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Live and (digital) life: Some notes on interaction with music – Beate Flath


Our latest guest post is by Dr Beate Flath, junior professor for event management with a focus on popular music, media and sports at the University of Paderborn, Germany. Her research concerns the intersections of music/sound, (digital) media, economy and the aesthetics of the everyday. She discusses these here in relation to live music and digital mobile devices.

In 1966 Glenn Gould predicted that “the public concert as we know it today would no longer exist a century hence. Its functions would have been entirely taken over by electronic media” (47). Since then, music has become omnipresent in everyday life. Yet while revenues for the recorded music industry have declined, revenues from the live music sector have been increasing. This poses the question of how these two fields of demand could be linked.

The following text focuses on one aspect of this link: interaction with music.

This term is understood in terms of co-creation, in terms of bodily interaction with music and as a combination of these two interactions (i.e. body movements creating sound). All three modes occur in live settings as well as within the usage of mobile devices like smartphones or tablets.

In a live music situation the audience interacts with music[1] by singing and shouting familiar parts of songs like refrains, thus becoming co-creator of the concert; the audience interacts with the music bodily, for example through moving and dancing to music; the audience creates additional sound through body movement as well, such as by clapping their hands. So all three modes of interaction with music occur within a concert.

These forms of interactions can be observed in the use of mobile devices (for example smartphones or tablets) in everyday life, too. Users interact with music by co-creating, which means influencing music intentionally within the paradigm of “prosuming” and “producing” (for example by creating individualized playlists or by creating sounds collectively). Users interact with music bodily while listening to music not only in terms of bodily reaction, like tapping their feet or dancing to the music, but in terms of interaction when they are walking or cycling – in this case the moment of interaction lies in choosing suitable music for such an activity (e.g. radio on demand). Compared to live music settings, interaction with recorded music through body movement is restricted by a legal framework (e.g. copyright law) and (socially accepted) listening habits.

Nevertheless one recent example allows various modes of interaction with recorded music. In January 2016 the band Massive Attack launched an application called Fantom, which “is designed to interact with […] custom live data” in order to “modulate” what customers hear and see. This remix-app uses physical data, namely the heart rate, which interacts with the low end of the track – an Apple watch is used for this feature but it is no prerequisite motion data, which activate beats and effects, time (of day) data, which influence the overall content of the track and data from the camera, like brightness and colours, which control the remix composition and the effects to modulate four music tracks from the band’s EP Ritual Spirit. Users have the option either to buy the original versions for 0.99€ each or to hear them in the modulated, personal version for free. In this case body movements in a very broad sense shape music: internal movements of the body (e.g. heart rate) and the body’s movement in time and space. Additionally, there exists the option to record the personal remixes and to share them via Facebook or Twitter.

Massive Attack screenshots - Flath post

Screenshots of the App Fantom by Massive Attack
(Picture credits: Beate Flath)

As this example has shown, interaction with music as affecting music, as bodily interaction and as influencing music through body movement is possible using mobile devices as well as in live music settings.

With regard to the development of digital information and communication technologies, Gould’s fear has to be considered in a more differentiated manner. Now, half a century later and within the context of a different genre, live music has rather been supplemented than substituted by digital devices within the socio-economic context of an experience-driven society (see “Erlebnisgesellschaft” by Gerhard Schulze, 1992). It is argued here that modes of interaction – whether they are found in live settings or not – are part of an “experience economy” (see Pine II and Gilmore, 1998). Pine II and Gilmore argued a shift from service economies to experience economies, so economic value is generated through customer experience. These fundamental ideas were implemented as customer experience management (CEM) within management sciences. One central aspect within those concepts is the experiential quality of “interaction” with a product, a service, a company, etc.

Such ideas can be transferred to the present considerations insofar as modes of interaction with music can be interpreted as a central aspect of customer experience management. In addition to the interaction with music in live music settings, like singing, dancing and clapping hands, interaction also occurs through mobile devices. Referring to the above mentioned Massive Attack application, modes of interaction are interrelated and provide different qualities of experiencing interaction with music. The well-known and familiar forms within a live concert are supplemented by a personalized form of interaction within the using patterns of mobile devices. All modes are parts of an overall concept of the band and its emotionalized relation to consumers.

The fundamental idea of this text originates in Gould’s quote; I sought one aspect that does not consider live music and recorded music as competitive, but rather as two sides of a coin, and I determined this to be the interaction with music. It is argued that interaction can be interpreted in terms of customer experience management, which occurs in various modes in live concerts as well as within the use of mobile devices. And perhaps, if Gould would be still alive, he would be crazy for such apps …

Further Literature and Links

Flath, B. (2015), “Life is live: Experiencing music in the digital age.” International Journal of Music Business Research, vol. 4 no. 2, pp. 7-26. https://musicbusinessresearch.files. (7February 2016).

Gould,G. (1966), On the Prospects of Recording. High Fidelity 16:4, April, 46-63.

Jauk, W. (2014), Intuitive gestural interfaces/adaptive environments and mobile devices/apps. Playing music and the musical work as a role model for personalized gestural interaction in social environments. In: ICMWT International conference on Mobile & Wireless Technology Congress-Book, Beijing, 2014, 280- 284.

Pine II, G.J. & J. Gilmore (1998), Welcome to the Experience Economy. Harvard Business Review, July-August, 97-105. /Pine+Gilmore+%281998%29+Welcome+to+the+Experience+Economy.pdf (7 February 2016).

Prahalad, C. K. & Ramaswamy, V. (2004) “Co-Creation Experiences: The Next Practice in Value Creation”, Journal of Interactive Marketing, vol. 18, no. 3, pp. 5-14

Schulze, G. (1992), Die Erlebnisgesellschaft. Frankfurt a. M.: Campus.


Jun.-Prof. Dr. phil. Beate Flath, studies in musicology, art history and business at the University of Graz; doctoral thesis on the influence of sound-qualities on a product’s image within the context of TV-commercials in 2009; 2009-2013 post-doc university assistant at the Department of Musicology (University of Graz); 2014-2015 university assistant at the Department of Cultural Management and Cultural Studies (University of Music and Performing Arts Vienna); by October 2015 junior professor for event management with focus on popular music, media and sports at the University of Paderborn; research focuses on the intersections of music/sound, (digital) media, economy and the aesthetics of the everyday

[1] This article focuses solely on the interaction with music rather than the interaction with musicians, although these two fields are interrelated.


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