In the second week of May 2011, Rhythm Changes conducted a practice-based research and knowledge transfer activity that explored the ways in which jazz and improvisational performance could be mediated using online and social media tools. Improvisational collective The Kitchen Orchestra performed at Mai Jazz festival with Japanese visual artists Testuya Nagato and Hiraku Suzuki. In the week leading up to that event, the participants (all of the musicians and artists as well as the producer and members of the audience) used small handheld digital video cameras to capture their activities and “whatever they think is interesting”.
The footage was collated and uploaded to a blog so that web visitors could witness the process and practice behind the scenes from a multiple first person perspective. The narrative that formed could be navigated according to the visitors interest, using tags as a way of making connections. Audiences could also participate in the site by asking a question, which would be answered in a video or text response and posted as a new blog post on the site – or by posting their own contributions, footage, photography or reviews.
Fifteen cameras collected over 400 pieces of video footage which were assembled into almost 180 individual blog posts. The site was also integrated into social media platforms Twitter, Facebook, Vimeo and Flickr. The videos ranged from the musician’s perspective of the performance, to relaxing between rehearsals. The artists also reflected upon their practice on camera.
The success of the project was reflected not only in the audience engagement and the opportunity to demystify what is commonly thought of as ‘difficult’ music, nor as simply a PR exercise (though indeed the site led to major news articles in local press and provided a significant amount of publicity in its own right), but more importantly in the shifts in thinking among the participants about the ways in which digital communication tools could be used to mediate jazz performance.
Perhaps more importantly, the process of the site’s creation was revealed through the site itself. The free and inexpensive tools and strategies that other artists and projects could adopt, replicate or adapt were explained and demonstrated in a challenging use case example.