Musique Nonstop: SF Electronic Music Festival, A Reflection Piece

Not so very long ago, a not so little ten-year-old girl’s dream was to become an electronic artist when she grew up. It’s crazy to me that only seven years have gone by since I bought my very own synthesizer keyboard with my dad, a beautiful Novation XioSynth. I couldn’t wait to take it home, retreat to my room, and hammer out the keys and play with the buttons and knobs to my heart’s content. The potential of translating the sounds in my head into music for anyone to hear was such an exciting prospect, and I couldn’t wait to start engineering my own “sound universe.”

I would hope that by this point in the year, dear reader, you would logically assume that music plays a dominant role in my life. Whether in my own singing or listening to it, music has always provided me a means of escape, and though I consider both classical music and electronic music to be my musical pillars, I find it interesting that I’ve navigated more and more towards electronic music. I feel a much stronger and more immediate emotional connection to electronic music, particularly the kind of dark, eerie ambient music that you may be acquainted with from my last post. This music is my soul music, capable of relieving me from whatever hell is going on in the world.

It seems oddly convenient that right around this time of year, when the senioritis has become a major struggle and my exhaustion is at an all time high (two weeks ago to be exact), I had the luck of going to Touch record label’s showcase at the Gray Area Festival in the Mission. The showcase featured some of my favorite experimental electronic artists from Britain: Philip Jeck, Simon Scott, and Mark van Hoen. During it, I allowed myself to become completely consumed by the washes of sound that these electronic wizards created. I allowed myself to forget about all the anxiety and stress I had been feeling about AP testing, the end of high school, and the college years ahead, if only briefly. I often lament how there isn’t enough of an underground experimental electronic music scene in San Francisco, so the fact that this event was happening at all from a mere three blocks away got me excited in a way nothing else has this semester.

Philip Jeck’s set up

Across all genres, the live music experience is an entirely different entity from listening to an audio recording. Electronic music live is even far more transcendent of a musical experience, so if you ever get a chance to experience that, I highly recommend it. Because electronic music by nature can require multiple components from computers to synthesizers to turntables, it’s easy to overlook the logistics involved when listening with headphones. In actuality, plugs need to be unplugged, a record needs to be switched out with another. Or in Simon Scott’s case, a tuning fork needs to be struck. In concert, not only is electronic music itself enthralling, but being able to actually witness the mechanics of the sounds being created is so much fun to watch.

Being in such an intimate setting complete with surround sound speakers and with the volume cranked up high, it didn’t take much for me to become a musical sponge, soaking up the sounds like it was a drug (excuse me as I start to sound like a drug addict). I was completely immersed. One of my favorite aspects about ambient music is that there isn’t a clear destination point in the music, because the whole point of it is to create an atmosphere or mood. Some people are uncomfortable without clear musical structure, but I live for it. There’s beauty in not knowing when a certain musical section begins and where another ends. As a result, this music creates a sense of suspension in time and in feeling, which I find to be incredibly relaxing. When each performance ended, I was left feeling exhausted, relaxed, and a little bombarded from all the auditory and visual brain inputs. I felt like I was waking up from a dream.

It’s been about four years since I last experimented with my synthesizer. I don’t believe in fate, but it seems that going to this event provided me the inspiration I’ve needed the last few years to take up my childhood dream again and get back to creating my own sound universe.