"Is it conceivable that in the future, electronic manipulations of timbre, texture and sound space will be understood as containing emotional depth and intellectual rigor equal to that of (for example) the 12 manipulated tones of the Western tradition?" — Micheal Veal from Dub: Soundscapes & Shattered Songs in Jamaican Reggae
A showcase of Houston-based experimental electronic music is happening Saturday at Super Happy Fun Land, with performances by Cyclea, LIMB, brightbluebeetle, Josiah Gabriel, Carlos Pozo and Pulse Rifle. I am also on the bill, performing as a duo with Spike the Percussionist. The show will be a rare opportunity to hear a wide variety of electronic artists who make music that's not exactly designed for the dance floor.
Manipulating several sliders and EQ/filter knobs on a large mixer requires the physical grace of an ambidextrous octopus.
If you come out to the show and feel compelled to get up and move, then by all means do so. But you probably want to leave the glow sticks at home.
And a glowing apple shall lead them . . .
The MacBook Pro laptop is usually the instrument of choice among electronic artists, in addition to effects boxes, homemade electronics, reconfigured instruments, MIDI controllers and mixers of all shapes and sizes. Unlike so-called Electronic Dance Music (E.D.M), experimental electronic music (Oh, what the hell, let's call it E.E.M!) encourages a homemade and hybrid approach to one's rig, with the goal being to create as wild and as personal sonic palette as possible.
The actual gear may be cheap and geared to the consumer, or expensive and nearly impossible to find for sale on this side of the ocean.
E.E.M. itself is usually instrumental (i.e. no singing), but artists may incorporate samples of spoken words or even live vocals into their performances. Combinations of instruments and electronics are not uncommon either, even in the generally beat-less, more abstract world of this music.
Many of E.E.M.'s practitioners come to it with a background in instrumental performance and/or composition. But then again, many do not.
"Quality isn't necessarily gauged by how well you can manipulate an instrument," says Jonathan Jindra who will perform as Cyclea this Saturday. "(But) instead by how well the artist manipulates the timbre of the listener's topological perception of sound."
To Move Or Not To Move
So in performance . . . what the heck are these E.E.M. artists DOING exactly?
Even if you don't play the guitar, when you see Pete Townsend doing his trademark windmill strumming, you the listener can connect that physical gesture to the sound blasting out of the amps. And of course, Guitar Hero has made musicians of us all.
Or at least reinforced some of the primal and goofy-ass moves that go into coaxing a sound out of an instrument.
The MacBook Pro laptop is usually the instrument of choice among electronic artists.
Throughout an E.E.M. performance, the musician(s) might sit quietly behind the glow of a laptop, barely moving . . . barely acknowledging the audience . . . while meticulously processing, cuing and mixing the strange and beautiful sounds you hear. Or, the musician may prepare their set in advance in such a way that a great deal of improvisation and physical motion will be required just to keep the music from falling apart.
Each individual piece of E.E.M gear determines how much body movement is required in a performance. Some effects boxes, controllers and definitely larger mixing desks demand a lot of physical, in-the-moment interactions. In performance, manipulating several sliders and EQ/filter knobs on a large mixer requires the physical grace of an ambidextrous octopus.
However, other E.E.M. instruments are happy to, with just the touch of a finger, spew out an endless stream of interesting noises until you can no longer pay the electric bill.
Each artist on Saturday's show has their own particular approach to making music and sound, and their own unique combination of tools to do so.
I myself may jump up and down (i.e. "pogo") during my set. I've also been known to smile, especially when the music is sounding good.
Both Cyclea and Carlos Pozo will have visual projections to accompany their sets, by Brian Traylor and Pablo Gimenez Zapiola respectively. Jindra and Pozo are also visual artists, and inspiration from visual mediums is not uncommon among electronic artists.
"I'll often approach my work like a film score," says Paul Connolly who will perform as brightbluebeetle. "However abstract the work, I want to take the listener on a journey, or tell a story."
Carlos Pozo quotes one of the pioneers of process oriented electronic music in rock music, self-described "non-musician" Brian Eno, as a way of explaining his more abstract aesthetic: "Ambient Music must be able to accommodate many levels of listening attention without enforcing one in particular; it must be as ignorable as it is interesting."
"However abstract the work, I want to take the listener on a journey, or tell a story."
In contrast, LIMB, my set with Spike, and Pulse Rifle will likely offer a more visceral approach to performance, as our influences include power noise, punk rock, and free improvisation.
The only thing that's certain is that no two sets will sound alike.
Super Happy Fun Land Experimental Electronic Music mixtape (A sampling of music by the artists performing this Saturday):
Cyclea - Fukkaeri
LIMB – Mr. Warrior Kissherson
Carlos Pozo – Infinite Fastlights
Pulse Rifle - The Plexivoid
Chris Becker – Erotique Concrète
brightbluebeetle – All Day Driving West
Josiah Gabriel – 03 Job
Spike the Percussionist (aka Astrogenic Hallucinauting) - Circular Chambers