Technology-mediated audience participation is an emergent topic in creative music technology with a blurred distinction between audience and performers. This paper analyzes communication patterns occurring in the online chat of the Open Band system for participatory live music performance. In addition to acting as a multi-user messaging tool, the chat system also serves as a control interface for the sonification of textual messages from the audience. Open Band performances have been presented at various festivals and conferences since 2016. Its web-based platform enables collective “sound dialogues” that are opened to everyone regardless of musical skills. Drawing on interactive participatory art and networked music performance, the system aims to provide engaging social experiences in colocated music-making situations. The authors collected data from four public performances including over 3,000 anonymous messages sent by audiences. After presenting the design of the system, the authors analyzed the semantic content of messages using thematic and statistical methods. Findings show how different sonification mechanisms alter the nature of the communication between participants who articulate both linguistic and musical self-expression. One of the design goals was to provide a platform for free audience expression as a web “agora.” The various themes that emerged from the analyses endorse this idea, as participants felt free to discuss subjects ranging from love to political opinions.
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