Friday, December 23, 2005

Emotion Killed the Stage Musician

Many are the live musicians who say technology killed their profession. In the 1970s disco moved in and spinning records became as common on dance floors as funk bands and pop divas. In consequence, typical instrument-driven groups were driven to the sidelines over the next few decades. It saved the club owners money to pay one MC who had a lot less gear to load and comrades to pay. Besides, patrons were increasingly searching for entertainment instead of talent. All music experienced a be-bop like transformation, where only select appreciators cared about the caliber of stage sound; and, well, people just wanted to dance.

The technology that created this deejay boom in the '70s has gone through countless transformations. Technologically-driven music has progressed far beyond placing a disc upon and needle and letting it ride. Hip-hop music, the gem of today's industry, relies almost exclusively on pre-programmed beats, while numerous genres, like techno and house, emerged as viable outlets through the last two decades.

While these genres lent themselves just as easily to the dance floor as disco era classics, other forms of electronic music also became forerunners on the modern music scene. Electronica, synthpop and industrial musics, just to name a few, shined the spotlight on craft instead of the dance floor.

Aspiring musicians lapped up these new sounds, but advances in technology are not enough to explain the boom in electronic music. (People have easy access to traditional polka melodies, but there aren't tons of young people rushing out to buy accordions). There must be something else attracting people to computer screens, synthesizers and processors.

I'd like to think this impetus comes from the lack of emotional connection in today's youth. Now this statement may make sound like a grandma "in my day" statement, but I'm only 23 years-old, so I am speaking from experience. Technically a product of "generation X," which is defined by its apathetic attitude and attachment to material goods, I am also a stubborn fan of live shows, performed by live musicians.

I'm not busting on electronic music, it can be just as stimulating as a live set if created and executed by the right person. What I suggest is that the rise of technology in music, while it has contributed to home recording and distribution efforts, has also been a deterrent to those out and about on the live music scene.

However, electronic music will not be taking a back seat to live performance anytime soon. It's such a perfect fit for a generation who wishes nothing more than to shield its vulnerabilities. I went to two live shows in the Syracuse area on December 22. One band was an Irish rock band, playing an Irish bar, the second, a neo-Classic rock band playing to a room full of college kids.

The players received due applause at the end of each song that was also shaped by the occasional whoop and call from an overly intoxicated youth; however, during the sets barely anyone paid attention. This is a pretty typcial night out in CNY. Now I'm not a musician, but I know if I worked tirelessly throughout my life to build the talent and balls to get myself onstage, I would want people to take notice.

With electronic music, there is little risk. Most electronic music is made for dancing, so it is more about the body than the mind. As long as arms, legs and booties are flailing, there are no hurt feelings exposed. (The genres that are made for listening rather than dancing are usually treated as live performances and can be classified with the ignored guitarist).

Another way in which electronic music tends to liberate the creator from emotion is by not having to rely on multiple partners. Some musicians are able to go the solo route, the singer/songwriter type or the virtuoso violinist, but more than likely, to create a full sound they are forced to collaborate. Electronic musicians only need to rely on their own judgment; computer programs don't normally tell you a riff is wack.

Lastly, while spinning a turntable and playing a synth has some physical connection, sitting in front of computer is not exactly a kinetic experience. Many instrument-geared musicians say playing is a way to exercise their demons or unleash their emotions. With no physical connection to the instrument that helps them make their craft except to push the "play" button, electronic musicians are able to keep a distance from that which they produce. Some people believe electronic music is inherently emotionless; this may be because its creator feels the same way.


Blogger Hey Eddie said...

This is an interesting thought; one of my good friends is a techno artist who calls himself Axiom Radar; he does small-time movie soundtracks now, and I always thought it was somewhat disorienting to see someone performing his "wall-of-sound," loud-as-hell music while literally just standing there twisting knobs. It's like this old Looney Tunes cartoon I saw where a little girl is armwrestling this giant guy who looks like Bluto from Popeye, and she's doing her nails or something while he's stressing out trying to win. It just looks...incongruous.

12:45 AM  
Blogger cantspeakitgood said...

Yeah, eddie, I get the same feeling watching some techno shows. Crystal Method was recently in town and they spent half their set sitting in chairs and letting their records spin. Why bother?

3:51 PM  

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