When approaching each environment we had a couple of questions to ask ourselves -
- How many people are we going to be working with?
- What is the size and location of the space?
- What outcomes do we foresee for the session?
Throughout our work we have worked with groups of varying sizes, sometimes we would invite a small number of specific people down to work with us in sessions, and sometimes we’d be given a space to set up in with no idea how many people we’d end up working with over the course of the day!
When working with larger numbers of people you’re not going to be able to spend as much time working with individuals. You’re also going to need more things to interact with, or create a way that more people can be involved using the equipment you do have without much facilitation. When we were working in the Royal Festival Hall and Olympic Park we didn’t know how many people were going to be a part of SoundLab, it was just whoever was walking by at those events!
At the events where participants were just interested passers-by that didn’t know exactly what we were doing, we had to create a fluid way of working with people that was instantaneous and got people playing straight away (this process is detailed in the Pop-up band section [link to Pop up band section]). At some points we would be extremely busy, which meant the space had to be well-organised and tidy with no stray cabling as trip hazards. We had to have plenty of room between each instrument and we ensured that we had good visibility of everything going on to see if anyone needed any assistance or if equipment was free for people to use. We were also lucky enough to have volunteers there to encourage movement across the instruments, and making sure people understood that they might have limited time on each thing.
When we have worked with fewer people, interestingly, our set-ups were able to be more complex and experimental. It felt like it was chance for us to try out new things and learn as much as the participants in the sessions. Sessions where we were worked with larger numbers of people were often more ‘high energy’, when we worked with fewer people it would be more relaxed as they had more of a chance to play and discover things in their own time, in a less busy atmosphere.
A good way to explain the how the numbers of people involved affected the way we worked would be - when working with larger numbers of people, within a more structured session, the question we might ask an individual, that we might have 5-10 minutes to work with, would be, “What instruments do you like?” so we could find something relevant to them and create a connection to the music. Whereas, when working with fewer people in a more experimental session, we might rather ask, “What music do you like?” as they would have the time to change more things and personalise their experience. It is worth noting that we tended to work with smaller groups over longer period of time so that they could really develop their music, whereas with larger groups the aim was to give people the opportunity to discover some new things that they might want to explore further later.
What is the size and location of the space?
The space you’re in can make a massive difference to how you approach a session. The previous question on numbers of people would obviously have an influence over the kind of space you would want, but if you couldn’t choose you would have to adapt the way you work to accommodate more people in a small space and vice-versa.
Again, using the example of when we were in the Royal Festival Hall and Olympic Park we were in a large open space where there was audio bleed from other sound sources, including DJs and bands. We had a big challenge working out how people would be able to hear what they were doing. We learnt from an unsuccessful session, where the music was blasted out at full volume the whole time which created quite a stressful environment, that we couldn’t just use the overall volume to drown out the bleed. We didn’t want to just use headphones as we found when using them it works a lot better with fewer sound sources as too many things going on can be confusing. So we ended up using individual speakers for each sound source which also went into the main PA, therefore ensuring whatever the person was playing was the loudest thing near them without having to have the whole PA really loud.
In smaller spaces, a more relaxed approach is beneficial, we also found that it is good to have a central ‘hub’ where you can begin and end the sessions. Sharing is very important to the process, having people react to the music you are created can be a wonderful experience. If you’re in a small space with a relatively large number of people one way to adapt is to work as a group on a piece of music, building up the song with different people contributing to each element, for example building up and recording drum patterns and loops and then building music and vocals on top of these.
What outcomes do we foresee for the session?
This is a simple question of what experience we wanted to offer, did we just want people to be able to engage with the technology quite quickly, be inspired and have fun or did we want to offer a more in depth exploration of what people could achieve.
This directly relates to whether or not we were Encouraging or Experimenting [link to article], were we providing an introduction to the possibilities of what could be done, trying to inspire people to investigate more into digital music making? Or were we providing the opportunity to explore and push the technology, to record a full song from start to finish or use the equipment for a performance?
When we were encouraging we made efforts for the spaces to be as enticing and exciting as possible. They would be decorated, we would wear specific outfits and as much as possible information would be signposted or on hand to guide people before and after the experience. We created a website and flyers with contact information so that if they were inspired their journey wouldn’t end there.
It was important for us to know what we thought the potential outcomes could be, creating limitations that helped us finalise how we would work, meaning we could concentrate on delivering to the best of our abilities. There had to come a point where we’d stop asking ourselves, “but... what if we did this?”
Tips & Tricks
- It’s really useful to have a map of the space you are going to use and work out beforehand how you are going to organise the equipment, it can save you valuable time and headaches when setting up. Also it’s worth keeping in mind the limitations of of your equipment - cable length, etc.
- If there are pieces of equipment that aren’t meant to be touched, for example a main computer or mixing desk, rather than highlighting them with ‘Do not touch’ signs or instructions (which may encourage people more than discourage!) Try and keep them out of the way or covered.
- One of the benefits of working with music technology is it being portable & you can work anywhere, however an authentic musical environment can be very beneficial to participants having positive responses to music making, ie. a quality rehearsal space or theatre or live room with a PA & speakers means that in playback a sense of ‘realness’ can be achieved.