Opus Lux: An Experiment with Audience Participation at Classical Concerts

How the Lion Learned to Moonwalk
And Other Stories on How to Design for Classical Music Experiences

TABLE OF CONTENTS | 1. Introduction | 2. Weaving Audience Engagement | 3. Creating Visual Design and Meaningful Audience Experiences | 4. Teddy in Space | 5. Shadow Play | 6. The World Online Orchestra | 7. Joystick | 8. A Concert with Striking Force | 9. Lots of Brass, Lots of Colors | 10. Opus Lux | 11. Epilogue

HOW-THE-LION-CHAPTER10-FIRST-PAGECHAPTER 10. This text was originally published on pages 84–91 in the book ‘How the Lion Learned to Moonwalk’, which summarizes the Designing Classical Music Experiences project.

Download the book here.

Opus Lux: An Experiment with Audience Participation at Classical Concerts

It’s a Friday in November at Malmö Concert Hall. 1200 people have come to listen to Malmö Symphony Orchestra perform the music of John Williams. The concert is sold out. But, something is different at this concert. The program leaflet reads:

”Opus Lux, be part of the concert. Create a live light-scenography together. Listen to the music and choose the color it makes you feel .The light will respond to you.”

The hall goes dark. The theme to Superman starts. As the music soars, the members of the audience—inspired by the music—choose colors through a ‘color compass’ on their phones. As more and more of the audience respond, a red light grows on the sidewalls and on the stage. The light surrounds the musicians and changes to yellow as the audience makes a new emotional choice. At the end of the concert, 700 audience members (59 percent) have participated in the Opus Lux experiment, the live co-creation of a light installation.

Communication between audience and performers—without words
Opus Lux experimented with enabling co-creative music experiences at classical concerts. The goal was to explore how digital technology can enhance a concert, this by reaching out to the audience and making them an active part.

Opus Lux is a collaborative tool that enables the audience to make a collective, realtime impact at a concert – or any event – beyond mere applauding and cheering. This is achieved by collecting feedback from the audience and transforming it into an augmented layer that expands the concert experience.

Opus Lux has been developed over a period of 1.5 years and has been tested in different contexts. The biggest challenge has been to find ways for meaningful interaction between the audience and the music: What makes sense to do, and how do the audience want to do it?

The first test was at a Musik2Go concert, with the Royal Danish Orchestra. By choosing a color that corresponded to your emotional state, you could influence the color of the light in the concert hall. The Musik2Go experiment also had an analogue feedback mechanism: Glow sticks in three colors. This was added as the team was not sure how comfortable the audience would be to use their phones at a classical concert.

The second test was at a media-industry conference in Malmö. By choosing a color that corresponded to your mood, you were part of creating a color-based score for percussionists from the Royal Danish Orchestra and Malmö Symphony Orchestra to improvise from.

The third test was at Øresundskomiteen’s conference Ø-tinget. When a particular political topic was discussed, the audience member chose colors according to whether he or she supported that notion or not. The aggregated choices were turned into a graph-based score, which musicians from Copenhagen Phil used as a guide to interpret and perform a musical piece.

The final test was at a concert with Malmö Symphony Orchestra, where the final technical platform and interactive experience had its premiere.


Interaction and participation can enhance a concert experience
The results of the Opus Lux experiment show that technology can support mass interaction and make it a valuable addition if a meaningful context and emotional experience can be created around an event.

The first test at the Royal Danish Theatre explored the willingness of the audience to participate, and the basic value of the concept as an addition to the traditional classical music experience. Did it make sense for the audience to feel and to respond? Would they actually do it?

General insights:

  • The audience was ready for a new type of experience.
  • The basic concept of sharing emotions and transforming them into a collective installation was effective and enhanced the concert experience.
  • The audience was not afraid of using mobile phones in the concert setting, not even the older generations.
  • It was a positive experience to be an active part of the concert.

General experience barriers:

  • The audience needs an introduction from the stage to be able to trust and participate in the experience.
  • The audience must be able to see both their own contribution and the collective result, else it makes less sense to them to participate and they are less active.
  • To the musicians, the light installation should not be too visible and disruptive, this for them to feel ‘safe’ and give a good performance.

The first test proved that Opus Lux could facilitate a meaningful experience. The two following tests gave the opportunity to go outside the concert setting to explore design issues such as how to keep the audience active over a longer time-span, and how to show the connection between the individual choice and the collective result. The latter issue had made some of the audience members at the first test to stop participating, as they did not see a direct result of their individual choices.

Iterations and explorations
At the second test, we created a more complex visual feed to test what happened when the personal input became more visible. The visual feed was made out of many individual inputs from the audience, instead of a single collective result. This visual navigation made the audience give many inputs very fast, but the bigger collective experience and the relation to the music got lost. The audience was more interested in seeing their own choice than in exploring the emotional engagement and its connection to the music.

We ended up creating a new visual solution: A graph made of the realtime data, showing the overall result of the whole concert and your individual input over time. This solved the problem of the connection between individual input and the collective result, and also called for more emotional choices and reflection about the choices of the other audience members.

For the second and the third tests, we experimented with giving the colors ‘definitions’ to see if this was better for the audience to respond to. This worked well in a setting with concrete feedback—such as ‘like’ or ‘don’t like’, or ‘feel inspired’ or ‘not inspired’ – but it was not as emotional as the individual choice of what the colors meant.

These two tests explored and experimented with different possibilities and challenges in the concept and it equipped the team with ideas for the final design.

The last test took the project back to the concert hall and the core experience: To create an augmented, collective experience to enhance emotional impact and the feeling of participation in a classical concert. In short, to ask the audience to be an active part and to create something together in response to the music. Still, a couple of questions remained: Could we get the audience to keep reacting over long time—the 2.5 hours the concert lasted? Would it be engaging and emotional? Could we make sure the experience did not interfere with the musicians and their needs as performers?

The test had an astonishing result. The audience engaged continuously, and they together created the light-scenography during the whole concert. 59 percent participated and they gave more than 4500 individual inputs.

“What impressed me was how you can have two quite different types of audiences in the same concert hall, and yet satisfy both their needs for how they want to enjoy classical music. First, the more ‘traditional’ concertgoer who wants to be able to immerse him- or herself deeply into the music. Second, the more outward-looking concertgoer who wants to share his or her experience with others. Opus Lux enables this and it is only your imagination that sets the limit of what you can use it for.”

Gabriella Bergman, producer, Malmö Symphony Orchestra

Opus Lux has the ability to create a bridge between your inner experience and your presence in the concert hall. At classical music concerts, it is easy to ‘disappear into your head’ and the inner scenarios the music evokes. With Opus Lux, you may be both in the ‘inner world’ and in the concert hall, as the rhythmic reoccurrences of your emotional choices make you stay attentive to the room and to follow the music in a much more physical way.

Opus Lux is now free for all to experiment with
During the development process, several questions arose in the team. What does it take to make a large audience interact and ‘measure’ their feelings? What content is meaningful to interact with? How can the collecting of inputs from the audience be used to create new forms of large, collective audience experiences in the future, be that musical, political etc.? We believe that there are many possible routes for the project to take. We have thus decided to release Opus Lux as an open tool to the rest of the world and we look forward to see how others will use it and how new experiments can explore these questions. Go to opus-lux.dk to start experimenting.

Malmö University, Royal Danish Theatre, Malmö Symphony Orchestra, Copenhagen Phil, Øresundskomiteen, PortaPlay, Jason DaPonte, Christian Badse, and Mads Høbye.

Text: Asta Wellejus, interactive director and producer, Malmö University, and Eva Wendelboe Kuczynski, project leader, Malmö University.

Learn more
Opus Lux på John Williams-konsert
In Case of Emotions – en summering
In Case of Emotions på Øresundstinget
Publiken bestämmer takten: The Mood of The Conference (video)
Slagverkskonsert: The Mood of The Conference
Intervju om In Case of Emotions i DRs P2 Puls
In Case of Emotions – preliminära resultat
In Case of Emotions – 5. Maj på Det Kongelige Teater

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