Performing Electronic Music with DAWs

The state of computer-generated sounds has advanced rapidly to the point that anything can be incorporated into a musical syntax in today’s music. Therefore, sound art and electronic music are now often made of abstract sounds whose source may be difficult to define.

New sensing technologies, synthesis methods, and artificial intelligence have brought forward new discussions on what music is and created new possibilities through distinct research in the field of sound art which in turn has brought forward completely new forms of electronic music performance.

Today’s Music

Most electronic music today features the alteration, manipulation, and creative placement and movement of sounds. Speed changes, editing and blending sounds, reverberation, filtering, modulating. The electronic musician can highlight certain features of the sound or reshape and deform it. They may use the dynamics to create or ease tension in the arrangement and because so many objects and sound events have been squeezed into it it can take time to perceive today’s electronic music

Musicians are producing more often in bedroom- studio environments using midi-technology and DAWs such as Ableton Live allowing them to work independently of many of the economic constraints of yesteryear. On top of this, the number of man-hours that can be invested in elaborating work is almost unlimited. This influence of modern technology had led to the creation of music that exists free of commercial consideration. Of course, performance has a limited time frame and the increasing complexity of music has also affected the way in which it is performed.



It is important to note that even when performing complex and fixed media pieces, the composer can have some sort of live control over the performance. If the composer is performing the piece in a venue the composition is not specifically made for, there are a number of things he/she can or should do in order to achieve the optimum performance.

For example, the piece might be a stereo piece but the venue in which the piece is being performed might have a broader spatial setup allowing for more spatial diffusion options or vice versa. Furthermore, the composer must often make live variations with the equalizer in order to get the best sound out of the venue. From a performance perspective, it is pretty important to make the most of basic mixer options even if one is not performing live.

Live music-making exhibits considerable variations around predetermined forms. In the time domain, performers have many choices in a given moment from high to low tempo, from sudden, unanticipated changes and innovations to monotony and recurrence. Rhythm can provide important clues about what might be done in the time domain. We have also limitless varieties in space, from broad to narrow frequency range elements, and from sudden alterations in intensity to unity and minimal change. These adjustments and flexibility allow for musical expression of emotion and thoughts as they appear and subside.

In contemporary electronic music performance, mixing the outputs of the samplers, synthesizers and other analog gears with software (eg. Ableton Live) interface acts to foreground the technological device of production, thus enhancing the sense of presence and “Liveness” in concerts. Using a laptop with the digital audio workstation Ableton Live, modern producers channel the emerging technologies of the digital software interface through MIDI and hardware controllers, which (re) creates a sense of “liveness”. As a result, the distinction between the live performance and the pre-recorded material is, thus, blurred creating another aural illusion in the movement.

The art of music production has seen many changes since Ableton’s launch. The process of composing music has adapted to live performances. Using both the Session and Arrangement View in Ableton Live, I give form to these sound objects in time, in terms of production, and interpret them in the functionality of experimental electronic music.

“Electronic music can incorporate sounds of the outside world with ease and can generate new timbres that defy identification as music (or anything else)” (Demers, 2007).

The use of many sound objects in music (rhythm, pitch, etc.) and expansion of expression allow for elaboration. It is interesting that literally any type of sound can be used to create a work, and the result can be fairly different with the organization of elements in the vertical and horizontal flow of the composition. Another composer could then use the same sound and make completely different work.


“The structural scaffolding embedded within creative works and the manner in which these can be extracted and harnessed to define levels of abstraction through which the material can be viewed and manipulated” (Smith, 2011:7).

In any musical activity, be it performance, composition, or listening, we encounter highly physical and rich textures. We are developing notions that interpret a huge variety of musical objects. The rearrangement of time and space is a process that continues by implying dimensional abstractions in sound space.

“With sampling, synthesis, and digital signal processing, sound can be created from scratch or else be transformed from recognizable materials to something beyond recognition” (Demers, 2010:79).

We shape sounds and crystallize soundscapes. We establish a sonic harmony between instruments and fabricate sonic impact –all are the outcome of creative decisions we make, all are down to the talent and vision of each individual, all have a profound influence on how the music is perceived.


Written by Özcan Ertek