Musician Performance Anxiety

Performance in Fano, Italy, 2023 - 📷

This is not a post about how hospitable my Umanesimo Artificiale hosts were (very).

This is not a post about how good the pizza in Italy was (best Diavola I've ever had).

This is not even a post about how perfect the setting was for the second performance of my series (it could not have been more perfect).

This is a post about performance anxiety.

Performing feels unnatural to me. I can physically feel all of those eyes locked on me as though I'm the last human in a room full of vampires.

Of course, looking is natural, it's what we all do. But logically, it makes little sense to me; if we come for the sound then to focus on the performer is actually detrimental because it distracts from the sound.

I guess what we're saying is that we also feel a connection with the performer beyond the sound? Then, it might be more accurate to say that by listening, the musician evokes something emotional and personal which feels like a mutual connection.

On another, perhaps more ambiguous level, the cult of personality makes me uncomfortable. To physically place someone dead center, in front, and raised above everyone else feels wrong.

The more distance, physical and imagined, we create between ourselves and those we admire then the more out of reach our own dreams seem.

Instead, would it not be more useful if we looked at these examples of creative achievement as a reminder of how achievable our hopes are?

"If Bogdan can squeal like an idiotic child on top of a track and get flown out to play festivals then surely I can do it too, and MORE!"

In the past I experimented, jokingly but also with sincerity (coincidentally, my musical motto), with alternative performance settings; sitting underneath the table, playing from the bathroom, and so on. Interestingly, the more hidden from view I was the greater the anxiety became.

One particular episode was the time I was booked to play at the Barbican in London to a seated audience. If you don't know the Barbican look it up, it's fancy, and a great opportunity, unless you're Bogdan Raczynski.

I was so out of my element and ill prepared. I sped everything up so I'd be done in 20 minutes, hit play, and just lay on the ground like a coward the entire time. It was so excruciating that I still get anxiety heartburn and regret sweats when I think about it.

I realized that the gaze was something I had to face. All these years later it is painfully difficult to look up from my screen, to meet the eyes, as it were. Lately, as I do my more contemplative sets, sitting down, in venues configured for non-dancing, I am beginning to feel that familiar sense of dread again, as though I'm hiding.

So why do I continue playing?

For starters, the money is sometimes decent-ish. My goal has always been to earn enough from music that I don't have to do anything else. The other reason is that ironically, I love the whole experience - the travel, having nothing to do but think, feeling relevant, writing, and being creative. With all that's going on in this world I am grateful for these luxuries.

I didn't always feel this way, mind you, I've squandered many opportunities (see above, Barbican).

I hate the anxiety of course, but I enjoy playing my music on loud speakers. It doesn't feel good per se, but it's a relief. There is a part of me that I have difficulty sharing; I think there's some neurodivergence at play which makes me feel socially trapped. I go to great lengths to imbue these emotions into my music and when I am finally able to share that music, I am relieved that that joyful part of me gets seen.

I thought I might eventually stumble into the reason why I'm writing this post but it's not looking promising.

Just know that if you see me play and I don't look back, or if I walk off stage without acknowleding your jeers or claps or whatever, it's not because I'm disappointed in you all, it's because frankly, I feel massively exposed and vulnerable, and it feels impossible to face you.

Performing my music feel like I'm reading my teenage poetry during an open-mic. It's all over the place, too much information, unfocused, awkward; bursts of joy among a blanket of mundaneness.

I'd say I'll see you at the next show, but I think I've made it quite clear that that's not going ot happen.

#eurorack #modularsynth #recording #musicproducer #techno #idm #ambient