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


i think a large part of any performance are expectations- what the audience thinks they are going to experience and what you actually want to present them. then a large part of the craft/art of a successful performance is how those 2 things meet in the middle. more specifically, you want the audience to be receptive to whatever it is that you want them to experience. and usually a good way to get them to have an open mind to what you want to do, is to acknowledge their initial expectations and then break that… kind of reset them back to zero somehow.

personally i don’t find this game to be a bad thing. on the contrary, i think its an opportunity to really make the performance stand out if you can get the audience on your side relatively quickly. and for sure the techniques to do this might not be hard at all- could even be a photo on the event poster or a tag-line or sub-title. or the name of your band itself can do enough to address a certain expectation and communicate how you will fill that role (or otherwise).

i studied this problem of “playing live” for a long time before composing my reactable set. i think i came to the same conclusion as many others here, that the best i could hope for is that the audience would think that the music was live, happening in that moment. beyond that, in terms of them understanding exactly how the music was being created… it was more than i could handle in that project. however, while reading articles and watching videos to see how everyone else deals with this, i came across a fascinating paper which spoke about the subject of time on stage. more specifically it got weird when speaking about video projection- of how we see a video being projected that is clearly in the moment, but if its a “movie” then its probably been previously recorded. and yet we still get some sort of sense of “live” from this video. and of course mixing this with a live video feed… we somehow give video a certain sense of authority and authenticity where we more easily accept jumps in time or different rhythms of time.

all of this to say that, tilting a controller might be one small technique to help address what the artist perceives to be a barrier between what they want the audience to get out of the performance, and what they think the audience will expect in that specific context? personally i always try to make production decisions based upon the artistic process of the work involved. maybe its a failed game, but most of the time at the least i get more confidence and probably give a better effort. so i’ll try to think of the way i came up with whatever i am presenting, how those choices were made. and then i’ll try to think of applying those choices (in concept) to the lighting, costume, sound design, etc.

i’m glad daedelus finds it useful to tilt his controller… what really confuses me is that he uses a towel to do it! he seems into building a certain aesthetic, carefully choosing what he wears, and taking care to show the audience the grid. i guess lots of times the towel is hidden under the 256, but i’ve seen tons of video and photos where the rolled up edges are sticking out on either side!


always loved John Stainer’s High Cymbal.


I am a bit late to the party here, didn’t know about this forum until recently, so I have quite a bit of catching up to do! Will check the topic! Thanks for the heads up!


i’d love to know…

because i think that keeping the controller tilted towards the audience is some kind of natural gesture. i see it as a response to a visceral fear.
who remembers being a child, alone in a room (say a place you’re not familiar with) at night, alone in the dark, hearing noises ? i do. and i was scared, anxious, etc. i didn’t know where these noises came from. i couldn’t make a connection between a noise and its source. that’s scary.
and deeper, there’s a need to know where the sound comes from. a long time ago, it used to be vital for our species.
i’m sure that hearing sounds at a show, and not knowing what’s going on, tickles some very ancient feelings and instincts and that is disturbing.
then tilting a device reassures the audience. it makes the sound tangible. it has an origin, a cause. it’s also a (good) sign of the bond between the artist and his audience.


I think it also helps to look at other instrument performances. Usually when a pianist is playing they have the piano perpendicular to the audience, they’re rarely behind it and facing the audience directly. Same goes for nearly every other instrument that’s played live, the performer is positioned so that the audience can see their motions on the instrument. I would hazard to say that most of the time audience members don’t actually know how their motions directly translate to the sound either, unless they’re familiar with how to play the instrument.


I’ve been thinking about it for quite a while and I think I’m starting to understand what it is that puts me off. Though I’m also realizing that I need to overcome this.
First, when I see somebody play like that it feels uncomfortable. Though I’m sure this is just my projection onto it, in the sense that most probably the performer is not uncomfortable, but it feels like that. Maybe it’s due to the fact that a grid controller is not giving as much tactile orientation, in the sense that you have a lot of buttons an they mostly feel the same, so finding your way without a clear visual requires a lot more muscle memory than on other instruments. Though… it’s all a matter of practising enough I guess.
Second, it fells like an awkward way to play the instrument. Because seeing somebody play like that makes it look like they are doing something unnatural. I can’t explain that better than this though. It’s mostly irrational and subconscious.
Third, I think that I’ve seen to many performances where tilting the controller was just a performative mannerism… but more about that later.

But this whole discussion made me think about it more. If you look at instruments with a longer tradition/evolution, like a guitar or a violin, you’ll notice that the instrument has actually been designed to be played in certain ways. Maybe it’s just that we’re used to seeing them played in a certain way and that makes it appear natural to our eyes, but undoubtedly many design decisions that went into the shape of the instrument are determined by how it held and played. The chin rest on the violin/viola or the rounded shape of the guitar’s body are examples of this.
Then of course nobody tells you you have to play them like that (well except if you play classical music maybe). Especially with the guitar you get all sorts of ways musicians play and hold the instrument and that’s great and exciting.

So here we are with instruments that were mostly designed to be put on a flat surface (table), that have a very recent history and little tradition in a way… and I guess we’re all trying to figure out what we can do with them, to make a performance work as a performance.
The tricky thing is that there’s a host of them, coming in different shapes and with different functionalities, and they keep changing… so it’s a big challenge.

The more I think of it, the more it is apparent to me that maybe even more than just showing which buttons we push, it’s all about how we construct our performance. Daedelus is actually a great example for this. I don’t think that just tilting the controller makes the difference (actually, I think that’s the smallest part), what really makes the difference is that in his performance gestures are closely connected to what happens in the music. The thing with electronic music is that you can go from a purely acousmatic performance (the push-play-and-walk-away type) to something where every sound is produced as a consequence to a performers gesture (as in most non-electronic music). The closer you are to the latter, the easier it is for the audience to see the connection between sound and the source of it, even if they don’t know anything about how the instrument works. I think that with performances like Daedelus’ this works well, because basically he pushes a button and something happens, and you can closely link the two in your mind.
This doesn’t work that well if you’re just triggering scenes in Ableton using a launchpad, and tilting the controller won’t make that better. Which is what I meant above with performative mannerism. Either you treat the grid as an instrument, and actually play it, or you probably be better honest about it.

This said, I think tilting the controller towards the audience is one possible way to deal with it. Though maybe other ways need to be explored as well. But now I’ll go and read that thread that was linked above… since this has probably been discussed already!


Not “live” per se, but I always thought Edison’s tonka truck video woukd be a nice setup for performance. The DJ booth like setup of the video lends itself well to filming the fingers without the awkward tilting.


I think what the video shows is that it’s more important to see the fingers of the performer doing something, and hearing the correlated sound, than seeing the buttons he presses. I mean when you see a piano concert, most of the time it’s not like you really see which keys on the keyboard are getting pressed exactly.


Then of course if you play an instrument that is big enough and has lot’s of lights blinking… :slight_smile:


Obviously there’s no “right” way to perform, and to each their own. I do think that this trend and the greater “show-your-work” style of electronic performance is trying a little too hard to appease unreasonable audience opinions and expectations. If the music is enjoyable and actually engaging to the audience, and the performer is happy with their performance, why the need to lay the guts out? We don’t ask for a behind the scenes view of a play or documentation of film crew during cinema.


scratch my last, I thought he was using a non-click modded Killamix v1, but can clearly hear clicks after 36:30. interesting that he doesn’t mind the clicks. so +1 on being happy w/ performance, music is what matters.


:slight_smile: live show ideas

'bring the noise


With my IOSIS project I perform solely offstage (from the floor) with my back turned to the audience and my instruments and processes fully exposed the audience. Personally I find it quite boring and uneventful to watch electronic electronic music performed in manners in which I am not able to associate gestural interaction from the performer with the sounds that I am hearing. I’m left feeling a detachment between the music and the performance.

I also feel that the manner in which I perform has created these great combinations of discomfort (simply because it’s a very different experience for the audience) and curiosity, and ultimately in my experiences it definitely draws the audience much deeper into the performance than a more traditional setup would, in which the audience is staring at the back of my gear with no gestural investment in what is occurring within the rig.


Maybe it’s the nature of where I’ve been performing lately, how and what I perform, and the responses I typically get afterwards, but I kind of like a little bit of separation. I’ve gotten a lot of people come up after shows and just stare at my gear and then walk away, or only ask “how’d they do that” kind of questions, rather than talk about the music or musicality of what was happening. Not that I just want to hear compliments, and I’m happy to explain my musical processes, I just get uncomfortable when all people want to talk about is gear. It feels too close to aspects of toxic masculinity that I am already confronting a lot of in music spaces.


cool phrase
’toxic masculinity’
-of patriarchy we all live with/under
it’s common in discussions of art/music to focus on process, technique
’what brush did you use?
'what kind of paper is that printed on?
what kind of cymbal is that?
'well, it’s this…but every cymbal is different
and it depends on how I hit it
and what you expect, sometimes I don’t hit it when you expect it, and that says something :slightly_smiling_face:
it could be a limit of language
kinda like the Tao
’the name that can be named
is not the true name
or…the sound that can be sounded
is not the true sound
the art that can be art
is not the true art

I often feel better
when I view any comments
as a desire for connection :slightly_smiling_face:

it’s cool to have this forum
to approach…
…and, yeah


That’s an interesting perspective. Personally I enjoy discussing the gear and the processes as much as I do the music itself.


I enjoy discussion about it, too, but all too often I get a lot of comments like “Oh, I see you’re using (gear X), have you tried (gear Y that costs twice as much, or is ‘all-analog,’ or rare/vintage),” or “You should use (gear X) this way” or similar mansplaining. On top of that, people ignoring me entirely and just looking at the hardware.

That said! I have had productive discussions from people approaching me and talking about the tools of the trade. And neither do I want to keep those tools a secret. I just think there’s a complicated relationship between performer and instrument(s), and there are a lot of people who aren’t considerate when they approach someone who just put a bunch of effort, emotion, and thought into 20-60 minutes of performance.


Most common question asked of phographers: what kind of camera/lens is that? To the point that many photographers are quite consciously using substandard gear to make the point that the art isn’t about that. At least, their art isn’t about that.

And honestly, it’s nowhere near as impressive that someone can take a sharp and large photo today as it was in Ansel Adams time. When you need a team of donkeys to take a photo, the gear discussion matters a little more.


(I used to deflate questions like that from friends/colleagues at events like weddings; “that looks like an expensive/complex/impressive camera” or “that must take good photographs!” with “no, it’s just large”. Which we would usually laugh about.)


So off topic…

Ah well.

The biggest insult to me:

“Wow! That’s an old camera!”
“Yup, 1938! This thing’s been through a lot”
“Does it take good photos?”


No it does not.

I take good photos.

The camera is just a tool.