Tesseract Live in the Studio, for the Most Part

Tesseract, who are currently on tour with Intronaut and Cloudkicker (!), just posted this live in-studio footage of their 14-minute opus “Of Matter,” which I assume is about how great it is to have invariant mass. The footage was tracked at Sphere Studios, mixed later at 4D Sounds (is that a studio owned by one of the Tesseract guys considering the naming similarity, or pure coincidence?), and uploaded to YouTube for you, the general public, to enjoy.

The performance got me thinking though, because something immediately jumped out at me, and to other listeners judging by the comments: this isn’t totally live. Not that the band is trying to hide it and be disingenuous, but there are plenty of canned backing vocals and what sounds like keyboard overdubs (not totally sure about the latter because one of my monitors is currently blown and it’s mucking up my critical listening ability). Not that this is uncommon, but I’m curious how everyone feels about this practice. And more specifically, why are people more prone to cry foul on pre-recorded vocal harmonies and guitar overdubs than they are for keys and samples?

It almost sounds insulting to keyboard players when you start to break it down. Your parts don’t really count as a part of a rock ensemble. It doesn’t matter if your parts aren’t performed live. But vocals? Bring out the pitchforks. Maybe it’s because so many singers can’t really perform and have to engineer the crap out of their takes in the studio, plus you know, being burned by Milli Vanilli (I’m still so angry about that), that our bullshit meter has a hair trigger when a frontperson opens their mouth. But I’ll admit it, there’s just something about pre-tracked backing vocals that doesn’t sit right. Maybe it’s that the more human the instrument, the more real we, or at least I, need it to be.

Of course the other downside to anything performed by a MacBook instead of a person is that it changes the dynamic of the music, because a click track becomes a must. It’s part of the reason that I, as an old school 35 year old who grew up as much with hardcore and plain old rock as I did with metal, can’t get into a lot of newer bands who seem a bit too buttoned collar. Sometimes you want a band to rock the fuck out. Not that every band should be going nuts and bleeding onto the audience: certainly Tesseract’s music lends itself to the hypnotic certainty of a metronome. I’d wager they’re the type of band that might prefer playing to one even if they didn’t employ backing tracks. But there’s been a certain obsession with making a show sound exactly like the record, especially with the rising popularity of Axe-FX and Kemper amp modellers, and it dulls my interest in checking out a live show.

But enough ranting on my part. What you do think?

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Chris Alfano has written about music and toured in bands since print magazines and mp3.com were popular. Once in high-school he hacked a friend's QBasic stick figure fighting game to add a chiptune metal soundtrack. Random attractive people still give him high-fives about that.