Audience Music

Nathan Bowen, Music

Changing the Concert Experience

In the arts and entertainment, the term *audience participation* has usually been reserved only for events where the audience is permitted to do something more than *passively* participate. Determining the line between active and passive participation is a tricky pursuit: is cheering active or passive? What about listening? Does it depend on the participant, or is participation based on the culture and structure of the event? I find that most events advertising audience participation (“your vote is needed to keep your favorite contestants from elimination!”) tend to disappoint, not because of the premise, but because they fail to give me what I want: a chance to truly affect the outcome of the event. My individual input should matter.

Using the music concert as a point of departure, my aim is to transcend the structure of typical “audience participation” mechanisms (i.e. a binary audience voting system) to allow audience members to alter, if not compose, the course of a music performance in realtime using mobile phones as controllers. Individuals will be given specific assignments pertaining to a particular parameter of music, which will be affected by the key presses of his or her own phone. In the spirit of the choose-your-own-adventure novel, the group collectively drives the music.

The project/experience will have the following goals:

  1. Data input mechanisms should allow individual participants to know their contributions make a meaningful impact. Hence, low latency is essential to success, especially in the time-sensitive context of making music.
  2. Playing must be made easy, with as little setup time as possible. If at all possible, I will avoid an end-user application that must be downloaded onto a mobile handset.
  3. Participants should be able to choose their role in music-making. Levels of novice, moderate, and advanced will allow for hierarchies of influence and responsibility.
  4. The music should be able to stand on its own in terms of artistic merit, regardless of the novelty of the music-making process.