This Impact proposal builds on past AHRC funded research into network music performance. The PI, a musician, investigated how performers make music together when not in the same physical space, specifically how performers listen to each other. This research used different types of musical notation, including 3D rendered graphics, improvisational strategies and graphic scores. The PI carried out over 20 different types of performances in the network including performing with musicians in a virtual world. The experience of playing different types of music (strictly notated jazz tunes, guided improvisation, graphically scored music and entirely free improvisations) led to thinking more deeply about power structures and dramaturgical decisions in this environment. It raised questions of who the author is, who leads, conducts or makes decisions in a situation where for instance 3 different cities are connected with several musicians in each place.

More importantly, it was found that the physical absence of another performer allows musicians to focus closely on their relation with their instrument, on their breathing and gestures; and finally, it ask performers to listen in quite different ways, what the PI has termed ‘distributed or network[ed] listening’. In the network musicians need listen to their own sounds, to the sounds of the remote performer, but also to sounds circulated through the network, which can be ‘jittery’ due to often fragile technical infrastructure. This means that the network reveals subtle differences between being ‘here’ and ‘there’, between the ‘self’ and the ‘other’, between ‘listening’ and ‘being listened to’ and between body and instrument.

This Impact proposal aims to extract such type of fragile listening, ‘distributed listening’, to an environment outside the well-equipped university context. Therefore, the project will develop a custom-designed app for mobile devices (phones) that allows young community participants to explore such type of listening, while at the same time enabling participants to play and create together in a distributed setting.

We have teamed up with two professional theatre companies, the Lyric Theatre in Belfast and 42nd Street in Manchester. 42nd Street is a young people’s mental health charity that provides innovative services to young people who are under stress and experience mental health problems. Both theatre companies regularly work with community participants, and are engaged in what has been termed ‘socially engaged arts’, a form of active citizenship, which describes art that is commissioned to effect social change and that is artist led and participant focussed. The two theatre companies have identified 20 young adults each who, over the course of 8 weeks workshops will learn to use the app in order to create a creative theatre piece based on the idea of ‘distributed listening’. In this way, the participants will produce a piece of theatre while engaging with digital technologies. Each city will create a context specific work, using the custom-designed app, and each community group will showcase this work in 2016. For the showcases, pairs of participants will amplify the sounds of their handheld devices through small portable loudspeakers in order to better share the sounds that they produce.

A video artist will accompany both companies’ working processes, creating video diaries for documentation on the project’s website. The custom-designed app will also be used for a one day of hands-on workshops with school children in Northern Ireland, running as part of the Science Festival who is supporting this project. The final part of the project includes an impact conference where all participants from Manchester and Belfast will meet, and, alongside invited speakers from industry, will share the project’s creative outcomes, including the video diaries, the documented showcases and the app design.