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A walk-through the complexity of electronic music

A story guided by 4 musicians

in collaboration with Festival Semibreve



How does electronic

music work?

During an electronic music performance, people can wonder if the artist is actually playing or if they're checking their email. So, we were curious. What really happens during an electronic music performance?

Electronic music can in fact be hidden behind laptops and unidentifiable gear. And we wanted to know what happens during those performances and what makes them so unique. In the past two editions of Festival Semibreve, we got the opportunity to interview four musicians and let them walk us through their gear, show us their travelling equipment, and reflect on whether there’s space for improvisation during their performances. Scroll down to meet the musicians we talked to and see the work of illustrator Lourenço Providência who created a set of special illustrations on the theme of electronic music.
These 5 episodes, guided by Qasim Naqvi, Karen Gwyer, Keith F Whitman and Valgeir Sigurðsson intend to show us how electronic music works.


foto by Alvaro Campos

#1 On Learning

Learning how to play the instruments obviously turn this complex system into something fun. At first, Keith F Whitman was surprised by how the instruments were logically designed and he now finds it so intuitive and easy to get to particular kinds of sounds. Researching online is part of the process. “A few years ago I had no idea how to use any of this stuff, and I actually learned a lot by just going on Youtube, and going online, and reading articles about how people use these things.” - shares Qasim Naqvi


foto by Alvaro Campos

#2 On Equipment

The equipment used in an electronic music performance fills the table with synthesizers divided into different components, some for voltage control, some that produce effects like reverb and delay and obviously a computer. Keith F Withman, Valgeir Sigurdsson and Qasim Naqvi gave us a tour for their equipment.


foto by Alvaro Campos

#3 On Control

Can electronic musicians have everything under control during their performances? Karen Gwyer told us she takes notes and always has a plan so that she knows what is going to happen. In fact, it is easy to lose the plot and make a totally different sound to what it was planned. “Half of the process of performing music is the soundcheck” - says Keith.


foto by Alvaro Campos

#4 On Improvisation

During electronic music performances there’s always space for improvisation. Although musicians have a structure to follow, they can always make choices during the performances. Keith counted: “I think I make about 5 thousand decisions when I’m playing an 1-hour piece of music.” Qasim concludes: “The improvisation aspect is how the texture of the notes are affected, but the actual notes themselves are written out and are coming from the computer.”


foto by Alvaro Campos

#5 On Authenticity

After all - what makes every musician sound so unique? Qasim came into music through acoustic unamplified music like improvised and classic music, and with his synthesiser he tries to bring that feeling of how acoustic instruments resonate. The main instrument of an electronic musician is composed of individual modules that are made by people all over the world and each module is chosen to make a specific sound and that’s what makes each sound so authentic.

a story guided by four musicians


Qasim is a composer and drummer. He composes music for film, dance, theater and chamber ensembles domestically and abroad. Presently, Qasim writes chamber and electronic music in Brooklyn, New York and works on a variety of projects as a freelance composer and drummer.


Karen is a producer born in the southern US and raised in the north. Now based in London, she shifts between hypnotic, thickly melodic, bass-laden left-of-techno dancefloor vibes and diversionary acidic psychedelia in her expansive largely analogue live electronic performances.


Keith is a composer, performer, and recording artist currently based in Brooklyn. These days his creative energies are largely put into the continued development of a singular take on "Live Electronic Music" incorporating an ever-changing hybrid software and hardware-based system that allows for the desired complexities of sound and vision.


Valgeir is an Icelandic composer and producer. His collaborations have included Björk, Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy, Sigur Rós, and many others. His music blends contemporary classical writing and esoteric electronic production, sometimes to a point where one is indistinguishable from the other.

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