Laptop Orchestra

Last year, one of our interns was accepted into the CCRMA masters program at Stanford — the Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics. This weekend I received an e-mail from him pointing me to videos of a new CCRMA project called the Stanford Laptop Orchestra.

“SLORK” is a large-scale, computer-mediated ensemble that explores cutting-edge technology in combination with conventional musical contexts – while radically transforming both. Founded in 2008 by director Ge Wang and students, faculty, and staff at CCRMA, the ensemble requires more than 20 laptops, human performers, controllers, and custom multi-channel speaker arrays (all designed and built by CCRMA grad students) to provide each computer meta-instrument with its own identity and presence.

From the SLORK website:

The orchestra fuses a powerful sea of sound with the immediacy of human music-making, capturing the irreplaceable energy of a live ensemble performance as well as its sonic intimacy and grandeur. At the same time, it leverages the computer’s precision, possibilities for new sounds, and potential for fantastical automation to provide a boundary-less sonic canvas on which to experiment with, create, and perform music. Offstage, the ensemble serves as a one-of-a-kind learning environment that explores music, computer science, composition, and live performance in a naturally interdisciplinary way. SLOrk uses the ChucK programming language as its primary software platform for sound synthesis/analysis, instrument design, performance, and education.

This intern came to my attention at an Audio Engineering Society conference some time ago. I was one of three judges in the “Student Design Competition” (one of the other judges was the late Bob Moog, largely credited as the father of commercial music synthesizers.) His student project was a MIDI controlled car using electronic bagpipes as the controller.

The SLORK project gives us a glimpse into the direction of music, and future community dynamics in general. Sound, composition, ensemble, orchestration – virtual collaboration changes everything. Just as the modern orchestra is largely a product of the last 500 years (renaissance, reformation, industrial age), I think future music will be defined by the emergence of real-time global collaboration and virtual modeling. Spiritual community, I believe, will be impacted similarly.


One thought on “Laptop Orchestra

  1. I have used almost all of Apple laptops in the last 10 years and to me this macbook is the best fit for my needs (portability and power). It is as powerful as a MBP, lighter than the previous model, and has a fantastic display and trackpad. Firewire would have been nice, but usb drives and peripherals are cheaper anyway.
    I have retired my desktop.
    Very satisfied.

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