Live performance

What will a concert look like in 100 years? I have no clue but it will probably include some instruments that haven’t been invented yet. It will probably be performed using methods not yet imagined. Also, the music will probably sound vastly different than today’s music.

Next month I’m bringing a group of students to do some live performing at the eTech Ohio convention, in what I can best describe as an experiment to see what works well in this area. In my opinion, one of the big values of electronic music is the creative aspects – this will greatly influence how we present the music.

Let’s contemplate some of the reasons we do what we do now.


Figure one: the standard orchestra

This was the original “big” idea of a group that could provide enough versatility to play any kind of music. We can cover a big gamut of amplitudes, frequencies, and timbres with this group. The catch? You need about 80-100 highly trained individuals to pull it off.

Here’s an evolution of that idea: the broadway pit orchestra.

This is a hybrid acoustic/amplified/electric ensemble designed for the same purpose as a full orchestra, with the added pressure of space constraints and smaller player budgets. Most would agree a good pit can provide a similar range of sonic ideas, though they are highly tailored to the particular show.

Recent shows incorporate lots of electronics to this end. Look at the ridiculous technical specs for John Adams’ I Was Looking At The Ceiling and I Saw The Sky. Those are some serious tech requirements for “classical” music!

Which brings me to my solution for eTech.

We’re going to have a small ensemble of 5-7 students. One will operate the computer and the Akai APC40, while another two operate a 49 and 25 key Axiom keyboard/percussion pad combo. Another will add layers on an Akai EWI USB controller, which two more add live vocals. There may be others using the Alesis Pad controller or even a Wiimote if we’re feeling gutsy and reckless. We’ll play about 6-8 sessions worth of music (enough to fill 45 minutes while people come in for the keynote). The songs will be run out of Ableton Live sets, and will include a fair amount of improvisation and flexibility. If you asked us to play the songs twice it wouldn’t sound exactly the same either time but it would probably be recognizably similar.

And that’s the plan. Check back in early Feb. to see if it works out!

Author: Will Kuhn

I teach music technology to high schoolers. I do some other stuff too. @willkuhn on Twitter.

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