When the subjects are the story

From “access media” to participatory design

Mike Robbins

Participatory design is defined as such: “participants (putative, potential or future) are invited to cooperate with designers, researchers and developers during an innovation process”. Participatory design has its roots in 1960’s Scandinavia so it’s fitting to examine WOO (World Online Orchestra). WOO is a collaboration between the Copenhagen Philharmonic, Makropol (Danish production studio) and our non-nordic selves, Helios. There are two other sets of very active project stakeholders in WOO,  participants, and the other being the audience.

WOO is a composite orchestra, comprised of an audio-visual mosaic of participants separated by location and time, collectively performing a piece of music, in this case,  a nucleus of 40 individual CopPhil musicians collectively playing Beethoven’s 7th Symphony. There is nothing else apart from the music and the people making it. It’s very simple.

On top of this simplicity there is a simple call to action and simple mechanism provided to allow the audience to contribute their own video and sound. The audience is invited to play along, and record themselves through their web-browser, thus transitioning from audience to participant. And in process, adding to and changing the sound of the orchestra.

The aforementioned ‘innovation process’ is not so much the concept and design and coding of WOO, but more the musical and visual evolution that occurs over its lifetime. With each transformation of audience member to participant, the project gains a new stakeholder. With each new stakeholder, we move farther away from the auteurs: Beethoven gradually loses ownership of his symphony, CopPhil of its original performance, the digital designers of their carefully crafted digital-design-scape.

What’s left is something we think the internet and its interactivity was designed to facilitate: endeavour borne out of collective ownership, a re-distribution of the creative wealth.