The Prism of Interactive Art

Jessica Lewis

As we first learned at the beginning of this course with the article, “Interactivity in Society: Locating an Elusive Concept” by Eric P. Bucy, there is no real definition or clear guidelines for what classify something as interactive media. From what I’ve seen so far, it’s more of an art form than anything else. As a musician, I instantly relate everything back to music, so the form of interactive media (or art) I’ve chose to analyze is in fact music.

There are tons of different ways that music is interactive. If you are actually playing music, you decide how to interpret what a composer has written down. Some pieces are to be played strict and exactly as written, where others will have sections that are played freely and to the musician’s interpretation. You get to create the journey that the audience joins you on and it can be different every single time you play it.

On the audience’s end, this still isn’t very interactive. They’re just sitting there listening. A different kind of concert can spice things up and really make the audience feel like they’re part of the music. Something I did in high school that we called a Prism concert did just that. When you shine light into a glass prism, the light is distributed all over the room at all different angles. In a Prism concert, different pieces would be performed all around the auditorium encompassing the audience with music from all angles. Concerts would be comprised of full band pieces on the main stage, as well as smaller ensembles placed either in the front between the stage and the audience, or behind the audience. I did something similar to this again when I came here to USF. As a member of the HOT band, I participated in something we call Bullapalooza. It was basically the same concept as the Prism concert and was done to help get high school students participating in a music festival interested in attending the University of South Florida. Different musical groups from the school of music would play in different sections of the auditorium depending on their size, including each section from the marching band doing their own personally arranged pieces. Once again, the audience was immersed in music all around them, having to turn to wherever the music was coming from each time a piece was played, forcing them to engage in the music.


These types of concerts aren’t the only way audiences are being thrown into the middle of the concert; musicians have begun actually incorporating the audience into their pieces. Composer Eric Whitacre wrote a piece where the audience gets to join in on the performance. His composition, “Cloudburst“, ends with the audience snapping at their own tempo or rhythm creating the illusion of rain indoors. I’ve played this piece before and not only does it really sound like rain, but it really gives the concert a completely different feel when you’re on stage and suddenly a part of the piece is being played at you from the audience; it unites the musicians and their audience in a way that hasn’t been done in the past and almost reinvents the relationship of artist and audience.

Speaking of uniting people, Eric Whitacre has also started a new project called Virtual Choir. In this project, singers from all around the world log onto a website where they have access to digital sheet music for a piece written by Eric Whitacre. Here, they can practice the music using the website before recording themselves singing whichever part they’ve chosen. There is even video of Whitacre conducting the piece so you can practice as if you are in sitting right in front of him. Once the participant feels they’re ready, they record a video of themselves singing their part and upload it. This uploaded video is added to thousands of videos which are edited together to create an incredible worldwide virtual choir. Have you ever listened to thousands of voices from nearly every country on the earth all at once? You can now. No one has ever been able to interact with music in this way before.

When reading “A Short History of Cultural Participation” by Nico Carpentier, I couldn’t help but think about Eric Whitacre. In the Participation and the world of arts section of Carpentier’s chapter, he talks about the “always problematic relationship between the artist, the artwork and its audiences”. We’re then told about different types of participatory art, eventually getting to Joseph Beuys. Beuys’ work included lots of participatory pieces, similar to Whitacre. Beuys is quoted often saying, “Every human being is an artist” and I believe Whitacre would agree. Beuys is also quoted saying he wants to build “a social organism as a work of art” and that “such a notion of art would no longer refer exclusively to the specialists within the modern art world but to extend to the whole work of humanity”. This is exactly what Eric Whitacre’s Virtual Choir project is doing. Instead of hiring a professional choir of professional singers, he’s asked his audience to participate. His audience comprises of everyday people who appreciate music, and while Beuys was talking more about a physical art, I believe their goals are similar: “combine extreme individualism with a collective internationalism”.


“A Short History of Cultural Participation” by Nico Carpentier, “Transforming Culture in the Digital Age”, 2010, Estonian National Museum

“Interactivity in Society: Locating and Elusive Concept” by Erik P. Bucy, The Information Society, 2004, Taylor & Francis

Image from Google

Eric Whitacre, Virtual Choir 4, 2013,

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