Distributed orchestra

Imagine you’re at a concert where you, as an audience member, have been requested to bring your iPhone. On the web site where you purchased your tickets, there is a link to a free iPhone app, which you have been asked to download.

You are now sitting in your seat. The curtain rises, and a solitary figure walks onstage. She is carrying an iPhone. When she arrives center stage, she pauses for a moment, and then activates an app on her iPhone.

The app sends a signal to the iPhones of each of the audience members, and the concert begins.

Except that the music of this concert — the trombones, the woodwinds, the strings — come not from the stage, but from various locations around the audience. The phone in your pocket has been recruited to be part of a distributed orchestra.

As audience members take out their cell phones, one by one, a sense of wonder fills the hall. For the sound is coming from all around — perhaps from the person sitting to your right, or from you yourself.

As the full power of all of these devices comes into play, you are not sure what it all means, but you know you like the sounds that fill the space around you. And perhaps you realize that you are experiencing the dawn of a new era.

6 Responses to “Distributed orchestra”

  1. Stephan Ahonen says:

    I don’t know about you, but I purchase a ticket to a concert or other live event with the intention of witnessing live human performances. If the future is paying admission to listen to a canned performance out of tinny cell phone speakers made by a company whose walled garden business model is everything that is wrong with the modern software and entertainment industry, then count me the hell out.

  2. Mari says:

    iPhone is *hot* $$$. In a “demo or die” culture, iPhone “performance” is a must :) Whether it will survive the test of time, our kids will find out for us :)

  3. admin says:

    Stephan: Nothing I said precludes the idea that live musicians are making real-time decisions about the performance. The interesting challenge is to allow for that musicianship in what is, in effect, an audience participation performance.

    One could make a completely canned version of this, and I wholeheartedly agree with you that this would be the most boring incarnation, and would represent a failure of imagination.

    And of course if we want to stick it to Apple, we can do the whole thing with Android phones — which are much better to develop for anyway.

  4. Stephan Ahonen says:

    I think there’s some merit to the idea of using audience-supplied devices to generate sound at a musical performance, but I don’t think the example you gave is the best way to do it. The major problem is the fidelity of cell phone speakers, I simply would not want to listen to a classical musical instrument through one. A concert based on beaming the individual performances to phones would be an interesting gimmick but would lack the tonal quality to actually be an enjoyable way to experieence the music.

    A better idea would be using synthetic sounds which are more tolerant of poor speakers – a concert for an electronic musician would be a good candidate, or a musical piece combining traditional orchestra

  5. Stephan Ahonen says:

    (Damn, that’s what I get for posting from my phone, accidentally hit submit on the incomplete post)

    … with modern electronic sounds. I actually see a lot of potential for call-and-response and musical tug of war between the traditional on the stage and the modern in the audience. Very metaphorical. 😀

    On the topic of platforms, I’m an android user, but I don’t think it’s a good idea to say “you can’t participate in this culture unless you have this brand of phone.” A web page that directs the phone to an audio stream or which uses java/flash to grab instructions from a keyboard on stage would be better.

  6. Kevin Chiu says:

    Maybe this could be Smule’s next app. (The founder of Smule also did the laptop orchestra.)

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