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What happened when live performers used Conduction’s music software during this unique Pittsburgh show

Reporter Atiya Irvin-Mitchell attended the startup's "THIS IS: The Moment" concert on the Waterfront this weekend. Enter: conga lines, trombones and Beyoncé.

"THIS IS: The Moment" performers. (Photo by Atiya Irvin-Mitchell)

When someone tells you they’re producing software that enables the average person to play alongside musicians, you’re not quite sure what to expect. An orchestra, perhaps, with the occasional iPad user thrown into the mix?

On Saturday night before I stepped into Munhall’s THIS IS RED space — operated by the eponymous group that calls itself “a global creative agency for iconic mega-brands & scrappy startups” — I thought I’d see something resembling the formal marching band recitals I attended during my adolescence. The reality, however, was far more interactive and energetic.

The Aug. 19 event was hosted by Conduction, the Pittsburgh Innovation District-based startup behind the aforementioned software. Called “THIS IS: The Moment,” the show featured 40 musicians and five DJs using its tech on tablets. What better way to see the startup’s program in action?

“The way that it works is that a producer can drag and drop stems of music into a timeline and it will be sent out to musicians as sheet music,” Conduction founder and CEO Joe Maggiore previously told Stems are audio files that break down a musical track into individual parts. “So in the performances, a student that doesn’t know sheet music can be able to compose an entire score, and have it performed by their high school.”

When you walk into THIS IS RED there is a bar, no lights and very few chairs. The musicians wanted their performance to be a concert and not a recital, and that shows in the setup and in how the music was played.

“THIS IS: The Moment” attendees. (Photo by Atiya Irvin-Mitchell)

For three and a half hours, the musicians played a setlist that took the audience through different genres from disco hits by 1970s staples like ABBA and the Bee Gees to modern-day artists such as Beyoncé.

Based on the description alone, I expected a purely instrumental performance, while there were tubas and trombones to found, “THIS IS: The Moment” also incorporated singers who added recognizability to their covers. Still, the musicians managed to walk the line of nodding just enough to the original versions of the songs played to make them familiar to the audience, while making the songs their own by allowing the DJs to infuse the performance with electronic dance music.

Conduction DJs and singers. (Photo by Atiya Irvin-Mitchell)

“THIS IS: The Moment” also stands out from your typical orchestra performance because of the musicians’ willingness to interact with those in attendance. Throughout the night, performers routinely spoke to the audience and at times would even go so far to jump off stage and participate in conga lines with attendees on the dance floor.

The performance saw a good turnout, with the space looking relatively full throughout the night. While a number of the few dozen people who were present told this reporter they came to support family members and friends, others came out of a sense of intrigue. Whatever the reason for joining the festivities, THIS IS RED stayed full until “THIS IS: The Moment” played their final song.

When spoke to Maggiore in July, he said his goal was to create something engaging that allowed people to have fun — to put the life back into nightlife. If the active dance floor in THIS IS RED was any indication, his team is off to a great start.

Atiya Irvin-Mitchell is a 2022-2024 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Heinz Endowments.

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