In February, I met Dan Deacon—indie electronic composer, performer, and merrymaker—at Karl Ekdahl's workshop at True Vine Records in Hampden. They discussed the modifications that Ekdahl, a tech geek, was making to Deacon's performance rig.
Deacon, who's well known for setting up his equipment on the dancefloor and performing amongst his loyal audience, is apparently transitioning to more of a traditional stage show—in that it will likely make use of an actual stage. But it sounds like Deacon and Ekdahl have a few surprises in store.
Deacon: I’ve been playing for awhile with the same set-up, and I got really tired of it. I’ll be able to hook the equipment up to a computer and control it a lot more. I won’t just be playing to canned tracks. When I was playing shows to 40 people and had 40 dollars to my name, it made sense. But now that the shows are larger, I feel like I should be doing a little bit more. I went through every piece of equipment I had and thought, “What parameters can be changed?” Basically, I made a wish list thinking that Karl would say, “Oh, that’s impossible.” Instead, he said, “Yeah, we can do this.” It was sort of mind-blowing. Then, he said, “And we could also do these things”. We approached it from very different standpoints, from him being so knowledgeable about electronics and me being someone who plays a particular instrument. So we found different ways to modify the equipment, ways that were unique because of our different approaches.
Ekdahl: We’re doing everything, from simply moving pedals from their original casings to new casings to modifying the s**t out of them to even building completely new things from scratch. We’re hooking up tons of different gear that isn’t meant to be hooked up together in this way.
Deacon: And we're fitting it all in three panels that fold into one box that meets the FAA standard for carry-on luggage. That way, I don’t have to check it, because I hate checking luggage. It will take up as much space as the old equipment, but it will be able to do 100 times more stuff. A kick drum will be able to trigger the tempo for a sequencer and synthesizer or computer players will be hooked into my stuff and vice versa. I’ll be able to control them, and they’ll control me. I’m trying to make it as connectable as possible to anything: acoustic sound, computer sound, and other modular devices.
Ekdahl: I’ll be putting all sort of protections and surge protectors in this equipment, because I have no idea what Dan might end up plugging into it.
Deacon: A tanning bed, maybe. Actually, it’s about turning 12 individual pieces into one large instrument—one large, polyphonic, multiple sound source instrument—and light show. When you turn on an effects pedal, a little LED light will turn on. We’re going to make something where that LED light will also trigger lights that will be in sync with the motion of the performance.
Ekdahl: Which is very cool.
Deacon: And a lot of fun. It could also trigger smoke machines, cannons of confetti, fans that inflate shit, open up a cage to let dogs run around, open and close the shutter on a projector—basically, anything that uses electricity. I want to start incorporating video into the show, so I’ll need to control when the video is on and off. The people who usually design this sort of equipment don’t think of it from a theatrical standpoint. When I first started performing, I thought that people should see my gear so they could see what’s going on. I think I took that type of performance as far as I could take it and as far as it could go. The show I did in New York recently was a massive warehouse with 2,000 people. After the set, I thought, “I don’t know if I want to do this.” I don’t think I want to play on the floor and brace myself against a crush of people. I could tell the people in the front weren’t having fun.
Ekdahl: You reinvented the electronic mosh pit.
Deacon: But I had no desire to do that. I’d rather try something new. I might lose some of my audience, but that’s okay. The biggest challenge will be learning how to play this instrument. I’ve been playing with the other gear for six years, and I’m very used to the muscle mechanics of it. I know where to go very quickly without looking. This will be a very different instrument, like switching from trombone to trumpet, which I did in high school. And that sucked.
Deacon will be performing material from his latest CD, Bromst, with a new ensemble (and new equipment!) at Floristree this Saturday night. It's part of the Sixth Annual Transmodern Festival.
[Image: John Lewis]