The trend of keeping the controller tilted towards the audience, or the woes of performing live with electronic instruments

This is something I have been wondering for a while… and I’ve been reminded of it by seeing Daedelus in the the recent CRUMB 2.0 video on Youtube the other day (

In recent years I’ve seen this trend emerge (mostly with grid-based controllers) where people keep the device tilted towards the audience in an attempt to make their actions more visible to them.
Seeing that, always feels a bit unnatural to me, I would even stretch as far as saying that it kind of freaks me out, but to be honest I can’t exactly say why. The other thing I am wondering: does it really work? Does the audience respond to a performance – where you keep the controller tilted like that – in a different way? And on the other hand, how does playing feel? Does anybody have some experience in this regards?

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Saw Daedelus doing this at a club at Loop and it seemed good, very different from hiding behind a mass of gear.

It’s interesting. I noticed the same with Justin Aswell’s Maschine stuff. I’m not sure if it engages the audience, but I think I understand why people feel like they ought to be showing their craft. It’s like the lead guitarist showing licks imo. I think they’re trying to escape the laptop performer paradigm. If people can see that there is a skill involved they might be more likely to accept a midi controller as a legitimate instrument (which it is!).

I’ve tried tilting push away from me to practice but it is really awkward to use. Taking a well designed controller and making it more difficult to engage with. But, it may work for others’ playing style. I don’t​play live so primarily I want to be comfortable playing it.

Didn’t​ someone in here play with the grid in a holster for a while?

Edit: @pauk did according to this


Daedalus definitely is my first known example of this, and it’s very, very deliberate on his part - he’s been doing this almost since he got that 256 (and I first saw him in… 2009?)

I think it does make a difference. It’s not about knowing what is going on, but knowing something is going on. There are many ways to do it - Suzanne Ciani has started projecting a camera showing her hands at gigs, for instance; livecode often projects a text editor somewhere in the environment; it’s why many keyboard players/pianists prefer to sit at 90º to the audience.

The thing is: you can see that decisions are being made, and that an instrument is being used. Just seeing the clips moving in MLR creates a connection for some people - knowing when something is going to come in, a visual that corresponds to something you hear - but everybody knows someone is doing something. I went to a recent gig and one player of modular equipment had the resting modular face that I have when I don’t know something is working. I’m sure they did, and I’m sure they were listening and playing… but to me, I had no idea that it was deliberate.

Showing your working makes it clear you’re making choices; clear that this is deliberate sound. I’ve been fascinated by this since I started going to see live electronic music - and I also like people who can do it implicitly. I went to a wonderful Grandbrothers gig, but they’ve not yet found a way to explain what’s going on without, in the middle of a set, explaining what’s going on. (“I am playing the piano he is playing with his hands; I am using solenoids and audio processing; we have no synthesizers on stage”). I kinda feel it’s a responsibility to show, not tell. Needless to say: this is difficult.


Yup. Totally agree, it’s not showing WHAT’S going on, it’s showing that SOMETHING is going on.

I performed for years with two launchpads, both tilted towards the audience, and it really makes a difference. Here’s what I used to do:

The last tour I played was autumn and was the first time I took my modular out for gigs. My performance is no longer “Controllerism” as such, as tbh I got bored of pretty light patterns on grids, so I’m performing with my modular side on to the audience so they can see me and see what I’m doing.

Couldn’t find a good video of the new set-up, but here’s a photo:


I think they’re trying to escape the laptop performer paradigm. If people can see that there is a skill involved they might be more likely to accept a midi controller as a legitimate instrument (which it is!).

yes, that’s most certainly the point of it. Though maybe one doesn’t have to prove anything in the first place.

I’ve tried tilting push away from me to practice but it is really awkward to use.

I think that’s probably what puts me off when I see it, it looks like it’s something awkward to use. But I haven’t really played with anything close to a grid controller in years and have never tried something like that (though I’ve seen people do that with keyboards as well… though that always gets a bit of keytar feeling)

Showing your working makes it clear you’re making choices; clear that this is deliberate sound.

Yes. I totally agree with this (and with the rest of your post). I found myself in many electronic music gigs, where I could not connect with the musicians, because this wasn’t given. It always makes me wonder why one would just play a record instead.
One example was Mouse on Mars at Superbooth, one of them was mostly tweaking the mixer, the other one was leaning over the table and messing around with his smartphone. The mixer part is ok, you could somehow guess what he was doing, but the smartphone part was really a good example of how not to play a gig live. There was nothing indicating that he was making choices that would influence the music, or making anything in general.
Another extreme example:
Last week I saw Tim Hecker, and he played in the total darkness with lots of smoke and lights shining through the smoke. You didn’t see him, nor what he was doing. It was just you, the coloured lights and the music. The sound quality was pretty bad unfortunately, which ruined the thing a bit, but I kind enjoyed the choice of hiding the performance. Even though it made me wonder about wy he set it up as a performance in the first place. It was really bordering with an acousmatic “playback”, that would not have needed a performer at all. I guess this works only if you see it once, the second time it would already become an annoyance.
Anyway, I only mentioned this because it probably was the exact opposite of “showing that choices are being made”, and while I didn’t find it too bad, it also showed all the weaknesses of “hiding the performance”.

The main reason I started this thread is because I am thinking a lot about how to perform, how to make the performance move “live” and enable people to connect with what we are doing on stage, so thanks for all the infos and inputs… and of course, feel free to add more!


@infovore @Simeon
This is the crux. And both of you hit it more eloquently that I!!

very interesting topic,
i’ve been trying to run away from the laptop and share wit the audience what i’m doing on the stage,
at the same time it keeps me more active playng like this than hiding behind my toys :grin:


I’m glad someone mentioned it. It’s definitely a thing that’s occurring, as others have noted, and I agree it’s a smart way for musicians to connect to the audience. (Does it sometimes lead to guitar-gods histrionics? Sure, but so be it.) I saw someone perform at Galapagos in Brooklyn many years ago on a simple wooden box he’d wired himself, and there were a few lights on the front that turned on and off when he did certain things. I confirmed after the show that the only reason those lights were there was because he wanted the audience — vis-à-vis laptop-induced skepticism — to sense some connection between his actions and what they heard.


Ergonomics vs Impact:


Thanks for sharing, I really like that song!

one of the best sounding performances i’ve seen was mark fell holding a cup of coffee and using his computer trackpad with one hand. and actually, the theatre of it worked as well, given the black box theatre and sparse lighting.


Nothing wrong with a bit of theatre - sometimes you have to invent a thing for people to pay attention to. It at least means they’ve thought about these things…


I saw Autechre a year ago and they did the whole pitch black room, all I could see was the lights from the back of their monitors. It was a good concept, and I did enjoy focusing just on the music, but at the same time it was a bit odd that I only saw them when they went to go set up beforehand. I still like the romantic idea that people come to shows solely to listen to music. Today people seem to need more visual stimulus of some sort. In some ways I thought the performance that I saw was refreshing, considering how oversaturated most other electronic shows are. I have also seen Daedelus live and I really enjoyed it, maybe that’s due to what music he played and perhaps it’s partially due to the fact that he was showing what he was doing to the sound as he played, or perhaps it was his energetic mien.

I think you are asking the age old question of what constitutes a performance, furthermore what is exciting from both a musical and perceptive standpoint. I am constantly thinking about this as I work and refine my live setup too.


Performance, to me, is a two way street. Some performances benefit from, or even require, feedback from the audience. Others don’t in the same way. Some performances are meant to be heard, others seen, many are both. I tend to enjoy watching artists who enjoy performing - this can be very subtle or overt but I doubt I would enjoy or appreciate watching someone sit behind a computer screen or remain otherwise hidden as much, even if the music itself was very enjoyable.

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I loved the “tape performances” almost as much as the live performances at Don Buchla’s memorial. I lied back on the floor and closed my eyes and let the massive 8 speaker surround PA envelope me with its heavy vibrations. There was no human performer (though I believe the sound board person may have been working the spatialization of some pieces to some degree). It wasn’t “the same” as the live performances. But was it “worse”? I can’t say that it was.


That’s an interesting approach and probably something that could be further developed as well. Maybe trying to mimic other instruments (guitars have been mentioned a few time) is just not the best way to solve the problem, while making the instrument do something that is more in its nature might be the better direction to take. Though I guess that’s exactly what grid controllers with their lights do somehow…

I’m not a guitar player… but maybe the way people play guitars/bass guitars is just the most ergonomic way to play those instruments. I don’t think that putting them on a table would be more ergonomic… though there’s lap steel guitars of course. But the impact sure is there! That’s probably where the urge to get a similar impact with controllers or electronic instruments comes from.

That’s what I usually try to do as well. Though of course when you have a lot of stuff, it’s still hard to follow what you’re doing, so I quite a bit of an improvement potential there.

Interesting! Strapped on like that it’s kind of more interesting than tilted on the table. Since you can actually move around with it. Cool song btw!

A certain amount of theatre is what every performance is about, isn’t it? And it can be loud, with people dancing and jumping and doing silly stuff, or it can be silent and minimalistic… I guess they’re just to sides of the same coin
And then there’s another thing I guess: if the music is great, it only matters to a certain extend.

Maybe I am, though I didn’t want it to be so broad. Because if we start do discuss fundamental principles like that… it’s likely we’ll all get lost in it. :slight_smile:
I really was just curios to know if this “tilted controller” thing was something people respond to (it seems like they do). But I really enjoy how the discussion developed from there!

Went to a couple of similar live shows. One even had a small orchestra and they were playing contemporary music in an industrial hall. The thing went on for several hours (not like a sleep concert, but still pretty long) and we were all lying on the floor mostly with our eyes closed, the light was very dim to make it easier to not try and look too much around. It was a great experience, very deep.


On the flip side, Suzanne Ciani projected her hands very large on the screen behind her during her performance that same weekend. And this was much appreciated.

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On the subject of guitar ergonomics:


Rather than reiterate, just going to cross streams:

Took three posts to get to similar ground. What an excellent and important topic.

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