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What is Live?

September 26th, 2018
contra, music  [html]

In experimenting with different ways of making music, one thing I've been thinking about is what makes music "live". What's the difference between having a band on stage vs an mp3? This is something I've been thinking about for a while and while I don't want to try and define "live" music for everyone I think I now have a good sense of what I want: every sound should be initiated by the musicians movement, in the moment.

It doesn't matter to me whether the sound is generated mechanically or electronically; a player piano isn't live. What matters is whether the musician has continuous control. For example, looping lets you play along (live) to something you just were playing (not live). A button that triggers a single note is live, but not one that triggers a multi-note sample because you can't control the timing of subsequent notes.

This has been on my mind a lot because I'm trying to figure out how to make a full sound without needing to have, say, a six-person band. Looping would be an option, but it's not one I like. Instead I want to figure out how to get enough bits of information out to control the music I'm making in real time.

I have two main reasons for this preference:

  • The music is live in the moment: someone who can be fully responsive to the moment can match the dancers and the feeling in the hall in ways that a recording can't.

  • The tradition is live: the more musicians can change what they're playing in the moment, the more they can grow and adapt as the needs and preferences of the dancers change.

Overall, this is just my musical aesthetic, and it may change as my preferences and my sense of what the community needs change. But I do think it matches pretty well to which situations I've enjoyed dancing in.

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