Mobile Phone back channel at concerts

March 22, 2010 at 10:03 pm (art, internet, music) (, , , , , , , , , )

There have been a couple of occasions recently where I’ve had a difference highlighted to me between the times when I used to perform in concerts at school and kids performing in concerts today.  The difference I am talking about here is the mobile phone.

I’ve seen presentations where people are using social media as a back channel, for example using twitter to provide live feedback or discussion to presenters.  Its quite a different style of presenting, giving the presenter a chance to tailor their presentation to the audience … or giving the audience a chance to gang up on the presenter if things don’t go well!

However, I’ve now started to see times when what could be considered a more traditional concert is augmented by the use of (silent of course) mobile phones.  In the first instance, daughter was performing, and we happened to have the misfortune of having the guy with the biggest hair in the group sitting in front of her, right between us!  So a quick text later, and daughter shifts her chair on stage and all is good (yes, the phone was in her pocket whilst on stage).

In the second instance, I was watching another performance in an informal setting, and could see a number of people sending texts to each other.  How good would it be to have an official mobile-driven back channel at a classical concert, where performance notes could be published and the audience could engage in discussion about the music.  Sort of like a live version of the teletext programme notes that accompany performances on BBC 3 (or 4?), but with an added chat part too.

You see a little of this going on in virtual worlds.  There are many instances of ‘live’ performances in the virtual world of Second Life for example, and during the concert, where avatars are dancing, sitting or standing ‘watching’ a performance, with the music streamed to their owner’s PCs, there is usually quite a bit of chatter.  Both private chat as in instant messaging, but also group public chat going on. Its quiet, it doesn’t interfere with the music and it enhances the performances by providing a live context to what is going on.  There are lots of other uses for back channels in virtual world events too.

It would be really interesting to see if this kind of thing will start happening in real, more traditional, live concerts.  There have been one or two ‘dipping of toes’ into this area already.  The ENO for example, has Facebook, Twitter and MySpace.  However, I’m not aware that social media back channels have started to appear at concerts and performances yet (if you know otherwise, do send me a reference or link).

(Maybe the 21st century equivalent of John Cage’s 4’33” would be a large screen showing a twitter feed).

I think that, in general terms,  when it starts happening, it would be a good thing.

Kevin.

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