I'm somewhat nostalgic for the old days (the late 90's-early 00's), when it was the height of the cutting edge avant garde to just use a laptop and make noise (anyone remember the "Onkyo" phenomenon?). No video, no instruments, no controllers, nothing to detract from pure sound:
Aoki Takamasa: Live @ Tokyo Polytechnic University:
Since then, MIDI controllerism has become de riguer if you are making electronic music in performance. As a performer, you can have a lot more immediate flexibility pressing buttons than continually trying to find the sweet spot on your screen with a touchpad. And from the point of view of the audience, you look like you're "doing something." Personally, I think a large part of controllerism is a reaction to an audience that always expects a visual component to any music performance. The last time I checked, music was something you primarily listened to, not watched. Who goes to MOMA, sees a Picasso and says, "Great painting, but where's the soundtrack?" I believe the visual prejudice engrained in our appreciation of music is so overwhelming that it remains unquestioned, and unexamined. Francisco Lopez knows what I'm talking about, he blindfolds his audience.
Anyway, it all started with the Monome, a wooden box with a grid of buttons that control things your computer already does. Then, the Monome wannabe's came along: the Tenori-On, and the Arduinome. If you were daunted by the $1K or more price tag for one of these puppies, you may have waited for the Akai APC40, or the Novation Launchpad, which is not much over $100, works great, and can emulate some of what the Monome does ( I have a Launchpad, and it rocks).
What got me going on all of this was a video I found on the Monome Web site that showed highlights of the LA Monomeet held in California last December. I had never heard of any of these composers before, but I was so impressed with all of their musicianship and skill, I just had to share it. I really like how these musicians are able to do fairly challenging electronic music which is also immediately accessible, successfully bridging the divide between "experimental," and "pop." And yes, it is exciting and fun to watch: