Concert Turns Mobile Device Users into Interactive Orchestra

Mike Keefe-Feldman
March 11, 2016
Performance from Berklee Concert for 100 Mobile Devices
Rui Penha
iPhone at Berklee Concert for 100 Mobile Devices
Neil Leonard working with students
Neil Leonard
Attendees at Berklee Concert for 100 Mobile Devices
Gilberto Bernardes (right) and Ryan Fedak (left)
iPads become orchestral instruments at Berklee concert
Breaking down the barriers between performer and audience, attendees use mobile devices to provide a sonic backdrop to instrumentalists at the Berklee Interdisciplinary Arts Institute’s Concert for 100 Mobile Devices.
“This is a highly experimental thing,” says composer and music technologist Rui Penha, assistant professor at the University of Porto, Portugal, and researcher at the Institute for Systems and Computer Engineering, Technology and Science.
Concert attendees used the a.bel app and a QR code to access a program of light cues and musical notes calibrated for their seating arrangement in Berklee's David Friend Recital Hall.
Neil Leonard, BIAI artistic director, helps students get their devices set up to participate in the concert.
“The students in the BIAI have done an amazing job in collaborating on this work and it’s been a real thrill for me to see what they have brought to this project,” Leonard said.
“The idea here is that this a concert where you are the performers, which is why you’re all facing each other,” said Penha, who conducted a master class on spatialization and ambisonics for Berklee students earlier that day.
Gilberto Bernardes (right), a saxophonist, new media artist, and researcher in sound and music computing, performs a Rui Penha composition, “Cellular,” with Berklee student vibraphonist Ryan Fedak (left).
Penha noted that, in addition to creating music together, the event aimed to add a new dimension to the relationship that a phone can help us to have with other people.
Dave Green
Dave Green
Dave Green
Dave Green
Dave Green
Dave Green
Dave Green
Dave Green

Berklee hosts thousands of concerts every year, but none of them has been quite like the Concert for 100 Mobile Devices on Thursday, March 3, 2016, in the David Friend Recital Hall. Hosted by the Berklee Interdisciplinary Arts Institute (BIAI), the concert featured a mix of traditional music performances on a stage and audience participation via iPhones and iPads as those in attendance became, in essence, a symphony orchestra of cell phones.

The concert stemmed from work that Neil Leonard, artistic director of the Berklee Interdisciplinary Arts Institute, was commissioned for last year. Leonard presented a concert for 1,000 mobile devices at Casa de Musica in Porto, Portugal. For both that event and the recent Berklee concert, Leonard collaborated with Rui Penha—a composer and performer of live electroacoustic music whose work at the Institute for Systems and Computer Engineering, Technology, and Science delves into music technology, sound spatialization, interactive installations, musical robots, autonomous improvisers, and educational software—and Carlos Guedes, head of the music program at New York University Abu Dhabi.

The concert included a piece from BIAI student composers Blake Adelman, Ian Duclos, Peder Barratt-Due, Landy Gao, Lee Gilboa, Jonathan Koh, Nikhil Singh, and Sakura Tsuruta titled “TakeOff.” The abstract composition's aim, which was achieved in full, was to sonically transport those in the room to the experience of an immigrant navigating their initial arrival at a United States airport.

“This is the first time we’ve attempted this at Berklee,” Leonard noted at the concert, “so you’re participating in a very exciting experiment.”