June 27, 2015

The Origin Of The Species...

by Chris Randall

Steve Hamann asked an interesting pair of questions on Twitter this morning: "What is the origin of the floating hands and electronic gear music video?" And he followed that up with this: "For a lot of people it seems to have become a musical end unto itself, I wonder where/when it started?"

I am obviously a strong proponent of this particular form of expression. My first YouTube upload, in 2007, was only the first in a long string of Hands videos in my channel; roughly two thirds of my uploads fit in to this category. These sorts of videos are de rigueur these days for any aspiring synthNerd, and Audio Damage even makes a product specifically for making them with your modular synth and iPhone.

If you've been a long-time reader of this site (10 YEARS NEXT MONTH HOLY SHIT!!) I've inflicted these videos on you many times. To address the second part of Steve's musings, speaking strictly for myself, the video is absolutely the musical end, and I generally write the music specifically for the video. This started happening in the beginning of 2011; before that, I had generally done any sort of video upload as an afterthought, but this one is the first one where making the video was the goal in and of itself:

Many others followed, of course, and while the early ones were recorded and mixed, and the audio released elsewhere, I've gradually got to the point where the video is the release entire, and I don't actually include any downloadable audio content. I'll admit I hadn't actually thought about the "why" of this until today, and I don't have a good answer for it. In pondering it, I think that a lot of the reason I put up the videos (aside from demonstrating the cool shit we make) is that they show off my skill as a musician, inasmuch as I'm capable of demonstrating skill, and serve as "proof" that no trickery was involved. I think with the growing popularity of modular synths, and the dick-swinging inherent in that group of instruments, they also serve as a nice set of bona fides: "look at all this dope shit I have, and here's proof that I'm good at using it."

So, that's me. But it leaves Steve's questions sort of unanswered: where's the √úr Hands Video? And why do other people do it? I personally am curious as to why people put up so many really shitty ones. One of the groups on Facebook that I belong to, it's basically just a constant stream of really terrible sound (I won't even call it music) with cell phone mic audio. These videos are essentially worthless, whether a demonstration of prowess or a snapshot of a musical moment. Your thoughts? Can we find the first Hands video on YouTube?


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Jun.27.2015 @ 10:47 AM
For some reason I can't explain, I watch a lot of these kinds of videos. I was thinking about it out of the blue this week, here is a relatively new form of musical expression/end product created through the rise of free video hosting, and no one really talks about it as such, especially outside of the gear-nerd cult we inhabit.

The advent of blinken lights, through tenori-on and especially monome, feels like the catalyst for the rise in popularity of these videos. Hilariously, the earliest monome video I could find on Youtube is mostly inaudible:
link [www.youtube.com]

Seems to have originated with professional and academic gear demos. My searching so far has found this post on Synthtopia from 2003 as an early example, pointing to this floating hand Audiopad demo from the 2003 Sonar festival:

link [www.synthtopia.co...]
link [www.youtube.com]

Jun.27.2015 @ 11:32 AM
Eric Beam
I've pondered this question for awhile. From my experience the videos are only understood (enjoyed) by fellow musician/synthgeeks. I think you are spot on with your "serve as "proof" that no trickery was involved" comment.
Otherwise put, Proof of artist integrity. I feel musicians & craftsmen will always take pride in creating something from nothing. With preset based tools saturating the world of crap music, these types of videos can be a counterpart/response. This is my over-thought take on the phenomena.
At the surface level.
- What other venues are available for this expression?
- We like showing off gear, even more so if it's being used.
- That DSLR video feature needs to get used sometime.
- Wider audience (the local girlfriend thinks it's all bullshit)
- Attention span, some of this shit is plain boring without experiencing the process.
- As for the hands in particular, it's all about the tools. Nobody wants to see the bearded D-bags controlling them.

Jun.27.2015 @ 12:21 PM
Chris Randall
Yeah, I think you're probably right. Generally, I make one when I have a new piece of gear or technique; I don't specifically say "I want to show off," but it seems to be a natural progression.


Jun.27.2015 @ 1:38 PM
Personally, with the couple I've made and those I'm inclined to watch, it's about scratching the itch of live performance. A patch video is a patch video is a patch video (see also gear demo), but if I'm watching a hands video for 3 to 4 minutes I'm watching the performer, performing in the studio -- w/ good sightlines and audio. There's definitely an element of 'o yeah, this dude* knows his shit'. But more, especially for those I plan on making in the future, it's my lazy man's version of a local gig. Which leads me to...

Historically, I would track its evolution to the general rise of YouTube. Remember that video we discussed many years back, where someone made a full album's worth of songs by remixing videos of people playing music on You Tube? That was gear demos, instrument technique & instructional & performance vids, etc. But aren't these but another facet of that? A drummer explaining how to perform break beats/a guitarist showing off his 'chops'/ A demonstration of beat making on the MPC/some kids earnest rendition of a Green Day tune/et al. For the majority of musicians the impulse is to perform, no matter the venue, the medium. As fun (maddening, engrossing, annoying) as it is making cool tunes in our boxes and rooms and bedsits, it is hard to not feeling we're howling into the void. So when you write a song you can perform in realtime, why not rack up a few hundred in views for it, right?

*Yeah, as far as synth, beat making, it definitely is provence of the penis baring side of the species. More's the pity.

Jun.27.2015 @ 1:41 PM
Also, what shamann & Eric said.

Jun.27.2015 @ 2:32 PM
Yeah, see also the rise of Justin Bieber and twee ukulele cover songs; presumably same drive to perform no matter where.

There's a kind of added bonus to having the video. A good example is the bit that Sonic Nick does at the end of his review of the MFB Dominion: link [youtu.be]

You can get that music via bandcamp for a buck, (link [soniclab.bandcamp.co...]) but I actually like it better in the video. Like stage musicals and opera I guess, the visuals augment the soundtrack.

Jun.27.2015 @ 2:44 PM
Chris Randall
Puffer brings up an excellent point. I greatly enjoy playing live; it's just at my advanced age, the pain-in-the-ass surrounding the actual performance has reached the level of diminishing returns. (That is to say that all the shit I have to go through to get to the act of performing isn't worth the act itself.) Also, when SMG was in its heyday, we were a well-oiled machine with a full support staff headlining theatres and radio festivals with 100K people at them. It's really a downer, after that, to play to a bar with 10 dudes in it. You can't keep 'em down on the farm...

So setting up a state on my modular, and doodling with it for 5 minutes, gives me the same little poke that the bar/10 dudes scenario does, with the added bonus that I don't actually have to pack up my gear and drive anywhere, and I can do another take if I fuck up. (Which I regularly do. That techno video I put up last week that looked all fluid and like I knew what I was doing and shit, that was like the 15th take.) It can, in no way whatsoever, replace fronting a good band to 1500 people for an hour, to be clear.


Jun.27.2015 @ 3:52 PM
Eric Beam
Agreed. The live playing element is for sure a factor. That escaped my thoughts. I don't perform nearly as much as I used/want to. Video can satisfy part of that desire.
My synth recording interest is largely do to my desire for musical independence. All those with "band" experience know the effort, compromise, & blood involved.
Is it the same, not at all. Creatively satisfying? Yes.
For those that like creating with/for a recording medium, video is fun path to figure out. It's also only been a few years a that an individual can capture/produce a quality image with readily available tools.
That said is this a good thing? Is publicly spitting out video experiments focusing on a narrow musical aspect that only 100 other synthgeeks enjoy beneficial? I dont know.
That effort put into a true/full musical composition holds more value to me. But the quick creative gratification making these is undeniable.
I guess these can be the equivalent of a low expectation band jam for electronic musicians?

Jun.27.2015 @ 4:05 PM
Eric Beam
I think i'll stop fukn aroung on the net, go figure out the in and outs phaedra + my new iConnect & make a video =/.

Jun.29.2015 @ 1:45 PM
Jeff Mills' "Exhibitionist" DVD came out in 2004, just before youtube existed. Not exactly just a "hands" video (his face is in it too), but it's all about his performance with his hands, and it showcases DJ virtuosity in a way that makes the art of it really tangible.

I think that's partly what these videos are about. With other, older kinds of music making, there's more a shared understanding of what constitutes a performance - what kind of action from the performer produces / shapes sound, etc. With electronic music, the newness of it, and the huge variation in technical setups makes it appealing to show what we're doing in a really direct way, to make clear how a performance is happening, and that it's not just some computer magic without soul. The interface(s) of electronic music are not as widely understood as regular instruments (and not as visible to the audience), so it makes sense to show what's happening from the user / performer's point of view.

Jeff Mills is coming out with a followup that I think is less about DJing and more about production / live electronic performance (though even his DJing just with turntables kind of blurs the line, I think, given how much he's doing).

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