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


What’s great about these discussions too, is that there’s no real answer. We all have a different background that shapes our priorities and values in how we evaluate art. :slight_smile:


Mark Fell might be one of my fav electronic music performers

Laptop sets can go a bunch of ways and have different contexts. Diffusion/specialization, for example, I find to be a radically different experience/context regardless of the point of origin of the sound. Likewise laptops in dance/DJ music feel different than at a noise show. Likewise laptop music as a kind of anti-performance meant to illicit reflection on cultures of performance in general, etc…


questions from the audience
often are about things
which can be described by language :slightly_smiling_face:


In the low-bandwidth-days of ~2001 a friend spending time in japan shared a video he shot of a performance while he was there. It probably took an hour to transfer, he talked it up the whole time as the most virtuosic laptop performance he’d ever seen, how he’d taken the instrumentalism of the laptop to new places etc etc. (This is how I remember it, anyway.) Anyway the punchline was that it was a 5 minute video of a young man sitting nearly motionless in front of a laptop. Of course he sent it because it was such a beautiful set (I wish I still had the clip) and he knew I didn’t care if he was waving his hands over a magic sparkling bush or sitting perfectly still. Still, zing!


well, at least it’s good that people have opinions and ideas on what to use… I remember using reason and plogue bidule as some kind of digital modular system.
certainly in the hands of the “artist”, it doesn’t really matter if it’s a laptop or hardware based gear. but in terms of performance, if you compose by editing wave files by hand, it will be quite an interesting show. maybe that’s something to try :slight_smile:


And two iPads on the side!


Exactly…on the side…of an 18 panel Buchla which is the primary instrument, not hunched behind a laptop clicking a mouse and checking her email!


And is the emotional difference between this, and someone having a laptop on the side and working with controllers that you have a clearer knowledge of what the instrument is?

I find this topic so interesting!

How would you rate these scenarios?

  1. Someone sitting towards the audience with a 9u eurorack you can only see the back off.

  2. Someone sitting behind a laptop clicking away.

  3. Someone having a laptop on the side working with controllers where you dont know what a knob does before the musician touches it. You can see all the controllers.

  4. Someone having a box with knobs and buttons and a raspberry pi inside running a pd patch they have made.

  5. Someone having a skiff with an Er-301 + some few controller modules.

  1. Not seeing the performer at all, like Fransisco Lopez, Autechre, Tim Hecker?


I thought I would share this video of Loscil that I saw sometime ago. I would definitely go to a show like this and enjoy it. Seems the audience enjoyed it too and was really engaged (there is a lot of panning around so you can see them).

Fascinating too because the show isn’t in the dark.


I also like Jan Jelinek’s approach - projecting an overhead shot of his setup so the audience has a window into what he’s doing. This is something I’d like to try at some point.


Pointless, a pitch black performance is not a performance, it’s an installation that belongs in a museum or art gallery. They might think that is quite smart and high art, but what I feel they are doing is patronising the audience. Its inferring that audiences that go to the shows don’t fully listen to the music and that you can concentrate and listen to the music better in the dark. They are trying to teach you how to listen. Except I really do know how to listen and paid a small fortune to see and hear you play, but now only getting 50% :slight_smile: if I want dark, I’ll close my eyes. Its not big, it’s not clever, it’s not even being different or original, it’s showing contempt to the audience. The performer might as well not turn up to the venue. This is getting to the point were you might as well email an algorithm or leave a recording and instructions for the venue to start up.

btw I love Autechre and Hecker music. I’m not criticising their music, but seriously, i do not want to see any of them live in the dark and be taught how to listen. I’d rather stay home and listen to the record mainly because I’m old and can see through the hype :slight_smile: .


Along these lines, more recently in the last few years I have sometimes just set up in the middle of the room and encourage people to stand around the table. If people want to look they can, but they don’t have to. The benefit also is that you can set up in a way where you can hear what the audience hears and usually that helps the performer a bit. The drawback is sometimes people start trying to chat with you in the middle of the set.


I’d love to try that at some point with a multiple speaker, surround setup (quad or more).


I feel live performance is about taking a risk and witnessing and listening to something unique and edgy - a one time deal. I associate solo laptop performers (no controller, + mouse are top of that list) with emails + work and performers hidden behind a really secure safety net, playing it safe, with an inability to take a risk, to take a chance, in a live environment.

This is the sort of thing I like. He’s not playing in the dark and he’s playing his instrument. And I guarantee it wouldn’t sound the same if he played it again.

I don’t want to see a laptop anywhere on stage to tbh. They are performance killers that do zero for the live experience other than make bedroom artists feel very comfortable on stage.


It’s ok to have your preferences, but I’d encourage you not to write it off completely, especially those working in the ‘algorave’ scene with tidalcycles and live coding. There’s plenty of risk and exciting things happening, at least in my mind.


I feel like someone above brought up the importance of trust between performer and audience. I totally get that laptops can be a security blanket and are often used in ways that are uninspiring. But knowing that I personally took chances, no performance was the same, and it was a truly live experience when I toured with a laptop maybe makes me trust that more performers are doing it than the ‘checking their email’ joke. Further, knowing plenty of people who do the same with laptops helps my faith. But again, it comes down to trust.

Generally, it’s usually pretty obvious when it’s used in a problematic way when the performance is too flawless, too synchronized, too safe. But it’s a big leap to immediately see a laptop and assume it will be that kind of performance where there’s no risk. I’m definitely skeptical of laptops. I’m definitely happy there’s a bigger range of performance methods than when we were ‘peak-laptop’ too. I’m definitely glad these considerations are discussed in this community.


Also, I feel like some modular synth performances can be awfully safe too. Sync arpeggios to one clock. Tempo synced delay. Textures. Like whoa. Trippy. (MEH).

Neither format (or anything in between) inherently involves risk taking. It’s a choice the artist has to make.


this video of Loscil that I saw sometime ago.

From the comment section:


I feel live performance is about taking a risk and witnessing and listening to something unique and edgy - a one time deal.

But what does this have to do with if the performer uses a laptop or not? The computer can be whatever you want it to be. That whole modular system in the video could be emulated on the computer.

Compared to this which is a full modular system that kind of emulates an expanded djsetup/super simple ableton live setup:

The tools are supert open. It is up to the performer how safe he or she wants to do it.

So while it is perfectly fine to have a preference maybe it is more about blaming the artists’ lazyness more than the tools itself?