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


Not a musical example demonstrating good taste but…


One of my favorite words, but I feel it has more impact if you spell it out fully.


Several folks at the Don Buchla memorial talked about playing a Buchla as a kind of duet with Don through the medium of the instrument.


that’s what most Chiptune artists seem to do. People using Gameboys have the advantage of having an instrument which is compact and can be held even while jumping around, but at the same time… the Gameboy will give even less visual information on what you’re doing than a grid controller or a keyboard.

That’s interesting! I guess that can be said with all instruments that have a design which strongly reflect’s the instrument makers musical vision.


That gameboy example does a few things worth calling out:

  • Dance and motion to keep the energy going

  • Looking out to the audience more often than not (and holding the gear near his face. bonus!)

  • Adding an acoustic element (live vocals)

But, yeah. It’s all compensating for the same problems. And while I’ve never seen someone turn their Gameboy around so we could watch the screen, I’ve never seen one played flat on the table, either.

So, gear fetish is also a common factor – those performers want you to see what they’re using, even if what they’re doing on it isn’t itself all that exciting.


Whilte I definitly started to do it to show the audience that I was doing things, and while it has definitly worked, I have to say that I DO actually find it much more comfortable to play tilted when I am standing. If I am sitting then no tilt. But standing up it’s much nicer to play with a bit of tilt.


Thank you for this. I wanted to bring up the same consideration.

Having attended the Decibel Festival for 12 years straight, as well as a couple of years at Mutek, I have observed that a significant part of the electronic audience is not technical at all. Far too often, comments circulate about whether the artist is really performing or merely checking their email. When I first saw Daedelus tilt his controller at Neumos in Seattle, my first thought was that he was specifically addressing these kinds of audience rumblings. It’s certainly something that can be taken too far (the “hot buttons” method of overdoing it), but I think it’s a good sign that electronic artists are at least making an attempt to respond to their audiences’ concerns.

That said, electronic audiences can be hyper critical. A significant portion of the audience want a show, and aren’t satisfied with the music alone. I applaud Aphex Twin for his response - where he has dancing bears for the folks who require theatrics, while he rests comfortably on a couch with his laptop. In some respects, I don’t think it’s possible to ever satisfy all audience members. Somehow, electronic music fans seem to be more critical than any other audience.

It’s not even surprising, because musicians themselves cannot always agree on what is important about performance. Some musicians believe in what they’ve written, and further that a good performance is an accurate rendition of their written masterpieces. Other musicians believe that a live performance should always involve improvisation, else why leave the studio. I’ve heard absolutely wonderful music from both kinds of musicians, sometimes even together in the same band (before they split due to musical differences - U.K.). I wouldn’t want to lose either kind of performance.

I’m happy seeing Ae in total darkness (as dark as allowed in the US with its laws requiring visibly-lit EXIT signs) or Aphex Twin motionless on his belly facing a laptop. I also enjoy those artists who feel the need to put on a show, so long as the music remains entertaining.

As for talking only about the gear after a performance, I’m reminded of a quote that has been attributed to at least three different musicians, “Talking about music is like dancing about architecture.” There is probably a huge social discussion possible around the driving factors behind discussions of electronic music equipment rather than technique (don’t forget the massive marketing and sporting equipment endorsements by celebrity athletes), but in some ways it may come down to the mere fact that it is far more difficult to discuss music than equipment. I think others have done a good job of describing that.


I’ll just say that “Dancing about architecture” sounds not only doable, but actually a wonderful idea that I love to see explored, and I know it’s already been done many times, as a lot of dancing performances are actually the result of the confrontation between an architecture and a body. So not only does “Dancing about architecture” make a lot of sense to me, I think it’s actually vital that we dance about architecture, sing about writing, paint about sound, build about drawings and on and on.


It reminds me of this amazing quote from Anthony Braxton that I found in Warren Ellis’s newsletter:

“Each of you need to write about your music. “What are you doing?” “What do you think you are doing?” If you don’t write about it, whatever you think you are doing, you might forget it. Maybe you need to sit down and ask the question “What am I doing?” and write it out…Me, I’m always taking notes on my system…Each of you, in my opinion, would do a very good thing by sitting down and asking yourself “What the f- am I doing? I say I like music, I’m not even sure if I like music, but maybe I do like music. What am I doing? Where am I going with it? Is it just about a gig?”…Each of us has to take that responsibility. That’s a RESPONSIBILITY. If you’re going to be broke and crazy, at least do your best. And part of doing your best is defining things in a way where it’s possible to EVOLVE. If there’s no clarity, if everything is murky, then you might not be using all of your forces in the best possible way depending on what you are looking at and depending on what you want for yourself…I would say, “Hey, don’t be such a nice a person.” You need to get angry about something… You need to remember that we don’t live in heaven. THIS IS NOT HEAVEN. THIS IS COMPOSITE REALITY. It’s much better than the concept of heaven. With composite reality, everything is happening. This is why you have to navigate through form. Part of navigation is including yourself and your life…”


All the various incarnations of Warren Ellis’ newsletters/etc. are usually full of interesting things like this.
Worth reading even if you’re not into his writing. But you should be into his writing, though :).


Cool article on Aphex Twin’s long term collaborator and how he uses topical and location specific visuals in the show, far more interesting to me than seeing exactly how Richard D. James is using his Cwejman envelope


highly relevant, a series by primus luta, from 2013. here’s part 1:


This article series has been really revealing, thanks a lot for sharing!
Some things are really obvious once somebody explains them in a simple and structured manner, and still they are pretty obscure until somebody does that.

I think the key concept is talking about musical objects. Also the article reminds me how complex these matters are, and how much we cannot expect somebody who isn’t actively making electronic music to understand most of it.


This is a great set of articles. Thanks.

Here’s links to the other two to make them easier to find:


Loud Objects literally uses an overhead projector as a performance element


Wow. Live patching is for weenies, live soldering is where it’s at :slight_smile:


Imogen Heap talks about this in a Ted Talk as a justification for her glove controllers. I find the gloves themselves a little gimmicky, but I love the idea of designing performances to show the audience what the performer is doing. Beyond just helping the musician justify their presence (i.e., to show people that producers aren’t just ‘pressing play’), I think it has an important aesthetic dimension. The visual choices performers make are connected to what the musician thinks is important about the music.


I remember seeing Plaid live around 2002 or 2003 and they had some little motorized cameras mounted near the gear and the visuals would crossfade to incorporate close up shots of what they were doing with the gear.

Considering how much cheaper, smaller, and flexible camera tech has gotten, I’m surprised I don’t see more iterations of this concept for electronic music performances.


I agree that most of the tilting-towards-the-audience tactics described in this thread are only there for eligibility, and that bugs me too.

Being able to see the performer at all isn’t so much of a priority for me. I close my eyes a fair amount at shows (though not as much as some), or will look around the space, which helps me to listen sometimes. I don’t understand so much the motivation to go experience a live performance of music primarily for the visual aspect. I’m interested in the sounds, and rarely in how they are made.*

*obviously there are exceptions but hey ho


I like these types of situations when playing live, or watching a show. Especially when the audience can gather around the person(s) performing. Depends on the venue, but anyway, feels like a more democratic situation for every part involved…

(switched viewpoint from ~14 min in)

Also, this