Ben Bloomberg Dissertation Defense

November 5, 2019
9:00am — 12:00pm ET

Making Musical Magic Live: Methodologies for Interweaving High-Value Production Technologies with Interactive Musical Performance

Fifty-two years ago, Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band redefined what it meant to make a record album. The Beatles revolutionized the recording process using technology to achieve completely unprecedented sounds and arrangements. Until then, popular music recordings were simply faithful reproductions of a live performance. Over the past fifty years, recording and production techniques have advanced so far  that another challenge has arisen: it is now very difficult for performing artists to give a live performance that has the same impact, complexity and nuance as a produced studio recording. Live performance production technology is now used almost exclusively to recreate studio albums exactly as they were recorded. Over time, this approach has dominated the entertainment industry. In an attempt to reach superhuman levels of perfection and complexity, many elements that make live performances emotionally meaningful for audiences have been given less priority or lost altogether.
The mission of the work described in this dissertation is to reverse this trend, and to investigate methods of integrating technology and live music performance in such a way that the technology allows for flexible musical expression, sound and connection to the audience, while still enabling exciting, sophisticated and “magical” production values. This dissertation identifies seven objectives for the human-centric design and integration of technology in musical performance, and a methodology to support each objective. These have been developed, refined and tested with artists and performers through a series of ten large-scale projects and approximately 300 individual performances. Through this work, I demonstrate that it is possible to combine high-value production with interactive musical performance. We are now on the cusp of redefining live musical performance production as an art form just as Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band redefined studio album production as an art form fifty years ago.

Committee members 

Tod Machover, Muriel R. Cooper Professor of Music and Media, MIT Media Lab
Joseph Paradiso, Alexander W Dreyfoos Professor, MIT Media Lab
Robert Rowe, Professor of Music; Director of Music Technology, New York University

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