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!