During my last WhatMatters session I was encouraged to perform more frequently. In this way I can try and experiment with things that feel right to me in my music making. I also thought it was about time to start performing more for audiences outside of the Frank Mohr institute. Besides, for a while Jip and I wanted to organise a vegan potluck event (everyone brings in food and we share it all together). We thought it was an excellent opportunity to combine these two events and this is how I gathered an audience of vegan students for my performance last Wednesday.
But during the preparations I suddenly didn’t feel comfortable anymore about this performance. First of all, I received the comment from people who know my music: “your music is not suitable as some dinner background tunes.” Moreover, the setting was a bit strange, because my audience was attending because of the dinner, not necessarily because of the music. I started feeling really awkward because of this. But I told myself it would be a good opportunity to practice regularly and try out a new thing for me:
Most of the time when I perform, I just do one song. But this was actually the first time that I combined several songs into one live set. I thought that this performance could be a good opportunity to record the live set and send it to venues and events as an example of what my performances are like. In this way I could start to perform more in different places.
Doing this performance did a lot to me. First of all the evening started with the awkward situation that the Frank Mohr students weren’t invited to my performance (but they were welcome). I only told one student about the performance, and suddenly a lot of them attended. Their attendance meant a lot to me, but we didn’t tell them what was going on with the food which was just a bit awkward. I suddenly didn’t feel like an warm welcoming artist… But I felt really supported because of their attendance (because they didn’t come for the food, they came especially to see me perform). However, afterwards, I feel guilty about how not-welcoming this event was for them. I suddenly didn’t understand why I didn’t invite them properly and informed them about the food. I’ve learned from that.
Second of all, the performance did a lot to me because I received different reactions. Some people didn’t say anything about it. Some people even walked away. Some people were really impressed and loved it. And that had impact on me. It was as if I needed other people’s affirmation. Maybe it was because the setting (imposing my music on my hungry audience) made me insecure. I felt bad if people didn’t like it. And this really sparked a thought in me:
Why am I composing music? Why am I performing it?
Just because I want to entertain people? Just because I want people to like it? Or even, just because I want people to like me…? I feel very uncomfortable writing this. I really don’t want my intention to make music come out of the need to “feed the ego”. It just feels completely pointless. But my reactions to the fact that there were some people disliking it made me think about this.
So what practices in my music making feel more clean and real? Practices that go beyond the ego? I think for me it’s the process of starting with an idea, a message that I want to bring across, and wrapping an emotional and immersive layer around it. During the composition process there is always this moment when I’m suddenly really immersed in the idea. The message suddenly makes sense. This feeling is what I want to transfer to my (live) audience. And I think I need to focus more on this aspect of my music making. Immersing the audience, wrapping this emotional layer around the ideas so that the message make sense.
I think my previous performance “Mutations” focused much more on this immersiveness and bringing across the message, and therefore felt more right to me. Instead of me being in the spotlight, my idea was in the spotlight.
But there is also another reason why I can fail to put my spotlight on the idea. During my previous performance and the performance I talk about in this post, I didn’t announce any titles. I didn’t tell my audience the name of the performances, and I didn’t even tell my audience the name of the individual songs. In this way I didn’t put my audience into a context before letting them listen to my immersive sounds.
This is especially problematic because lately I have been receiving more and more comments that people don’t understand my lyrics. They cannot hear the words, maybe because I use a lot of reverb on my voice. This is not necessarily a problem, but I think it becomes one if the audience has no clue whatsoever about the sounds they hear. In this way I think it doesn’t work to bring my message across with this emotional/immersive layer that I talked about earlier. From the reactions I got from the audience, I think that “Mutations” was already put in a much clearer context because of the visuals. But perhaps it could’ve helped if I named my performance beforehand as well. In the performance of this post I think that it was absolutely necessary to announce the names of the songs.
I think these thoughts about my music and performing also relate to a comment I received earlier from Jan Klug: “If you want to be a singer-songwriter, you can, but then you can also quit this education. But I think you want more than that.” Very good point. Sometimes I wonder about this myself. After this performance I felt more like a typical singer-songwriter and out of place at the Frank Mohr institute as a media artist. But sometimes I also think should I want something more, just for the sake of wanting something more? What is it then that I want more? And why?
And I think this performance is exactly a point where this became more clear for me. If the most important thing in my music making is to bring across a message via this emotional and immersive layer, then what I should do is experiment with ways to make this possible. Try out performance settings, visuals, and experiment with ways to make the audience experience the message. Not only performances, but also installations, interactive experiences and so on.
This is a lead to what I just started to experiment with: I hope to make an installation for the festival we (FMI students) organise in collaboration with NAIP students from the conservatory in which the audience can “walk through the music”. So instead of composing music on a timeline, I want to compose music in space. The location of people in the audience will determine the course of the music. To be continued… 🙂