Enabling Interactive Concert Experiences With Smartphones

During any concert today, fans are actively using their mobile devices. They are taking photos and videos, sending text messages, posting tweets, and updating their Facebook status.

Using mobile apps like those from Ustream and Qik, a few are even live streaming the show. Taking note of this behavior, a compelling opportunity exists to use these devices to create opportunities for fans to interact with the on stage artist and become participants in the performance.

One of the most ambitious efforts in this area is being led by techno DJ and producer Richie Hawtin. An established music technology innovator, Hawtin gained attention in recent years for tweeting his DJ sets. As part of his current tour performing as his alter ego, Plastikman, he and his collaborators have released the “SYNK” application for the iPhone and the iPod Touch.

During performances audience members can use the app to see real time data from percussion gear, live video from an on stage perspective, and the application will synchronize phone visuals with activity on the stage LED wall.  More details on the app can be found here.

Here’s video of the “Synkotik” mode of the app.

In this LA Weekly Coachella interview, Richie Hawtin describes the motivation for integrating SYNK into his performance.

“I think a great concert experience is when unexpected things happen and when people come together to experience something that goes beyond music. The idea was to throw something into the mix that would heighten that experience. With the app we’re able to send people messages, we’re able to actually synchronize things that are happening on stage with the iPhone apps, we’re even actually allowing people to actually have access to my set-up, you know, triggering sounds. So everyone talks about technology democratizing everything. With our app we will actually blur the lines between the performer and the audience, actually forcing questions of, who is the performer, who is being in control, It is an experiment.”

In addition to the work of Hawtin and his collaborators, it should be noted that there are other efforts in this area, such as Eyebeam’s Open Video Sync project.  It aims to create an open source codebase which will allow multiple iPhones to synchronously playback video using Bluetooth or Wifi transmitted timecode.

Using smartphones apps for interactive concerts is a concept that is still in its infancy.  It is clearly a powerful avenue for tech savvy artists to push the boundaries of live performance.  Furthermore, by creating a way for audiences to participate in the performance, fans are given an additional incentive to buy tickets, an opportunity which cannot be overlooked in today’s music industry where artists are increasingly dependent upon live show revenues.

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