As discussed in my last post, electronic music making focuses on individual work and creation, with less emphasis on collaboration. However, I wanted to explore this further to see how other electronic music artists worked, and if any artist has found ways to balance the connection between machine and human being.
I started by researching Ableton, a company that makes a variety of software packs used to compose and layer music and loops, and found a short documentary about a particular group called Team Supreme. I actually got a little distracted because I enjoyed their music so much I had to spend a few minutes on YouTube to listen more. Anyway, the documentary discussed how a couple of college students in a music class eventually started a music “crew.” The crew has about fifteen or so members, all young people in their twenties and early thirties, that support each other in music making. I found this really cool. No longer is the image of a lonely individual sitting at a desk with a computer all day the only picture that comes to mind when I think of electronic music composing. This group uses each other to build a music community, and learns from each other like a traditional band. And this crew is successful too, some of the members even work with bigger names in music like Madonna. Even though they work independently– that is, each person is making their own music in their own style–they often collaborate on projects and generally support each other in the process. In this way, digital music is actually bringing people together and forming community.
I also found Ableton Link, a newer application of Ableton that allows more teamwork in electronic music. Link addresses the problem of virtual jam sessions. With traditional instruments, it is easy to improvise with others because you control when you play so it is easy to keep in time with the other person. This is much more difficult with electronic music. Link offers a way to connect your device with another person’s, sort of like Blue Tooth connection, so that the music can synchronize better and allow cooperative creations. This is another way that technology is actually increasing human-to-human connection.
Most of the members of Team Supreme also DJ their music at parties and other functions. Knowing very little about DJ-ing, I was curious to learn more about it and I especially wanted to see what kind of connections, digital and human, they make at their concerts. The easiest way for me to start was by comparing DJ-ing to traditional instruments, musicians, and audiences. At a traditional concert, there is much for the audience to do:
watch the signer as he/she gestures or dances to the rhythm, sing along to the song, dance to the beat, or watch the musicians produce music magic with their skilled hands and bodies. But what about watching a DJ or electronic music concert? After a few Google searches, I found a blog post by Ean Golden (perhaps not the most scholarly resource, but he brought up several interesting points about the role of a DJ). Golden mostly wrote about dancing: DJs have a job to keep people dancing happily, but also they are responsible for dancing themselves. It seems that unlike a traditional concert, electronic music that is created and played in real time by a DJ emphasizes dancing above all other forms of audience engagement. The DJ also has to play for the mood of the audience. If people look sluggish and bored, the DJ has to watch this and use his/her resources to create beats that uplift the crowd. And, the DJ must dance as well. Golden explains how the DJ can benefit by dancing to his/her own tunes because it will inspire creativity and allow audience interaction. In my experience, watching a DJ dance while I am dancing encourages me to continue, and brings confidence into the music. After reading this article, I have much more respect for DJs. Not only must they mix and layer loops of music and understand the software they use, but they also have to be social with the crowd, adapt to their needs, and dance along.
So it seems that technology can actually stimulate human connection, and even inspire camaraderie and community. I now look at this technical process as one with possibilities for teamwork, and I’m sure that technological advances will continue to develop more ways to achieve this. I like to believe that humans prefer connecting with other humans over connecting solely to technology, and balance that is accomplished in the DJ world is wildly interesting.
- (top): from https://www.ableton.com/en/
- (bottom): from http://beatteamsupreme.com/snorlax/