Territories of Secrecy: Presence and Play in Networked Music Performance

Hickmann, F. 2013. Territories of Secrecy: Presence and play in networked music performance. PhD Thesis. Belfast: Queen's University Belfast.


This thesis presents practical work and theoretical research spanning topics in music composition, performance and new media. It proposes a particular creative approach to performance practices mediated by computer networks, which addresses issues of presence and liveness through the application of game-derived systems to performance settings. The thesis includes a portfolio of eight compositions; these pieces were designed and performed with the goal of implementing strategies proposed during theoretical reflection, while also suggesting new ideas for further study. 

The theoretical component of this work investigates the notion that performance is affected in its attributes of presence and liveness whenever reproduction and mediation technologies come into play. Building on the views of media theorists and research in psychology, it identifies the roles played by agency and social cues in the perception of presence. After reviewing contemporary artistic practices in which participation is enabled by open and playful performance situations, the thesis proposes the use of game systems as a strategy for negotiating musical play in networked settings.

The notion of secrecy provides a key conceptual reference that guides both theoretical enquiry and creative exploration. This investigation argues that every act of mediation entails an opportunity for selective concealment of ideas and actions, and therefore comprehends a wide creative potential. While music performance over computer networks may entail the loss of cues that are often taken as granted in ensemble play – such as shared pulse, breath and bodily communication – it may also suggest innovative modes of engagement, based on the regulation of information rather than its unimpeded disclosure. This premise is explored throughout the portfolio, which borrows ideas from contemporary social practices of secrecy and performativity.