A Mind-Expanding Modular Synthesizer Performance by Caterina Barbieri

The Italian compoer’s performance is a master class in modular synthesizer music.

I’m sure many people have this notion that live electronic music consists of little more than twiddling knobs, pushing buttons, and other “non-musical” activities. This 2017 performance by Caterina Barbieri (which begins at the 17:20 mark) isn’t less than any of those things, but it’s also much, much more.

Despite the artificial nature of her music, Barbieri’s performance never seems pre-programmed, but rather, carefully and organically cultivated as she adjusts and tweaks her equipment. There are moments where you can’t help but think that if she makes one wrong move, if one setting is even slightly off, then the whole piece will come crashing down — just like any other musical performance.

But thanks to Barbieri’s focus and patience, that never happens, resulting in a truly fascinating performance. Barbieri slowly shapes her music from seemingly random bleeps and bloops into a mind-blowing cascade of sound that culminates in “Fantas,” the stunning opener from this year’s Ecstatic Computation (and one of my favorite songs of 2019).

Prior to her performance, Barbieri is interviewed concerning her compositional process, during which she discusses her concept of minimalism in music and her appreciation of Indian raga music (among other things).

Related: If you have no idea what “modular synthesizer” means, this video is a nice introduction to the concept and instrument.

Read more about Caterina Barbieri.