What the hell is she doing anyway?

We often see electronic musicians with all of their equipment on stage, and unless they’re playing keyboards, most of us have no idea what they’re actually doing. Especially if there’s a laptop involved. Are they just playing backing tracks or maybe checking the comments on their instagram posts? It’s really hard to tell.

Autechre Live 2016 Bootlegs - Page 3 - Autechre - We Are ...
Autechre in 2016. A well loved artist, but what is he really doing?

Maybe you don’t really care as long as you’re enjoying the music, but some of us are quite curious. Here, I will explain what exactly our vocalist Robyn does when we perform.

Photo taken by Mark Smith, October 2019

In short, she’s producing music, in real time.
Or in other words, using the music technology that we have, she’s improvising the whole performance in terms of both the sounds and the arrangements. Laura (drums) and me (guitar), of course have to follow and be aware of visual and sonic clues that Robyn gives us.

We do have to prepare, however: we select audio loops, program MIDI patterns and decide which parameters she will play with. This does not limit the performance in any way – it’s similar to selecting what kind of strings the guitarist will use or how many toms the drummer needs.

Here’s the list of the things that Robyn controls:
– selecting song parts to be played (verse, chorus, intro, etc.)
– turning individual parts on or off (certain drums, pads, bass, effects)
– drum filtering
– live vocal processing (delays, distortion, filters, etc.)

While we still use a laptop running Renoise, it’s off stage. All of the above actions are done over a private wireless network using TouchOSC. We also use a small Akai MIDI USB controller.

This is what she does during a live performance, in a nutshell. She’s not checking her emails, or skyping with a lover, but making each show a unique performance that fits the venue and the people in it.

Written by Igor Olejar


  1. Hi. As someone who has a passion for music, and most of its aspects – especially live – I found this very interesting. Obviously I have seen laptops etc, on stage a number of times, and I assumed they weren’t checking instagram…or skyping with a lover 🙂 … and I assumed they were being used musically, but nice to have the ‘lowdown’. In some ways, from what you say, they are kinda acting like a conductor, and the musicians are the orchestra(???)…kinda a questioning statement.
    Anyway coming to the show tonight, so look forward to seeing Robyn perform as well as you all 🙂

    • Thank you Dave, really appreciate your feedback.
      All the best,

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