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Sunday, 25 March 2012

Gig Report: The adoration may not be universal

BiLe had two gigs yesterday but I'm just going to talk about the second one. However, first I'm going to talk about some gigs I played a few years ago. One was a cafe gig, or possible several cage gigs. They tend to blend together. I was playing tuba with some free improvisers, including the owner of the cafe. A bunch of people were there talking, we started to play and just about everybody left.

It's slightly uncomfortable, but it's well known to anybody who has ever played in a cafe. And there have been times when I've meant to have a cup of coffee and talk with friends and then, rather than talk over the music, we've moved on when it started. At other times, I've been happily surprised by live music and there have been many times I've gone out to a cafe specifically to hear the music that was programmed.

The other was in 2004 and I had just started doing live computer pieces in SuperCollider, but they were not interactive, they were live realisations. (I called them "press the button" pieces.) I was testing out a new one at an open mic night at a restaurant. My friend had organised the evening and asked me to play, but it was me and all acoustic guitars. It was a very early version of the piece and it still had some major aesthetic problems, which became glaringly apparent as it played. Many people in the room left to go home over the course of the piece. It was not a cafe, it was a restaurant. People had plates of food in front of them which they apparently abandoned during the longest 11 minutes of my life. (I blogged about this at the time.)

A few things happened as a result of this. One was that a busboy came out and game me a thumbs up, I'm pretty sure because he liked the music, but you never know. Another was that I instantly got much more respect from my colleagues at the university. For my own part, I pledged to become more aware of how listeners may respond to pieces I was working on to try to prevent a repeat of this. And finally, I learned the value of playing things in front of people as part of the path to finishing a piece.

The reasons for the increased respect from my colleagues is slightly complex. Part of it was simple elitism, but I think a part of it was an encouragement to take risks. Being likeable is not enough. Some fantastic music is loved upon first listening. But a lot is hated. A lot of fantastic an important pieces caused riots on their first playing. 4'33" by John Cage, Rite of Spring by Stravinsky and Ballet Mecanique by George Antheil are all well-known examples of this. Of course, causing an uproar does not mean that you're good. You could just be terrible. But it does mean you're taking a risk.

Of course, I tend to blunder into risks blindly and be caught a bit by surprise.

TEDxBrum

Localities can put on their own, independent TED conferences. One in Birmingham decided to invite BiLE and despite having a gig already lined up the same morning, we agreed to to play.

I'd been at the LoveBytes festival in Sheffield (which was excellent) the day before and stayed over. Alas, it turned out that the reason that my hotel room was so cheap was because it was directly over a Reggae club. I think my room must have been right over the bass amp. One song was in the same key as the resonant frequency of the door frame. We woke up early yesterday morning, played a set at a headphone concert at the LoveBytes Festival, and then got on a train back to Birmingham and got to the MAC centre just in time to set up and play another set at TEDx

We waited nervously back stage for our turn, filed in and started to play XYZ by Shelly Knotts. For some reason, there was a lot of crashing. Chris missed the entire piece, trying to recover from a crash. Julien and Shelly both crashed mid-piece, but were able to recover quickly. I did not crash, but I'm the last to come in. It was sparse and a bit stressful, but we got through it. We've played that piece a lot previously. It's not our first piece, but it's the first we proposed, as we spent our first-ever meeting writing a vague proposal to NIME last year and this was the piece that we played there.

Then we played Sonnation 2 by Julien Guillamat. We've only played that piece a couple of times before, but it's not difficult. I forgot to plug in my faders and spent the first two minutes trying to figure out what was wrong and then recovering, so it also had some sparseness. The end was not as tight as it could be and I smiled a bit at the error, but then it was over and we filed back off stage.

We always have problems with having the right sort of game face for playing live. I've been working on my posture, but we still sometimes slip into head resting on arm with elbow on the table. And I should have kept a straight face at the end. I typed some lines into the speech synthesiser to announce piece titles, which is something I've seen other bands do at laptop concerts. I have mixed feelings about it. It seemed better than not engaging at all (which is what we usually do, alas) and we didn't have a microphone.

Afterwards, we went outside to wait for the talks to end so we could break down our gear. It was then that somebody pulled out their smart phone to check Twitter.

Reactions

The tweets are below in chronological order (oldest first). While it was clear the performance had some technical issues, it had not seemed unusual in any way. We picked pieces that I thought would be accessible. XYZ has computer game elements, including players competing for control of sound parameters and lo-fi game-ish graphics. Sonnations also seems accessible in that is uses live sampling of metallic instruments, something that has worked with Partially Percussive and because it has a physically performative element at the end. Plus it gets nice sounds.

It may be that the difference between reactions to Sonnations and, say, Partially Percussive may have to do with managing audience reactions in some way. The bells do sound nicer than the kitchen hardware, but, because they look like instruments, the audience may be expecting something much more conventionally tonal. They resonances of the metal bowls might be a nice surprise vs the cow bell sounds might be slightly disappointing. Of course, it's even more likely that the audience would have found the use of kitchen objects to be unbearably pretentious. It may have been better to play Act 2 of the Laptopera as the second piece. It sounds weirder, but the obvious references to spam email, especially the penis-enlargement ones are funny and may have engaged them. Or maybe not. It's hard to know.

We're playing at the symphony hall in May and this does have me a bit worried in that I would not have predicted these crashes and I don't know what caused them. And I'm worried that we might be too brutal for fans of minimalism. It's caught on much more than other genres of 21st century art music and appeals to a mainstream audience. Just because an audience wants to be challenged a bit, doesn't mean they want what we do.

On the other hand, as somebody who often specialises in noise music, I've never expected to get mass approval or even approval from the majority of people at any given gig. Probably the only exception here is that I'm not usually as directly exposed to audience reaction. And, indeed, there were people who liked it. So maybe it's a storm in a teacup? It's impossible to get perspective on things from the stage, as it were.

Tweets

  • About to find out what a laptop ensemble is at #TEDxBrum @EskimoDalton
  • And the laptop ensemble are (is?) using macbook pros, because they're the best kind of laptops #ilovemac #tedxbrum @Dr_Bob82 (replies)
  • Oh...it's BILE! Ha! #TEDxBrum @EskimoDalton
  • What a treat. Watch the bham laptop ensamble being streamed live on #tedxbrum websire now x @JoyOfFengShui
  • Using iphone as a sound control device - motion control + music = electro-weirdness! #tedxbrum @Dr_Bob82
  • It's like being stuck INSIDE A LAPTOP right now #tedxbrum @Dr_Bob82
  • i got a headache can we get @Flutebox on pls? #tedxbrum @tedxbrum @Flutebox @aerosolali
  • The Birmingham Laptop Ensemble. It could only come out of the University of Birmingham. #tedxbrum #notforme @mrmarksteadman
    • @mrmarksteadman :-) @carolinebeavon
    • @carolinebeavon I'm sure it's all really clever, but just a tad self-indulgent for me @mrmarksteadman
    • @mrmarksteadman I agree. No real musical quality from what I can tell ... But then, I went to BCU ;-) @carolinebeavon
    • @carolinebeavon That's kinda my point! Good, no-nonsense uni ;) Sad to have missed @flutebox; will defo check out the @civicolive replay @mrmarksteadman
    • @mrmarksteadman yup. They were great. This ... Hmmmm, not a fan @carolinebeavon
    • @carolinebeavon Guess you had to be there. Oh no, you are, sorry. And it continues. *sigh* mrmarksteadman
    • @mrmarksteadman let me out!!!!! :-) @carolinebeavon
    • @carolinebeavon OH GOD IT'S SO SMUG! I CAN'T TAKE HOW PLEASED THEY ARE WITH THEMSELVES! (Sorry… just… yeah, sorry.) #tedxbrum @mrmarksteadman
  • Not getting the laptop ensemble - will try harder #tedxbrum @mrspicto
  • I was expecting some form of 8bit electro music. This is not that. #tedxbrum @JAWilletts
  • I think the computers have taken over #tedxbrum @dorvago
  • Very impressive technically, although not sure if it's supposed to be music? #tedxbrum @Dr_Bob82
    • @Dr_Bob82 BiLE = sound art ?! @PostFilm
    • @PostFilm I'd agree that it was 'sound' but never been a fan of electro-music :) @Dr_Bob82
    • @Dr_Bob82 sound art: I guess it's just a matter of taste. You don't hang someone for not liking coffee, anchovies, or cucumber @PostFilm
    • @PostFilm It's definitely a matter of taste, although occasionally I have felt socially ostracised for not liking coffee ;) @Dr_Bob82
    • @Dr_Bob82 harmony, melody, rhythm are culture- and time-specific; but electroacoustic is so broad now that it's difficult to generalise @PostFilm
  • @BiLEnsemble > visually Kraftwerk/Modified Toy Orchestra minus suits, audibly Aphex Twin via laptops & remote controls. Madness! #TEDxBrum @asmallfurrybear
  • #TEDxBrum Bored already @Keybored_KATz
  • Horrible feeling that this isn't going down as expected... Please, some melody for the love of god!! #tedxbrum @Dr_Bob82
  • #TEDxBrum Trying to be positive - but really - pass the paracetamol @Pictoontwit
  • Birmingham Laptop Ensemble - using interference to create music! #tedxbrum http://pic.twitter.com/PmCOiBQG @CerasellaChis
  • #TEDxBrum I feel very old right now. @Stephen_Griffin
  • It's like a game, where I don't know the rules and can't tell if it's glitching or not. #tedxbrum @JAWilletts
  • Think there's some sort of Kinect-type deal going on here as well with controlling the 'music' #tedxbrum @Dr_Bob82
  • No, sorry I tried but not for me ( laptop ensemble) #TEDxBRUM @mrspicto
  • somebody pls where is nathan @Flutebox come back pls! #tedxbrum @aerosolali
  • #TEDxBrum can Flutebox come back on please @Pictoontwit
  • #tedxbrum not sure what to make of this music @simonjenner
  • @BiLEnsemble > a possible contender for @supersonicfest 2012 line up? #TEDxBrum @asmallfurrybear
  • nah not for me... Seems too out of control & random...“@vixfitzgerald: I don't get it #TEDxBrum Birmingham laptop ensemble :( ??” @Soulsailor
  • Like War of the Worlds meets Aphex Twin meets an over-enthusiastic computer geek #tedxbrum @Dr_Bob82
  • Anyone else not got a clue what's going on? Even the performers look disinterested! Smile and nod, smile and nod... #TEDxBrum @MykWilliams
  • Its getting an interesting Twitter reaction. Not sure whether it's quite a bit too revolutionary. #tedxbrum @JAWilletts
  • As if my head didn't hurt enough from all the ideas #TEDxBrum crammed in, BiLE start their intense sonic assault http://yfrog.com/khb13bqj @orangejon
  • Birmingham Laptop Ensemble at #TEDxBrum http://pic.twitter.com/DdGoqzSJ @stanchers
  • #TEDxBrum that made Kraftwerk look pedestrian Stephen_Griffin
  • Birmingham Laptop Orchestra. Industrial grunge synth from the 70s. A little to atonal for me. #tedxbrum @DaveSussman
  • Please. Melody. Just a little bit. I won't tell the experimentalist musicians that you did it #tedxbrum @Dr_Bob82
  • Amazing stuff around here. :) #TEDxBrum @CerasellaChis
  • Talk amongst yourselves. #tedxbrum @mrmarksteadman
  • #TEDxBrum I am sure there mothers are very proud - I am now reflecting on the value or otherwise of a University education @Pictoontwit
  • I feel like this needs an explanation #TEDxBrum @chargedatom
  • Hmm sorry but please don't "play" another "track" /Birmingham laptop Ensemble ;-( #WTF #TEDxBrum @Soulsailor (replies)
  • WE NEED MOAR COWBELL!: http://www.funnyordie.com/videos/80a71ef8cb/more-cowbell #tedxbrum Dr_Bob82
  • ...but i do like the guys stickers on his laptop.... #tedxbrum @aerosolali
  • #TEDxBrum the power of social media - and when you die on your feet even faster @Pictoontwit
  • Really not feeling Laptop Ensemble.I'm afraid at #TEDxBrum even they look bored. @carolinebeavon
  • Wouldn't it be better to just plug an iPod in. #tedxbrum @dorvago
  • The cowbell is a way too understated instrument, let's get the cowbell trending too! #TEDxBrum #morecowbell @TEDxBrum
  • Is it possible to rehearse this? #seriousquestion #TEDxBrum @chargedatom
    • @chargedatom I think they're winging it. Most UoB students do ;) @Dr_Bob82
  • @BiLEnsemble it's interesting to watch here in the MAC. Physical meets digital, theres so much that could go wrong, it's working!! #tedxbrum @Ben_R_Murphy
  • If we don't get more cowbell, we may as well all go home #cowbell #tedxbrum @Dr_Bob82
  • Who spiked my drink with acid? Is this real? #TEDxBrum @craiggumbley
  • I for one, was happy to have #8bit of silence ¦-) #bless RT @mrmarksteadman Talk amongst yourselves. #tedxbrum @Jacattell
  • #TEDxBrum the emperor's new laptop? @Stephen_Griffin
  • I'm now imagining myself in a rainforest. Away from this. Far away. #tedxbrum @Dr_Bob82
  • #TEDxBrum PLEASE STOP @Pictoontwit
  • Britain 's not got talent sorry #TEDxBrum @vixfitzgerald
  • One of them must be checking the twitter feed #tedxbrum #multitasking @dorvago
  • Oh dear twitter generated laughter in danger of breaking out now. At least it is a more positive effect than i expected #tedxbrum @mrspicto
  • Ah, so they played instruments at the start, recorded them, now they've digitised and resampled them and are playing them back #tedxbrum @Dr_Bob82
  • I'm not at #TEDxBrum, but finding the tweets about the "Laptop Ensemble" hilarious. It sounds dreadful (but I bet you all clap at the end). @editorialgirl
  • Ordered chaos; #LOVEIT! MT @Soulsailor nah not for me... Seems too out of control & random... /cc @vixfitzgerald #TEDxBrum @Jacattell
  • #morecowbell #lesscowbell would it make a difference?? #TEDxBrum @chargedatom
  • Massive TUNE! #tedxbrum @n_chalmers
    • @n_chalmers will buy u the CD for ur bday! #tedxbrum @J_K_Schofield
    • @n_chalmers going to download this one after for sure @kathpreston1
  • Twitter is my outlet. Can't keep straight face. #TEDxBrum @karldoody
  • No one said innovation was going to be easy, right? #TEDxBrum @TEDxBrum
  • #TEDxBrum Warming to BiLE - snugly weird. @Stephen_Griffin
    • @Stephen_Griffin Was that smugly weird? #tedxbrum @Dr_Bob82
  • So now the track is on a loop and they're playing along 'in real time' with it. Except it sounds... well... it's finished now #tedxbrum @Dr_Bob82
  • Balls. #tedxbrum @mrmarksteadman
  • #TEDxBrum .... Laptop Ensemble ... Seriously ... Is that it ;-) @shuhabtrq
  • I want to see more people preoccupied with the stuff BiLE is doing. #TEDxBrum @CerasellaChis
  • Well I liked it... #TEDxBrum @stanchers
  • Brilliant performance from Laptop Ensemble BiLE - enjoyed watching and listening to them on the live stream #TEDxBrum @PostFilm
  • thinks BiLE upset some #tedxbrum delegates who did not want to open up to sound art and opportunity for digital experimentation @PostFilm
  • Skimmed the #TEDxBrum stream - if that sad reaction to @BiLEnsemble is accurate reflection of audience vibe I'm glad I'm not there. @peteashton
    • @peteashton Actually the reception to it IN THE ROOM in the real world was warm. The dissenters were vocal on Twitter. Go figure. @helgahenry
    • @peteashton We don't know how much info (if any) was given to the audience about what they were listening to. Tweets sounded... surprised. @editorialgirl
    • @editorialgirl Indeed. I just don't think I'd enjoy being in an audience which is surprised in that way by their work. Which is fine. @peteashton
    • @peteashton if it's any consolation at all, I was there, at TEDxBrum & I enjoyed BiLE. New to me, a surprise, yes, but in a good way! @KendaLeeG
  • @hellocatfood I think you v can now legitimately claim to be a misunderstood artist now! The #TedxBrum audience just weren't ready for you. @AndyPryke
  • @gregmcdougall there was a random laptop music segment that didn't work for me then more awesomeness #TEDxBrum @Soulsailor
  • for me 'sound art' is part of the creative "T" in TED. More radical digitral sonic experimentation please from BiLE #tedxbrum @PostFilm
  • Oddest moment today: watching @BiLEnsemble use modern technology to give the audience a scarily accurate experience of tinnitus. #tedxbrum @catharker
  • #tedxBrum @BiLEnsemble have potential. I heard some cool sounding stuff and was a little jazzy. Maybe mix with instruments/samples/beats? @RenewableSave
  • i see bile at #tedxbrum has caused some controversy. i don't think any performer has an inherent right to have their performance liked. @simonjgray
    • (& i type this as somebody who has made music which is well far from being universally liked. #tedxbrum ) @simonjgray
  • Really enjoyed playing at #lovebytes and #tedxbrum yesterday... as well as the post-TED discussion ;) @BiLEnsemble
    • @BiLEnsemble and we enjoyed you! @TEDxBrum, out of interest, was the #lovebytes performance different? @Ben_R_Murphy
    • @BiLEnsemble well done BiLE performing at #tedxbrum !!!! @InterFace_2012
  • @celesteh obvious there were probs at #TEDxBrum, but I enjoyed the pieces - although was brought up on Harvey's "Mortuos Plango, Vivos Voco" @davidburden
  • BiLE Blog #tedxbrum http://celesteh.blogspot.co.uk/2012/03/gig-report-adoration-may-not-be.html @PostFilm
  • BiLE's last piece at #TEDxBrum http://dl.dropbox.com/u/8693004/TedxBrum%20BiLE.mp3 Quietat points so some mobile signal interference. @Acuity_Design

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

I think the general consensus with those I spoke to was that if it had been introduced as experimental music using the technology etc I think folks would have understood more what was trying to be achieved rather than just "VJ".

@mixedreality

Alex B said...

I've often felt that having someone from the group explain the thinking behind each piece before it's played would benefit you guys.

Anonymous said...

I dunno, I think it's a better idea than reality. BiLE doesn't talk to the audience or really even acknowledge them. it comes off as a bunch of geography teachers checking their email. and the music is technically nice but utterly soulless. sorry guys :(