Apart from making techno music, I often play other genres like jazz, minimal classical piano compositions or just fool around with odd tempo signatures, which will never make it to the club.
I was visiting my Father's countryside workshop where I keep two 300W concert speakers. Because I knew he probably would not enjoy a 5hr techno practice and synthesized sound creation noises, I improvised some chilled, jazzy tunes. It was inspired by John Coltrane's Favourite things- a mellow loop on Rhodes, a warm base sequence on TB-3, the bass synthesizer and drum synthesizer, all in 4/4 tempo. It sounded pretty nice, not much like electronic music but rather like a classic jazz ensemble performance.
Anyway, I was playing solos with my right hand and kept changing the bass and drum sounds with the other one. The sequences were evolving, notes were added and removed - my favorite live act style. If you watched me turning all the knobs, playing the solos etc. you would see that I am actually playing it all. I was thinking that I must be looking pretty busy, but after few minutes my Father came to the studio. He stood in the doors, looked at all the lights on the synthesizers, looked at my movements which he did not really understand. I reset the whole song and showed him how quickly incredible sounds can be built and sequenced, how the overdubs are added and removed, notes modified etc. He just looked at me like I remember from the childhood (the image of showing him my new Lego creations or whatever) and said "Nice toys, son. It is all so automatic and computerized. You just press start button... what a pity these are not real instruments". And left.
I was so disappointed, but I quickly laughed to myself - My Ol'man was so sincere. The old generation did not have contact with this kind of instruments ever. They consider blinking lights and electronic circuits as toys, nothing related to real instruments. The sequencer which plays a number of sounds one after another is an artificial computer but a crankcase lira which does exactly the same - no, this is a real instrument. By real - he meant classic ones, those which were used and mastered for past few hundred years. Those instruments which finally made it to such a level that if you see a fool sitting with a viola, you consider him a musician, an artist, while if you see someone controlling with an incredible skill a plastic rhythm synthesizer, some people think - Meh, it is all automatic. it is a computer.
What those people do not understand (yet), is that these devices create sounds which have never been heard, which are associated or related to real instruments, but they take the sound to a much different, higher level which has never been possible to achieve. Electric current is a natural phenomenon, it is new element humanity learned to use as a tool. I wonder when electronic music will separate the so called bedroom studio producers and art, just like rock and roll once did. However, rock used instruments known for ages. Synthesizers are known for less than 50 years. Live electronic music needs virtuosos.
I had some trouble seeing well the sequencer in dark clubs or even at night at home with mild light. I am talking about the situation when you want to manually add high hats on the go etc. Here is an overlay for anyone who needs a more clear visual reference or just needs a nice touch for JD-Xi. Since the drum part is inspired with the TR-808 sequencer, the stripe is in the acid legacy colors:
INSTRUCTIONS: Download the file, print it 1:1 on A4 size, adhesive matt foil (any printing service in town should be able to do it) then cut it out. The dimensions are exactly matching the height and width of JD-Xi official overlay.
Electronic music has a lot of connotations - it means different things in different contexts, but above all, it applies to a commercial, popular music industry products. This is usually the first contact an average listener has - radio songs by Kraftwerk, Madonna, Depeche Mode, Coldplay, Alicia Keys, Lady Gaga etc. Sometimes the first experience comes while watching movies like Shining, Clockwork Orange, Bladerunner, Stranger Things etc.
Electronic music is often connected with a spacious and abstract ambient or/and noisy experimental scene. The majority of crowd might be scared right off with the event having "experimental electronic music" in its name, but this is an effect of certain way musical culture brought us up. It used to mean (often still does) music, compositions made in contrary to everything we know and we are used to. However, experimentalism nowadays is a practice of not making music totally against all known rules but in relation to what the music is today. This quote from a book by B. Piekut refers to the situation found in recent 2008:
(...) experimentalism is not a metaphysical essence but a series of unusual practices whose strangeness stands out in relation to whatever the mainstream happens to be.
- Piekut Benjamin, New York Experimentalism 1964.
Experimentalism is now someone making electronic music in a way that was not served before. For me, the 100% live acts are a new, very demanding thing for any music. While performing live acts, music comprehension evolves, the performer educates the listeners to understand the music in a new way: "This is not a record, this is a musical piece I created now. Each and single note, even if pre-programmed on a sequencer, is elastic - it can be taken out, modified, delayed, whatever I want to do with it." Listeners can see a connection eg. between a movement of a hand pressing keys and chords being played - you see the music creation process. All in all, there is nothing revolutionary in the music itself. Live music is similar often on a sonic level, but it is far more different from a regular DJ performance. However, the turntablists, DJs those who create new songs by scratching and combining eg. three different records at one time, are a crossover between a regular DJ performance and live music.
The difference is subtle - but above all, any DJ, whatever he does, can always play a record and leave the stage for few moments, pick up the mobile, chat with friends etc. The song will play, rolls and parts will be heard, as obviously it is a pre-made record. While a live synthesizer performer.... if you leave the stage for few moments, during this time nothing will change - it will be a constant loop set a moment before leaving the stage. While playing live on hardware, talking over the phone cuts one hand out, talking with friends can be confusing when you are in between a long chord with one hand and trying to perfectly trigger the kick drum with the other. Just to give you an idea on how demanding it is.
Synthesizers used to be considered as sophisticated university labs equipment. Now anybody can buy a decent digital or analog synth, small looper effect pedal, and voilla - with enough skills you can become an ambient live act musician. Those who do not play any instrument, draw music on computers.
In the times, when making live electronic music is a possibility any musician can have, we enter a new pioneer stage - the evolution of electronic music into fine art through live experiments happening in real-time. We can now gather a group of synth players on one stage. They won't need a whole stage for their large modular synthesizers, huge and heavy post 80's synthesizers etc. The music industry is making every small and portable, yet limited, but overcoming those limitations is a new style of using those instruments, which might evolve into your own sound signature or stage signature.
This brings a new experience to crowds in clubs, cafeterias or concert halls. My good friend recently said that live performance electronic music will never have that "thing", that the pre-recorded, mixed and mastered in a professional studio vinyl recording has. Maybe if you listen to it on a mobile speaker at home, this statement might be right. But it is far different. A good comparison is a theater play recorded on a movie and live theater performance. The first one is pre-made, combined with fantastic visual and post processing done by a computer and dozens of technicians, while the theater performance is pre-planned and any visual, vocal etc. any special effect is a real-time struggle with your own possibilities. If well made, it gives a far stronger experience for the audience, as they are part of it. DJacts for drug fueled audience can take it real high too, but live acts can hold a deeper sense of katharsis, when the performance is as perfect as the DJset ...and then you realize that everything that is done here is made live, in real time, you are part of it, it is happening in front of you... /insert a sound of jaw dropping on the floor/.
A photo made during a soundcheck on 14th May 2017 at Kwadratowa club.
I must admit, that even though I have been an active pianist for more than 10 years, I have always humbly accepted the weight and size of my transportation kits. There was always enough room on stage or the floor. When I started playing techno music in underground clubs, picnics, galleries etc. I started to realize that bringing an 88 key synthesizer with a whole set of additional instruments is impossible to fit in many DJ booths, especially when DJ's are playing there too and need the whole deck space for themselves. There is a smaller and lighter version of my Juno DS with 61 synth keys, weighing only 5,2kg (my current version of Juno DS weights 17kg). That was my target - to have the two Juno sisters under one roof.
Quite recently I started looking around those mini key synthesizers like Microkorg, Novation ...and then I bumped into Roland's JD-Xi. It is considered to be a decade late reply to ever popular Microkorg. Because it looks like a shining little "toy" and most demos were not so impressive (focused on EDM mostly) I never focused much on it. Never judge the book by it's cover. Just by accident, I found out, that this little beast has a four track sequencer - which basically means that you can play 4 sounds at one time - two digital sounds, one for drums and the fourth - an analog monophonic engine. Juno DS has 8, JD-Xi has only 4, but it weighs 2,2kg and has around 50cm length! Less carriage, less space but almost the same possibilities.
My musical muscles are growing almost every day. I try to practice very often, on average, it is 2h daily. If you work on regular basis and also you are not a lifeless nerd, then 2 hours is really a lot. Of course, if you are sincere. Practice does not mean just exercising some difficult part of the song, but rather taking your time developing a sound, taking chances in odd beats, making terrible mistakes, taking the pain of controlling numerous filters and sequencers- because failing is a nutrition for progress. There is one good quote for synthesizer many of the genres of electronic music creation process - "there are no mistakes, just happy little incidents". In this case, the incident does not have a pejorative sense. It is a step out which can lead you to a great trip. You decide.
I pretty much regret spending €55 on Korg Monotron Delay, as it has terrible audio sockets and it generates a ridiculous amount of noise when you hear it on the proper studio equipment. As I could not take any proper synthesizer with me on holidays, I took the smallish Monostron. Only a few days ago, I decided to try it out as a delay effect with my software & freeware android synths. The results are great - on one application I set an arpeggiator running, then I switch to another application to play chords & leads, then everything goes to the delay and it sounds really great. I imagine you could play a 30 minute ambient set with this two tools.
I played for around 5 hrs in the train, in a six person compartment, with all this stuff on my knees, as the picture shows it. I was wondering if someone might mistake all the cables and devices on my knees for some kind of bomb attack preparations... and no one asked me anything about it. Only one grunge kid shouted from the corridor while passing our compartment: "Hey man, that's a nice toy you have there". Toys'r'us.