How does the audience experience T-EMP?




Discussion and conclusion


As a part of the T-EMP project we also wanted to know something about how an audience would experience the ensemble in concert. On that background the musicologist Andreas Bergsland was involved as a part of his post-doctoral project, which deals with the interaction between audience and performers in live-electronics. Bergsland had earlier been involved with a study of a solo live-electronic performance using a methodology that seemed suitable for this project. In this case, it was interesting not only to get a general impression of the audience’s experience of a T-EMP concert, but also to find out what effects the issues related to inter-processing and stage listening could have on an audience.

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Bergsland documented the three day project with Michael Duch in February 2013 (video and audio recordings of rehearsals, group conversations that took place during the rehearsal period and the concert itself) and made observations during the rehearsal period and the subsequent performance of the work. In addition, he gathered written response from four audience members who volunteered after the concert performance at the end of the project. Even if the low number of participants makes it difficult to draw any general conclusions, their responses still give highly interesting perspectives on how audience with different backgrounds can experience a concert with T-EMP. Especially the fact that the respondents were not asked to participate until after the end of the concert gives their responses extraordinary high ecological validity - their experiences were not in any way guided by the fact that they were to report these afterwards. The respondents were asked directly after the concert to spend about 30 minutes answering some questions related to the concert experience with a gift voucher of NOK 100,- as reward. The participants were then guided to a quiet space next to the concert hall to fill out the response sheets.


Of the four respondents, two females and two males between 23 and 33, three were students at The Department of Music NTNU, and one was a former student at the same department. The two youngest were students at the Performance program and the other two were from Music Technology.


The respondents seemed to mainly map out the upper part of the scale from inexperienced to experienced listeners, both in relation to free improvisation and electronic/electroacoustic music: None of them can be characterized as inexperienced/naïve, all of them reporting that they had some or more than some knowledge of either free improvised music or  electronic/electroacoustic music. One of the respondents might be considered an expert in this music genre, reporting that he had a large degree of knowledge of both free improvisation and electronic/electroacoustic music as a performer.


The written response was constructed from the principles that the respondents first response should be open and unguided, and that as the session went on, the questions should be increasingly specific. This had been tried out in an earlier study with success [1]. In addition to the open and guided written response sheets, there were also two rating questions. In the first, the participants were rating how often the thought they could identify the sound of the single musician, and in the second, they rated how important a set of individual factors were in identifying the different instruments/musicians.

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Open response

From the open response it seemed like the four respondents experienced the concert in quite different ways, even if there were some similarities. One respondent focused on the passing of time, and how she became very uncertain of how much time had passed. She also experienced problems focusing fully on what was going on the in the beginning, and towards the end, the bodily feeling of being in a different place. Another respondent reported almost solely on the powerful impact of the music on him, and in particular his emotional response to it, which went from fear and feeling unsafe to calmness towards the ending. A third respondent focused on the dynamics and the temporal implications in different part of the performance. The last respondent reported about how the different parts of the performance evoked different things in him, like interest, imagery and aesthetic evaluation.


There were also some common points in the open responses:

  • The sectioning of the concert experience in different sections, even if the level of detail differed quite a lot. While the respondent with the least experience only referred to “the beginning” and “the last 20 minutes”, the “expert” referred to four different parts with quite specific terminology: 1.Periods which were more together, 2.”Drone-like” parts, 3. Lightly dissonant parts, and 4.Contemporary music-like parts.

  • Two respondents mentioned the way in which some sections had evoked inner imagery for them.


Interplay and interaction

The first guided question was: How did you experience the interplay and interaction between the musicians? For this question, the responses were all quite unanimous in recognizing that the musicians were communicating with each other during the course of the concert. One states that “It was obvious how they listened to each other”, another wrote that “all of them were intensely focused on each other, and one could notice that from how the music[ians] got inspiration from each other’s entrances”. Yet another noted how “it was obvious that [the musicians] knew very well what was going on with each other”, whereas the last stated that “the musicians are all good in relating to single events from each other and the sound output as a whole”. In general, the communication and interaction between the musicians was something that was evaluated positively by the respondents. Every one of them expressed a form of recognition of skill related to communication and/or interaction and this was seen as a positive thing. However, the musicians’ interaction and communication seemed to engage the respondents to different degrees. Whereas one stated that she was “carried away” by the concentration the musicians showed towards each other, another reported that he didn’t really thought of them, but focused on “the music in itself”.


Interestingly, two of the respondents with background from music technology also made some reflections regarding more specific aspects of the musicians’ interplay, especially dealing with the relationship between the individual and the collective. One noted how Bernt-Isak had made an entrance with a high volume, something which had seemed to surprise the others, whereupon the fellow musicians had taken up his ideas and “gotten together” once more. Another commented that the group had a nice balance between direct responses from the initiatives of the individual members and parts where the players seemed to operate more individualistically. This respondent also thought, perhaps in a slightly critical tone, that the players were a bit too careful in relation to each other, and thus that they were playing a bit “too safe”.


Relationship between player actions and sound

The second guided question in the response sheet was: “How was it to observe the relationship between that the musicians did and the sound you heard?”. This question was meant as preparing the respondents to the questions about the identification of individual instruments/musicians which will be reported in the subsequent section, since visual input and its synchronization with sound can potentially provide cues for identification of an instrument/musician.


For this question, the difference between the respondents from music technology differed quite a lot from the once from performance. For the latter two, the relationship between the musicians’ actions and the sounds seemed to evoke less interest. Firstly, one of the performance student respondents reported that for a long period of the concert, she was closing her eyes. And, perhaps a little self-contradictory, she states that it was both interesting to see “who did what” at the same time it was “a little distracting”. The other performance student respondent on his part, concluded that due to a lack of knowledge of the techniques they applied, he could not say anything to this question. He merely stated that what is important is the result of the players’ actions, namely, the music.


The two respondents from music technology appeared to show much more interest in this issue. Both expressed their positive attitudes towards this aspect of the performance; it was “entertaining”, “interesting” and “cool”. With the issue of identification of individual musicians/instruments in mind (see next section), it was also interesting to see that they both evaluated the degree to which the relationship appeared differently for different players. For instance, did both report that for the drums, it was easy to relate sound to actions. The most experienced respondent also reflected upon the way in which the processing made it more difficult to relate sound to actions. He also stated that this might have both positive and negative consequences.


Identification of individual musicians/instruments

This question was dealt with in five individual tasks; three guided questions, one rating of how often each musician could be identified, and one task in which a set of factors affecting the identification were rated from “very important” to “not important”.


In the first question, the respondents were to rate how often they could identify the sound from the individual musicians/instruments. They were shown a picture from the rehearsal sessions with all the musicians in it, and were then asked to place a number next to the musician they rated after the following nomenclature: 1=always, 2=very often, 3=often, 4=rarely, 5=very rarely, 6=never.


The results were as follows, ranked from most to least often:



Standard deviation




Carl Haakon









Bernt Isak







In the second question the audience were asked to identify what factor that enabled them to identify the sound from the different musicians/instruments within the totality of the experience. Here, there were in particular two recurring factors. The first was related to the visual impression of the physical movements of the players. Three of the respondents mentioned this. The second factor was recognition, i.e. that the respondent could match the sounds they heard with previous experiences of the different the different instruments. This was mentioned by all respondents. Three of them also referred to specific instruments, usually to exemplify what they could recognize well and not so well: Three mentioned voice and drums, one mentioned the double bass, one mentioned Bernt Isak’s guitar, one mentioned Øyvind’s MIDI-controller and one mentioned Øyvind’s voice controlled organ as instruments that were easily recognized. Of instruments that were more difficult to recognize one respondent mentioned Trond’s guitar, one mentioned the guitars in general and one mentioned the organ. One respondent also referred to her prior knowledge to the musicians and their instruments and how this had affected her identification of these instruments in a positive manner.


The third question asked what factors that caused problems in the identification of the individual  instruments/musicians within the totality of the experience. For this question there was little overlap between the respondents, and therefore I will briefly sum up the points from each of them:

  • Respondent 1: Problems in separating the guitars due to processing, lower visibility. When the musicians played bass tones in the background, source separation felt less relevant, compared to drums/vocal.

  • Respondent 2: Was not interested in single instruments, but rather the totality of the sonic output.

  • Respondent 3: Processing and unorthodox playing styles made identification problematic.

  • Respondent 4: The usage of a similar processing tool (Hadron) by several musicians, the mix of all the instruments in the PA and closing of the eyes made identification difficult.


In the fourth question/task regarding this topic the respondents were asked to range eight different factors that might have contributed to the identification of the different musicians in the totality of the experience. There were five steps in the rating scale, which was as follows: Very important (4) - quite important (3) - neutral (2) - low importance (1) - not important (0). These were the result of the rating, ranked from the most to the least important:




Recognize the timbre/sound of the instrument from earlier



Can see the correspondence between what the musicians are doing and the sound I hear



The instrument plays louder than the others



Learns the timbre/sounds from the instrument, e.g. when he/she plays alone, and uses this to identify the instrument at a later point



Can hear the direct sound from the instrument or the smaller loudspeakers on stage



Can see the body language of the musicians and the visual communication between them



Recognize the playing style of a musician from earlier



Learns how in the stereo image where the single instrument is localized



The last question asked what factors that contributed so that the instruments blended and were difficult to separate from each other. Here some factors were mentioned by several respondents, albeit in different degrees of specificity:

  • Similarity in sonic output was mentioned by the two respondents with music technology background and specified for several aspects:

    • Frequencies/pitch (mentioned by two respondents)

    • Tonality (mentioned by one)

    • Processing mechanisms (Mentioned by one)

    • Timbre (mentioned by one)

    • Long tones (mentioned by one)

    • Overlapping of long tones with little variability in dynamics (mentioned by one)

  • Closing of eyes (mentioned by two respondents)

  • Lack of salience  by single instruments (mentioned by one respondent)


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Discussion and conclusion of the audience perspectives

This study of audience response to a T-EMP concert is clearly of limited value in terms of providing data for drawing more general conclusions due to the low number of respondents. Still, it gives valuable information about how four individuals can experience a concert with a mix of acoustic and electronic instruments and excessive use of signal processing as a performance tool. And, for several of the issues that were addressed in this study, one can start to see contours of some tendencies that could perhaps have emerged more clearly with more respondents.


From the open response one can in particular note how the concert experience seems to leave quite different imprints in the four respondents. Whereas one seem to have an experience that is first and foremost emotional, others seemed to respond in a more detached and analytical manner. Still, it is interesting to observe that here, three of the respondents seemed to report more of their own inner response, than to report what was happening “out there” in the concert. This might lead us to think that in this particular concert the music might have invited to a more introvert form of experience, and that perhaps that the music has resonated in a particular way with them. Whether this is a result of the way the ensemble play on this particular concert, the context and atmosphere in the concert space, the listening volume, the personalities, preferences or moods of the respondents or anything else is of course impossible to say for certain. However, one can think of aspects of the music and the performance that could have encouraged a more introvert form of experience for this particular T-EMP concert. Firstly, the concert had several quite long stretches of sound which were quite fleeting, with relatively few musical events that stood out poignantly. For instance, if one listens to a recording of the concert from the beginning, it takes several minutes before one can start to discern any instruments, and when they enter, it is very subtly and gradually. And, when there is a more sudden event, like Bernt Isak’s guitar intro at about 8:15, this is noted by one of the respondents. Secondly, if one observes the video recording, one can also note the performers in parts of the concert seems to be oriented inwards: They either close their eyes or look down at their instruments. Their instrumental gestures are also quite gentle and modest in these parts of the performance. Hence, both the sonic and the visual expressions might have set the listeners in a mode in which their sensitivity towards their inner response and imagery have been increased.


As for the participants mention of different part of the performance, it is tempting to speculate that the degree of experience in this genre has been influential as to the degree of specificity that the partitioning of the experience. As a skilled performer (and thereby also a trained listener) within the same genre, it has been much easier for one of the respondents to distinguish between a more “drony” part and a “contemporary” part for instance, than the participants with little or no knowledge of T-EMP’s genre. Hence, this study suggests that it might be easier for experienced listeners to distinguish and identify different sections in the music.


The issue of communication internally in the group it was quite unanimously mentioned as a positive factor. Thereby, it seems like the emphasis that the ensemble has made on communication between the musicians also is something that is communicated to the audience. However, it is not explicit in the reports from the respondents how this communication happens - whether it is communicated via body language or if it happens aurally. While it would take a much more focused and detailed study to answer such a question, a brief look at the video material suggests that communication largely happens aurally; the players are first and foremost listening to each other and responding to what they hear.


The issue regarding the identification of individual instruments/musicians was covered with several questions/tasks, and therefore had the richest data material. First of all, one can see that there were marked differences in how often the individual musicians could be identified, and that the respondents agreed to a relatively high degree in their assessments in this task. Not very surprisingly, Tone was ranked as the easiest to identify, with percussion/drums and double bass following. This also fits nicely with the rating of possible factors contributing to the identification of the musicians, where the recognition of instruments from earlier experience was given the highest rating of all. After all, voice is the universal instrument that all hearing humans will be able to recognize, even with high degrees of distortion or processing. Moreover, one can suspect that the hearing the unamplified, direct sound might have helped in the identification of the voice, the double bass and the drums, maybe particularly the latter, since its acoustic sound level is quite high in comparison with the other instruments. The little higher than intermediate rating (2.5) of this factor only partly supports this suspicion, however.


With especially the familiarity factor in mind, it was a little surprising that the two electric guitars, which should be highly familiar instruments for most people, were given the lowest ratings. Moreover, they were rated lower than Øyvind, who plays general purpose MIDI controllers, able in principle to control almost any musical parameter. There might be a number of explanations to this result, some of which the remaining data material gives a few clues. The most obvious is the fact that the two guitars are similar sounds sources that therefore easily getconfusedwith each other, as one respondent mentioned in the first guided question. Moreover, it might be that other factors made it easier to relate gestural cues from his playing to the sounds produced, for instance 1) that he occasionally performed as a vocalist (cf. what was said above), 2) that his gestures were quite visible for the audience with a localization centre-front on stage with the controllers elevated to a position that could be easily seen by everybody in the audience, 3) that there was a high degree of synchronization between actions (e.g pressing buttons) and the sounds being affected, as one respondent noted. Moreover, it might also have been an issue that the actions of the guitarists were more difficult to observe for the audience. For example, Trond was sitting on the right side of the stage with his torso slightly turned inwards towards centre stage, so that especially his right hand actions would be difficult to observe for the audience. This position might have been one reason why he was rated with lowest degree of identification. Bernt Isak, for his part, was localized behind Øyvind and Tone, and thus he was partly hidden by them. A third issue, also mentioned by one participant, is that both players were occasionally using relatively unconventional playing styles, for instance Bernt Isak who was using a bow, and Trond who was using an E-bow from time to time.


All in all, we can conclude that all the respondents have reported about meaningful experiences, albeit in quite different ways. The material suggests that 1) the group's internal communication is something that is also noticed by the audience, and that this is regarded as something positive, 2) previous knowledge and experience of free improvisation and electronic/electroacoustic music has given rise to a higher degree of focus being directed towards the musicians, their actions and the subsequent consequences, including the degree to which single instruments can be identified.


There are a number of other issues regarding this performance and the preceding rehearsal period that could have been addressed with a close and rigorous study of the video material from the whole three day project period. However, at this stage we have only had the resources to do an analysis of the written response material. The results and conclusions, as previously noted, must be taken with great care.