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Between Stage and Audience – Testing new relationships between performer and audience

Between Stage and Audience – Testing new relationships between performer and audience

In the illusionary world of theatre or in the arena of spectacle, architecture, lighting and sound are united in a concentrated form and in limited space to satisfy a continuously demanding audience with a maximised impressive and enduring experience in a very restricted amount of time. It seems that Stage design, as an answer to this demand, could be seen as a concentrated image of our built environment. It is of no surprise that famous architecture schools like the Bauhaus have looked into this subject intensively. In correlation to the human nature, which is constantly looking for new challenges and stimuli in order to find satisfaction, architecture and the staging of performance spaces exaggerate each other in an exorbitant manner.  For a long time, this progression was possible through variations of the size of the stage and the addition of spectacular effects. However, there is an increasing demand for new approaches, such as the new interactive world of communication technology as well as the development of the virtual and augmented reality. This demand exceeds what is available as relevant experience is vastly non-existent. By experimenting with small and relatively cost-efficient projects, I try to find answers and possible directions, without the influence of industry leaders, on how the world ‘Between Stage and Audience’ could develop.


Architecture has always been a main interest of mine. The creation of space and atmosphere has fascinated me since an early age. However, there was always a love for the more technological side of things especially in terms of sound and lighting.
I have been able to gain experience in both architecture and stage technology. While studying
architecture at university, I gained hands on experience working in the stage-entertainment industry.

The current course I am studying, MArch Design for Performance and Interaction course [ref01] gives me a great opportunity to combine the two worlds and look into new approaches for audience experiences and spatial entertainment designs.

This paper, supported by my own design projects and experiments, will look into possibilities of future stage performances and set-ups using the latest in industry-standard event technology and architecture. It is not only about increasing the amount of technology used in a space to create an experience but also making an audience more aware of the space and the site itself and enhance the awareness of its importance for any kind of performance.


The stage configurations 

Following up my previous paper [ref02] and the question about how the physical gap between the stage area and the audience area could be bridged and closed, this paper will now go into more detail and look at specific scenarios. 

As shown in my above-mentioned paper [see ref02], artists and performers have been experimenting with the stage layout in multiple ways with the aim to be closer to and maybe even more intimate with their audience. Examples vary from the classic stage setup with the stage on one side and the audience on the other (figure01) to the centre stage and the audience surrounding it (figure02) to even a stage that splits the audience area in half [ref03]/[figure03].

Figure01-03: Classic – Proscenium Stage | Centre Stage | Profile Stage, Sketches: Michael Wagner

Figure04: Kanye West – Saint Pablo Tour, Flying Stage at T-Mobile Arena, 29.10.2016 Photo: Al Powers

However, there are very few examples of scenarios where the stage actually surrounds the audience or where the stage even dissolves into fragments and moves away form its usual position. An artist who is constantly pushing the stage to new dimensions is Americ
an rapper Kanye West. One of his stage examples is the flying stage above the audience during the 2016 Saint Pablo tour [ref04/figure04].

Walter Gropius from the Bauhaus states in this paper [ref05]:

“There are only three basic stage forms in existence. The primary one is the central arena on which the play unfolds itself three-dimensionally while the spectators crowd around concentrically. Today we know this form only as a circus, a bull ring, or a sports arena.
The second classic stage form is the Greek proscenium theater with its protruding platform around which the audience is seated in concentric half-circles. Here the play is set up against a fixed background like a relief.
Eventually this open proscenium receded more and more from the spectator, to be finally pulled back altogether behind a curtain to form today’s deep stage which dominates our present theater.
Much as the spatial separation of the two different worlds, the auditorium and the stage, has helped to bring about technical progress, it fails to draw the spectator physically into the orbit of the play; being on the other side of the curtain or the orchestra pit, he remains beside the drama, not in it. The theater is thereby robbed of one of its strongest means to make the spectator participate in the drama.”

Figure05: Stage – Audience Gap
Sketch: Michael Wagner

According to this interesting paper from the famous Bauhaus Movement, there are only three defined and commonly used stage layouts – Centre Stage, Proscenium Stage and the Deep Stage. However, other theatre references like CassStudio6 [ref06] define the different layouts in more detail and also include the Profile Stage. The Profile Stage is defined as a rectangle laid out stage, with the audience on risers along its two longer sides and no audience on either end. Each one of these four layouts leaves a physical gap between the stage and the audience [figure05].

Even though the Bauhaus paper and the other references [see ref06] still have their validity in their own right, a lot has changed in the past 100 years. Stage technology and the way we experience performances have moved on and opened up many new possibilities. 

Amplified sound systems and huge video walls allow the performance to be seen by a much bigger audience and from further away but it also means that even though the spectator is physically at the location, he or she will mainly see and watch a digital replication of the artist [figure06]. 

Another extreme example is everyone’s mobile phone held up in the air in front of a concert or show, filming the big LED screens – the audience now experiences a live performance through two digital interfaces [figure07].

Figure06: The Rolling Stones – No Filter Tour 2018 Stage Design: Stufish, Photo: Michael Wagner

Figure07: Audience holding up cellphones Photo: Jim Dyson/Redferns via Getty Images









The performances, especially in the music industry, are in a constant competition of being bigger and better than the previous ones. The more complex and technically advanced with fireworks and lasers, apparently the more enjoyable is the show. This statement is well proofed by looking at the evolution of festivals like Tomorrowland in Belgium [ref07] or the Ultra Music Festival in Miami [ref08].

With all this technology available, from moving images to holograms and other atmospheric effects, do the commonly used stage layouts as described by the earlier introduced Walter Gropius still make sense?


Research questions

Over the last decade and especially in the last couple of years, trends and technologies in the stage-entertainment industry have developed towards more surrounding experiences than the very classical “stereo left-right” set up which is in the industry even referred to as dual-mono. New technologies and high processing powers have made it possible to overcome the limitations and the compromises we had so far when mixing and amplifying audio. This is not only happening in terms of audio development but also lighting, video and rigging constructions are evolving fast into immersive experiences.

Following these industry developments with a high interest for the last ten years while being educated as an architect and spatial designer, I have used the opportunity of my research thesis to raise the following interlinked questions:

With the technology we have today, does the stage still need to stay in that one fixed place?

– Can a performance be separated into individual elements, which can then be reassembled by the audience member to form a unique and personal experience?

– Does a performance split up into fragments have a negative or a positive effect on the experience of the audience? 

– Does the performance become more unintelligible or can the fragments have a motivating effect for the audience?

– Do the individual fragments of the performance need to merge into a single and equal experience for everyone or can it be unique each time?

– Can the fragments of a performance happen in completely different locations?

– If the performance is split into parts that cannot be seen or heard at the same time, how can the audience “carry” the experience from one place to the other?

– What elements are needed to create a magical moment? How can the audience be tricked to create an illusion?

– Could the appearing and disappearing be connected to the amount of people seeing the performance at the time?

– Does it need to be interactive for each individual or as an audience altogether?

– What level of complexity and interactivity is needed for the member of the audience to leave after the performance being satisfied and with having a good feeling of involvement?

All the questions refer to one main interest: The performance itself and therefore the stage, has not really moved its place from the front of the audience. If the digital starts moving around the audience, why can’t the analog as well? As rapper Kanye West is said to have asked:“Why do we have to have a stage, anyway?” [ref09]

To answer the above questions, I will look further into the topic of stage and performance design and, by analysing a selection of industry examples as well as researching these topics through a series of personal design projects, find out in what way the present and the near future of audience experiences will relate to, adapt to and interpret my questions.


The Fragmented Performance

Imagine any famous four-piece band performing one of their songs. Such an event with well-known artists usually needs a lot of security and security-fencing in front of the stage to stop the audience from entering the stage area. A touring show will have a certain set up for each location and each audience will have a very similar experience. However, what if the audience only saw one band member in each location [figure08] or what if the audience could pick the different artists and arrange them the way they want? It would become a different experience each time for the individual audiences.

Figure08: Wire – Flag:Burning, Barbican Theatre, London 2003, Directed & Design: Es Devlin, Video/Image: Tom Gidley

This contemplative approach is not new. When talking about fragmented performance, one name is very present: William S. Burroughs. In association with Brion Gysin, their work The third mind [ref10] showing the cut-up techniques is a valuable reference; taking a simple story, cutting it into pieces and then rearranging them to form something new and unique. Could this technique be used for the stage and the performance as well? [figure?! and more description]

Examples of fragmented art like the movie The Cut Ups from 1966 by William S. Burroughs and Brion Gysin [ref11] as well as the Indeterminacy-work by John Cage [ref12] can be rather difficult to understand at first and need a certain candidness from the audience. I was able to investigate the question of how much a random audience would engage with Fragmented Art, with my Holon-Cube project [see page 13] at this year’s Ars Electronica Festival in Linz, Austria [ref13]. Simply summarised, I can say that the motivational aspect comes in when the audience has the chance to arrange and rearrange the fragments in their own individual way. The playful and investigative aspect appears stimulative and an interesting form of communication and interaction arises.

A beautiful piece of split up performance is Iannis Xenakis’ “Terretektorh” [ref14]. It is one of Xenakis’ orchestral compositions where the actual orchestra is split apart and placed in between the audience or also the audience is taken on stage and placed between the orchestra. In this case, the split up performance still comes together to form one experience for the audience even though each member of the audience will hear certain parts more intensely than others.

Figure09: Example of a Choose your own adventure – book by R.A. Montgomery 1979, Image/Article by Eric Rovie

If the outcome of the fragment arrangement is different each time, each audience will create a new story and each experience will not be the same.
It can be compared to those children books invented by R.A. Montgomery, where one can choose on what page to continue reading on [ref15/figure09].





An interesting, very recent project called Sound Stage: W.T.F. (Watt The Frequency) [ref16/figure10] by Bulgarian producer and DJ KiNK and Midi controller company OWOW [ref17] represents similar ideas. Using eight different sound systems, he sends individual elements of his compositions to each of the speaker systems. Furthermore, each system has additional adjustments and effects for the received musical element and the audience has full control over these modifications.

As KiNK says in the Mixmag Interview:

“I had no control. If something was going wrong I couldn’t fix it. It was my choice though. I thought, ‘Let’s trust our guests.’ I outsource the sounds, and they can do whatever they want.”

This performance shows very nicely, that the fragmented performance with audience interaction creates an interesting new experience not just for the audience but just as much for the performing artist.

Figure10: KiNK – SoundStage W.T.F. (Watt the frequency) 2018 – Sponsor: Desperados Beer – Image:

Taking this very popular genre of electronic music, it is not necessarily a style of music that can be well enjoyed at home in the living room. It needs a certain complex environment with flashing lights and surreal elements to come fully alive. Adding the fragment-concept to this kind of very ordered music could give it a level of complexity that could bring the balance between order and complexity to a more even level [see page 12 – The Front to Front DJ-Set].


Figure11: Jeffrey Masin
One-Man Band, New York City,
Photo: slgckgc on

A Distributed Stage in the City

Fragmenting a performance in a known stage environment and placing the fragments around an audience might be one step into an interesting direction but could it even be taken further?
The stage-audience-gap becomes very narrow when the performance is taken off the stage and put right into the audience area or in other words: into public space.

Performing in public spaces is nothing new. Especially in bigger cities like London or Berlin but generally all around the world, the busking artist is very popular and even dates back to antiquity [figure11].
Even though it seems that those buskers are right in between the general public tourists and pedestrians, they are in most cases placed on dedicated spots and permitted stage areas.
Not just the individual busker but also larger performances of plays and musicals placed on movable platforms have a long history.


The pageant wagons [ref18/figure12]

From the 10th to about the 16th century and based on biblical texts, religious plays were created and divided into individual scenes. Even though the origins of these plays were churches, they are mainly know for the use of moving stages. Each scene had its own moving stage-wagon that could be moved from one location to the next. By splitting up the play and distributing it across the city or town, the performers were able to reach out to a much bigger audience. It was not the audience changing location to see the full play. Once the scenes had finished, the wagons would move on to the next stop on the rout and repeat the scene. In this way, the habitants were able to stay in one place and still see a full performance. This system is very similar to what we nowadays call a parade.

Figure12: English Pageant wagon, perhaps showing the annunciation from a mystery cycle, Creator: Boeve, Ervina, Original Date: ca. 1375-1550 AD

As much as those street performances try to get closer to their audience, there is still the feel of a “staged” show as the audience has to gather around those dedicated places.

For example in London, it is commonly known where to find street performances. Just as in other cities, they usually happen across important public squares and places or around public transport stations. So those performances are not necessarily unexpected. The audience knows where to find and see them just as one knows that in order to see a play, the theatre would be the place to go.

If a performance can happen in an unusual and for the public audience unexpected place or situation, it could be a far more intimate and close experience between the performance and the spectator.


Figure13: Focus of Audience Classic Stage vs. Surround Stage, Sketch Michael Wagner

Illusionary performances

The concept of the fragmented performance – especially in terms of digital performances – can have another interesting and very powerful effect; the magical element of the unexpected.

In a normal stage environment, the audience’s focus is set on one point – the stage. As soon as a surrounding element, especially a visual element, is added to the performance, the spectator has to move his/her attention from one point to another and back [figure13]. This gives the performance the opportunity to appear and disappearing in different places around the audience and the performance becomes far more unpredictable.


Looking at actual magic- and conjuring shows in theatres, the magical illusion is created by using simple tricks to mock the audience. As very nicely described in Henning Nelms’ book “Magic and Showmanship” [ref19] nowadays, the word illusion is often misused to describe one of the more complex and bigger conjuring tricks. Of course, even a simple magic trick needs a lot of practice and has many elements of directing people’s attention and focus. The actual magic trick is not what the audience can see but what the audience cannot see. To create an illusion, we first need to trick and fool the audience.

However, according to Nelms, for a trick to become an illusion, it needs another very important element; it needs to have meaning. The audience has to believe what is happening and it has to make sense even though they are aware of it just being a performed magic tick.

“Suppose you could work miracles. Suppose that, without coming near me, you simply gestured towards my pocket and told me to put my hand in it. I did so and took out a ham sandwich. This would no doubt amaze me, but after I had recovered from my surprise my only feeling would be, ‘So what?’. But suppose I say, ‘I’m hungry’ and you reply ‘I can fix that. Look in your left coat pocket.’ When I do so, I find a sandwich. This has a point. It makes sense. You cannot work that sort of miracle, but you can add meaning to your conjuring.” - Henning Nelms, 1969

Figure14: The Parachute,
Image: Stephen Mottram

Apart from magic shows and conjuring, there are, of course, other forms of illusionary performances that make the audience believe that what they see is not what is actually there. Puppetry, for example, has the strong ability to trigger illusions. A wonderful example is The Parachute performance by Stephen Mottram [ref20/figure14]. This performance is a very abstract and minimalised version of puppetry but this fact makes the resulting illusion even stronger and more fascinating. The puppet in this work of art is nothing more than five individual white ping-pong balls. In fact, it is very much a fragmented puppet. It is then about how those five balls are combined and especially how they start to move together that creates the illusion of a human being telling the story of life.

Lighting and shadow are equally important to create such an illusionary experience. In the example of the five ping-pong balls, the lighting is set to highlight the white balls, whereas everything else, including the puppeteer, stays in the dark. Whether it is magic tricks, puppetry or any other form of performance wanting to create an illusionary experience, the key to success is what the audience can see and hear and even more what they cannot see and hear.


Immersive Performance 

The word “immersive” has become very popular in the event-industry during the last couple of years [ref21] but what does it mean to make a performance or an event immersive? An immersive experience is either when being in an actual physical environment or when being put into a virtual space that has the look and feel of a physical environment. An experience will need the power of the magical illusion and the mystification of the brain in order to become fully immersive. Reading a good book that really touches the reader’s senses can already create a very immersive environment. An immersive performance should create the illusion for the audience of being part of the performed and told story.

Figure15: Simon McBurney rehearsing with the binaural head, July 2015. Image: Sarah Ainslie

One very recent performance at the Barbican Centre in London is a perfect example of the audience becoming an actual part of the act on stage. The piece “The Encounter” by Complicité/Simon McBurney [ref22] uses modern recording and wireless technology to take each individual member of the audience up on stage to give them a very intimate and personal performance experience even though there is thousands of people in the audience.

To achieve this illusion, they use a “Dummy Head Microphone” setup like the Neumann KU 100 which is a human shaped head model that has anatomically correct ear conches with built in microphones. It represents a member of the audience on stage and it can pick up stereo sound just like a human ear would receive it. 

The idea behind this performance is simple but extremely effective. Each member of the audience is wearing a pair of headphones and those are connected to the binaural recordings from the dummy head. Because of this binaural experience, one feels like sitting on stage with the actor walking around and talking directly at oneself. This makes it extremely immersive and also very personal as in the end it is a direct performance between one individual listener and the actor himself.

PanelTalk about the future of sound,
Image: L-Acoustics on Instagram

Immersive Audio

Just like when reading a book, watching a movie can be a very intense immersive experience. As the story is supported by visual and audio content, drifting off into this immersive world should be even easier.

Especially in the movie- and gaming industry the immersive sound technologies have been pushed and improved in a way that it is not limited to big cinemas anymore but are nowadays almost standard in every home tv setup. As discussed in a panel talk about the future of sound at the 2018 Plasa Show in London [ref23], the fact that such technology has become rather cheap and accessible, leads to people getting used to this kind of setting and would like to experience the same in any other performance and event situation.
In terms of immersive sound experiences for large audiences and big scale music production, the popular brands of audio and amplification equipment have been working hard on finding new ways to achieve this.

A systems which has been used successfully during the last year is the L-ISA processor by speaker manufacturer L-Acoustics [ref24]. It gives the sound engineer the ability to not only pan the audio sources to a left and right channel but also back and forth in space and accurately reposition sounds according to their origin on stage in the amplified sound scape.
Interesting and very recent stage performance examples that have used an immersive audio set-up are the 2018 “where’s the drop” orchestral concerts by Deadmau5 [ref24] which combines orchestral sound with electronic melodies and also the “Melodrama North America” tour by the singer and songwriter Lorde [ref25].

Figure17: VR Experience with enclosing Headset, Image: joe Roberts,

A fully immersive illusion is not only created by using audio – the visual incentive as well as the stimulus of all other senses is just as important. The more senses can be triggered, the more immersive and realistic the experience feels.

In terms of the visual immersion, VR has become a leading technology. However, a person has to perform a physical action to put themselves into the immersive virtual space by putting on the VR goggles. Even though the virtual reality and in the future the augmented reality will be a key technology, I find it far more interesting in creating these experiences without the need of the audience wearing specific gear on or in front of their head [figure17].

Gordon Pask describes in his paper “A comment, a case history and a plan” [ref26] the development of some of the very first sound-to-light machines (the musicolour system) that would support the audible experience with visual-sense triggers.
Even though this paper was written back in 1968, the industry aim and the concept of sound-to-light environments have not changed but the technology has become far more accessible and its variety much wider.

On of the leading stage performance examples these days , especially in terms of the visual aspect, is the 2018 Holo-Show by producer and DJ Eric Prydz [ref27] which was presented at Creamfields Festival,UK. It uses high-resolution holographic images as well as intense laser-lights and kinetic stage structures. According to industry professionals, this show even holds the world record for using the highest amount of kinetic hoists in a single show [ref28].
The 4k holographic images are of such detail and quality that it is hard to tell for the human eye whether these are real object floating in mid-air or just digital reproductions [figure18].

Figure18: Astronaut Hologram at Epic 5.0, London 2017 – Image: Eric Prydz on Facebook, Stage Design: RES London


Interactive Performance 

The immersive and the illusionary performance both try to close the gap between the stage and the audience from the side of the stage. Both types of performances aim to give the audience the feeling of being integrated and part of the performance itself although in a passive manner. The interactive performance however, has a different approach by giving the audience an opportunity to become an active and controlling part of the performance.

Having a single member of an audience interacting with a performance is very doable scenario and there are multiple examples of interactive installations and performances where, for example, one member of the audience is being taken up on stage and is given a simple task but how can an audience crowd be used for interaction? 

One, still rather small scale experimental performance is Troika Ranch’s SWARM. In Swarm, the audience movement – in both groups and as individuals – is measured and used to generate live visual and audio content as well as the movement guidelines for the six performing artists. The creators of Swarm say that: “Only through coordination, conversation, and collective action will they unleash the work’s full potential.” [ref29]

Figure19: Controllable LED-Wristbands creating the light show, Coldplay – Mylo Xylotot tour 2012, Image:

Another interesting approach towards full crowd interaction was made for the 2012 Coldplay Mylo Xyloto tour, where the audience became part of the concert’s light-show by wearing wireless controlled led-wristbands [ref30/figure19].

The interaction in this case was only to put on the wristband, lift your hand up in the air at the right moment and wave it to the music. It still gave each one the feeling of being a part of overall experience [figure19].





Figure20: Peex rX Headphones and Peex mixing application Image:

The most recent audience interaction performance with a stadium filling crowd is the 2018 Sir Elton John “Farewell Yellow Brick Road” tour [ref31]. Not only will this show be streamed live on YouTube to be enjoyed as a 180 degree VR experience, but also will it be using the Peex live mixing application called “Peex Live” [ref32]. Together with a pair of headphones it will give each individual person in the audience the possibility to live-mix the concert sound and to completely personalise the sonic experience. An interesting approach towards crowd interactivity.



Enjoying performance, order and complexity 

In his book Grundlagen der Architektur-Wahrnehmung [ref33], the Swiss architect Jörg Kurt Grütter describes the perception of aesthetics in architecture as an equal mix of order and complexity.

As he states, the order can give a kind of familiarity and feel of safety to a subject, whereas the complexity adds excitement and variety.

Looking at performances and stage designs, the same rule could be applied. Especially when looking at music and concert performances. In a music show, the “order” is created by the rhythm of the songs, often a strict four-to-the-floor beat or kick drum at a certain tempo (beats per minute) as well as the common structures of music arrangements like intro, verse, chorus, bridge and outro. The music is supported by lights and visually stimulating effects. These effects could be considered the added complexity in the show environment.

The stage itself has also a high level of order. Whether it is a centre, proscenium or deep stage, it has its location and the audience knows where it is and therefore, they will focus on that area. How can we add a level of complexity to the stage itself without the use of fireworks and lasers? Does the stage, as we know it, have to stay in one piece and at one location? What happens when the performance and the stage start to split up and their fragments begin to happen all around the audience? [figure21]

Figure21: From classic stage to fragmented stage, Sketch: Michael Wagner

The cybernetician Gordon Pask wrote in his paper A comment, a case history and a plan [see ref26] very interestingly about the relationship of an artwork and its observer. He writes about his idea of an environment that is aesthetically potent.
According to Pask, human beings tend to explore their environment for new situations which they then learn to understand and to control as this search and assimilation of new knowledge is supposed to be a “pleasurable activity”.
In other words, we try to analyse and structure new situations in order to understand them. If there is too much order in the beginning, then there is no stimulus to explore the environment. Therefore the complexity is needed to trigger our interests to explore.

Pask lists four essential characteristics in his paper to make an environment aesthetically pleasing:

“a – It must offer sufficient variety to provide the potentially controllable novelty required by a man (however, it must not swamp him with variety-if it did, the environment would merely be unintelligible).

b – It must contain forms that a man can interpret or learn to interpret at various levels of abstraction.

c – It must provide cues or tacitly stated instructions to guide the learning and abstractive process. 

d – It may, in addition, respond to a man, engage him in conversation and adapt its characteristics to the prevailing mode of discourse.”

The four criteria by Pask clearly support the mathematical approach for aesthetic perception by Jörg Kurt Grütter. Neither the order nor the complexity should be dominating the environment.

Going back to aesthetically potent [Pask] stage scenarios, it could either be the classic, well-arranged stage (order) with lots of visually exciting effects (complexity) or it could be a complex and fragmented, maybe even spatially self-arranging stage scenario where carefully placed lighting and visual stimuli is used to add the necessary structure and order.
If the performance space and its atmosphere equilibrate each other’s order and complexity, the audience experience should become aesthetically potent.


Personal Experiments

Finding answers to my thesis questions and figuring out whether those questions make sense or not, can only be done by testing them in experiments.

In a very first project, I experimented with the question of location- and performance relationship and the magical element of the visual illusions as well as appearance and disappearance.
A performer’s location is usually the stage and when one mentions stage, we picture the classic platform with lights and curtains. But what if this stage is completely different, completely unexpected?

Figure23: Spontaneous audience interaction, Photo: Michael Wagner

The PhoneBox Waltz [ref34/figure22/22.1]

The classic red telephone box was used as an unexpected stage for a simple performance. However, it was not picked randomly. The telephone box has a high cultural value in Great Britain and is probably one of the most photographed objects and still, it is falling apart due to a lack of usefulness in the age of the mobile phone. 

The telephone box also stands for communication between a speaker and a listener. In a stage performance the communication between the performance on stage and the audience is key.


The performance itself was a holographic projection of a conducting hand. The hand as the performer is conducting to music, completely unaware of the passing by audience and enjoying the little bit of privacy that the telephone box offers. But suddenly the telephone rings and interrupts the conductor in his performance which then leads to the disappearance of the performing hand.

Figure22: Telephone Box Hologram, Work in Progress, Photo: Michael Wagner

Figure22.1: Telephone Box Hologram, London, Photo: Michael Wagner










Now of course, the most interesting part were the reactions and interactions of the passing by audience [figure23]. Because of the sudden appearance and disappearance of the performance, the experience was different to those of street buskers. Most people noticed it but only at a second glance. The audience did not pay attention to the telephone box as it is such an everyday object. However, in the back of their mind they did perceive that there was something different inside the telephone box. This leads to subtle interruption in the routine of the audience.

Figure24: The Genie in a Bottle experiment, Photo: Michael Wagner

The Genie in a Bottle [ref35/figure24]

The Genie in a bottle is another small experiment to test the idea of having unexpected performances appearing in very unusual places. The beauty about the digitally presented performance is that there is a much smaller limitation to the scale and size of the show content. With holographic technology and optical illusion trickery it is easy to place performances in seemingly impossible locations like a beer bottle or a jam jar but also in larger scales like turning massive and sturdy brick walls into living creatures.

This project analyses the question if the performance fragments could happen across different kinds of locations. With the use of high-resolution projection technology, a seemingly realistic object can move magically from a site like for example the red telephone box across a solid brick wall into a tiny glass bottle while still being visually in contact with the audience and keeping their attention.
The Genie in a Bottle also triggers a childhood memory as the mighty genie in the oil lamp from Walt Disney’s Aladdin is a well known story around the world and continues to fascinate children and adults up to this day.


The Front to Front DJ-Set [in development/figure25.1]

A musical performance by a multi-member band could quite simply be fragmented into their individual instrument parts. The earlier described technologies like L-Acoustics L-ISA system take advantage of this fact and focuses on the individual instrument input to place it in the sonic space according to its original stage position.

However nowadays, a majority of music performances are presented not by a group of artists but by single individual performers/DJs. The individual parts of their music is often premixed and performed as a single stereo or even mono file, which only outputs a left and right sound signal. In this case, it is rather difficult to use this in a three-dimensional sound space as there is not enough information left in the digital sound file for surround panning. 

Nevertheless, DJ sets are a very common and an extremely popular way of performing music. Not every DJ is also a composer producing his or her own music and therefore many do not have the option of keeping their songs split into individual instrument tracks rather than a merged stereo file. Influential brands in the music industry have tried to come up with solutions to this problem not only for the 3d sound experience but also to give each DJ artist more control over the music they play. Native Instruments’ Stems [ref36] have been the most promising approach so far but the playback-technology, as well as the performing user, are not yet ready for this to be an industry standard.

Figure25.1: F2F Setup – 2 Stages/DJs facing each other, surround audio, Sketch Michael Wagner

Figure25: B2B Setup – 2 DJs on one Stage,
stereo audio, Sketch: Michael Wagner








Apart from the question of how the performance could be fragmented and distributed around the audience, this project also tries to find ways of how to make use of stereo sound in a 3d environment.
A common thing to do in a DJ-set performance is for two DJs to team up behind the decks and perform a so-called back to back dj set. It is usually done in the way that the fist artist plays a track and the other artists selects the next track which he or she then mixes seamlessly into the playing song while the first DJ is already selecting the next title.
B2B [figure25] sets have recently become so popular, that even the equipment manufacturers have started to include dual headphone outputs on their mixing-desks, so both DJs can listen to their individual tracks at the same time.

Figure25.2: Playdifferently Model1 DJ-Mixer, Headphone Cue-System A and B, Photo:

Given the popularity of B2B sets and therefore the fact of having two or more DJs playing at the same time behind the same CD-decks, why not use this opportunity and instead of the artists standing next to each other in a narrow space, place them around the audience and make them face each other? This would mean each DJ has an individual set of decks almost like a personal instrument and we don’t just have one stereo signal but two or more which could be split even further into four mono channels – two left and two right sound channels.

As the art of DJing is to match and blend different musical pieces into each other to form one continuous sound journey. The different audio pieces in this surround DJ setup could now start to mix and merge in the centre of the audience area and also move back and forth between the two stages, according to who is currently in the mix.
In addition to that, the lighting and the visual content can also support this spatial experience by flowing and mixing in with the music.


The Holon-Cube Project [ref37]

The Holon-Cube project [figure26] experiments with the idea of how stories can be fragmented and rearranged by an audience to form unique experiences. The name comes from the word “Holon” which was coined by Arthur Koestler in his book “The Ghost in the Machine” [ref38] and describes something that is simultaneously a whole and a part of the whole – like a story within stories.

The cube is a simple and minimalistic black box with four mirrors on each side [figure26]. From a distance, it does not give away any of its inner secrets. The four spotlights illuminating the space in front of each mirror and the mirrors themselves create some kind of magical attraction. As soon as one approaches the cube and stands in the spotlight, the corresponding mirror will be triggered and reveal its story. It is very much a Mirror, mirror on the wall experience and already brings back some childhood memories.

Figure26: The Holon-Cube, Photo: Michael Wagner

Referring back to the idea of the order and complexity, each side of the cube then has its very own story but they are all based on simple and easy to understand sentences and nursery-rhymes. Furthermore, the story-tellers were synchronised to an underlaying tempo of 100 beats per minute. 

It is then up to the audience to bring in the complexity. By triggering the sides of the cube individually and at different moments in time, the layered stories can fill up each others pauses and therefore creating a new story with new meaning. 

This can be again compared to the cut-up techniques by William S. Burroughs [see ref11] but also to children’s games where one draws a head, folds around the paper and passes it to the next person who then draws arms and the upper body. This continues until the feet are drawn and all of the paper is folded up. The result, once the paper is unfolded, is a very personal interpretation of a human figure by the participating children and will exist only once in this specific way.


The Holon-Cube will never tell the same story again unless one looks at each side individually without any other participants [figure27]. This is where the cube experiments with the many one problem. Does a performance behave differently depending on the size of the audience?

When I had the chance to exhibit my Holon-Cube project at Ars Electronica 2018 in Linz [see ref13], I was able to see the difference in audience reactions when experiencing the cube on their own or when in a group. Each time an individual person walked around the cube, they saw four nice stories on their own but nothing more and therefore they did not experience the full potential of the piece and also did not understand the full concept – only when I told them about it, they got the idea. Individuals also spend more time to experience and analyse each side. Especially the silent side where the hologram was focusing on the spectator and telling its story only by facial expressions caught the attention of the visitors as many of them said that they had the feeling the hologram was trying to flirt with them.

Figure27: The Holon-Cube reveals its secrets through audience interaction – Photo: Michael Wagner

However, this did not happen as much with multiple persons around the cube. As soon as a group of people walked into the room and even unintentionally triggered the sides the stories started to overlay and the new, unique story stated to form. The audience then started to play with the cube by triggering the sides at different moments and in different configurations. They focused more on the overall story and experience than on each individual side.
In this scenario, I did not have to explain the concept as much as when there was only one person trying to find out about the cube’s secret.

The Magic Marble Maze [in development/figure30]

This project idea evolved from early childhood memories. Who did not love to play with marbles and little balls and try to make them run down a build path as far as possible? Of course this path had to be in one piece from top to bottom and its inclination had to be correct all the way otherwise the marble would stop. It got even more fascinating when little tunnels and pipes were included where the ball would disappear and – hopefully – reappear at the other end. With this in mind, the idea of the fragmented marble run was born. Can the classic marble run be turned into a digital version that would make its way across various types of media? The appearance and disappearance of things is a lot easier in a digital world. However, it also opens up the possibility of appearances in very unexpected places.

Even though the marble run is a rather simple performance – just a ball rolling downhill – it is a useful piece to test the possibility of fragmentation. How much can the digital marble path be split apart to still be recognised as one performance?
First test setups have shown that, in order to trigger the audience’s memory, the path must decline downwards and the digital representation of the marble across the different types of media has to have a certain resemblance.Another important aspect of this performance is the direct audience interaction. The marble run cannot be completely digital. The start and the finishing line of the marble run need to have a real ball or marble.

How about the space? A marble run – whether it is digital or analog – can be placed in any space or room and it may or may not be influenced by its site. However, an analog marble run can have its limitations for example when having to run across multiple floor levels.
The idea of the digital run was supported by the fact that it would be possible to make it run through different levels of a building without having to physically modify the spaces.
Furthermore, this would allow to even more fragment the performance as, for example, the different experiences on each floor could work and be understood as performances in their own right but of course only in the moment of the marble going across [figure28].

Figure28: Marble Run Fragmentation, Sketch: Michael Wagner

Figure29: Marble Run Performance Timeline, Sketch: Michael Wagner









This project already exists as a test setup and it is going to be my final work for this master course. It combines a large series of my investigated aspects and I consider it as a compendium or maybe even a proof of several of my statements: The run from top to bottom stands for the performance [figure29], the different floors are the fragments, the staircase and the variety of media are the unexpected stages, the digitalised run uses the effect of illusion, people may interact with the start and end of the maze and influence the speed of the marble, The marble turns into sound and light experiences, sound and light transforms the architecture, etc. 

The digital marble maze offers almost endless possibilities of fragmental, interactive and immersive arrangements to find the right level of order and complexity.

Figure30: Test Setup, Photo: Michael Wagner



The sum of references, performance examples and personal experiments shows that with the available technology as well as the audience expectations, a fragmented performance, a distributed stage experience is a realistic possibility. The spatial fragmentation does increase the complexity of an event.
The remaining question is, how a performance experience can be adjusted and personalised in a continuously changing and rearranging fashion? How could it be fragmented and distributed across small and large spaces or even multiple locations?

Fragmenting and rearranging the performance or show across a single space can be achieved by using industry standard technology such as lasers, hologram projections and kinetic structures and combining them with the knowledge of how to create an immersive illusion.
What if the performance gets fragmented across multiple stages at a festival or even across multiple locations in a city or even across the world? Even though I said earlier that using specific virtual reality and augmented reality equipment, in my opinion, is not necessarily suitable for the purpose as it requires an extra effort form the audience to wear it and it very much encapsulates the spectator. However, there is a certain device that almost all of us carry around anyway: the smart phone. The use of mobile phones during concerts and shows has increased so much over the recent years that artist and venues have already started to ban the phone from being used during the performance. People do not experience a show or performance with their own eyes anymore. Most of the time they watch it through the little screen of their phones even though they are standing in front of the stage. Capturing the “experience” and posting and sharing it on social media has become such an important part of our lives.

Figure30: Augmented Reality at U2 Experience & Innocence tour 2018, Photo: Es Devlin

Banning the smart phone from events is one way of dealing with this problem – making use of it and making the phone part of the experience is another, probably more interesting approach.

The 2018 Experience & Innocence tour by the Irish band U2 [ref39] incorporates the smart phone in a way that by using it, extra three-dimensional story content is revealed to the audience which cannot be seen without the phone [figure30].



The smart phone and its applications can definitely be useful gadgets towards a fragmented performance experience. The 3d-scanning and photogrammetry functions as well as cloud related services would allow to capture and transport fragments from on location to the other and make it accessible to vast amount of people.

In the show industry so far, smart devices like phones and tablets are used as supporting devices to give remote access to the main hardware. In my opinion, those smart devices, even though considered to be consumer electronics, should soon be acknowledged to be serious show and experience elements.



The architecture of the stage has remained similar since the ancient Greek theatres and has become a familiar environment with a high level of order. The complexity of the experience was and still is only increased by adding more and more technical gadgetry and effects. Boosting the complexity with technology is interesting and definitely a common trend as technical equipment in large quantities is accessible. However, increasing the amount of infrastructure is not only a logistic challenge but also massively increases the costs of a production.
There is an interest on behalf of the performers and organisers to get ideas, how the available technology – whether it consumer or professional technology – is able to increase tension, illusion, surprise and action without the use of fireworks and expensive light and laser shows.

Referring back to Gordon Pask and Jörg Kurt Grütter, mankind is constantly looking for new experiences and new situations in an environment. Especially with our modern day attention span of just about two minutes, it is important to pay attention to the balance between order and complexity. An audience might go and attend a performance or concert perhaps once or even twice but after that there is often no point in paying again to see the same story-arrangement again. This is a common and well-known problem in public exhibition places and museums. As they have their fixed inventory of artwork, the museums constantly have to change and rearrange their layouts as well as expand it with a temporary stock to motivate people to come back and see the same artwork again but in a different setting.
By adding the possibility for the audience to arrange fragments and to adjust the performance in their own preferred way, the resulting experience would never be the same each time and therefore would keep on being interesting even though one might have seen it several times already.

At the beginning of this paper, I have asked multiple questions as my research guidelines. They are all about the interest in the relationship between stage and audience, the performance setting as well as the creation of sufficient variety to provide the potentially controllable novelty.
By experimenting with my small scale projects, each of which focuses on a specific selection of the questions, I was able to gain more understanding of audience and performer relationships as well as increase my understanding of the industry and audience needs and trends. Joining discussions with industry leaders from both the audio and the lighting and visual areas, I can say that the future of the stage and audience area will shift towards a multi-dimensional experience. Whether those multi-dimensions are focusing on just the senses of the audience to provoke illusions or the dimensions actually relate to the physical space, will be subject to the needs of the each individual performance.
As L-ISA director Sherif El Barbari said in a recent podium discussion about the future of audio:

“3d and immersive is happening and there is now way back.” [see ref23]

This Master’s thesis, as well as my research projects have allowed me to form my own personal experiences and opinions, independent from the industry leaders’ viewpoint, about which direction the world Between Stage and Audience might go.





Ref01: MArch Design for Performance and Interaction – UCL The Bartlett
Access Date: 23.09.2018

Ref02: Paper – Between Stage and Audience
Author: Michael Wagner – UCL The Bartlett
Year: 2018

Ref03: Innocence & Experience World Tour 2015
Artist: U2
Stage Designer: Es Devlin
Access Date: 23.09.2018

Ref04: Flying Stage Design – Saint Pablo Tour 2016
Artist: Kanye West
Access Date: 23.09.2018

Ref05: The theater of the Bauhaus – Paper
Author: Walter Gropius, Arthur S. Wensinger, Oskar Schlemmer, Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, Farkas Molnar
Edited by Walter Gropius and Arthur S. Wensinger
Translation: Arthur S. Wensinger
Published: 1961
Access Date: 23.09.2018

Ref06: Theatre – Stage types
Publisher: CassStudio6
Access Date: 23.09.2018

Ref07: Tomorrowland Festival
Location: Boom, Belgium
Access Date: 23.09.2018

Ref08: Ultra Music Festival
Location: Miami, USA
Access Date: 23.09.2018

Ref09: Quotation by Kanye West during rehearsals in Chicago
Source: RollingStone Article
Access Date: 23.09.2018

Ref10: The third mind – Book/Artwork
Artist: William S. Burroughs and Brion Gysin
Published by John Calder in 1979, London

Ref11: The Cut Ups (1966) – Avant-Garde Movie
Artist: William S. Burroughs
Article: Open Culture
Access Date 23.09.2018

see also:
William S. Burroughs about the Cut-Up Technique
Article on Open Culture

William S. Burroughs Tells the Story of How He Started Writing with the Cut-Up Technique

Access Date: 23.09.2018

Ref12: “Indeterminacy”
Artist: John Cage
Access Date: 23.09.2018

Ref13: Ars Electronica Festival
Location: Linz, Austria
Access Date: 23.09.2018

Ref14: “Terretektorh” 1966 – Concert
Composer/Artist: Iannis Xenakis
Performed by: hr-Sinfonieorchester
Conductor: Matthias Pintscher
Live from Böllenfalltorhalle, Darmstadt
Year: 26.11.2011

see also:
Iannis Xenakis – Biography
Access Date: 23.09.2018
Terretektorh, for 88 musicians scattered among the audience
Article: AllMusic
Description: James Harley
Access 05.07.18

Ref15: Choose your own adventure – book series
Writer: Raymond Almiran Montgomery
First published: 1979
Access Date: 23.09.2018

Ref16: Sound Stage: W.T.F. (Watt The Frequency) – Performance/Concert
Artist: KiNK
Supporter: OWOW
Article: Mixmag / Dani Deahl 20 June 2018
Access 20.06.2018

Ref17: Midi Controller Manufacturer
Brand: OWOW
Access Date: 23.09.2018

Ref18: The Pageant Wagons
– A Source Book in Theatrical History
A. M. Nagler, New York: Dover Publications, 1959
– A Pageant of the Theatre
Edmund Fuller, New York: Crowell, 1965
– Theatre through the Ages
James Cleaver, New York: Hart Pub., 1967

see also:
Pageant Wagon on Wikipedia
Access 05.07.2018

Ref19: Magic and Showmanship – A handbook for conjurers – Book
Author: Henning Nelms,
Published: 1969, Dover
Quotation book page: 5 – The Meaning of Magic
ISBN 0-486-41087-0

Ref20: The Parachute – Puppetry performance
Artist: Stephen Mottram
Access Date: 23.09.2018

Ref21: Interactivity and immersion in a media-based performance – paper
Author: Catherine Bouko
Published: Volume 11, Issue 1, May 2014, Université Libre de Bruxelles, Belgium
Participations – Journal of Audience & Reception Studies

Ref22: The Encounter – performance
Artist: Complicité/Simon McBurney
Year: 2015/2018
Access Date: 23.09.2018
Ref23: Panel Talk about the future of sound
Event: Plasa Show 2018
Panelists: Veroniaque Larcher – Sennheiser, Sherif El Barbari – L-ISA, Becky Pell –, Phil Kamp, KLANG:technologies
Location: Olympia London
WebLink Facebook:
Access Date: 23.09.2018

Ref24: where’s the drop – orchestral concert
Artist: Deadmau5
Collaborators: L-Acoustics L-ISA
Year: 2018
Location: The Wiltern
Access Date: 23.09.2018

Ref25: Melodrama Tour North America 2018
Artist: Lorde
Collaborators: L-Acoustics L-ISA
Year: 2018
Access Date: 23.09.2018

Ref26: A comment, a case history and a plan – Paper
Author: Gordon Pask
Cybernetics, Art and Ideas (1971): p.76-99.
Access Date: 23.09.2018

Ref27: Holo – Concert/Show
Artist: Eric Prydz
Stage Design: RES London
Access Date: 23.09.2018

Ref28: World Record in kinetic hoist control – Article
Manufacturer and operator: Kinesys
Location: Creamfields Festival 2018 – Steelyard Stage
Access Date: 23.09.2018

Ref29: SWARM – interactive performance in development
Artist/Designer: Troika Ranch
Access Date: 23.09.2018

Ref30: Wristband Lighting at Mylo Xyloto Tour 2012
Artist: Coldplay
Article on Newswire 22.10.2016
Access 05.07.2018

see also:
Xylobands Company
Access 05.07.2018
Wikipedia – Xylobands
Access 20.06.18

Ref31: Farewell Yellow Brick Road Tour – Concert
Artist: Sir Elton John
Year: 2018-2021
Article: AudioMediaInternational – Elton John pairs up with live mixing app Peex for Farewell Yellow Brick Road tour, Author: Tara Lepore
Access Date: 23.09.2018

Ref32: Peex rX and live – product
Company: Peex
Access Date: 23.09.2018

Ref33: Grundlagen der Architektur-Wahrnehmung – Book
Author: Architect Jörg Kurt Grütter
Subtitle: Transparente Darstellung des äusserst komplexen Prozesses der
Year: 1987
ISBN 978-3-658-05110-5

see also:
Architecture + Perception 2012
Author: Architect Jörg Kurt Grütter
ISBN 978-3-7212-0831-3

Ref34: The Phonebox Waltz – project
Artist: Michael Wagner
Year: 2018
University: UCL The Bartlett – MArch Design for Performance and Interaction
Video Link:
Access 05.07.2018
Ref35: The Genie in a Bottle – project
Artist: Michael Wagner
Year: 2018
University: UCL The Bartlett – MArch Design for Performance and Interaction
Video Link:
Access 23.09.2018

Ref36: Stems – product/technology
Company: Native Instruments
Access 23.09.2018
Ref37: The Holon-Cube – project
Artist: Michael Wagner
Year: 2018
University: UCL The Bartlett – MArch Design for Performance and Interaction
WebLink: http://two.wordpress.test/lab-projects/holon-cube
Access 23.09.2018

Ref38: The Ghost in the Machine – Book
Author: Arthur Koestler
Published: 01.01.1967 (reprint 1990)
Publisher: Penguin Group
ISBN 0-14-019192-5
Archive WebLink:
Access Date: 23.09.2018

Ref39: Experience & Innocence Tour 2018
Artist: U2
Stage Designer: Es Devlin, Willie Williams, STUFISH
Access Date: 23.09.2018


Figure references:

Figure01: Classic Proscenium Stage
Sketch: Micheal Wagner

Figure02: Centre Stage
Sketch: Michael Wagner

Figure03: Profile Stage
Sketch: Michael Wagner

Figure04: Kanye West – Saint Pablo Tour, Flying Stage at T-Mobile Arena,
Photo: Al Powers

Figure05: Stage – Audience Gap
Sktech: Michael Wagner

Figure06: The Rolling Stones – No Filter Tour 2018
Stage Design: Stufish, Photo: Michael Wagner

Figure07: Audience holding up cellphones
Photo: Jim Dyson/Redferns via Getty Images

Figure08: Wire – Flag:Burning, Barbican Theatre, London 2003,
Directed & Design: Es Devlin,
Video/Image: Tom Gidley

Figure09: Example of a Choose your own adventure – book
R.A. Montgomery 1979,
Image/Article by Eric Rovie

Figure10: KiNK – SoundStage W.T.F. (Watt the frequency) 2018 –
Sponsor: Desperados Beer

Figure11: Jeffrey Masin  – One-Man Band
Photo: slgckgc
Location: New York City
Created: 29 September 2012
Access Date: 23.09.2018

Figure12: English Pageant wagon, perhaps showing the annunciation
from a mystery cycle, Creator: Boeve, Ervina, Original Date: ca.
1375-1550 AD, Digitized Date: Mon, 07/02/2001,
Local Identifier: theaterhistory343
Access Date: 23.09.2018

Figure13: Focus of an Audience towards a stage
Sketch by Michael Wagner

Figure14: The Parachute – Performance
Artist: Stephen Mottram
Image: Stephen Mottram
Access Date: 23.09.2018

Figure15: Simon McBurney rehearsing with the binaural head,
Photo: Sarah Ainslie, Complicitö
Date: July 2015.
Access Date: 23.09.2018

Figure16: Plasa Show Panel Talk
Image: L-Acoustics on Instagram and Facebook
Panelists: Veroniaque Larcher – Sennheiser, Sherif El Barbari – L-ISA, Becky Pell –, Phil Kamp, KLANG:technologies
Location: Olympia London
WebLink Facebook:
Access Date: 23.09.2018

Figure17: VR experience with enclosing headset
Image/Article: Joe Roberts –
Year: 2015
Access Date: 23.09.2018

Figure18: Astronaut Hologram at Epic 5.0, London 2017
Image: Eric Prydz on Facebook
Stage Design: RES London

Figure19: Controllable LED-Wristbands creating the light show,
Coldplay – Mylo Xylotot tour 2012,

Figure20: Peex rX Headphones and Peex mixing application

Figure21: From classic stage to fragmented stage
Sketch: Michael Wagner

Figure22: Telephone Box Hologram, Work in Progress
Photo: Michael Wagner

Figure22.1: Telephone Box Hologram, London
Photo: Michael Wagner

Figure23: Spontaneous audience interaction
Photo: Michael Wagner

Figure24: The Genie in a Bottle experiment
Photo: Michael Wagner

Figure25: B2B Setup – 2 DJs on one Stage, stereo audio
Sketch: Michael Wagner

Figure25.1: F2F Setup – 2 Stages/DJs facing each other, surround audio
Sketch Michael Wagner


Playdifferently Model1 DJ-Mixer, Headphone Cue-System A and B

Figure26: The Holon-Cube – project
Photo: Michael Wagner

Figure27: The Holon-Cube reveals its secrets through audience interaction
Photo: Michael Wagner

Figure28: Marble Run Fragmentation,
Sketch: Michael Wagner

Figure29: Marble Run Performance Timeline,
Sketch: Michael Wagner

Figure30: Magic Marble Maze – Test Setup
Photo: Michael Wagner

Figure31: Augmented Reality at U2 Experience & Innocence tour 2018,
Photo: Es Devlin

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