Saturday, September 09, 2006

places to play, other notions...

For some reason, playing in an art gallery really appealed to me when playing electro-music 2006. It was smoke free and focused on the music and visuals, electricity was good. Something about electronic music lends itself to objectifying the performance, the performer, and the accoutrements thereof, and setting up on the white pedestals enhanced that. It would have been even better if the chairs for the audience were more comfortable, and if the gallery had been air conditioned to be cooler, but that's hard to do. Also, acoustics, definitely not so great, but that should be expected in a generally spartan area meant to display things on stiff, flat, well-lit surfaces.

That said, playing in the club atmosphere, where the focus isn't necessarily all on the music, can be really fun. But the air can be so thick with smoke as to burn your esophagus right down to the stomach, and the reaction of the audience is often understandably blase'-- there is more important stuff going on -- but when it's appreciative it is truly so.

Having said all of that, to be able to play all original and often completely improvised electronic music even to a small audience anywhere is great, and Utenzil has been lucky in that all the audiences so far are not completely tiny.

Recently, having had an opportunity to observe some music listening audiences across a wide demographic and range of tastes at an event where the music was 'accompaniment' to the main activity, the following conclusions are drawn:

  • 95-100% of a music listening audience will respond either neutrally or favorably to rhythmic electronic music, based on head bobbing/semi-dancing behavior observed.
  • This response is more obvious among females than males.
  • Out of the 100%, 5-10% respond extremely favorably, such that one can reasonably expect that these would choose to attend an electronic music performance, given the opportunity.
  • Of the small percentage that respond negatively, some signifcant subset are electronic music aficianados, and the basis for their response is that the particular instance is not one they are fond of and the others are strongly attached to a particular non-electronic genre (that is, in both cases a kind of musical elitism is to blame).

    However, more negative response is provoked when an event is primarily music focused *and* the electronic music is being purveyed in a venue setting that is strongly associated with another genre.

    It is the case that modern electronic music is associated with raves and discos (or raves at discos). However, electronic music is largely a descendant of avant garde symphonic music.

    This causes the offering to teeter on ledge in the US, it falls over into the bin of background music for debauchery, or into the bin of esoteric artsy endeavour. In Europe, an additional bin is added: mainstream pop, and there is also the "DJ" vs. "Producer" vs. "Artist" dimension.

    If there is an analog to this anywhere, it's maybe Frank Zappa. This was someone who embraced new music technology and put it into practice, both innovator and early adopter. But the genre was definitely "rock", with some qualifier (hard, Progressive, experimental, fusion) even though it was often very un-rock like music, and much more towards jazz. The methods employed by Zappa and the Mothers of Invention were sophisticated, and even when the music was sophisticated it was often 'thrown away' in the service of a larger story or motif (a great example is Billy the Mountain). But, musicially, it could fall into the rock, jazz or 'totally experiemental' bins equally well, sometimes even within a single piece.

    A difference would be that there was also a social movement that Zappa served as something of an icon for, similar to the way the Grateful Dead did, and so there was an additional dimension for definition. A fair amount of music has this dimension in a way that electronic music does not. It is wrong to say that electronic music in it's entireity 'stands for' the semi-waning rave culture, but there is a subset of it that definitely does. While the idealized naive music listener who was 'browsing' electronic music for the first time at random would not know the association between artists and fads unless told, the typical real world music listener has a better grasp of the faddish aspects as opposed to the music per se, and as such condemn all such types of music when a particular fad was waning. Some music instantly conjures up images of zoot suits, or leisure suits, or hippies, or truckers.

    The obvious pattern is that music that is associated with a social movement or faddish lifestyle niche fades along with that movement or fad. Truly great examples of a fad-borne genre might endure, like the enigmatic statues on Easter Island, but it would tend to be at least 20 or more years before artists might re-examine that strain of music for further development, because of the strong association with a defunct mode.

    But the long and short is that in many musical genres there is always some current incarnation of 'bohemian' and 'classical' and 'mainstream' zones of a genre, and while primarily bohemian Zappa was able to navigate in all of those and also influence the larger genre and even ongoing practices in music as a whole, which is a cool thing to be able to do.

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