Please note that the view point here is of the writer and not necessarily that of the club or it's members.

Playing Live

One of the things which lacks mostly within the electronic music scene, is public performances. There is not a lot of live music played, though the lack of a venue or more relevant lack of an audience is usually first to be blamed. This is perhaps somewhat untrue, for example when Jean Michel Jarre plays an electronic music concert, he attracts a few people, infact Jarre is in the Guiness book of records for attracting the largest audience to a concert, so the excuse that EM is not popular is rather destroyed by Jarre's success. The problem lies back with the performers (yep that's you reading this!). Most EM is produced by sequencing and multitracking layers of synths, this becomes virtually impossible to play live, and the complexity of controlling all the synths, sequencers, effects all under MIDI control and using computers on stage seems to be a paranoia to many. The point here (and I include myself with this criticism) is that EM has become too involved and sophisticated. Does real time MIDI control of eight simultaneous effects parameters really make better music. My experience is that it makes it impossible to play live, and I am sure many electro musicians are suffering with the same problem. What we need to do is write our own music in such a way that it can be performed live. This begins however with what instruments would be used live, therefore affecting how the music is written and arranged.

What do we need on stage? If you turn up at an EM concert, what would you want to see on stage? A computer screen and a rack of samplers and a single mega workstation, or a wall of synths and modulars flashing away with keyboard stands and cables everywhere? The latter will obviously create greater expectation of the performance. To take this a stage further, are you more likely to buy an album if it has a Modular synth or a Korg M1 on the front? At a live venue the visual is as important as the music, bands such as Pink Floyd with their light show perhaps take this to the extreme, and of course Jarre with his spectacles begin to take the attention off the music. Stage presence is important, and therefore I would suggest that an impressive keyboard array on stage is better. Modern synths are remarkably sophisticated, and most of them can do nearly everything, however controlling them in a live situation is far more difficult than sitting in your living room playing it. Setting multiple split points and having numerous patches in memory is an ingredient for disaster live. You will not remember where the splits are and where the patches are for the next song, or worse the sequencer will not send the right program change message to the right synth at the right time, and for a moment your entire performance collapses around you. Your biggest worry playing live will be, will everything work right on the night? maybe it will, but this additional worry is down to bad planning of your live set, and it will be this (perhaps unnecessary) concern will upset your performance. It is easier to have one synth per sound, therefore you know that the electric piano will always be an electric piano, and that the string machine will always be a string pad, and it won't become a synth stab half way up the keyboard.

Has it got MIDI? It seems that if an instrument does not have MIDI then it has no use. Remember this is live music, so play it live! If you analyse your system at present, those racks of multitimbral synths each with hundreds of sounds in, and your sys ex disk library of seven thousand FM sounds, but how many different sounds do you really use? Perhaps a string pad here, a synth lead there, the odd synthy brass stab thrown in and a squelchy analogue bass forever present. Most successful artists have a recognisable trademark sound, Vangelis and his CS80 brass sweep, Kitaro and his Korg 700s flutey lead sound etc. If you assume the basic sounds; Bass, Pad, Lead and Synthy chord stabs, this can be done on four instruments, and they do not have to be expensive instruments either. The combination of a String Machine like a Logan String Melody, Solina String Ensemble or Roland RS101 or RS202 will only cost around £100. For bass lines and lead lines, there are many mono synths that due to lack of CV/Gate or MIDI are still inexpensive, here are a few suggestions, Roland SH1000/SH2000, Jen SX1000, Kawai S100P, Korg Micropreset, Yamaha CS5/CS10/CS15, Moog Rogue/Prodigy etc. some of these can be got for less than £100 and all for under £200. Polysynth stab sounds can be achieved from the likes of Korg Poly 61/Poly 6, Roland Juno 6, Yamaha CS50 etc. none of these are likely to cost more than £200-£300. So this motley collection of synth history can be picked up for around £500, but will provide the stage presence, the live instruments and each one set to one sound and easy to use. Tuning should not be a problem on any of the mentioned instruments (well- except the Yamaha CS50, but the detuned chorusing grows on you!).

Sequencers. Up until now I have only mentioned the live played instruments, obviously some form of sequencing will be needed. Either a workstation/self contained instrument or hardware sequencer or data filer should be used, if you use a computer, you are introducing unpredictability which is what we are trying to avoid here. It is easier here if all the sequenced lines come from a single device, a sampler would be the best idea, though a large memory and no mid performance loading would keep it simple.

So our final stage system would be: four synths, a sampler and a sequencer, all patched to an eight or twelve input mixer, a single global reverb unit and then straight to the power amps. The only important aspect is the positioning of all this equipment on the stage.

Position of equipment on stage. The most important thing in stage layout, is of course playability, the synths must be positioned where they are easiest to control. Instruments for pad sounds should be positioned to the left, as it is assumed that the left hand will play these chords, and lead solo synths positioned to the right. The decision of whether to face the audience (so they see you) or for the instruments to face the audience (your back to them, but they see what you are doing) is down to how easy you feel with it. I personally would favour a half way idea, where you face sideways and position two synths front and two sideways. Positioning the synths each side of you will be difficult to play. The final decision on which instruments to use, is down to the sounds you need, but keeping the instruments dedicated to just one task will be so much easier. With a simple system on stage, you can now spend more time concentrating on your playing, which is what you should be doing when playing live.


If anyone has any ideas on Live performance, contact BSC


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