‘Command Collective’ lights up Espresso Metro, kinda

Tycho, who knows how to make a laptop connect with an audience.

Tycho, who knows how to make a laptop connect with an audience.

Upon entering the makeshift club, one could easily see that this would not be a typical evening of live music. The obvious difference was the lack of obviously musical instruments. Further inspection revealed a rack of studio gear and various keyboards, these partially obscured by two projection screens that continuously presented images: a mixture of ambient footage including the Philip Glass and Godrey Reggio film Koyaanisqatsi, 1980s-era breakdancing, Japanese television programs and filmed images from graphic designers ISO50 and Adrienne Yan.

The event, billed as “Command Collective,” was held at the Downtown Espresso Metro and featured some of the area’s better-known practitioners of electronic music: Chachi Jones, Tycho and Dusty Brown.

Chachi Jones (www.chachijones.com) began the performance and, by doing so, immediately bought to the fore one of the problems with live, electronic music, namely an issue of focus. For the audience, there is no apparent performance—just a man huddling over a laptop, an image ultimately no different from staring across the hall at work: You’re on a computer, he’s on a computer, and you’re both miserable. But the man with the computer on the makeshift stage apparently is making a hugely textured and organized barrage of sound somehow, which underscores a second problem of electronic music: determining what is live and what is prerecorded. There is, after all, only one person on the stage, so one perceives that much of the sound must be coming “off the tape.” The dual video screens did offer something for the eyes, but the problem, particularly with Jones’ set, was that the images had little relation to what was being played.

More successful in this aspect was Tycho (www.tychomusic.com), who succeeded on two levels. First, Tycho’s music is utterly transcendent. (Tycho’s debut CD, The Science of Patterns, is a superb example of how musical—and listenable—good electronic music can be.) Composer Scott Hansen (Tycho is his stage name) shared much the same performance space as Jones—essentially a seat at a computer—but his pieces had an internal organization that helped the audience lock onto their beautiful melodies. Tycho also had his own custom, digital images, heavily using the artwork of Adrienne Yan, which was more closely tied to his particular aesthetic. This additional visual element gave Tycho’s performance a sense of coherence ultimately lacking from Jones’ set.

The other relatively significant problem was in the set length of each performer. The show started approximately an hour late (during the first hour, music was provided by DJ Mupetblast), and both Jones and Tycho performed for an hour each. What this meant was that by the time Dusty Brown’s set began, the audience essentially had been listening to electronic music for three hours, a long haul for even a dedicated fan. Despite this and despite repeated technical difficulties, Brown’s performance held the audience’s interest, in large part because of the presence of his sister, Jessica Brown, whose high, full vocals brought focus and clarity to the evening. See www.dustybrown.com for more information.