Accept or Reject (and Create?)

“The consumer, or concertgoer, like his counterpart in the world of commerce, has been made into a passive recipient of various sounds. He either accepts the product or rejects it, but never is he allowed to add his own creativity to it…His participation is limited to applause after the finale or occasional coughing during the section played loud enough to cover the sound”.

This statement is from bassist and sociologist Ortiz Walton’s “A Comparative Analysis of the African and Western Aesthetics”.

The passive participation that Walton mentions is everywhere: from classical recitals to rock shows. While audience participation can extend to bobbing one’s head to moshing, it is still passive. That is Walton’s point: an audience is only reacting to the music, not being a contributing factor to its creation.

Which begs the question of how an audience can be involved in the creation of music with the performers. Theater troupes like Dog and Pony of DC perform shows in which the audience completes the ensemble. Projects of this sort revolve around structure that allows enough improvisational flexibility for the audience to impact the direction of the work. It isn’t simply someone coming on stage to finish Hamlet’s soliloquy, like audience members coming on stage to sing a song with the band. The work’s structure changes with the audience. But how to in a musical setting?

An even bigger challenge would be incorporating audience collaboration in performances with little to no improvisation (classical music recitals, etc.).

Trying to approach this problem means attempting to level the walls between performer and audience that Walton illustrated so poignantly. Perhaps it can lead to a world where the performer goes to see the audience play, where the music is complete when the audience participates with the performers.

In short, a world where everyone is a performer…


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