How an audience takes action and becomes part of the concert.

By UNMAKE Interactive Design Studio.

Audience participation and interaction on big stage settings tend to fail. Even though audience engagement, participation, and interaction are evolving in cultural production and the development includes some highly prestigious stages, many are left with the experience, that it becomes a superficial layer on top of the core of the existing art form. There seems to be a lot of potential and resources available, but something often goes wrong when trying to make new interactive formats work in practice.

There is no clear answer to the right way of designing for mass interaction within the context of a concert, however the following manifest can lead to add more quality to the overall experience, and creating an interactive dialogue between artistic intention and audience experience.

What is mass interaction?

The definition of mass interaction situations, are events where the complexity of the interaction is very different from a small scale concert with, for example, 20-50 audience members, where the artists, can make eye contact with each audience member before the concert is finished. When the number of audience members increases, it becomes more complex. It gets harder for the artists to reach out for each audience member in a direct way. In a small scale, where the different audience members can take turns to interact one at the time, it is possible to give quite a lot of power, or effect, to each audience interaction, on a representation of the interaction output. When many people interact at the same time, it becomes a challenge to find a good way to represent the output of many interactions at the same time.

Mass interaction Manifesto

1: Include the artistic intention and collaborate with artists

In the process of creating an interactive experience we consider it a need to include the artistic intention and collaborate with artists in an interactive creative collaboration between artistic intention and audience experience, and respect the integrity of the music experience.  

2: Create a dialogue between artistic intention and audience experience.

Artistic intention is not just about a verbal handover from musician to designer, but it is also an embodied expression during the live concert and it has to be grounded in a wish to engage with the audience: the audience needs to feel that the musicians want the dialogue too.

3: Consider interaction as a physical action with an understandable outcome

With this definition we are considering a concrete way of understanding interaction as a physical action with an understandable outcome involving technological digital material.

4: Create a frame for interaction

This relates to the need to give the audience security. Interaction must be done through a defined action space. The audience needs hints of the (interaction) context, presented as visible keys helping the audiences to understand the format of the experience, leaving only the shared creative content as primary subject of interpretation and reflection.

5: Reserve interaction for dramaturgical significant moments This is based on the understanding that mass interaction is not either or throughout a performance – it can be reserved as climate moments in a performance. Interaction cannot necessarily last through the whole concert, you need to leave space for the listening experience as an immersive passive state of mind.

6: Include the existing interaction cycle of listening and playing music

To create a better overall experience, you need to consider the full cycle of playing and listening to music. And acknowledge that musicians, the music, and audience members affect, and are affected by, each other.

7: Create tight coupling between action and meaning

There has to be a tight coupling between action and meaning before the audience can experience and interpret freely. This doesn’t mean that there isn’t room for a free interpretation, but basic cause and effect causality must be established before a the audience can focus on interpreting the artistic content.

8: Breaking norms creates social playfulness and disruptive behavior

Interaction can change the behavior of the audience. For some, breaking norms can be a disruptive experience, and for others it will create momentarily social playfulness. In relation to our domain it shows how much space and situatedness affect the behavior of the audience.

9: Tie the stage to the whole space  

The feeling of physical connection is a brilliant trick to make cohesion and merge the gap between audience and musicians as the audience is often far away from the stage in mass interaction.

10: Consider the whole context

Mass interaction has to involve musicians as well as the audience, in a specific space and time, as part of a holistic worldview that you cannot isolate the different parts and elements, but need to consider the whole context as part of the experience.

The concert domain

The concert format is bound by rituals and traditions. Our initial approach was framed around a curiosity of how to turn mass interaction into a dialogue between audience and artists in the domain of concerts. Additionally it seems some concerts can be more sensitive to distortion; many people doing and acting at the same time, in a quiet domain, can easily create a lot of disruption that breaks the immersive state of listening.

The domain of the concert with the addition of interaction creates a discrepancy between the concerts individual immersive nature and the seemingly disruptive interaction. It also breaks with the social norms the audience associates with the concert through the disruptive nature the interaction results in.

Furthermore, because of the nature of big events and live production in general there are challenges with applying interaction and prototyping techniques from interaction design to a live production. The time restraints and the more linear production setup of big concerts poses hard challenges for a design tradition where iterative design thinking and fast prototyping is the norm.

In conclusion

We believe interaction design carried out the right way has the potential to open new and strong ways for audience to engage with concert experiences. By carefully designing the interaction to respect the integrity of the music, while daring to merge with the art form in a meaningful dialogue, we can achieve real valuable experiences. Experiences where interaction isn’t just a layer on top of the traditional concert, but a synergy between interaction and the artistic intention of the concert. When designing this way we can use the creative potential of modern interactive technologies to a greater extent, strengthening both the individual and shared concert experience.

For further information about UNMAKE Interactive Studio visit their website here.