The Politics of Laptop Ensembles: A Survey of 160 Laptop Ensembles and their Organisational Structures

Knotts, Shelly and Collins, Nick

Proceedings of the International Conference on New Interfaces for Musical Expression

This paper reports the results of an online survey of 160 laptop ensembles and the relative democracy of their organisational and social structures. For the purposes of this research a laptop ensemble is defined as a performing group of three or more musicians for whom the laptop is the main sound generating source and who typically perform together in the same room. The concept of democracy (i.e. governance by members of the group) has been used as a starting point to assess firstly what types of organisational structures are currently used in laptop ensembles and secondarily to what extent laptop ensembles consider the implications of organisational and social structure on their musical output. To assess this I recorded a number of data points including ensemble size, whether the group has a director or conductor, use of homogenous vs. heterogenous hardware and software, whether they perform composed pieces or mainly improvise, the level of network interaction and whether or not the ensemble has an academic affiliation. The survey allowed me to define a scale of democracy in laptop ensembles and typical features of the most and least democratic groups. Some examples are given of democratic and autocratic activity in existing laptop ensembles. This work is part of a larger scale project investigating the effect of social structures on the musical output of laptop ensembles.