So if your a solo laptop performer you’ll probably know that blank expression of a few people in the crowd when you playing live. Whats are they doing? Are they checking their emails? How is that sound being made? It’s not a nice feeling for the performer knowing that your audience doesn’t understand what your doing. I’ve even had people come up to me after gigs saying “great DJ set” and i’ve had to explain it wasn’t a DJ set and that the music was being made and manipulated live. Of course the following question is “How do you do that?”. After ten minutes of explaining it they get it. Well i thought up a 5 ways to help improve the way a laptop set is performed, well at least from an audiences point of view.
Lets face it, looking at a guy standing behind a laptop on stage just click a mouse is very boring. Unless of course hes really into it and jumps around loads. One way to take the focus off you behind you laptop is visuals. Have a big screen behind you and a projecter that runs visuals that are associated or created for your music. More and more venues have projectors and screens already installed as DJ’s have started to use visuals more. Get in touch with a local artist, annimator or film maker and ask them to create some visuals for your set. I’ve even seen visuals been created live and in sync with the set by a visual artist sitting by the side of the stage.
2. Midi controllers
One problem with laptop performers is that they don’t look like their doing anything apart from clicking a mouse on stage. People want to see interaction between musicians and instruments live, thats what they go to see, instruments being played live. This is what laptop sets are missing, laptops aren’t seen as instruments yet so you have to do a little bit more work.
Midi controllers are one way to spice up the visual performance of a laptop set. There are so many availible now that are aimed at laptop performers, the Akai APC40, monome, Tenori-On and a whole host of keyboard and control surfaces. Using one on stage will break you away form using a mouse so much and give the audience something more interesting to look at. The audience will be able to see you pressing, touching, playing something and then hear the resulting sound. They will see it like an instrument and therefore enjoy it more.
3. Play with a band or live instrument
Get another band member in or multiple band members to play live instruments along side your laptop performance. Which instruments all depends on the style of music your performing but the most common one’s i’ve seen are a drummer, bassist, keyboard or synth player and even sometimes a vocalist or MC.
Kieren Hebden & Steve ried
Doing this will take the focus away from the laptop whilst also creating a band where the laptop is seen as an instrument. I’ve seen prfuse 73 bring in a drummer along side his laptop performance and it worked great. Caribou is another artist who plays with a full band and has parts played/mainpulated by a laptop. Laptop performer and pioneer Four tet, plays as Kieren hebden and Steve reid in a laptop and drummer combo.
4. Video feed of stage
Set up a video camera on stage so that it can see what your doing at the laptop and then have the video projected onto a wall or screen behind you. If you can’t do that have you laptop screen projected instead.
This will show the audience what your actually doing to the laptop to get sound out of it, removing the myth that your checking your checking your email or facebook. I’ve seen Coldcut do this not only on the laptops but with turntables and midi controllers too.
This might seem like a really bleeding obvious one but some lights or lighting installation on stage will work wonders. Everybody love’s flashing, colourful lights. Get a visual artist to create some sort of light installation on stage, even if it;s just lamps and fairy lights it will make a difference.
I’ve been and done some gigs with lighting installations and they were great. One actually had an installation that was like a chamber around the performer. You could see them in this pulsating and colourful light box thing and it was fun and interesting.
So there you have it 5 ways to make your laptop performance more interesting. Now you have no excuse to be just stood behind a laptop with a mouse and funny expression. Half of these suggestions don’t take much money to implement. I hope to be seeing more lights and midi controllers at laptop gigs soon.