#liveelecmusic: Further Reflections on Live Electronic Music

Last week my article on live electronic music performance for Create Digital Music hit the web.  I decided to write it as an effort to begin bridging the gap between electronic music performance and traditional performance, a subject very important to me and my current work.  From where I sit, we are at a threshold where electronic music, by hook or by crook is becoming a (note: not the) new musical standard, and yet there remain a lot of of misconceptions about it.  It was my hope that writing the article would help to shed some light on those misconceptions, and provide inspiration to those working in the medium to continue pushing forward.

My approach was quite simple, interview a handful of artists who regularly perform live about their approaches and compile the responses.  Electronic music being a rather broad genre I tried to chose artists that covered a decent spectrum of the playing field, both genre wise and approach. Fortunately, the response to my inquiry was very positive.

Overall I feel like the piece came together well, touching on technique, technology and philosophy.  Still, judging from the comments, particularly in the companion video gallery and to a lesser extent the article itself, the disconnect remains.  From what I can gather, for the ‘choir’ the article worked really well, but for the naysayers (ie electronic musicians aren’t musicians) it apparently did absolutely nothing.  Sure one article isn’t supposed to change everything, but a part of me really hoped to see it sink in a little better.

Of course I’m ‘of the choir’, so some things seem pretty elementary to me.  By example, what we think of as ‘traditional’ instruments are themselves technology.  When piano’s were first introduced they were musical computers.  Today’s technology however has expanded the possibilities of what an instrument can be, far beyond what was possible when piano’s were first created.  They look different, are played different, and sound different, but it doesn’t take away from the fact that they are musical instruments.  I still don’t understand how it can be questioned whether an artist that uses a musical instrument in a live setting is performing live music.  The only time where that line gets blurred is when we start talking about live DJ sets where all of the music are pre-recorded songs and there’s even a performance aspect in that.

One of the things that stood out from the comments was the notion of watching a performance, and the ‘act’ which performing electronic musicians are supposed to put on.  For me this goes to an age old question about the nature of music performances in general.  Are they to be performances of music or entertainment experiences?  One parallel that came up was a solo cello performance.  When one goes to see a solo cellist, they aren’t expecting the musician to perform an act, they expect the performance of music.  Yet with the electronic musician, the expectation is that there should be an ‘act’ above and beyond the performance of the music.  It’s interesting worth noting in this regard, a huge inspiration for my article was a review of a recent performance by Prefuse 73 in an opera house.  For me this is an amazing setting for a good deal of electronic musicians, where rather than the act, the music is the sole focus, but I imagine some would disagree.

Another point raised in that vein is the idea that as live electronic music grows it will require a merging of the musical performance with visual aids.  Now while I seriously enjoy this fusion, I don’t feel it should be a requirement, and in fact can serve as a major distraction from the music, both for the audience, and also for the musician that would then have to contextualize their music to fit into some sort of extra visual presentation.  Would we require a cellist employ VJ tricks for their recitals?

All in all, I’m left with a lot of questions.  Perhaps the greatest thing that has come from this piece is that the conversation is open.  And in this regard I’d like to move that conversation to Twitter.  If you’ve read this and the original article and would like to chime in, join the discussion on Twitter using the #liveelecmusic hashtag.  Some points of discussion:

  • Who are your favorite live electronic musicians?
  • Where should the line be drawn between live performance and music curation (ie DJ sets)?
  • What are the historical landmarks of live electronic music?
  • What will it take for electronic musicians to be seen in the same light as traditional musicians?
  • Should visual aids be incorporated into live performances?
  • How do you feel about live electronic music in seated venue’s?
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