Collaborative composition and socially constituted instruments: Ensemble laptop performance through the lens of ethnography

Booth, Graham and Gurevich, Michael

Proceedings of the International Conference on New Interfaces for Musical Expression

In this paper, we argue that the design of New Interfaces for Musical Expression has much to gain from the study of interaction in ensemble laptop performance contexts using ethnographic techniques. Inspired by recent third-stream research in the field of human computer interaction, we describe a recent ethnomethodologically-informed study of the Birmingham Laptop Ensemble (BiLE), and detail our approach to thick description of the group’s working practices. Initial formal analysis of this material sheds light on the fluidity of composer, performer and designer roles within the ensemble and shows how confluences of these roles constitute member’s differing viewpoints. We go on to draw out a number of strands of interaction that highlight the essentially complex, socially constructed and value driven nature of the group’s practice and conclude by reviewing the implications of these factors on the design of software tools for laptop ensembles.