Books on Interactivity in Performance?


Hey all,

I’m really interested in interactivity in performance and have been looking for books that approach the topic both on a philosophical level as well as a nuts-and-bolts how-to level. My background and current practice focuses on theatrical performance, and so interactivity of technology in performance is generally about controlling the lights, projections, and sound at the same time via any number of digital sync methods. What I’m interested in is something beyond just “the light cue and sound cue happen at the same time” and also beyond the world of what I would term “one-to-one relationships”, i.e. “look, when I move my arm like this, the light moves too” and into more complex, more subtle relationships.

I’m wondering if anyone has resources (books, papers, videos, presentations, lectures, etc) on the topic of interactivity. I’ve found the following books on Amazon which intrigue me…

Max/MSP/Jitter For Music

Digital Performance: A History



I’m very much behind the times on this… but the 1975 book Art and the Future by Douglas Davis is a great resource. Also from the standpoint of the performer having an embodied/immersive/interactive experience, Myron Krueger’s Artificial Reality. Anything you can find about/by Nam June Paik is also highly recommended. especially if you can find his manifestos (the book I mention below has a lot of these). As well for Jasia Reichardt’s 1968 Cybernetic Serendipity exhibition at the ICA, although I’ve never tracked down any books (the exhibition catalogue is very rare/expensive…)

again, all “left-field” choices from mostly outside the area of music… but I think you’ll find all of these texts inspiring. They go to fundamental issues in performativity and experiential art in general. They also expose the fact that so many of these conversations were happening in the 1960’s and 1970’s and not to take for granted the technological environment of today.


which might also require transforming the default idea of “mapping” or “relationship” – Merleau-Ponty’s “intentional arc” is the key concept here… you start to think of the arc itself or the coupling or the “between” as the medium of creative exploration. it may be worth it at least once in your life to read his Phenomenology of Perception… it takes a lot more than I can do in a short post to really do justice to these ideas… roots also in biologist Jakob von Uexkull’s ideas of “search image/search tone” or more generally Umwelt/Innenwelt, going back to the early 1900’s… anyway, this theory is way more foundational than the “lite” approach of “affordance-based design” which for the most part sneaks in subject/object or substance ontology through the back door by reifying the affordance as a “property” of an “interaction”, knowable in advance – and hence also disconnecting it from the broader world of significance involving goals, life-purposes and so on. Basically when cognitive science gets in any way involved, time to distrust things a bit :wink:

also if you’re totally serious about moving beyond merely indicative gesture, the Laban/Bartenieff system coming from dance (i.e. “Body/Effort/Shape/Space”) may be ultimately much more meaningful. of course this kinda assumes you’re doing full-body immersive interaction. Not sure I know of a good resource here, though I’ve been intrigued by this many times myself. although thanks to computational challenges and general lack of interest I don’t think anyone has done more than scratch the surface here. Technology in general has neglected the body and emotion for reasons I’ve discussed on other threads, basically they fail to show up at all under the Cartesian paradigm. For exactly the same reasons, dance seems to always have a lesser or secondary status in the technologically mediated arts, where it really should be the primary thing out of which everything else develops. [On the downside the Laban/Bartenieff system thanks to its basis in high modernism still seems rigidly anthropocentric… not quite interesting when you’re also exploring ideas of nonhuman bodies, or transformation, or in general virtually mapping concepts of body. but that’s just my own weird and highly underdeveloped perspective. still need to crawl before you can walk and all that.]


Oh man, my sophomore year Existentialism class is finally coming into use! I still have a copy of that on my shelves. Thank you! I vaguely recall ideas about the self, how the self relates to the self, and how that relationship to the self relates to the self…


have also a little fragment of writing (private/compositional notes for a project) which uses the idea of the intentional arc without mentioning it to set up an environment in which to suspend causality, which halts or even reverses the experiential flow of time using a simple delay pedal. [I think we’ve all had this experience].

[TL;DR: take a guitar and a delay pedal, let the pedal lead you into producing short looping phrases or “refrains”, based on the length of the phrase you get a Gestalt-switch in which you feel that you are following the pedal rather than the pedal following you… (hence reversing the first-person phenomenal experience of time), explore further and time can stop altogether. you have a more ‘architectural’ relationship to the accompaniment where it’s neither leading or following you. a very technologically simple yet blatant example of moving beyond the ‘control mapping’ paradigm into the space of the intentional arc.]

I relate this somehow to Castaneda’s “stopping the world”, which of course invites controversy (because Castaneda) and later outside this text to Deleuze’s ideas of the refrain and becoming-animal… again more controversy… all of this requires further exegesis but sufficed for the moment as “note to myself”… you can take or leave these aspects but they are important to me in the larger picture. Sharing private texts can be embarrassing (lol) but I still think this may add something…


Thank you all for the interesting thoughts and citations! I’m also interested in this subject, from the perspective of the performance being primarily audience-driven. I like the relationship between the dungeon-master and the players in dungeons and dragons: the dungeon-master is primarily responsible for maintaining cohesion within some context / world, while the players make the choices that ultimately determine how they will experience the world. (Thinking of the system itself in the role of the dungeon-master, and those interacting with it being the players…)

Actually my copy of Judith Butler’s Performative Acts and Gender Constitution: An Essay in Phenomenology and Feminist Theory just arrived in the mail yesterday. I’m not sure I should be making recommendations here since I have no background in theater and have not yet re-read it, but! Her writing made a big impact on me in college and seems relevant to this discussion.


Wow… would love to see where you go with this! Role-playing environments, performativity and the body are fundamental concerns for me also and I struggle to connect what I’m doing musically to some of the broader communities/subcultures actively engaging in this area. Even if the way you connect these is different, I’m sure many ideas would transfer.

Thanks also for reminding that theater is a fundamental perspective, and one in which I also lack any kind of background. [Isn’t it awful that the disciplines that surface as most relevant, dance and theater, are some of the least represented technologically?] I need to pick up the Butler as well.


This book is a great collection of papers which focus on the role of interactivity and the body in electronic music!