My Hack Day Experience

Posted on July 04, 2016

Sam Duffy took part in our Ideas Lab on Tuesday 7 June, which was inspired by 'hack' culture and formed the first part of Make, Do and Bend. Here she shares her experience, and explains the concepts her group focused on. 

Join us for the second part on Thursday 14 July – a mind-bending one day conference exploring live music, audiences and technology.

By Sam Duffy, Researcher in the Music Cognition Lab at Queen Mary University of London

The Ideas Lab brought together an amazingly diverse collection of people involved in all aspects of music making and/or technology. This represented both an opportunity and a challenge as we all responded in very different ways to the brief! A number of concepts were bounced around the room during a morning of brainstorming but one in particular seemed to resonate with the people who came together to form our working group in the afternoon, “how can new and emerging technologies support and inform composition and performance?”. 

We considered using technology to mediate a collaborative compositional process; a piece co-created by an ‘expert’ composer working with a community group who provided a theme or idea. This was to be made up of short episodic musical ideas which might appeal to new audiences less used to listening to a longer piece of music. The musical episodes would be related in some way to create a coherent overall narrative, whilst still being complete enough to work as stand alone pieces. It was important to us that people had to come together physically to experience the piece, technology being used to determine how the episodes came together in a live performance, rather than enabling a remote mediated experience. 

We worked through two ways to achieve this. One was to use technology to facilitate collaborative decision making about how to assemble the episodes into a unique live orchestral performance, for example by determining the order of the episodes or the number of repetitions of the episode currently being played. Technology would create the orchestral score as the decisions were being made, allowing the piece to evolve live. The form of the piece or the score, could be different depending on the decisions made by the people who came together each time it was performed.  Another idea was influenced by sonic walks experienced by several members of the group. The piece would be built through simple layers which worked together texturally. The layers could be recorded by the orchestra and streamed by smartphone. Each audience member with a device would be able to broadcast their own ’texture’, but as they moved about the performance space they would encounter the other people broadcasting other textural layers. Each participant's ‘mix’ would be influenced by physical proximity to other participants. They would become performers as well as audience members, creating their own personal mix by moving through the space. The piece would be experienced in a different way for each person taking part, depending on the layer they were themselves broadcasting and the proximity of other participants broadcasting different layers, or the same layer in a different phase. Either approach would be designed in a such a way that it could be taken out of traditional concert venues and performed in diverse spaces, perhaps even in someone’s living room with a group of friends performing and experiencing the piece together.

A fundamental discussion in our group was around the differences between expertly curated and produced material, improvised versus rehearsed performances, and participatory or social music making. They are all forms of musical interaction but the expectations and outcomes of each are different for the people taking part. Using technology to facilitate audience involvement in music creation “just because we can” sometimes fails to produce a satisfying outcome – creative, musical or experiential. Understanding the opportunities afforded by technology and designing for a specific musical interaction or context seems more likely to produce something of value. This is more likely to happen through interdisciplinary collaboration between composers, technologists and people who understand social interaction, through opportunities like Make, Do and Bend.

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