Recently we have been working with music that has a distinct electronic, synth sound. I don’t naturally lean in that direction. If forced, I’d probably describe myself as slightly more on the acoustic, analog scale. But it’s an interesting experiment for me (and it’s not like I don’t enjoy and appreciate synthed sounds).
Electronica though, if you can forgive the broad generalization, sometimes gets a bad rap. I shall never forget the detached callousness of a record shop clerk (back when there were record shop clerks) as he looked over the sad batch of electronica CDs I was trying to resell. After a few quick cursory flicks through the discs, all he said was, “Nothing rots faster than bad electronica”. To be fair, I was trying to sell off the worst of the collection (the majority of which belonged to my boyfriend at the time). But, STILL. It hurt.
And at times, I’m wary of going too far down the electronic synth route. At times I’ve dismissed electronic music as too cool and distant, more atmospheric than theatrical. Perhaps I remember too well the many nights of a youth misspent in anonymous clubs under a fog of “influence” and electronic noise, and associate synth sounds with the kind of analgesic you try to slip into to escape yourself and the world around you.
Few sounds capture the lonesome anonymity of the urban fringe so well. Or haunting transcendence, atmospheric moodiness, or playful “popness”. But still, even with the range of moods, I’m somehow wary overtly synthesized music can feel somehow distant and general. Rightly or wrongly, I can more easily picture an individual character’s rage and angst in say rock – perhaps because it’s already associated with that, but also perhaps because of its jagged, idiosyncratic energy and the slight imperfections you get with every live performance.
“Liveness” of course is one of the best things about theatre. I love that each performance is different, that there are always slight imperfections. I think it’s interesting, and quite enjoyable, when something goes wrong in a show and the actors roll with it and it becomes part of the show. Mistakes can make an audience feel like they’re in on a secret and you can feel the energy change when an audience becomes invested in a show and wills it to go on.
We would hardly forgive a computer for such glitches. So perhaps it’s the distance from human touch that worries me if we go down a too synthesized route. Will an audience believe the song is coming from that moment, and that character? Or will it feel like a polished song that is just being “performed”, and start to feel dead in the space?
But perhaps these are just questions that linger from the last age of that analog-digital gap. Music changes as it ages, because the audiences change. The synthesized sound of the Stranger Things theme music, might once have sounded alien and computerized when it first arrived back in the day, but now has a deeply nostalgic feel to it (while also simultaneously sinister!) because its simplicity and slight crudeness harkens to a time past. It’s “un-slickness” is matched by the series title card which even has a slight scratchy VHS look to it. It’s technology just on the verge of total digitization, still retaining its human touch.
So, just some of the questions I’ve been thinking about and things we’ve been exploring and trying out. There’s plenty of potential to discover, and I’m curious to see where the path goes. If bad electronica rots quickly, then here’s to good electronica ageing well.