I Sing the Music Electric
Thereâ€™s a joke I see bandied about online that amounts to: â€œHow do you perform live electronic music? You push â€˜play.â€™â€
Having friends who make and perform various forms of electronic music for a living, this joke always rubs me the wrong way. Sure, you have people who whose live set is based around taking a laptop on stage, pressing play, and then either dancing around, singing karaoke, or both. I think these acts are both the exception, and utterly boring. Iâ€™ve seen live electronic music shows that are some of the most compelling, exciting, and visual shows of my life. 
The joke also plays up a dismissive attitude towards electronic music that has plagued it since its rise in the 1970s as not being â€œrealâ€ music, andâ€”simultaneouslyâ€”putting â€œreal musiciansâ€ out of work. The act of creating electronic music is as much composition as playing: the artist must create the sounds, arrange them, or at least establish the parameters for the machines to generate them. Even 100% generative electronic music has a human element, in that someone must create the algorhithms that generate the music.
For me, itâ€™s the sounds that make all the difference. Iâ€™ve been fascinated by electronic sound, probably from the first time I heard â€œLucky Manâ€ by Emerson, Lake, and Palmer on classic rock radio, and itâ€™s epic Moog solo. Sure, you can use a synth to recreate the sound of real instruments, but I feel like thatâ€™s a waste. Itâ€™s the strange, alien sounds of synthesizers that attract me more than their ability to recreate something else. With a single instrument, you can create stunning beauty or harsh noise in a single noteâ€”or both at the same time.
The best electronic music to my ear is the the sort that straddles the human/mechanical divide, with rich melodies and voices contrasted against rigid, mechanical rhythms. Something about the juxtaposition speaks to me. Itâ€™s a metaphor, in a way, for the symbiotic human relationship to technology. The music is stronger with both human and technological aspects, much as so many of our other creative endeavors are.
And, of course, a lot of it you can shake your butt to. Thatâ€™s never a bad thing.
- The nature of Kraftwerk shows is such that I can forgive their video tech for checking email while performing, though. Â â†©