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


It sounds like we’re experiencing a lot of the same things but are processing them in very different ways and from quite different perspectives. Just I can’t say that I’ve never really experienced negative discussion regarding gear after I’ve performed I’m left wondering how often I’ve unintentionally fed an experience to others exactly as you’re describing.

Honestly, if I really gave even a remote shit about what people felt about my music or my methods I wouldn’t take it outside of the house/studio. With that in mind I approach any interaction between by performing self and an observer or audience member as a positive interaction, and choose to give them the benefit of the doubt in however they choose to interact.

And to bring it back around a little closer to the topic, much of why I setup my performance as I do is to welcome interaction, however the audience members may choose to undertake it.


[quote=“geh2oman, post:58, topic:8009, full:true”]
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. [/quote]

I might just be getting old for not getting that but what does mansplaining mean in that context ? It’s just people focusing on gear and probably being a bit annoying but what does it have to do with genre ?

I’ve been on both sides of gear discussions after a concert and it’s never been an issue for anyone in my experience. I also noticed that I do focus a lot less on the gear people use when I see them live than I used to do, maybe because I know more about it now…


I’ll just note that audiences can vary considerably depending on venue, promotional content and methods, etc. changing your performance style is one way to alter the nature of your interaction with the audience, but it isn’t the only lever you have as a performer.

If you don’t like your audience, maybe it’s the wrong audience for you!


haha. i love this comment, never though about that. one of my favorite tilt setups is nosaj thing - he uses his audio interface as the prop to make the MPD face the audience. slightly more discreet/elegant than a towel.


It certainly depends on the context, but I find it happens in a few different ways. For one, telling me I should use my equipment in a way other than I do implies that either I didn’t think or didn’t know about using it one way (positioning them as knowing more than I do), or that I’m doing it improperly, or that I should be following a set of guidelines. A lot of what gets said is power posturing, older men come up and assume that they know better or more about the equipment, or know better or more about my intentions. It’s certainly possible that they know more, but coming up to me and assuming that’s the case and trying to tell me what to do? That’s disrespectful, and that’s what I get uncomfortable about.


I have been known to get quite confrontational in situations like that. Maybe I’m not the most accomplished electronic musician who ever lived, but I’ve been doing this for 40 years quite successfully. If you’re going to come up to me and tell me I’m doing it wrong (or that I could be doing it better, which is simply a way of hiding the idea that I’m doing it wrong in a camouflage of fake concern), then you shouldn’t make noises like a kicked puppy when I tell you what I think of you in no uncertain terms.


At a workshop recently I asked @yaxu about why live coders often project the code when they play live. He said (apologies if I get this wrong) that he’d tried moving away from the code projections in the past (I think because it had become a bit of a cliche) but once met a deaf guy who had enjoyed the concert and the music but really missed the screen, because it used to help him follow & imagine the music, increasing his enjoyment. Since then Alex always has a screen.


Other completely random and unconnected data points on this topic having nothing to do with mansplaining…

  1. The first electronic keyboard player to make a point of playing with his keyboards tilted toward the audience was Derek Sherinian, late of the band Dream Theater. He explained quite frankly that it was a way of showing off… He wanted audiences to be able to see what he was doing.

  2. I suspect that some of the discomfort of seeing controllers tilted in that direction comes from the fact that given the way we normally use keyboard stands, a controller is only ever in that position if it’s on its way toward impact with the floor. :slight_smile: You have to resist the urge to leap for the stage in a frantic attempt to catch the thing before it hits!

  3. The idea of engaging the audience visually so it can see what you’re doing, or at least to be able to register the fact that you are definitely doing something, has been around for a long time. I find that my concern over this particular topic tends to come and go depending on what I’m trying to do. When I play coffee houses, I set up among the tables so people can wander over and see what I’m doing. I tend to use controllers that allow for broad gestures that are easily connected to what the audience hears, just because it’s more fun for both me and them. On the other hand, it’s also a lot of fun to play planetaria, simply because I can set up on stage and play my music without any concern at all about what I look like, because the audience didn’t come to look at me. :slight_smile:


Talking about firsts, I feel like Keith Emerson has to be brought up in this context. =)

“The extension of the Moog modular system (the ribbon controller) when becoming worn down made machine-gun noises. Rather than getting it repaired, I used it to effect, mock machine-gunning the audience. Later, Rocky [roadie] would visually enhance the audio with the use of balls of flame bursting from the barrels beneath the controller” (Emerson 2003:220).


Also, Geoff Downes / Asia in 1982:


Maybe it’s the fact that I don’t use so much “regular” gear (in that people can get all fetish-y about it to me), but I’ve never minded any kind of discussion after a gig, even when it’s specifically about gear or even just a series of questions. I enjoy geeking out about that. And if people talk about music, I’m into that too.

I think if someone comes up to you after a gig, there is a level of engagement there, and to qualify the the audience’s reaction to what you did with regards to the type of questions asked seems like something that should be avoided. /shrug

It could be recent political events, but I feel like the word you’re aiming to use here is just a plain old “asshole” (from your context, and not necessarily plain description, as mentioned above, I would interpret things like that as @IOSISdrone mentions as well). I think (needlessly) gendering a pejorative term does a disservice to everybody (i.e. “bitchy”, “pussy”, etc…), unless (and even) when being consciously done in an ironic/humorous way.

Also, I’ve played for many people who do know a lot more about things than me, so even if I may disagree with what they’ve said, or have in fact tried and dismissed something, I welcome comments, thoughts, and suggestions. As a human being, I’d rather air on the side of earnest naivety than cynical dismissal based on preconceived expectations of power (dynamics).

(I’ll couch this bit above in that I don’t doubt that there are assholes too, but I have only very rarely experienced them, and it has had nothing to do with gear or suggestions)

And on the topic of gear tilted towards the audience, Ian Williams (of Battles (and Don Caballero)) had his keyboard tilted forward (though sideways on stage I think), but I suspect this is due to the fact that he’s tall as shit and wears his guitar really high.


And while I’m here, some more ‘on topic’ thoughts.

Although I perform with a laptop/controller, I do always perform with an (acoustic) instrument as well, so my laptop screen is generally dimmed, and half closed (it would be fully closed if I could trust the staying awake features while shut). So my performative energy is focused on that interface (the instrument).

In terms of my considerations, I do use lights a lot, and although that can help the audience connect with an aspect of the music/show/art, it’s not done for those reasons. It’s being included as another (creative) parameter, which then has the byproduct of a legible artifact.

As an audience member, I have a pet peeve of overly, or needless, “legible” anything. This goes from traditional instrumentalists overly gesticulating (which I saw a ton of in one of my former lives as a concert musician), but also additional layers of performance that are only there for the sake of legibility.


Yes Anny talks about live coding + deafness here


I just saw somewhere that “pussy” (as in “you’re a pussy”) is short for pusillanimous, which means “showing a lack of courage or determination; timid.”

I was really into John Stainer’s cymbal position. And he hit that thing A LOT when I saw them play…12 years ago!? I think it was most about showcasing the gesture. It really added a great energy to those hits.


ryan lott keeps his keyboard on point:


It’s interesting because there’s a very thin line when getting into the showing-off territory. Sometimes showing off is good, sometimes it’s just annoying… couldn’t say why or what makes the difference. And sometimes indeed I am annoyed by some people when they do the “tilted controller” thing.
Though that’s not the case with Daedelus, even if he likes to do all those “burning buttons” gestures, which is another thing I sometimes find quite annoying. But I guess the deciding factor is the music that comes out from the speakers, and that’s where Daedalus probably makes me not care about the rest!

Haha, yeah, that’s something that confuses me as well. Funny nodbody came up with a proper stand/raiser solution. though I guess you can just use any regular one turned by 180°

The whole “audience only caring for the gear” thing is an interesting topic!
I must admit that I have been guilty of it in the past as well, not in the way that I bugged performer with my unrequested advice (which I’d never dare to do, not even if I didn’t like the show) but in the sense that I would go near the stage to take a close look at the gear. I used to do it because like many people, gear is what drew me to electronic music I guess. The good thing is, it became quite boring for me after some time, and at the same time I started to get more obsessed with music and started to care less about the gear.
I still look at gear, because as somebody who deals a lot with musical equipment, even more in my daily work as a designer, than when it comes to making music, I always find it interesting to see all the ingredients of the music I hear. While it is true that the gear does nothing on its own, and the deciding ingredient is always the artist, the music that results is often (if not always) in some way the product of the combination of artist and tool. While a good artist can do great music with any instrument, the resulting music will be different depending on the instruments used.

This said, I agree that there is usually way too much interest for gear. I’m not much into sports, but I don’t think anybody will run down to the playing field after a football match and ask the players of the winning match what ball they used and what material it was made of.
I think that gear is just easier to talk about. gear is a lot about specs, about absolutes. If a sequencer has 64 steps, that’s an absolute, something you can put in a figure, it’s about quantity, something you can do math and comparisons with (64 > 16 hence 64 is better than 16) even though many aspects of it are in the realm of the subjective (which filter sounds best?).
Still it’s easier than talking about musical approaches, about artistic vision, about what the music evoked, about the way the artist created expectations, just to surprise you with something different, about certain choices being subtle, or not, about some material being very innovatively used, or transformed, etc.


There’s a relative frame of reference that we’re maybe not considering. Forget what the audience sees for a moment.

The ergonomics of a tilted controller are largely dependent on height / how much your arms are bent. It’s a question of how your wrists are contorting. If the controller is at roughly waist level, and you’re not hunched painfully over it, you’re going to want a pretty dramatic tilt because that’s how your arms hang.

As the controller gets higher, the desired angle flattens, and then reverses (and the weight of your arms become more of a factor).

It’s interesting to note that most tiltable stands are meant to work the other way, with controllers facing you and the audience seeing nothing. It’s a very drummer-centric design. Again, think about where your arms are jointed. You want to be reaching upwards, which means a seated position, or a much taller stand.


This is interesting, never thought about it that way. Also interesting: drummers don’t seem to have the urge to tilt the drums towards the audience, at least not in my limited knowledge (i.e. please surprise me with a video of somebody doing just that!)


A seated drummer wouldn’t tilt their drums, no. And standing isn’t as much of an option, because of the pedals. So, they mostly rely on their larger movements for presentation.

(There are odd exceptions, but I can’t think of any which don’t also involve one or more additional drummers)


The other side of it, that others have mentioned, is a desire to counter the impression that a musician has simply “pressed play”. Or at least, to provide an experience that the audience couldn’t have gotten by listening to your recordings at home.

Tilting the controller can bring us closer to the stage presence a guitarist or drummer innately possesses (because their instruments were designed for presentation, where ours were not). But it’s a small part of the battle. Trying to look at the audience instead of your hands is much bigger, I suspect. Or, you could assert your presence in the moment through interpretive dance. Whatever works.

Those are “on stage” concerns, though. If you’re in the corner of a gallery, or a DJ booth, that’s a very different situation.