Esem/Eesn

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on not gigging

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From time to time, and often when I see a flood of gig videos in my Instagram feed, I spend a moment thinking about artists who don't typically perform live. Enya, Kate Bush, Joni Mitchell, Brian Eno, Jandek, all are said to dislike performing. Same for The Alan Parsons Project, Leonard Cohen. And let's not forget Boards of Canada.

All of them have had rare/occasional appearances.

The thing with electronic music is, some of it is exceptionally easy to play live. For instance, and without disrespect since a good show is as hard as anything, 4/4 techno lends itself to playing live in zero time whatsoever. On the opposite end, ambient music, slower and layered electronica, anything that is intricately designed, gets a lot harder to recreate live from source, without resorting to replaying pre-recorded parts or tracks.

So performances I've seen have been usually of either pre-recorded material (boring), or of process (risky), or of both. But what if one's time went exclusively towards prospecting for those lucky accidents, digging for the artefacts of interest in the mud of redundant sonics, saying No to yet another quick loop → delay → reverb chain or feeding tape loops into a semi-modular, semi-generative rig?

To avoid doubt, that last technique is currently one of my favourites. But the live shows I've seen that have been way apart from the rest have had years of pouring effort into bespoke sound, instruments, interfaces, gestures. Check out Mouse on Mars or Matmos live, even Isan. Now those are getting increasingly rare.

One could wonder what made those shows possible in the first place? I'm hugely interested in "sustainable" composing, arranging, sound-designing.

And somewhat exceptionally disinterested in performing live.

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