PK14 are like an Asian The Who. Skinny, drab members dressed in T-shirts, thin, stocking-tight jeans with cropped black hair. Except the drummer; he’s in reverse. They stand unremarkably. My ears are still ringing from Eagle and the Worm. Everything is a dull roar over the ringing, and the world sounds numb. It is a good bad-thing. Like hearing through a funnel – peripheral voices humming in the background, indistinct conversation shouting only whispers. All else is blanketed in a static aftershock. I can see a strummer strumming.
Noise: wonderful, unexpected bliss. Loud: instruments swallow up one another. Sweat: even the condensation is electrified. The atmosphere ripples in vibrations. Vision stutters momentarily. These vibes, running up my arms and legs; down my hands, around my neck, against my chest. The difference with live music is that you can actually feel it. You are witness to the emanators of the emanations. Every morsel, every shred and fibre of their being, in unison. With music. Almost a carnal giving and receiving no speaker can replicate, no CD can reproduce…
The human body is anywhere between fifty-five and seventy-eight-percent water. That’s over fifty-trillion self-contained cells, throbbing independently in a sea of blood, pumping every quarter of an adrenaline-fuelled second. Conductors conducting. We’re just a sponge. Long after the show’s spent it’ll still be with us. It’s trapped. Trapped in our pores, under our skin. Running through our veins, dancing on our tongues, in our salivation, digesting in our stomach. Trapped. All of it. Warped in a peristaltic blur of unconscious participation. We’re the instrument: it’s just, we don’t know it.
The benefits of live music are obvious: you’re there. The superlative quality, the unpredictable chop-and-change of tracks, effects and solos predominantly a one-off feature never to be heard again. When you replay them on a CD, you get these fragments of a much larger soundscape not mired in loudness or distortion. Bits of tracks, without real constitution next to the real thing. And unlike live music, always the same; every note, beat, riff and lyric layered in a predisposed order. But unlike the stage, the CD can be beckoned by your whims and fancies – as many encores as you like, at whatever hour of your choosing, whichever track you may desire. Nevertheless, there still remains no substitute for live.
I think our search for quality in music is a subconscious desire to reacquaint ourselves with live music; CDs allow us replay, MP3’s don us with 24/7 gigs, while vinyl – the next best thing to live – captures all its vibrations (even the unheard, or the minutely-soft) in a clumsy, yet desirable format. In the attempt to stimulate our musical-senses, we even go to lengths of concert-DVDs. But much in the same way CDs carry their predictability, so too does a DVD with its chapters/selections/features.
Music reinvigorates the soul; and while I can personally vouch that a three-hour gig/concert is enough to revitalise my spirit, I’ve witnessed the effects on others for whom it is an equal delight. The experience – both in and after – a live performance is one of unequal satisfaction. The in-concert bliss is either augmented with alcohol, cigarettes or marijuana – and those users would probably testify that it further enhances an already epic track into legendary. Those – like myself – who prefer to simply stand without the aid/hindrance of substance, are like mini tape-recorders soaking up every vibe that heads their way in the pulsing crowd, attempting to memorise not only every pulsation, but every hiccup, movement and action of the artists themselves. Here is where the barrier between recorded and live music establishes itself: you can see it all. Even the music itself. Just close your eyes.
Not to be confused with live, rave music – I believe – is another organism altogether. They invite different enhancing-substances; speed, ecstasy, et cetera. Somewhat similar in appearance to a mosh-pit, only that it is usually everywhere. And unlike live, raves are principally dominated by electronic music; trance, techno, ambience and chillwave genres make themselves at home. I contend that it really isn’t live music which raves are producing, but loud music instead. Simply because the music itself is contrived purely electronically – a DJ is more like a record-arm in this circumstance, and they just flip/change discs/LPs accordingly. To some degree, DJs also mix these tracks, but it’s an insubstantial advocate for it being live, or even close to unique. Nevertheless, the same pulse – debatably, the same thrill – is present simply because the system of deliverance (the speakers) are of similar live-quality. These are the backbone to any performance, and I like to think of them as band-megaphones. Conceivably, raves are a closer live-emulation, but a carefully constructed home set-up can just as easily replicate the same effect with a sizable one-off cost for years of dedicated service.
This is where keen, audiophile nuance comes into play: all things considered, audiophiles are a conscious version of the live-music seekers. They know exactly what they’re looking for, have the equipment appropriate for nigh-exactitude live-replication, and exploit their knowledge thus. Ear-buds are only a beginning; the real means to an audiophile end are a reliable set of speakers capable of taking as much power their amplifier can produce. A subwoofer, an equalizer – these are the equivalents of fine detail: the nuance. It isn’t simply enough to have Hendrix squealing loudly on guitar, but the treble to exquisitely portray his high-end solos, and the bass to embody the throbbing lows. While a 5.1, or 7.2 surround-sound system for home-cinema set-up is looking pretty good for something like Star Wars – where the sounds are flying everywhere, and have been deliberately mixed to do so – the simple stereo-CD or even LP, will only give you left and right. Mono is simply an all-round monotone (hence ‘mono’) haze. I recently stumbled across a demonstration of Directed Sound by Woody Norris who had focused sound-waves. He gestures at particular parts of an audience with a sort of flat, square dish; those outside the vicinity could hear nothing, but those within could.
The unfortunately underestimated quadraphonic-LP is as close as one can get to surround-sound music; think of stereo, but from four directions instead of one, left-right-front, left-right-back. In a live situation, this set-up is next to useless because the sound is everywhere; emanations from the instruments, the singers and the speakers amplifying them. In this circumstance, it pays to be as close to the action as possible. Not only because the experience is more enjoyable up close to the band itself, but you get more out of the band’s actuality: they being there, playing – even their subtle gestures as they indicate upcoming tracks or solos.
Watching an artist play is as enjoyable as hearing the music they produce; some are fully aware of the crowd, dance for them, wave to fans, make eye-contact and smile. Others simply slip into a sort of trance-like coma, standing like statues as they tickle off riff after riff with their eyes closed. The more eccentric the band, the more eccentric the performance.
Live music can change your opinion on a band, I think. My counterpart had a spare ticket for a gig that I attended completely oblivious to the bands playing: in retrospect, Red Berry Plum, The Ancients and Girls. And live music has the dangerous reputation of overshadowing a band’s calibre because… well… everything sounds better live. What more is there to say?