Examining the Perception of Liveness and Activity in Laptop Music: Listeners’ Inference about what the Performer is Doing from the Audio Alone

Bown, Oliver and Bell, Renick and Parkinson, Adam

Proceedings of the International Conference on New Interfaces for Musical Expression

Audiences of live laptop music frequently express dismay at the opacity of performer activity and question how “live” performances actually are. Yet motionless laptop performers endure as musical spectacles from clubs to concert halls, suggesting that for many this is a non-issue. Understanding these perceptions might help performers better achieve their intentions, inform interface design within the NIME field and help develop theories of liveness and performance. To this end, a study of listeners’ perception of liveness and performer control in laptop performance was carried out, in which listeners examined several short audio-only excerpts of laptop performances and answered questions about their perception of the performance: what they thought was happening and its sense of liveness. Our results suggest that audiences are likely to associate liveness with perceived performer activity such as improvisation and the audibility of gestures, whereas perceptions of generative material, backing tracks, or other preconceived material do not appear to inhibit perceptions of liveness.