Tour complete – now for the critique.

We’re just back from shows in the USA, and we thank you for coming to see us. With Canada earlier in the year, we feel we’ve made a solid attempt at greeting North America in person. The shows were well received (the usual audience photos will follow soon) and in the larger cities the combo of Front 242 and ourselves sold out venues.

2017-09-19 20.43.15

Vincent the rat holds court in NYC

A debrief comes at the end of every tour. The previous visit was exceptional just because it happened at all: we were in the garbage bin for decades, then unexpectedly rescued. This time it had to be special for other reasons, and it was partly so.

GOOD: We were able to perform a wider range of songs from videos completed between 2015 and 2017. Generally the videos are of higher quality – each represents weeks, sometimes months of work. We were constrained by my catching a throat cold in NYC, but were able to patch around this with the greater repertoire.

BAD: But they are the same material drawn from the earlier albums, presented in much the same way as before. Despite our adding all these songs you might have thought the show was the same as the last time. We need to think about the staging of any future appearances. Most of the ‘industrial dance’ bands we align with have stage shows involving costumes, radio microphones, masks and fog. We’re never going to take that up (not being an ‘industrial dance’ band) but the dynamism of the stage needs addressing.

To perform in the USA costs international airfares and the wildly expensive P1 visa process. Carting our bodies across the planet uses up money that could fund a stage show. And that’s maintaining the bare minimum – two people with suitcases, borrowed equipment. Unless our income jumps dramatically, we’re in a bind where the show has reached a production cost limit.

Puppets

Right now we prefer that people look at the video and not at us. We are the puppeteers, and the puppets are the show. But it may be time that the musicians enter the screen, and are visible as part of that virtual space. That way we can be seen to perform on all the weird and wonderful instruments we simulate on computers now, as part of a coherent presentation filling the audience viewpoint.

This has some difficult implications: the video has to be live, in real time on stage. We have to be able to position ourselves in a virtual set, but won’t know the stage beforehand. The process has to be fast, minimal latency. The system has to tolerate human errors.

The advantages are many. Two of the players can be present, others could be remote, recorded or simulated, so that you can have a full band. In some case all the players could be remote – although that leads to “where’s the beef?” problems where the audience needs meat on stage to feel fully satisfied. But that meat could be made in the USA – a local operator not needing airfares or a P1. After all if it works for Gorillaz & Daft Punk why not us?

Remote performance means latency and the risk of drop outs. I feel it can be done through something like Vimeo Live, Stewart is more knowledgeable and has doubts, and we will have to do some experimentation.

Then there’s the aesthetics. What would you see? Would it be based on the static clips? Would the show be one space or a space for each song? How much room is given to the performers? Does that change based on the size of the venue? It really is a rocky business, but I feel we’re at the point where it’s got too comfortable. That’s not our purpose.

Future Proof

Right now there’s a resurgence of interest in all things late 20th century, from film sequels to goth bands. That’s understandable given the uncertainty of a new century, but of course the people of 1917 only pined for La Belle Époque for a while before new culture took hold. I would not bank on aging electronic bands too much longer. Two years from now we cannot just pop back up again with the same old. Even if this project fails, it seems a better bet than expecting everything to stay the same.

It also aligns with Sevcom’s other aspirations in immersive media and therapeutic environment design. Not just a matter of neatness – also a matter of the amount of time we have left.

As always your comments appreciated.

Software! Feck! Arse!

(In which your host is summoned by Apple to answer for insubordination, and learns how little he knows about Ableton Live.)

So the various imps and demons of Kunst Kamp finally got together and debated what to do about this Final Cut Pro business. No one was particularly interested in ‘upgrading’ to the new version, instead voting by raised claws and chain rattling to keep the older version 7 going as long as possible. We have a few more years of a service contract – I don’t know how that will work given that any service would be ‘here, use this new one instead’. But we paid for it, so by Jove we’ll get served!

The Grand Master of Evil Imps got up and made a speech on behalf of Lightworks, which led to a zesty pounding of skull drums and fireballs from the chorus until it was pointed out that it didn’t run on Macs (“story of my fucking life”, I said) and the Dungeon Keeper got that look he gets when he thinks someone is talking about PCs in his dungeon! I hid under the table for a while.

The eldest Ghoul made a point about Media Composer, and that the children would all likely get jobs if that was taught. This was my time to stand on all three legs and take a contrary view. In my time in the Kamp, be it so short in comparison to the esteemed gentlemen I addressed, I had never heard any student evince any interest in Media Composer and what is more, I wished to point out that it was in fact an AVID product (and what howls were raised at that word) which meant DONGLES (more howls) and the DAE! (laments, and howls at crescendo). Nay, I said, pressing the advantage, we have already collected most of the runes – PS, AI, AE, ID, DW etc. etc. and what seemed best to me was that we just go ahead and add PR to that, particularly as that was what they used in China. And then sat down with a knowing air.

There was grumbling. I knew that grumbling was going to result. The Ghoul was still sure that AVID was how jobs were to be had. I agreed, and suggested that we install it and then HE could be the person that answered all the questions. That put an end to that and the vote was to just get Première and maybe a few Media Composer seats as punishment for postgrads.

Strangely enough just after the vote we were sent an invitation by Apple to come see their new version again. Perhaps we had not understood the worth of joining the New Order? It would be a pity to be wrong and besides there would be lunch. The Local Genius would himself do the mousing. Lunch. Very exclusive, only people from the Death Star to be invited. I don’t have time for lunch (I actually work, amazingly enough) but I thought we should give them one more go. Maybe the Genius will reveal the hidden switch that allows the user to save files where they want them, or just save files at all. Myself and the Dungeon Master will go, the Imps just bared their rears at the idea as they are wont to do.

Today I was invited to the local Live School. The topic was Max For Live and perhaps they thought I knew something about it because of my gnome. Everybody agreed that Max For Live was a wonderful thing that would be wonderful to know about. Wonderful, but rather tricky. While we fumbled about, one fellow taught MaxMSP to a much younger participant with a disturbing ability to learn things like other people eat peanuts – he had a working synthesiser in a few minutes and live video in about 15 minutes. God knows what he’ll be like when he reaches Year 10.

I asked some foolish noob questions about Live, but damn I didn’t know that you could name scenes with the BPM. Or how you can merge multiple sets into one by using groups. RTFM – I thought I had. I’m just getting to the point where I get Live and I think this is going to be it from now on. Particularly when we played with some of the stuff people have been recently making in M4L – I was shown a tool that morphs between mixer scenes with regions designated on an X-Y surface. So you can do a live cross morph between the full set up of two or more songs. This solves the question of how I was going to have multiple tracks segued in the upcoming show without needing to load anything.

So long as I don’t have to actually author this stuff…