International Computer Music Conference 2016 Papers Track

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Viewing the Wrong Side of the Screen in Experimental Electronica Performances

The most pervasive critique of experimental electronica performances is a widely observed lack of visual spectacle and gesture by the performer, prompted by the laptop. Accordingly, these performances are read as lifeless, disengaged, tedious, and possibly effortless and automated. In most experimental electronica performances, the laptop computer is the main “live” instrument. In this mode of performativity, not only are our artists/performers situated behind a screen, a figurative “curtain”—or literally the backside of the screen—becomes what is viewed in the live setting, offering a curious perspective on mediatized musical contexts. And while there is considerable attention in music and media studies on works that jump to the screen, from MTV, to Blu-ray ballets, to the Black Swan, to videogames, in this paper I will look instead at works that jump behind the screen, the laptop screen.

The laptop is central to the conception and to the experience of experimental electronica, with direct and clearly articulated qualitative consequences. For this reason, and the very fact that I write this paper on a laptop, my project is to delve deeper into the meaningfulness of our relationships with laptops by thinking more holistically and phenomenologically about screens. I consider “screenness” within the context of musical performance, here examining notable live sets by critically acclaimed experimental electronica artist Tim Hecker. Typical of experimental electronica performances, Hecker’s take place in a diverse range of settings and in what follows, I look at two very different sets. Closely evaluating each and taking cues from their critical reception, I employ screenness as a mode framing our experiencing of the music, as it impacts our assumptions and expectations about laptop performativity, and also reveals significant ramifications with respect to how the music effectively works in dialogue with/within its varied, live musico‐experiential contexts.


Sonya Hofer    
United States


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