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Our Piece: Reflections on Ownership of Interactive Performance

Posted by on September 3, 2013

Our Piece: Reflections on Ownership of Interactive Performance
by Lanier Sammons

As part of our ongoing Participatory Performing Artist-in-Residence Program (PPAIR), Lanier led an audience-interactive composition installation at Santa Cruz Music Night (click here for more info) on Friday, August 16th. Musicians interpreted visitor responses in each gallery to create a collaborative composition. Visitors requested changes to the tempo, altered the pitch or described their favorite sound for musicians to respond to.IMG_3022

In his book Performance Theory, Richard Schechner suggests that all performances contain a participatory element: audience members must, after all, choose to be audience members, and they can revoke their choice at any time during a performance.  Works that I identify as audience-interactive, though, are a bit different.  While a stoic ensemble might choose to complete a typical piece even in the face of an empty room, an audience-interactive piece cannot exist as intended without an audience.  In these works, audience members are vital for the very fact of performance, not just its relative success or failure.

So naturally, I owe a hearty “thank you” to all of you who attended Santa Cruz Music Night on August 16th and participated in my audience-interactive piece, Triplum.  You brought the piece to life, and it was a privilege to have your participation.  Similarly, the performers (listed and linked here) deserve much of the credit for Triplum.  Though the piece includes a very minimal score, it relies principally on these individuals’ abilities as both improvisers and interactive forces.  I was very lucky to assemble a group full of virtuosos on both accounts.


Visitors placed weights on either end of the scale to change the composition’s tempo. Photo by Rachael Torres.

Of course, all this gratitude implies a question: to what extent is this really my piece?  Why, exactly, does “Lanier Sammons” sit there alone under the title?  This is a question that I’ve often asked myself about my audience-interactive work.  One answer I can give is that the elements I contribute to the piece (its structure, form, and directions) constitute Triplum’s stable, persistent body, while the contributions of the performers and audience members serve as energizing, vital impulses that spark the body to life.  The body itself will remain the same for any performance of Triplum, but the impulses will animate it differently every time.  This permanence, perhaps, provides a way to identify a discrete composer of an audience-interactive work.

I think, though, that there’s a better answer.  And that answer is to say, simply, that this is our piece.  In the case of Triplum, this answer feels especially right not only because of your contributions as audience members and those of the immensely talented performers, but also because of all the wonderful input I received leading up to the realization of the piece.  As a Participatory Performing Artist-in-Residence this summer, I was very lucky to join in a few of the Hack the Museum events and to receive feedback during the brainstorming process from Executive Director Nina Simon.  The piece also benefitted tremendously from Kyle Lane-McKinley’s and Wes Modes’ abilities to turn my barebones descriptions of the physical objects the piece into beautiful and functional pieces.  All my work, too, is shaped in conversation with my wife, Clara Sherley-Appel, and her thoughts about Triplum were particularly inspired.  Finally, my weekly meetings with Stacey Garcia and Alexandra Richardson were an immensely rewarding and delightful creative experience.  Triplum could not have existed without their ideas, support, and hard work, and it’s their names that it feels strangest not to see along with mine under the title.

So once again, thank you.  It was a pleasure to share Triplum with you, and I hope you enjoyed our piece. For more information about Lanier’s work, please visit his site at

The Triplum score.

The Triplum score.