The more widespread computers have become in performance, the more
wide open their uses. Some computer performances expand upon conven-
tional techniques. There are keyboardists playing soft synths, guitarists
using computers for effects, turntablists using real vinyl to scratch digital
files, and drummers hitting pads to trigger cues in a flexible backing track.
Other possibilities include:
Sampling an instrument or voice and manipulating layers of loops
Creating improvised, mashed-up soundscapes by remixing samples
Assembling a custom piece of software for creating sounds, mixing
beats, and generating musical patterns
Running theatrical cues (sound, music, and even video and lighting)
Manipulating visuals in time with music (VJing)
Using sensors and home-built physical controllers to generate interac-
tive music
Despite such a wide range, you may be surprised at how much computer
performers—from the rock guitarist to the DJ to the experimental sound
composer—have in common.
The main challenge all computer performers face is to adapt software and
hardware tools, most of which are intended primarily for a studio environ-
ment, to playing live in front of an audience. This requires that you set up
easy-to-see onscreen setups and easy-to-play hardware controls, so that you
have access to what you need at the touch of your hands or feet.
Certain tools work well for many kinds of live performances. Software
like Ableton Live is popular with musicians in divergent genres because it
can perform tasks normally associated with DAWs and samplers in real
time onstage, and has an interface that’s easy to see and control while per-
forming. For those willing to invest time in making their own custom
performance tools, modular environments like Cycling ’74 Max/MSP
(www.cycling74.com), Pure Data (www.puredata.info), and Native Instru-
ments Reaktor (www.native-instruments.com) can help tailor the computer
to fulfill almost any set of needs without the necessity of writing a line of
actual programming code. Many performers have musical techniques in
common, too. DJs were among the first to manipulate audio in performance,
13: P

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