Dear Deadmau5, and whom it may concern.
From Zachary Hendel, A fellow button pusher
Deadmau5 has recently started a conversation about whether DJ’s or electronic musicians just push buttons. I would like to address that. I have been dealing with this issue in personal conversations while studying piano (keyboard technology) in college. I agree with deadmau5, but he only presented a problem. Here is my solution.
”What the fuck is live”
The big issue here is not that DJ’s Just push buttons. What I believe deadmau5 is aggressively asserting is the want to go beyond that. By the comment section of his editorial I think i can also say that many EDM (electronic dance music) fans also share the desire for live music. What the fuck is live. In a seminar Steve Duda (deadmau5′ right hand man) gave at my school, he said that “live is ability for something to go wrong”. Now the degree for something to go wrong is all up for debate. But there is no question that this is a great definition of what live is.
“Now you’ve got a cackle of angry Lynyrd Skynyrd fans, and that’s just a scary thought”
What is and isn’t live? Deadmau5 touches on his own live show in his article, and in my opinion his show, compared to others on the top of the EDM charts, is very live. When you compare Deadmau5 to Lynyrd Skynyrd, well, Lynyrd Skynyrd is more live. What if Gary Rossington (guitarist from lynyrd Skynyrd) didn’t play the over played, pre planned, award winning solo and decided to improv? Now you’ve got a cackle of angry Lynyrd Skynyrd fans, and that’s just a scary thought. So is that live? Its extremely redundant to play the same thing every night, but it works. Now you could compare Lynyrd Skynyrd to The Grateful Dead and then Jerry to Ornette Coleman, but i just don’t have time for that. What i do have time for however is point out the biggest difference, Deadmau5 has… technology. Not electricity, we are talking CPU. Computers.
”a human can play off the crowd.”
Can a computer be live? Lets talk about a grand piano. Today a computer can certainly play a grand piano. In layman’s terms… you run midi to a player piano and boom it essentially plays itself. You can play notes softer and louder with velocity on a 1/127th level of accuracy. A human certainly can’t match this accuracy of velocity. So can I conclude its superior?
Well, what a human can do is not play that accurate, feel the groove and adapt and change it to see fit. Probably the most important, a human can play off the crowd.
Its up to the human to decide what subdivision they wish to play on. Note for note, beat for beat (like arrabmusik does on an mpc), bar for bar, or section for section. In a traditional DJ’s case its song for song. The smaller the subdivision the more live it should feel, because of the amount that could go wrong. So a computer or a track alone can not be live. Only a human touch can. But another problem that deadmau5 runs into is there is only a certain amount of stuff one man can do. (let alone while wearing a giant mouse head.)
“there is only a certain amount of stuff one man can do”
Another issue that has been born out of EDM, and the present future in general, is this concept of one man doing everything, the bedroom producer, the man behind the computer screen. Back to a guy playing a grand piano… If this grand piano player is playing to a pre programed track, or even playing to loops he created live on stage, he can lock in with them, but they dont change, they dont move, they aren’t human.
“we mean adjective “Not dead or inanimate; living””
So wait what is live? its life, its the human touch that technology can not recreate. When we say we want to see a show that’s live we don’t mean the adverb “at an event or performance” we mean adjective “Not dead or inanimate; living”. Technology comes close, and is definitely close enough for a producer to make a entire classical score out of a 200 dollar copy of logic. Sadly for live, we just are not there yet. Someday we will be at a place where computers will be able to recreate this feeling between two or more humans live, and i am personally excited for that day, but it’s not today.
My conclusion was to start a band. I play the computer, and currently play with over educated phenomenal drummer and bassist. And I struggle. I struggle to not just push buttons, to play that piano live, to trigger loops on a smaller and smaller subdivision every time. Because I could program ableton to just play through the set for me and just press the spacebar at the start of the show. I struggle to not just program the whole thing, smoke a cigarette, and watch them play the track. The only thing stopping me is the want to be human too. And I use technology… Multiple output sound cards send personal mixes to the band so they can lock in with what they want and then i can play back to what they spit out. And I don’t want to sound pre programed but I also don’t want to sound like a jam band and to find that middle ground is HARD! But instead of ranting and raving about what’s wrong I spend my time on trying to find the solution. Deamau5 is right… its about the audience, but it’s also about me. You go to a show to release to be happy, and if i’m on stage not happy with the fact i feel like i’m just pushing buttons how do I lead the audience to a place that I’m not heading towards myself.
I will write more about this band but don’t want this editorial to seem like im selling us, I’m really trying to communicate how i feel about the state of live music today. Thank you for taking the time to read my opinions outside of a short Facebook post.
This has been re-posted with permission from myself from my electronic music blog, Ableton Empire. These two lines are a shameless promotion, but if your interested, thats where you can find more of me.