The Nature of Electronic Live Performance

Ethan Hein takes the words right out of my mouth on the topic of electronic performance:

How do you differentiate a “live” electronic performance from playing back canned sequences? One way to make the presentation into an actual performance is to include improvisation, or at least the possibility of it. Morton Subotnick is a good example. He considers his compositions to consist of his synthesizer patches and sequences. His performances, on the other hand, are mostly improvisational, deploying his preset elements as he sees fit in the moment. This is similar to the methods of jazz musicians, spontaneously recombining and hybridizing pre-learned riffs and patterns.

This is exactly what I try to do with the electronic music group I teach – an improvisational mix of pre-made loops that are reconfigurable along with “holes” for improving and jamming. The overall form of the set is predetermined but the adventure of “how we get there” is totally done on the spot. Shameless video repost below:

Seriously, this guy nails it. Everyone subscribe to his blog posthaste. He also has some great thoughts on the definition of performance, and how much needs to be done in front of an audience.

Few people know or care how difficult a piece of music is to perform. Musicians should only be concerned with the emotions they evoke in the listener. If the only emotion being evoked is “wow, that must be hard,” that turns music into an athletic competition and drains it of its meaning.

Anecdotal support for my theory that competitive circuits like WGI and DCI exist only to serve their own members – no one really wants to hear that music unless they’ve been involved in making it at some point.

Ethan Hein’s Blog › Programming languages as musical instruments.

Author: Will Kuhn

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

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