Live Electronic Music or Prefab Performance

I’ve seen something live 10 concerts in the last two weeks. Six of them were Echoes living room concerts. Besides the London shows you’ve read about in previous EchoesBlogs, we just had Don Peris in with his trio. And the week prior to our London trip I saw three phenomenal live shows, Andreas Vollenweider, Mogwai and Malachi Thompson’s Free-Bop. It brought to mind how concepts of live music have changed.
For Marconi Union’s Echoes LRC, only their second live show ever, a performance is two guys staring into a lap top with one of them doubling on guitar. I love the music to death. On CDs it’s completely elevating, but in concert, there just isn’t quite enough sweat. On the other hand, jazz trumpeter Malachi Thompson and especially his sax player, Billy Harper, just screamed as they created music in the moment, negotiating continual walks to the edge in another great show put on by the Ars Nova Workshop.
Mr. Beast
Same thing with Mogwai, the Scottish band who created delicate moments alternating with walls of electronic sound in a live show at Philadelphia’s Starlight Ballroom put on by another great production company, R5. Even Vollenweider, who makes a pretty meticulous music, had a different kind of energy when he played recent shows at The Keswick Theater in Glenside, PA and the Whitaker Center in Harrisburg. As a longtime supporter of electronic music, I’m just wondering aloud if this is really a vehicle for live performance. Tangerine Dream used to improvise on stage, but now they walk on stage, hit play on a computer and occasionally tap a keyboard. Is that any better than the old days when an electronic composer would walk on stage, hit play on a tape recorder and walk off? It’s music, but is it performance?
-John Diliberto

  1 comment for “Live Electronic Music or Prefab Performance

  1. A little footnote re Tangerine Dream’s recent concerts. Firstly there is definetely some live playing from Thorsten Q during all 3 of TD’s recent gigs (this has changed). I was a matter of feet from him and it was obvious that he was playing the lead line on Cloudburst Flight (their last encore). All of the guitar and sax is live, with drums coming from hard-disc with additional parts played by Iris Camaa. Yes TD used to improvise in the 70’s, but as soon as Peter left that was it….Edgar and Chris knew instantly that they’d never get to the same level again…it took them years and years with Peter. Next came the sequencers where ‘everything’ could be stored (including melodies) in the 1980’s, and although Franke is on record saying he had access to every note as it ran, he (more or less didn’t), therefore hard-discs make more sense (once you’ve made that jump in logic). Why do TD ‘perform’ like this? Edgar has had far too many problems with the equipment over the years, whole tours have been complete nightmares. TD have been crucified for their apparent ‘miming’…but nobody says much when JMJ or Klaus (yes, even Klaus has used backing tracks) do it. I’m not justifying what TD or others do, just adding my opinion here. All I can add is that some people’s playback is better than some people’s 100% live…I saw three gigs last year where 99% was played live (Ron Boots, JMJ and Harmonia) and didn’t enjoy one of them (we actually walked out of the Harmonia gig, but the JMJ was the worst IMHO).

    Some EM musicians think that just playing a 20 minute solo over some analog sequencer somehow makes them a better musician that the people who invented the genre they now follow. They complain that the old musicians don’t take the risk anymore….whilst forgetting that those musicians took the ‘ultimate risk’…they get up their day jobs and had to survive from their music they produced.

    It doesn’t matter to me about the process, only whether the music moves me, and that’s the same whether it be off a CD, hard-drive, Laptop or whatever. The old musicians (including TD) still have that aura, and that’s why 1000s of people still go to see them.

    Cheers for the blog, you’ve made some interesting points

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