Playing with Something That Runs: Technology, Improvisation, and Composition in DJ and Laptop Performance

Mark J. Butler*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Book/ReportBook

49 Scopus citations


The DJs and laptop performers of electronic dance music use preexistent elements such as records and digital samples to create extended improvisations. Analysis of these technologically mediated performances reveals a complex dynamic in which a modular approach to musical structure enables flexible adaptation and transformation of seemingly "fixed" products in live contexts. Musicians' improvisational interactions with performance equipment challenge deterministic portrayals of technology as a force that controls and limits music making. Instead, the coexistent possibilities of music as activity and music as product inform and influence each other in contemporary performance. The book unfolds in four large chapters, the topics of which are as follows: ontology; interface design and liveness in performance; the interaction of the preexistent and the novel within improvisation; and musical design as performative technology. Its methodology is an interdisciplinary combination of field research (interviewing Berlin-based musicians and filming their performances) and close analysis (focusing on both recorded texts and filmed materials).

Original languageEnglish (US)
PublisherOxford University Press
Number of pages280
ISBN (Electronic)9780199380909
ISBN (Print)9780195393613
StatePublished - Aug 21 2014


  • Electronic dance music
  • Improvisation
  • Interface
  • Liveness
  • Mediation
  • Ontology
  • Performance
  • Recording
  • Repetition
  • Technology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Economics, Econometrics and Finance(all)


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