If you’ve read some of my previous blogs, you’ve heard me lament the state of live performance in electronic music. It’s one thing to create elaborate architectures in the confines of your studio and computer, meant to be heard in environments detached from the real world, be it a boombox, a car stereo or ensconced in pair of iPod earbuds. It’s quite another to go on stage and realize that elaborate architecture in front of an audience.
I remember in the old days, say 1977 or so, we’d laugh at old-school academic electronic composers whose concerts consisted of walking out on stage, pushing play on a reel-to-reel tape deck and walking off stage while their computer generated, musique concrete tape collage whatever spooled off the reel. We thought the emergence of keyboards and real-time synthesizers like the Moog, the ARP, and the Buchla had made that presentation obsolete. Thirty years later, it appears that the only thing that’s changed is the technology. Most electronic musicians resort to hitting the space bar and watching their compositions flicker on the screen while sound flows from the speakers untouched, just as they left it in the studio.
What brings this to mind is a living room concert I just experienced with Giles Reaves and David Fulton. Giles is still best known for his 1986 album, Wunjo. David has a couple of solo albums and several recordings with Dweller at the Threshold. When I heard the textured and layered production of their debut CD, The Range, I knew I wanted them on the show, but I didn’t think they could pull it off live. But Giles and David, along with Jess Fry, filled the Echoes living room with five keyboards, electric guitar, a full electronic drum kit and yes, a pair of Mac laptops. But instead of hitting play and doing the old Music Minus-One routine, they actually played live. The computers changed some sound programs and ran some rudimentary sequencer lines, but everything else, bass-lines, leads, textures, pads and rhythms, were all played live. It was exhilarating watching three musicians working to stay in-sync while also being expressive. I actually felt I was experiencing an event in the moment rather than freeze dried. In the middle of one song, drummer Jess Fry dropped a drum stick. A computer would never do that, and that’s the problem.
Reaves and Fulton put the lie to musicians who rely on preprogramed performances. Musicians always have excuses for doing it. It’s more costly to have more musicians. Their compositions are too complex for anything but a multitude of players. They can’t re-create the sound of the albums in real time. But when you get down to it, it’s an artistic cheat. There’s little difference between hitting CD players and computers on stage than Milli Vanilli lip-syncing, aside from the fact that Milli Vanilli was perpetrating a fraud.
But you can’t just blame the musicains. Audiences need to educate themselves as well.
If you want to hear some genuine electronic music, played live, in the moment, check out David Fulton and Giles Reaves. They’ll be playing The Gatherings in Philadelphia on Saturday, April 21. Go to the Gatherings website for more info. You’ll be able to hear Giles Reaves and David Fulton’s Echoes session sometime in May.
Comment posted by
at 5/25/2007 1:21:43 PM
so, how many electronic musicians have you seen actually do that? just push a button and leave it at that? it may be because i don’t live in a large metropolitan area (Wilmington NC is about as far as you can get from that and still call it a city) but the shows i’ve seen, people at least play keys. they may have a comp on stage but thats not the whole show.
Kid 606 once graced our town with a show, and though he had his PowerBook on stage he was definitely more animated than “pressing the space bar”. i guess, as an electronic musician myself, i’m worried that the “electronic musicians don’t do anything” stereotype is becoming entrenched.
Comment posted by
at 4/25/2007 3:17:28 PM
It’s possible they can do it. Reaves & Fulton prove that. But can they make a buck? I don’t know. You can hear David Fulton and Giles Reaves live on Echoes Tuesday, May 15 and on some stations on Sunday May 20th. Go to www.echoes.org for more info.
Comment posted by
at 4/24/2007 7:06:20 PM
very timely article. given the anarchy in the music publishing business, i think just pushing your download on the web is too confining. then there’s economics: some of these would surely like to make a buck. a presentation is fine, but a show, an act, a concert would be better. is this possible?