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.

Latest comments
  • I saw them live a few months ago and they are great. Ashe’s voice is amazing and yes, they use pre-recorder vocals but i think they work only as a complement to ashe’s performance and he doesn’t hide behind those tracks. I think they want to recreate the atmospheric feel into their live performance and for Tesseract, i think, is what makes them great

  • Looks like an American Idol tryout

  • i’ve seen them live, they can pull off everything they do in studio just as well live. this seems like it was just for the sake of making a video enjoyable so i’ll forgive it.

  • It’s incredibly difficult to play to a click at a live show. It’s just a subconscious thing to change tempo when your dynamics drastically change and the energy of the performance grabs hold of you.

  • Using amp modelers and all that shit is awesome too because the tones are down right amazing. I’d rather listen to that then amps that are just more loud than clear.

  • The idea behind using samples and pre-recorded keyboard backing tracks is to avoid the need for having yet another member in the band like a keyboardist produce those sounds live–that’s just one more person that needs to get paid, fit in a van, show up to practice, etc.

    Unless we’re talking Dream Theater level prog, these things are just enhancements and frills added onto music that at its core is driven by guitars and vocals. Therefore, people don’t always expect you to be able to reproduce those additional samples/keys live, and are generally ok with you using backing tracks to fulfill those sonic elements if you need to.

    On the other hand, people DO expect you to be able to perform the core elements of your music (guitars and vocals) without the need for pre-recorded backing tracks of these things. I’d say this includes backing vocals and vocal harmonies. Get another band member to sing backup vox, or don’t fucking have them at all.

    • On a gut level I agree with you, but intellectually I wonder why it feels okay to have a musician pre-record a synth track playing a third harmony under the root, but if that same musician records that same note with vocal chords we say it’s bullshit.

      • Might be because a lot of the keyboard enhancement parts could be played with just one finger on a keyboard were vocal harmonies take a bit more practice.

        I’m in a band that uses backing tracks and it’s a fucking hassle but necessary unless we want to add another member. And it can be hard to find someone who can not anything a lot of the time and then comes in with very basic one finger synth shit. Since I’m already running a backing track I will sometime put a 3rd guitar part if the song calls for it. It’s taken some work but our set has got a good amount of emotion in it and many people don’t even realize we are playing to backing tracks (not that we try and hide it).

  • A lot of times people talk about playing to click as if it makes things easier, as someone already pointed out, it VERY MUCH doesn’t.

    As for “rocking the fuck out”, there are plenty of bands who do this. Even some that rock the fuck out, and play along to a click too, like the band i play in ha. I personally think it removes some accountability, its easy to say “i missed that note because my guitar was above my head, it looked awesome though”. Which is fine. I find Tesseract’s performances very honest, as has been said they don’t hide their tracks or hide behind them. Every nuance of their playing is laid bare and its all perfect.

    • Agreed. Certainly didn’t mean to imply that playing live to a click is easier, especially for the drummer.

      As for the “rocking the fuck out,” you can play “hard” with or without a click, but by its nature there’s a certain amount of chaos that you lose by playing to a metronome. And ESPECIALLY when it’s not just a normal click but an entire performance that’s mapped out in protools with backing music. So even if you play your heart out, I feel like there’s some aspect to the performance that just by the nature of the tempo map gets reigned in. And it’s not necessarily even a bad thing: like I was saying it can add to the dreamlike atmosphere of a band like Tesseract or The Ocean. But I certainly wouldn’t want it for a band like Hella or Melt Banana. My band has played with and without a click, and regardless of how hard we played it just felt different.

  • I love the shit out of this band. So damn good. To weigh in on the discussion at hand, though, I think it depends on the band. For example, I love The Acacia Strain and seeing them live is an insane experience. Well, it was when they were a four piece and the original guitarist, D.L. was with them. On récords, he added layers and harmonies that he was unable to do live because he only has two arms. Not a single person gave a shit because we watch them to go fucking nuts and be a part of a violent, chaotic experience. When I watch someone like Tesseract or Between the Buried and Me, I’m there for a whole different reason. I want to see them pull that shit off and appreciate the musicianship and atmosphere created by the songs. There’s a place for everything, but it doesn’t belong everywhere.

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