Affect in Live Electronic Performance


The live-music experience is becoming exponentially detached from reality as generations pass. This is why we often find our attempts at describing the experience becoming more and more challenging—and this inexplicability is exactly what these concert-conducting figures are meticulously formulating behind closed curtains. The multi-colored laser beams, surround sound, and synchronized graphics are all utilized as a means for interlacing an interconnected web of relationships: artist to individual, individual to crowd, crowd to venue, venue to artist.

A continuum of energies is exchanged in this cycle, and all senses are involved. Your sense of touch is ignited not only by the bodies brushing against you, but also by the vibration of the sound waves traversing through the air and permeating under the ground on which you stand. Your eardrums are plucked by a concatenation of melodies, rhythms, harmonies, and beats. These sounds are accompanied by blinking lights and beaming lasers piercing mercilessly through all matter and all space. Behind the performing artist is the work of another artist who spent arduous hours crafting a visual backdrop as a reflection of the performer’s intended narrative.

For the sake of personal preference and relevance to digital technology, I would like to allocate my attention towards the genre of electronic music. The technological innovations of our generation have spurred creativity and occupational positions in the realm of music production and live performance, making this mystifyingly multi-sensory experience possible for concertgoers— yet it is undeniable to state that the recent exposure to this “all-in-one” experience and the demand for more has inflicted those involved in the process with more pressure to “please the crowd” than ever before.

There are obvious benefits to the ever-accelerating bond between live music and technology. However, I find the rather bleak influences on human nature more difficult to ignore. Because the concept of concert going has become more of an “experience” rather than a mere exposition of the artist’s music, I find that the performer’s value to the viewer depreciates. Human nature mustn’t be blamed for this. When submerged in a dense pool of stimuli in all shapes, forms, and mediums, it is difficult to focus solely on the artist and the sound that is created. Some may argue that a concert or show festooned with extra lights, fancy visuals, and intensified sound doesn’t belittle the artist’s music, but actually enhances it. However, my credence for this argument halts when the use of these tech-embellishments are abused and over exaggerated.

As a frequent concertgoer and music-searching enthusiast, I can’t help but carp at tendencies deviating far from my own. When at shows, concerts, or festivals, I will often encounter people asking what artist is playing. Additionally, I will notice people getting most excited about the “drop” within each song, to some extent discrediting the less climactic, but possibly more lyrical elements.

In fact, many artists are actually aware of the shift in audience culture and often feel pressured to hype the music, extend the buildup, and amplify the climax. For example, Flume, one of my favorite artists both live and behind screen, quotes, “…the crowd is f**ked up kids basically. They don’t care about the music, they want to hear one or two songs and that’s it. I prefer to play to people who actually give a s**t about the music.” Jakob from “Disco Demons” expounds upon the formula most electronic artists now construct to appeal to these crowds: “Add a big drop with lots of bass, gritty synths and white noise to that, and you’ve got a pocked definition of … EDM.“

My motive is not to attack those who attend concerts for the good time; there is no harm in desiring such thing, nor does reprimanding personal taste do any good. I hope to merely leave these observations up to further interpretation.

Have we become so accustomed to this packaged deal that we are unable to tolerate anything less? What does this say about our need for a constant distraction in every sensory way possible? Imagine if there was some sort of demystifying process that reverted concert -culture back to how they were when our parents still attended them. Would we be as inclined to purchase a ticket for the show?

When I hear the word “concert,” the first vision that comes to mind is of the artist acting as the orchestrator, and the crowd being subject to his or her actions. However, with the pressure to please, the roles have been reversed: the artist succumbs to the crowd and its yearning for a sense-exhilarating experience. Yet ultimately, the omnipotent force is technology. How did something so recent in invention become so powerful? An environment intrinsically has psychological effects on the body— but how much of that is planned for you? As Brennan would say, we share intensities and affects. We don’t share content. In a concert setting, we all interpret the show in different ways and we don’t perceive the artist identically. We are all individual in the fact that we have personal ties and connections to the content being viewed. However, the intensities we feel from the music are all interconnected and shared.

We are being touched by the environment at all times, and the environment is perpetually being touched by us. It is not uni-faceted, but an exchange—one described by Spinoza as an intra-action of impingement: the capacity to impinge and to be impinged upon. Because we are all inter-related in this sense, there is a constant circulation of multiple sensory interactions that take place in every setting we are in. Thus, it does not take much for energy to circulate amongst a group of people and objects and to manifest itself as a particular vibe or ambiance. Concert venues, with their ties to technological advancements in the performing art industry, strive to take advantage of the inherent malleability in our sensory passageway and use this as a luring mechanism. However in doing this, they formulaically and thematically construct the ambiance for us. Given our natural tendency to categorize and label intensities and affects into comprehensible, relatable, and coherent feelings and emotions, we easily accept a situation by which the emotions felt are easily interpreted and predetermined. What better setting is there for this than a concert? In a construct like this, we are flooded with intensities and are cast under a spell of sensory overload. A human only has so much capacity and because it is hard to target the attributable causes, we hold them as excesses. These excesses are, in my opinion, the source of all that is inexplicable when we attempt to explain the experience afterwards.

-Ava Burnes


~ by avaburnes on March 3, 2015.

5 Responses to “Affect in Live Electronic Performance”

  1. I think your post was the most evocative. You commit yourself to describing the feeling of the concert, but it’s also such an easily relatable topic that I can’t help but completely understand what feelings you’re writing about. And in my opinion, your picture perfectly fits something like a memory of a concert or show.

  2. Your post was very well written and I think you demonstrate a great understanding of affect. Someone who does not have a complete understanding of affect, will gain knowledge and insight by reading your post. I enjoyed the vivid imagery and descriptive language as it helped me visualize and situate myself in that “Live Electronic Performance” ecology further helping me understand the way electronic music appeals to the senses and affects the body. You did an excellent job in incorporating concepts of affect into your project.

  3. My most evocative and best post goes to you! As a person, who also enjoys listening to electronic and synthesized music and attending live performances, your post really reminded me of my experiences at those sites. I also very enjoyed thinking about the “excess of affects” that amount to inexplicability; in the midst of those exuberant affects that surround the site, one might be too absorbed into or cling to feeling the affects but possibly become oblivious about the relationships with the artist or the crowd, which possibly puts this unequal standing between the artist and the audience. Excited to hear more about your ecology project!

  4. You, in my opinion, have the best understanding of affect. You touch upon what affect does to all of our senses allowing us to interact with our surroundings. I can almost live your experience! – Kanika

  5. I thought your post was reaaallly well-written, and it was the best post and the post that really understood affect. I like how you linked the concept of the sensory overload to how the concert venues take advantage of this; making concerts more of an excess of affects than about the music itself. The idea is great, and it helped me understand and grasp the concept of ‘affects’ to a greater extent. Awesome post 🙂

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