Sunday, March 20, 2016

Final Prep For Tonight's Gig at The Freemont

I'm playing a noise/experimental event at The Freemont in Des Moines tonight.  I've spent a lot of time practising this week and tweaked my setup and how I am approaching the set.

The problems of making electronic music performances sufficiently live are well known.  My set tonight won't be perfect, but it will be live, improvisational, unique and in the spirit of Beautiful Radiant Things' recordings.

Here is what has changed in the last couple of weeks.  If you are not an electronic musician you still might find this interesting as I think it says something about how people relate to technology.

Setup 1: Computer playing spoken word recordings parallel to effects fed by Korg Korg Monotron DELAY

That looked like this.  I blogged about it a few weeks ago.

I thought this would work out well with our without a drummer.  When having a drummer join me fell through I became very worried that this was not going to be dynamic or "live" enough.  In my desire to compensate and make the whole thing much more rock-n-roll I decided to add guitar.  

Setup 2: Computer playing spoken word recordings parallel to 
              effects fed by guitar parallel to
              guitar  (played through separate amp--signal split to feed "noise" effects going into DJ mixer)

This had a lot of advantages.  I own a great sounding closed-back guitar amp and I am a competent rock guitarist.  It would have added a significant live and visually interesting (compared to watching me stroke my chin and tweak knobs) element to the performance.  

It also gave me a lot more to worry about.  If you think of the effects and computer as two different instruments the addition of the guitar brings me up to three.  I don't like the one-person-band thing.  It divides my attention way too much.  Three instruments, three effects chains--it doesn't sound like a lot, but a jazz musician improvizes on one instrument while everyone else in the band is taking care of everything instrument per person.  I think that's the optimal musical arrangement.

Playing conventional electric guitar also gets away from my electronic MO of manipulating sounds (often pre-existing sounds) until they turn into something new and musically interesting.  Although I fully accept that the way I produce Beautiful Radiant Things recordings can't, unaltered, become live performance, live electric guitar was a BIG conceptual and spiritual departure.  That's OK.  I'm not saying it's a bad idea to combine them or that I won't do it in the future.  But was it what I wanted and worth the extra complexity?

As I spent more and more time getting comfortable with manipulating my effects in real time I started to wonder if I could create the dynamics and movement I wanted with a single sound source--no guitar, no monosynth--just the spoken words.  I plugged my computer directly into my effects and found that I could.  I don't even need to split the output of my laptop to be able to play an understandable version of the recordings to the audience.  The blend controls on the effects make this easy.

Setup 3: Computer playing spoken word recordings in-line with effects 

There are more physical pieces here than in the first picture but the experience of playing it is actually easier.  In addition to my increased familiarity with the effects this is a function of reduced parallelism[1].  The UC33 MIDI controller runs the software mixer in MIXXX (DJ software) on my laptop, where the spoken word recordings live.  The two outputs from the Digitech DL-8 delay pedal go into the right channel of one input and the left channel of the other input of the DJ mixer.  

In the picture my laptop is sitting on a Sony Minidisk recorder (MDS-JE510) connected to the tape output on the DJ mixer.  Maybe I can reuse some of these sounds later.

I think the best thing about the learning experience of developing this set has been realizing that I can take my love of turning one sound into another into the live performance realm.  I love playing guitar but I don't love the idea of adding guitar to my electronic music to compensate for some deficiency.  Tonight I am going to turn recordings of a 911 call from Madison Wisconsin into beats[2] in front of a live audience.

[1] I'm somewhat to reluctant to say that as I am actually a fan of parallel processing.  I would like to try doing something like this with a mixing board with lots of busses.  The granularity in how I could manipulate and mix the effects would approximate making a recording and potentially be really fun.
[2] Another thing I would like to try is tempo-syncing a similar collection of effects.  If I could add some sort of step sequencer, master clock and/or tempo-synced gates to a set-up like this I might be able to go farther with the rhythmic possibilities.  Currently I do some tempo-syncing of the delays and tremolo by ear, but if two or more effects were automatically synced it would free me up to listen for other things and make rhythmic changes quicker and cleaner.

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