Cosmo Sheldrake at Echoplex

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Cosmo Sheldrake at Echoplex

My preoccupation with my own music right now might have distracted me from enjoying this more.  I liked the show, but I didn't love it.  Both Sheldrake and the opening act were strong, and the audience was the most age-diverse I've seen at a weeknight show (ages 12 to 70?), but I came away thinking more about what not do with electronic instruments than about how much I loved the music.

altopalo opened, and by the standards for opening acts, they were awesome.  For once!... an opening band with a clear voice and unique sound!  Altopalo is four musicians, playing lead and backup vocals, guitar, bass, synth, and drums.  The audience loved the loud parts (fueled by the high-energy drummer) but I appreciated the sparse grooves the most.  All-told though, the performance didn't grab me.  It feels like each track is a set of pre-determined settings for vocal effects, synths, drum triggers, and the players just do similar things each piece.  The guitar player just does a sparse stab now and then and the rich delay and chorus and reverb do all the work.  There is too much pre-programmed in the computers.  Perhaps they're aware of this risk... They've angled the midi keyboards such that the audience can see the top surface (thank you!).  All the same, the actual performances of each instrument (save the drums) felt a little passionless.  And the most critical part, the voice, was stripped of breathy nuance and struggle by autotune.

Thus I was thinking about acousmatics (sound without source) as Cosmo Sheldrake began.  He uses samples to build looping beats over which he sings.  The samples are strong, and the sound at Echoplex was the best I've heard.  Sheldrake's voice had a really nice slapback delay or other effect that made it sound warm and huge.  Compared to altopalo, more of Sheldrake's music is built with the electronics on the fly.  Although I couldn't see the top surface of his rig, it was more satisfying to see his gestures triggering individual sounds, starting and stopping loops, etc.  Sheldrake had to restart a piece too, so there is risk here.  But I still found it lacking.  Each song is just a preset world of samples which the performer triggers with the same set of gestures.  Combined with the simplicity of the musical arrangements, I was underwhelmed.  Talking between each piece also limited the length of each journey.  (No need to explain the "meaning" of pieces... and perhaps a less didactic way to show sample sources?)  Sheldrake did do a piece improv, using a glass bottle from which he drank to produce lower and lower tones for one of his sample sources, but again the arrangement and musicality felt limited.  Sheldrake was good, but Binkbeats' Heartbreak has set the bar for looping.

The takeaway for me personally is that I have a long way to go before my use of the Octatrack sampler will really work live.  Electronics need "performative" elements and they need to be a launching platform for the humans on instruments, rather than the source of musical complexity.