KnobLog day 1: the reception

The first evening of Knobcon, there are always a bunch of performers in a pavillion outside the hotel. Also on the first evening of Knobcon, I tend to be tired after having made the 5-6 hour drive and I might not be able to hang around for the whole thing.

Eric aka Suit & Tie Guy (whose business is now muSonics rather than STG Sound Labs) is the founder/main runner of Knobcon, and usually performs Friday nights. Apparently he is going through some difficult family stuff and had to beg off tonight’s performance. But also, one of the duos that was going to perform was late getting in and didn’t even start setting up until the second performer was almost done. So it was pretty chaotic, the order was rearranged and I mostly don’t know who did what in what order.

Before fatigue set in, I only heard three performers, each with a continuous 30-40 minute long set. And I think given the constraints they were working with, that was too long for each of them. This is a common criticism I have of many musicians: it is better to leave your audience wanting more, than getting bored in the middle. I know when improvising, especially with a limited portable set of gear, it can be difficult to have enough different stuff to do to keep it varied.

I don’t want to sound too negative — I enjoyed each of these, even though they did lose me a bit after a while. And I recognized the artistry and mastery. And… I don’t do this stuff live, I cheat by recording it, and sometimes editing my takes down.

The first performer had a Buchla Easel with a couple of extra modules, a looper and a violin. He set up some nice sequences with a deep, full but simple bass part acting in almost a melodic way, and then would pick up the violin and play along with it — sometimes matching the rhythms and patterns of the sequence, sometimes playing a kind of counterpoint to them. I liked his synth work and he was quite a good violinist, but again, I think it would have made a great 15-minute piece and then move on to something else.

The second performer had a Serge system along with an OP-1, a Jomox T-Resonator and some other bits. Interesting combination of gear. His set was a sort of abstract, rumbling, shuffling, gurgling thing that broke out into shattered drum sounds, evolved a solid if simple rhythm, and then fell back into chaos… which mostly worked well I thought, but given the length I think I’d rather it moved forward rather than back, taking us somewhere else. I felt like the modular and T-Resonator were highly chaotic, and there might not have been much potential to get more order out of it than he did without repatching. But the funny thing is it didn’t seem like people even noticed he was playing at first, it kind of snuck up on them. He had a look of concentration and small movements while playing, which made me think of the word “strategy”.

The third performer was TamiX. I know that because she was the only woman performing that night, and I’ve seen her on social media before. She is also an “idol” and has this anime schoolgirl style that is really not my thing — but she has talent for sure. The Buchla system she was performing with is roughly the size of my modular at home, was absolutely covered in a rat’s nest of patch cables, but with a Buchla Thunder and a couple of other controllers I couldn’t identify, she seemed to have mastery over it. It was crowd-pleasing, angry robot techno that sometimes felt right on the edge of going completely berzerk. Not really knowing her style and listening to more dark Berlin stuff myself, I kept expecting her to really dial it back into something strict and industrial, but there was always at least a bit of chaos; she controlled the key it was in but parts would just sort of go into flourishes and little micro-solos and brief octave jumps and piercing riffs seemingly on their own. At times it was like there was a mob of 5 or 6 voices improvising on a theme while she directed them, and they were alternate staying with or trying to push or pull the insistent kick drum. What kind of magical sequencers do they have in Buchla 200e setups anyway?

It was really joyful and wild, and it felt like she had developed the whole thing perfectly, and as the kick drum and all but two voices faded away it seemed was bringing it to a very satisfying conclusion, but… it just kept on. She’d bring a bit in and then pull it back out again. It felt lost for almost ten minutes, before she brought the drums back up, pumped up the energy again and then ended it in an okay, but not mind-blowing way. I think if I had recorded that, I would have edited it heavily and shortened it quite a bit. (And I’ve done that sometimes… of course you don’t have that luxury when live, and if you’re supposed to perform for 40 minutes, you perform for 40 minutes even if you came to a very natural end point after 25.)

I didn’t have enough energy to stay for the other three performers, and I think unless they were going to do something really ambient and soothing very much in contrast to that, she’d have been a tough act to follow anyway.

The next performer (who had just barely started when I left) had a small 5U case of muSonics modules and some drum machines. Another setup seemed to be (mostly Roland) drum machines, grooveboxes and pedals, and the late arrivals seemed to have all keyboards. Aside from the video rig manned by a couple of guys providing visuals on a big screen for all the performers, there was no Eurorack in the room at all. Seems a bit odd, when it seems 2/3 of the exhibition hall is usually Eurorack.

But I know that all 6 of the listed performers for the “Big Room” tomorrow night use Eurorack. I hope I have the energy for that because I’d really like to hear Vamp Acid, Space Racer and POB…

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