Dan Deacon Makes Cellphones Part Of The Show With Trippy App

Posted August 29

Taking out your phone during a live show is becoming about as common nowadays as some dude spilling beer all down your back — you try to avoid it, but it always ends up happening, oftentimes against your will. One minute you’re gazing at your favorite musician in cross-armed admiration, the next you’re Instagramming the hell out of that same musician, not entirely sure how your phone found its way out of your pocket. Lucky for you, smartphone obsesso, Dan Deacon is here to justify your addiction with a brand-new smartphone app.

The electronic composer (and O Music Award nominee) just dropped his newest record, America, Tuesday, and sets out on his first American tour since 2009 today. To herald the release of that record — which has been getting a lot of press for its less-than-apathetic subject matter — Deacon is out with an app for iOS and Android that incorporates audience members and their phones into his live show. Fire up the app, tap “I’m at a show” and your phone will flash with colors and sounds that sync up to the music currently invading your ear holes. And just like that, you’re the light show, kid. The free app also includes a fun little instrument (seriously, it’s worth the download for this alone) as well as the usual band app fare — tour dates, artist info, etc.

“I remember watching the Olympics whatever year they were in Beijing and just thinking, ‘God, they must have just spent millions of dollars to get all of these lights to flash in the audience when everyone has a phone in their pocket,’” Deacon says. “It just sort of blew up in my head: ‘Everyone has a phone in their pocket.’ If you could synchronize all of those screens and make them a light source and make all of the LEDs a strobe light and have sound come out of all the speakers and do it in unison it would be a really powerful situation.”

Deacon has experimented with incorporating cellphones into his performances before — namely as part of his “Take A Deep Breath” composition — but in that case he asked audience members to set alarms and make calls. Dan Deacon, the app, is a whole new deal.

To create the product, Deacon hooked up with Keith Lea, an “[ex]programmer from Google and who left the dark side and became an artist.” Originally, they thought they could use Wi-Fi to synchronize audience members’ phones to tunes, but then decided that that would be a difficult affair, given spotty service. In the end, they went a retro route.

“Keith had the mind-bending concept of going back to how old modems work and using sound to calibrate the app,” Deacon says. “He wrote a language where we would play calibration tones that would tell the song what to do. It would interpret the sound and then certain sounds would mean ‘red,’ certain sounds would mean ‘play this sequence.’ We could then choreograph what the songs would do, score it in the songs as super small amounts of data, and communicate exclusively through sound. So there’s no Wi-Fi and there’s no data.”

The whole thing was created over four months with very little funding. “It’s not like a slick, corporate-style app. It’s a very DIY approach to this idea,” Deacon says. Elements of the app will also be open-source so that developers can build on the project and Deacon says that whole thing is a work in progress, since he’s not sure yet how audiences will interact with the app.

One thing is for sure, though: There’s going to be some smashed phones left in the wake of this offering (Have you ever been to a Dan Deacon show? Dance city, guys.) “We thought about calling it the ‘Dan Deacon Phone-Smasher,’” Deacon says with a laugh.

Image courtesy of Flickr, spatulated