Democratic Dance Music – an idea

EDIT: This is now ACTUALLY happening at the Science Museum! I have enlisted the help of Adam John Williams, Robert Wollner and Emi Mitchell to make this work. 

I devised the experiment (the first iteration written below) and I’ve also worked out the data points for collection. I’m composing the majority of music stems that will make up the musical segment of the feature.

Robert Wollner is creating a computer program that will let dancers enter data through their mobile phones. That data gets passed on to Adam and Emi. 

Adam is creating a live music computer program that will generate dance music based on my music stems and data from Rob’s program. Emi is working on visual display and how people are going to interact with their phones. 

As if that wasn’t enough, this is also going to be filmed by BBC Click!

Want to come along ? Click Here for Science Museum Session Details. The earlier sessions will be much easier to get into. Just turn up 5 minutes before each time.

 

ORIGINAL BLOG POST FOLLOWS:

Who knows best about augmenting musical experience? The musician or the listener? I want to work out exactly the specifications for the perfect dance anthem with the help of the people on the dance floor.

Traditionally the DJ is expected to steer an audience into emotional rapture during their set. They decide whether to play a fast-paced highly orchestrated sequence, or a slow textural ambient section. They are driving the experience as it were. But might it be possible to determine how to make the ultimate ‘tingle-generating’ feel-good floor filler by gathering data directly from the audience, after all, they are the most emotionally invested in the experience.

There is some tech around I think – some bracelets which log the audience’s passive response and biometric data which is really cool – but I’m interested in what happens if we introduce conscious participation so a simple button press would be all that’s required. It would be based entirely on someone’s conscious experience of the music.  Then we could gather data based on the results!

 

EXPERIMENT

For this to work we’d need to generate live responsive dance music.

While dancing, each audience member/participant holds a ‘voting’ button. EDIT this is now your smartphone!

Each person presses the button when they wish for the music to become more intense.

I’ve chosen 80% – but that number isn’t that important as long as it’s a clear majority. It would work like this.  When 80% of the audience have pressed the button, it would indicate to the composers/performers that now is the time for ‘the drop’ i.e.  adding greater orchestration much to the pleasure of the listeners – in the case of dance music this would be when more drums, synths, and particularly bass come in.

So, when 80% of the audience want the drop, 100% of the audience get it. I would be interested in finding out which group feel the most pleasurable response – the first 80% who have asked for it, or the last 20% who won’t be expecting it. And the final person pressing the button would get the full effect of the music being responsive to their request!

My thought would be to run an experiment in three parts

  1.   no interaction at all.
  2.   Interaction but no feedback: i.s. the audience cannot see how close they are to the 80% required to trigger the drop, so there is no visible measure of anticipation
  3.   Interaction and real-time visible indicator, for example a screen showing how many people have asked for the drop – which means there is a visible measure of anticipation.

So, would the audience experience music differently if they were consciously involved in its creation? How much time it takes for an average crowd to ‘consent’ to the drop? And would it be fun or reduce the experience to a button pressing exercise? Should we use a different method of gathering data such as a Kinect camera detecting a positive movement? Edit: we are planning to measure how much your phone moves while you dance – this will be done using the phone’s motion sensor. we are calling it the ‘wiggle index’ 

 

WHY I WANT TO DO THIS

The experiment plays with the age old musical idea of tension and resolution in music, and whether there’s a universal point at which people desire the point of resolution or whether people are happy to be prescribed that point by musical creators. Here’s a great simple example to follow tension and resolution: ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star’ – along with a physically accurate version to remind you of the tune.

So, creating tension: (first note) ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” (goes up from home note = tension, but still in the ‘home’ key, so not too tense)

“how I wonder what you are”  (small key change to introduce distance then back down to the first note: resolution).

Tension and resolution occurs though rhythm, harmony, and melody, and not just in short musical phrases (like Twinkle Twinkle) but also in longer forms such as pop music – verse/chorus  or classical – such as exposition/development/recapitulaton.

I’ve greatly simplified this explanation for brevity, but I do believe that the best composers are creating layers upon layers of tension and resolution in different ways – in my opinion the most wonderful music is skilled in moving us between these states both in expected and unexpected ways. The tingle!

 

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One thought on “Democratic Dance Music – an idea

  1. My first thought when I read about this was is there a best? The average amount of sugar people put in a cup of tea doesn’t give you the amount that would please the most people since some like it sweet and others like it without. At best, it might give the amount that would disgust the smallest number of people!

    With the tingle factor there are well known harmonic, melodic and rhythmic factors that I understand have been well researched (tho’ I’m not familiar with the literature) so it may be more objective than sugar in tea. But I imagine different people are tingled to differing extents by those factors, so maybe it isn’t. The results of your dance experiment may well be transferable. (If you decide to do a parallel experiment with classical music, I’ll be there!)

    The other interesting point is the relation with synaesthesia. I had an aunt (departed these 20-odd years) for whom numbers, days of the week, even people (I don’t know about sounds, music or flavours) all had very different colours. (I think I was white – read into that what you like!) In that case, I can’t see why her associations, being pretty abstract, would correlate particularly with those of any other synaesthete. But on the other hand, I’ve often wondered whether the universality of music as a language is the result of a subconscious level of synaesthesia in all musical people, with a level of commonality in the associations. After all, language is full of synaesthetic adjectives (e.g. a sharp needle, a sharp sound; a bright colour, a bright student; a deep brown voice; chromatic harmony). I’d love to go on one of your glitching jaunts, but I wonder to what extent my enjoyment would be a genuine sympathy with the associations you experience, and to what extent it’d be just be a case of enjoying your infectious enthusiasm and sense of fun. We’re very good at finding or imagining associations to support what we want to believe (e.g. autism and MMR). Coming back to the tingle factor, I wonder whether you find a really scrunchy suspension or false relation, or a heart-stopping enharmonic modulation has a definite flavour, irrespective of the music, and whether other musical synaesthetes would agree with you.

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