In this week’s New Yorker, Sasha Frere-Jones takes a look at musical acts that use laptops in their live shows, confronting a question the 2008 concertgoer must grapple with far too frequently: Just what, exactly, is happening onstage? Frere-Jones first explains Serato Scratch Live, the program that allows D.J.’s to play their laptop’s music libraries on virtual turntables, which makes carrying actual records around sort of hilarious. He then asks Brooklyn’s Battles, who incorporate two laptops into a traditional guitar-bass-drums setup, to break down their show. Apparently the computers are just used for sprinkling sound effects, while good old-fashioned pedals create the guitar loops central to the band’s sound. But what about Girl Talk, a.k.a. Gregg Gillis, who puts on one of the best shows around using only a laptop and his underwear?
Apparently, Gillis isn’t just hitting play. On his computer, he has the premade loops heard on his albums, but, live, he’s supposedly manipulating the loops to re-create the recorded mix, or to tweak them to his liking. Which is surprising and gratifying to those who still appreciate the sanctity of the live performance, but also kind of silly — Gillis could, of course, just hit play and no one would know the difference. We do like that laptop musicians are policing themselves, however, since we’re going to Girl Talk’s Terminal 5 show in November and we’d feel stupid just standing around watching a guy click around on his iTunes for two hours.