Setting context at a live performance

i’ve got an upcoming performance lined up and it’s been a long time since i’ve played out.

i’m thinking about how to present myself and my work and i’m looking for your advice.

i tend to prefer when performers don’t talk before their set, but i’m thinking i’d like to address the audience to create a connection. this particular performance is a very small, initimate loft show. i was thinking of suggesting the audience close their eyes during the set, but i feel it might be a bit hokey, cheesy, or pretensious. thoughts?

i don’t like making any sort of request of people and tend to prefer people enjoy things as they see fit.

any other advice on setting a mood for deep listening?



I guess everyone has different preferences but I think that creating a nice enviroment where people can lie down/sit down and close their eyes help a lot, so I would look into laying pillows on the floor and using low, moody lightning.


as much as is practical & safe: use dim, subdued lighting. as much darkness as possible. deepest shadows up high toward the ceiling and down the walls, to make the room itself feel very close, as if wrapped around the listener. to illuminate the stage/artist, use only small point sources down low, around the performer. i use a bunch of warm white battery-powered LED candles and LED strings; they’re super soothing.

if there are visuals, set the projector brightness low, with muted video colors; nothing bright. consider nature scenes or abstract visuals, so that if folks want to look at anything in particular, the video doesn’t demand all their attention, or is too distracting.

comfortable places to sit, sprawl, stand, perch, lie down: options for each.

if you do want to address the audience beforehand, phrase it as a laid-back invitation, rather than a request. maybe something like, “if you end up just closing your eyes and zoning out, that’s totally okay.” and so on.

the audience will have varying levels of attention and open eyes throughout the performance. but by giving them options up front; speaking in advance, letting them choose and move through environments, visuals, physical spaces…you give them the opportunity to find what works for them moment-to-moment, to be more aware so that they can then more easily drop into that place of deep listening.


I think this idea is extremely important! Especially when you’re doing a very intimate show where there is a big chance for bonding, not necessarily through words or new friendships but with shared experience.

I would not try to make recommendations or dictate what anyone should do or how they should feel or experience or interpret anything.

I try to unify the audience’s train of thought and bring everyone’s collective energy into one force. It can really elevate things. I speak loudly and clearly to really mark when things are beginning, not shyly or in a reserved way. Think of a great orator like Martin Luther King Jr., you know when he’s started his remarks.

As far as what you say, that’s really up to you and I think you will find themes and topics that work for you, that speak to you, and that you can speak on confidently with conviction as time goes on. I definitely would not try to talk about “the other group”, or put anyone down, or anything like that, as these are negative things and you don’t want negative energy. You want positive energy.

My last few shows I’ve liked to stay along the lines of really making a point of how special an experience we are all about to partake in, considering the truly unbelievable nature of humans controlling vibration to elicit emotional responses, and just generally living in a place and time where we can experience such luxuries as going to a concert to listen to music we prefer, while many people around the world do not get these chances even once in a lifetime.

Also, just as a tip, clearly decide in advance what the last thing you’ll say is. I can’t say how many times I’ve botched an otherwise touching oratory by saying “And now, yeah…I’m gonna play this thing. So, thank you.”


Recently played at a nice drone/ambient show so this has been on my mind. Aside from the excellent suggestions people have already made, be sure to take care of yourself so you’re nice and comfy there too! I was stressing before playing but took time to meditate during a friend’s drone set and it definitely put me at ease in the space and helped my approach when playing.

Good luck with the show!

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I’ve used longish (1-2 minute) samples of people talking about whatever I want the context to be for the show to start the show…so maybe you can dig up a quote about deep listening?


Yes, do it. :slight_smile:

Most of my first shows were bands that were on, or associated with, k records. Those shows often had a DIY, house-show feel. The musicians almost always engaged with the audience. I think because of that, I leave a lot of electronic shows feeling kind of cold, and empty. I personally love it when a musician takes the time, or has the confidence, to address the audience (even if it’s just a few words before). Thor Harris, Nils Frahm, William Basinski, and a host of others do a great job of playing instrumental music, that sets a mood, but they still reveal their humanity before, after, or between pieces. I’ve seen plenty of bands that immediately launch into sets, and don’t say a single word. I imagine it’s because they want “the music to do the talking”, but it can come across as ego (especially if they maintain a scowl throughout the show).

I say this after just leaving a Suzanne Ciani show early on Saturday because I felt really disconnected with the music, the audience, and the surrounding environment. I blame the venue primarily (a club that mostly hosts dance events), but also because everyone just awkwardly stood, gawking at a big projection of her play. Sitting would have helped. A few words to set context would have been great. I couldn’t help but feel like I’d be better off watching it at home. Probably more of a me problem. It didn’t help that there was so much talking during R Beny’s set beforehand. Again, people are showing up to a club, with two bars — I can’t blame them for talking and drinking, and not getting into a “deep listening state of mind”.


yeah one of the main reasons i skipped that gig was that it was at a dance club.

i like to try and engage the audience briefly before and after the set. we are all people here together for a thing so i want acknowledge that. it’s also a good cue to get the chatter to settle a little.

I’ve always thought this introduction was about perfect.

Agreed. I would never want someone asking or telling me how to listen.


Estas Tonne once had a show named “Internal Flight” in which he distributed silk blindfolds to the audience. He often sets the stage for a deep listening experience before he begins. He also often performs on the street or in out of the way corners of festivals where he can have no expectation of any particular audience behavior. It works either way, but part of that is that is music is so arresting that you kind of have to stop what you’re doing and listen.


As someone who’s concentrated a lot of energy into pulling off live darkambient and ‘doom-electronics’ sets, I love this question and the responses so far have been pretty interesting.

Few points:
Instead of talking at the start of the set, i think it’s preferable to play a sample that draws the listener in.

Move very slowly and deliberately, and project the calmest version of yourself at all times. The audience need to trust you before they can listen attentively.

Let the music tell the story. The old-school method is still powerful: ‘Get in, fuck them up, get out, leave them wanting more.’

I don’t think i’ve ever needed to say more than 10 words to the audience at a gig during the show. Makes for better conversations after the set at the bar.


I was at that show, as well. It wasn’t you. I felt the same exact way.

Another factor I think is that ambient/beatless music in a bar or club venue sometimes doesn’t translate very well for the reasons you mentioned. People are drinking, talking, etc., which is normal as that’s what you do in a bar. But that “deep listening” experience, to me, is better achieved in non-tradish venues: decomissioned churches, store fronts, art galleries, etc.


Great idea. For those unfamiliar (as I was), check these out:

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