The need for a Travelling Sound Guy. / by petergregson

More silence, no excuses. Sorry. 

I'm just back from four of the most genuinely crazy, yet perfect, days playing at the Cross-Linx Festival all over The Netherlands - Utrecht, Eindhoven, Groningen and Rotterdam (I then popped to Amsterdam on the Monday for a meeting, too). It was all The National, Owen Pallett, Efterklang etc etc. Really rather good. I learnt many things about the Dutch language, which really is the most confusing thing in the world.

"Gr" denotes this intense phlegm-producing "crhuh" kind of ordeal, which for a timid Brit, is quite emotional. Anyway, I was playing Daniel Bjarnason's 'Bow to String', which is a great thing to be able to play. Here's the closing number from The National, which we all popped on stage to sing it with them.

It occurs to me that The Sound Guy really is this season's must have accessory - I was in Boston the other week playing at their 150th anniversary 'Music|Machines" event, and those sorts of tech heavy shows are really stressful is the sound isn't totally reliable. Ben Bloomberg, all-round hero to those on stage, is most definitely my favourite Sound Guy. He lets me soundcheck to Rihanna, which, frankly, is ideal. Getting to Cross-Linx, I was left with House Sound Guy, who, although good, didn't have that super-special EQ/reverb setting that I like... Hearing the difference between House Sound Guy setting stuff up and Travelling Sound Guy making it work is absolutely amazing. I think I'm going to save up all my pocket money and ask Ben really nicely. 

So, while travelling around this past month, I've met some amazing people and heard some awesome shows - it really occurred to me that there is a definite need for A Show. For the next month or so, I'm totally re-nerding: getting my skills up to scratch and am going to build some systems to allow me to really perform the music I want to be able to perform, not what's simply doable right now, or reliable.

Not that I'm complaining, but a lot of the time, performing music with interactive electronics is actually rubbish - those of us with both 'hands busy' instruments can't use touch controls (yes, I'm talmbout iPads) and, therefore, fall back on foot controllers and stuff. My biggest issue there is that it's like trying to create a circle using straight lines - they lack depth and touchy-feelyness. Owen's show, what I saw of it, was most definitely the closest I've seen to what should be the Industry Standard: really sophisticated tech but all housed in the backline, all music-led and totally immersive. 

Actually, why are we all focussing on Interactive Electronics? I don't think I want to have a special Interactive Cello, it, in itself, is the interaction. I don't want Interactive Music for the same reason that I don't trust hotels with notions of quality in the name.

I want Integrated Electronics, because actually, I think I want to share an 'integrated musical experience'; something that speaks to people in a musical language that makes sense today. Really loving the idea of refining the way we play with electronics/new instruments to make it into a performance itself; we cellists have so many flourishes and niceities to "pretty up" on stage because seriously, functional cello playing is uuuugly, so why just press a button when it could be a stylistic gesture?I hope we see Integrated become a big word on The Circuit. You heard it hear first(ish).

This leads me seamlessly to my paragraph roundup about the RSA/ACE "State of the Arts" conference. I was invited to speak on a panel about reimagining artistic innovation. I'm somehow always amazed that we could have reached a point where we need to talk about how we can be creative in the arts, but that's a different matter. It was a really interesting day - I left feeling surprised at how much I cared about the principle of public funding. I've never personally had any, but I think it's a pretty awesome thing that we, as a nation, should stand up and be proud of. I suppose it gets buried because pollsters usually ask "what are you worried about", because that's what politicians can fix... but they'll all go on about tax, immigration and how Tuesday isn't a good day for the rubbish bin collection. But why aren't we asking what people are proud of? What are they excited by? I bet you a half-wheel of Gouda that our cultural output would be high up on the list. I think we really have some incredible stuff to be proud of, and we just need to work out how we express that pride and excitement in relation to the public purse.

My main sticking point during the day was the insistence of the term "audience development". Isn't it just passing the buck and blaming the people who pay you to do something you love? I mean, audiences have always voted with their feet - it's the one thing they're guaranteed to do well. Do they owe us anything? No. Are they somehow supposed to enjoy something that isn't, you know, good? Or exciting to them? Or relevant to their lives? 

Perhaps we don't need audience development. Perhaps we just need better performer development. Anyway, that'll be a post for another time.