September 12, 2008

A Review of Laptop-Based Music Performances [7:04 am]

Re-start — The New Yorker (pdf)

An act that embodies many of the complications of the laptop’s role is Girl Talk, the stage name of Gregg Gillis, who performs with nothing but a laptop onstage and uses only loops and samples from other people’s songs, most of them well known. Girl Talk tracks combine Southern rap with Radiohead songs, Lil Wayne with the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and have proved popular both live and on the Internet. The live draw is perhaps not surprising. To flesh out the experience of watching a guy working on a computer, Gillis leaps about, invites fans to dance onstage, and often ends shows wearing just his boxers. To protect his Panasonic Toughbook, Gillis covers it in Saran Wrap and uses a mouse rather than the track pad. (“My hands just get too sweaty,” he explained to me.)

[...] Several decades ago, Gillis might have been playing at clubs like Danceteria or the World, where the d.j. booth was not necessarily visible from the dance floor and the space had no obvious front or back. The music floated above and around the dancers, who were both witnesses and performers. But, as dance clubs have dwindled in number, acts like Girl Talk are generally playing rock clubs that have traditional stages, and this demands some kind of visual. Gillis is happy to comply, and his open-ended act and communal free-for-all certainly constitutes a live performance. It is ironic, then, that Gillis is so hands on in executing his mixes. If there was ever somebody who could simply hit “Play” and bounce around, it is Gillis. With some version of the Girl Talk mashup coming from the speakers and Gillis jumping out of his pants, most concertgoers would feel as though they had got what they paid for. There is no longer any way of telling whether or not the Wizard is behind the curtain. Does it matter?

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