Light Shows as Public, Vernacular Music Theory

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This chapter reads light shows as a form of public music theory, examining how the practice of concert lighting expresses a kind of vernacular musical analysis. Light shows are an essential component of the contemporary popular music concert experience, as they help direct the audience’s focus and turn concerts into immersive, multi-sensory experiences. Whether planned in advance or improvised, the work of creating these light shows involves activities essential to musical analysis: skillful listening and expert knowledge of style. Beyond the analytical labor that goes into their creation, some light shows additionally visualize analytical ideas about the music they accompany; examples demonstrate how light shows can help express musical parameters like timbre, form, rhythm, and contour. Such analytical light shows exhibit a kind of broadly accessible, public-facing music theory that need not rely on notation at any stage of production or reception.

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The Oxford Handbook of Public Music Theory

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