Business & Finance Shopping

Dilemmas of a Laptop Musician

As I write this, a CD is playing in the background.
A sampled heartbeat gives way to clatters and skitters of drums; impossibly fragile cymbals begin to shimmer; a hip-hop beat kicks in; all the time a looped melody is gradually asserting itself, morphing, mutating, multiplying, dissolving, chiming; an assortment of new rhythms start to twist in and out of each other, snaking around the main beat, entwining...
Well, you get the picture.
But here's the point I'm making: there's more going on in this first couple of minutes of Four Tet's masterpiece Rounds than on some entire albums.
The time and painstaking precision that must have gone into sequencing it all so precisely, so beautifully, is simply amazing.
All those hours Kieran Hebden must have spent hunched over his laptop...
You can't imagine it sounding any other way.
But more than that, if someone were to ask him to start over from scratch (though I don't know why anyone would), you'd be amazed if even he could produce that exact same slice of perfection again - so digital sounding, yet still so affectingly warm and human.
Which rather begs the question, how does he play it all live? Half the beauty of the thing is in the mechanical precision that's gone into it; the same mechanical precision that makes it sound anything but mechanical.
It's a question that faces all laptop musicians.
Even if you can reproduce it all just as sublimely live, or even parts of each track while the computer takes care of the rest, why would an audience ever come to watch someone sit on stage clicking away at a laptop? Well, refusing to play live is always an option, I suppose, but it's a bit hard to get yourself known that way.
Other options might be lightshows, performance artists, dancers; except, they'll need to be paid too.
If you're sickeningly multi-talented, you can create your own visuals to play in synch with the music; but not everyone is.
Or then again, you could just play a DJ set; or even your own album, but remix it on-the-fly.
Neither will necessarily be what the audience came to hear, though.
But somehow you've got to provide something more than just your record played loud, or someone fiddling with a mouse.
The truth is it's always going to be some kind of a halfway house.
But every good laptop musician will find some gimmick or another.
Some have a totally different live set from anything they've recorded.
I've seen others playing a guitar, while triggering samples and beats and letting the computer morph it all into new sounds.
And one guy I saw, well, he did click on his MacBook now and again, but mostly he just danced in the most comically nerdy and intensely over the top way you'll ever see.
I seem to remember he even injured himself at some point.
Not live music, then, exactly, but fantastic entertainment.
If mildly disturbing.
As for Kieran Hebden, next time you see him live, look out for the Yamaha Tenori-on - any laptop musician could do worse than getting their hands on one of those unique sets of musical flashing lights.
Hmm, one last dilemma, then: how to raise £629?

Leave a reply