Computing technology is an inherently disruptive thing, wonderfully so. It solves problems you didn’t know you had. It creates problems, then creates new problems in even trying to understand those problems. Simply using a computer is a kind of design statement.

You’ve seen questions about what happens with computer performance and audience interaction. But, in AMALGAM, design student Jacob Lysgaard asks those questions, and proposes solutions, in a new way: with a giant talking robot face. (See above.)

Laptop and electronic performance produces a number of symptoms that can be problematic. As the video roboface above puts it, you might find, for instance,

“A lonely man hiding behind a big table onstage.”

Actually, I sometimes do feel lonely and like to hide. Then again, I don’t necessarily have to invite other people for that. So, in that spirit, here’s the latest in a long line of design ideas for re-imagining computer performance. Maybe at this point, this isn’t solving a problem: maybe it’s design, reorganizing the experience of musical activity around a technology that could really be anything.

The solution Lysgaard devises is really rather spectacular, conceptually. Whereas computer performance “solutions” generally involve novel performance interfaces, here, the design delineates the fundamental problem: “real” space (the live performance that’s actually happening) and “virtual” space (the performance that happens only through the machinery of the digital performance, via playback, interactive or otherwise).

In some sense, this is what all responsive visualizations of music do: they create visual evidence of what you’re hearing, producing the artefact of the activity that the virtual sound lacks.

But, then, you’re not always concentrating on what an acoustic musician is doing with their physical instrument, either; you’re often lost in the music. And that is to say, you might just trip out watching all these bobbing cubes and virtual selves. And I think that’s okay.

Here’s just the visualization of how the scheme works, in case you zoned out watching Mr. Roboto in the earlier video:

Various visualizations are presented on the designer’s Behance portfolio. Suffice to say, while the representations here are abstract, other styles are possible – even M.C. Escher variations:

Read the full explanation of the project, as well as its inspirations, on Lysgaard’s blog:
AMALGAM – my bachelor exam project

The work was a degree project in visual communications for the design department of the Bergen National Academy of the Arts in Norway.

I love the logo for the project:

I’m saving my favorite bit for last: a kind of visualization – or at least visual reduction – of representations of music in Ableton Live.

Arrange View in Ableton Live, in a study by Jacob Lysgaard.

Terrific work; Jacob. I’ll be interested to see how this evolves in performance.

  • Nice and interesting approach! I think most artists I know have moved away from the sole laptop performance. Most try to add an element of "interactivity" aka something to look at while the music is performed. I have discovered that my voice is an interesting addition to my music, so as I am more the extroverted type this allows me to perform in a "proper" way. Others I know are hitting on their Maschine for the "proper" performance, others again turn to traditional instruments like guitars. I'd also thought about adding a visual performance as Live can deliver through MfL, but I don't think that the spectator actually has to see a move for every sound played, as seen in the video above.

  • @ReadyDot: Yeah, I agree with you on a lot of those points. One of the things I chose to tackle, was that most electronic instruments, even the performative ones (like the maschine), still dosen't make intuitive sense to the audience, like a guitar does. So boiling down the expressive elements to very basic movements were important for me.
    There is a million different ways to attack this of course, and I had several other radically different solutions along the way.

  • Random Chance

    There are some valid points (although the premise is a overly generalized — there are performative electronic instruments and people who use them) here. And the idea of organizing the "workspace" of the artist with diagonally placed boxes to put instruments on is quite clever and effective I would think (albeit not so much so for instruments that require some space like keyboards, mixers, modular synths etc.). But I have the distinct impression that the projected virtual artists might make the whole thing look quite "dorky."

  • I don't think a chap (or chapette) playing music off a laptop behind a table is a bad thing necessarily. I like that it doesn't give the audience a reason to all stand and stare in the same direction but rather to just enjoy the music and care less about which direction they're facing or how close they are to the stage.
    If the music's good you can let it connect with the audience without the need for any arbitrary 'performance'. Add some decent lighting and you have a visual element too.

  • Peter Kirn

    @toot! – I agree, but I'm surprised that in these conversations we never seem to bring up how it feels to the player. I think if you feel disconnected, then maybe you need another solution. And I think that drives a lot of people who get out behind from their laptops – not just how it looks, but how it feels.

    I don't want to derail the conversation, though, as I think this is in this case how it looks, and answers that in a genuinely novel way.

  • s

    That performance setup looks awfully like a Kraftwerk stage, but they always were a bit ahead !

  • Jake

    I gotta say, I loved seeing all those virtual artists doing their thing. It was hilarious when they looked at the real artist like they were waiting for him to make a move.

  • the thing is, its not just about laptops. go and see any "traditional" ambient performance (such as something from the rather fine Gatherings concert series here in Philadelphia) and most of the time, despite the rather nice interior of the church and the occasional stunning projection show on the altar, and you stand a good chance of having the same reaction as I do: "they're not doing anything". sometimes, the music is good enough and is well targetted enough that it doesn't matter. i remember seeing orbital a decade or more ago, and one could have raised the same objection that i'm really raising here about (for example) steve roach or robert rich. but i didn't matter because the crowd was too busy dancing and indulging in the effects of ecstasy. even with roach, sometimes it just doesn't matter because the music is "good enough" and you can space out and forget about watching the performance at all. but its still a general problem that i don't think really comes from electronics but from multi-tracked composition techniques.

  • Viridis Vir

    I think this touches on a lot of overdue ideas regarding the future of live performance for electronic music and hope it propels the evolution past mere novelty controllerism and such.

    I've long said that the performance aspect of electronic music was still in its "AM radio" phase; that while the musical possibilities are potentially vastly expanded to be on par with or surpass traditional acoustic instrumentation, there's still had a lot of catching up to do with the visual interest that something as simple as a physical nuance (like hitting something or plucking a string) can produce… not to mention the whole playback vs. live debate.

    Years back I got in a heated argument with a producer/performer (who also happened to work for DigiDesign, ironically) whose band wore clown getups and played everything live; he insisted that this was the only way forward – to go backwards into the known, recent past and try and salvage something from the wreckage of the 20th century Rock spectacle. I insisted that to the contrary, the future was about recognizing the audience as a crucial and active part of the live show, and recognizing the energy feedback loop that occurs when the boundary between performer and audience dissolves. In other words, "I don't know the future. I didn't come here to tell you how this is going to end. I came here to tell you how it's going to begin."

    This Lysgaard guy is taking the discussion forward, at long last.

  • fnord

    This is more like: 'what an electronic artist can do to get people at their shows'. Rock/jazz/etc came first before electronic music, so through all these generations it became normal to see people play instruments. Then electronic music came and people complained about how there is no performance. Some people think thats the way it has to be, but Ive seen people get down to laptop performances. I think these people are a new generation that don't care how flashy your perfomance is, and just get it. If you want a "performance" go to some festival where they spend a lot of money on the stage. My point is that we don't need all these bells and whistles. Good idea though.

  • fnord: isn't there a deeper question of why, and under what circumstances, its worth going out to be see "live" electronic music?

    if i'm going out to dance (ah, i remember the days) then i frankly don't really care too much about what the DJ/button pusher is doing because the music (and the volume of the music) and the dancefloor and the general vibe is everything.

    but if i'm going out to see a specific artist perform live then i want one or more of a number of things to be true:

    1) they way they make music in a live setting differs in some significant, audible way from what they do in the studio
    2) there is a visual component as an adjunct to the music playback that is worth seeing
    3) the setting enhances even just a simple playback of pre-recorded material, let alone a live show

    if none of these are present, why go out and pay to see the show? why not stay at home and listen in comfort there to work that the musician lavished great effort on?

  • fnord

    @Paul Davis: well that's your perspective, and I can't change how you like to enjoy shows. But when I go to a show, I'm not there to evaluate/judge an artist, except only if I don't know who they are :).  I go to a show usually cause I like their music and want to listen to them. It would be interesting to see what they end up doing. But it all depends on the style of music and how their performance will turnout. Sometimes it's great, sometimes not. Oh well,  and the reason to got to a show instead of just staying home is; if your bored and don't want to stay inside,  go listen to some music at a different setting than what you usuallly listen too. I think what people want is just more visual entertainment. We are becoming more visual.  Eventually all this visual stuff will be affordable to broke artists. Probably is now too.

  • what i never understand is how people will shell out piles of cash to watch someone sip a beer, have a smoke, flip through a box of records that anyone can go buy, and push up a volume fader every few minutes, and then they complain that a person or 2 actually interacting live with real musical instruments, remixing and sequencing on the fly "are not doing anything". i thought techno evolved to get away from the whole onstage ego auto fellatio thing. it is about the music, not how tight the artist's pants are. i think it is sad that most people in their 20s never got to see any real live pa acts like orbital, hardfloor, prototype 909, chemical brothers, ect… now it is all this push play on itunes, yell over pre-recorded vocals and call it live crap. maybe i should have stayed in chicago instead of moving to portland 10 years ago…

  • Alaska in Winter does this well.

  • Bellectronic

    Good stuff. That second vid is wicked!