'll be bent over a table full of blinking boxes and patching/unpatching in real time, like some kind of mad scientist. I'm mentioning this because the ethic I've developed in the last 6 months is ... never play the same show twice. Never show up to a show using the same gear you used at the last show. Just apply the principle of clocked and unclocked devices; don't get married to one device when you can get the midi for free.

And so on.

No comments: