When he first asked if I might be able to do some of my stuff live, I said sure. Why not? As time wore on and I understood that he was serious I started thinking I was a victim of hubris. Condense what I do down to a collection of equipment that could be moved in a car? Flying to Chicago from God's Country was going to be out of the question unless I wanted to use a laptop, iPad, and a couple of controllers. Where would the fun be in that? This was KnobCon. The world's greatest synthesizer convention. Not LapCon or PadCon. A luxurious gear pile would be as mandatory as a crisply ironed lab coat!
So this time last year I started working out which gear to use, fabricating rack ears, painting parts, and wiring it all together. I did all of the work with hand tools on the patio. Some of the empty spaces in the rack frames were used to install some blinky lights to help with the mad scientist vibe. I was very pleased with the way the thing looked and it's functionality was more than adequate to the task at hand. There was only one thing that I had not considered. More on that later.
The final piece of the live rig puzzle was how to fly in my field recorded sounds? In the early days of electronic music they explored making new sounds by manipulating recordings of everyday sounds. It might be a baby crying, a fly buzzing, a machine, or anything. I have a very large selection of machine noises that have been collected for years. These are a large part of the Atomic Shadow sound. At one point I planned to handle this with a cassette deck and a pre-recorded tape to run as a backing track. Eventually I decided to handle it with an SP-404 sampler. It's small, not that expensive, has usable effects and is simple to use on the fly.
Once I had the rig nailed down I started working on adapting some of my album tracks for live performance. From there it was a matter of practicing with the instruments and devising a structure for the set. I have performed live for decades. But all of that experience was in bands, on drums, with other musicians to share the experience, or blame. When you play live there is always an element of the unknown. Something can happen. Something wonderful! Or, perhaps just as likely, something horrible. That is the nature of live performance. The possibility of something getting out of hand and turning from triumph, to humiliating defeat in seconds. The nature of this setup and the unruly gain stages of the test oscillators made the undertaking ripe for a sudden, violently loud disaster. It is very difficult to keep these devices under control while changing presets, pitches, and levels. That is why I practiced diligently, wrote down a score on a clipboard, and was ready for anything.
Except for THE one thing. Darkness. I had not expected the room to be so dark. Almost totally so. My blinky lights were not really helpful either. I could not see my controls worth a damn. If I had not had a flashlight it would have been impossible. Lesson learned. Upon arrival back home I found a clip-on light and added it to the Mobile Command Center. I Have some ideas about condensing the rig and making it more ergonomic. Time will tell. I suppose it will depend on finding another opportunity to take it out on the road.
This video is the first piece in the 35 minute performance. It is very improvisational. The first tentative step in to the darkness. It begins with the sound of static, as a radio dial is tuning in to a broadcast from yesterday's world of tomorrow.