The idea is to have the above controller set up in front of the band so that audience members can come up and play with the band in a kind of group audiovisual improvisation. We're calling this A Dance of Whispered Truths, and we had our first public outing on Saturday as part of Tinderbox Fest in Edinburgh.
The band had prepared 5 loose sections each with a set key they could improvise within and on the day Luci - the conductor - directed them, switching sections as she felt appropriate based on what Whispered Truths was putting out. I also gave Luci a tablet running a TouchOSC patch so she could update Whispered Truths when the key changed.
It went well! There were a couple of technical hitches on my part (see the end of the above video), but I think we've got a solid foundation for going on with. People seemed to be really into it, and more than one person asked when we'd be running it again (that'll be the next Games are for Everyone in Edinburgh, though I don't have a date yet).
There were some interesting things that came out of our first public performance though. Firstly, Whispered Truths' bitcrusher does not fit at all with the sound of the band. You can hear it in parts in the video above, and it just sounds like the PA is malfunctioning. I'm definitely going to have to replace it with something more appropriate for next time.
Secondly, and maybe more significantly, there were times when the players (from the audience, not the band) seemed a bit lost, resulting in quite static visuals. I think there are probably two causes:
One is the design of the thing, how the buttons are laid out and what they do. There's currently 6 buttons dedicated to manipulating the mandalas for instance, which is too much. It means that a mandala winds up dominating the visuals and ultimately limits the player's expression.
So one thing I need to do is remove some of the existing actions and replace them with a more varied range of things. I'm also (based on Luci's suggestion) going to try and arrange the actions into 4 categories to match the 4 coloured rows of the main bank of buttons on the controller. This will mean I can give players an idea of what the buttons do without specifying each individual button's action.
...which leads me on to the second thing I want to do differently next time, and that's make a conscious effort to frame the performance for the (audience) players. I was very hands off on Saturday, more or less just saying "Press buttons. Have fun!" But I think that probably contributed to the players feeling a bit lost.
What I'm going to do next time is explicitly tell them they're engaging in an improvisation, that the band is going to be reacting to them, and that they should be reacting to the band in turn. I'm also going to point out a few of the buttons; particularly the colour palette buttons and the reset button.
The other thing I want to do is give them permission to go wild if they feel the urge. The design of the controller means it's a lot of fun to just mash your entire hand down on a whole bunch of buttons at once, but so far nobody's done that. Which suggests that maybe I need to explicitly say that it's okay to be a bit rough with it. Nothing's going to break if you just start mashing a whole load of buttons.
Finally, here's audio of the entire performance, courtesy of Barry, our sound engineer for the day: