A couple of weekends ago I went to the di_stanze mini festival of electronic music and, on the Sunday evening, to see Steve Hackett’s ‘Genesis Revisited’ tour. Not much in common there you might think: new experimental electronic pieces in a classical concert hall, followed by a rock guitarist and his band playing music from the early 1970s. That would be a mistake. In fact the proximity in time of the concerts only served to highlight their similarities for me.
The major difference was that the music at di_stanze was all (to my knowledge) new pieces and the Genesis pieces were around 40 years old, but it’s important to note that they were in new arrangements. Steve Hackett makes no attempt to faithfully recreate the sound of the 1970s band, these pieces are truly ‘revisited’ using all the modern technology and techniques of a 21st Century rock band with considerable instrumental technique and knowledge of electronic music techniques from samplers & synthesizers to guitar pedals, guitar synthesizers and vocal effects.
One of the performers at di_stanze was the excellent Will Baldry, a hip-hop DJ who is using his turntables in new ways to perform classically structured pieces and poetry to great effect. This shows the ‘classical’ world embracing and learning from other genres, The opposite also happens – Genesis’s 1970s material drew heavily from classical structures and ideas.
Steve Hackett’s extensive use of the Whammy pedal at the later concert brought to mind a piece by the normally brilliant Danish composer Simon Steen-Andersen who once used that pedal in a rather arch and slightly strained ‘one idea’ way that many classical composers seem to when adopting a new technology. By contrast Steve, like most rock musicians, is at home with new technology and it is fully integrated into the music so much that unless you know what is going on you might not even notice. it’s this seamless integration of technology into music that is often lacking in ‘classical’ compositions even today. I am pleased that this was (mostly) not the case at di_stanze.
One of the things that many classical musicians seem not have go the hang of is synthesizers. The only synth performance at di_stanze was an unimaginative piece of live-coding into a Juno polysynth. I wish people using this sort of equipment would listen to, and learn from, performers such as Roger King (of the Steve Hackett band) who use multiple synthesizers (soft, and hardware) to make real, high quality music, and not just a collection of sounds.