Global Laptop Orchestra

Global Laptop Orchestra

Conducting an orchestra presents a challenge when the musicians are scattered around the globe and using laptop computers as instruments.

Roger Dannenberg (CS'03), an alumnus and professor of computer science, music and art at Carnegie Mellon University, set out to accomplish this feat March 1, when he directed 100 people worldwide in an unprecedented concert performance.

Dannenberg led the Global Network Orchestra from Connecticut College during its Ammerman Center 14th Biennial Arts and Technology Symposium using scrolling graphical scores, similar to those used in the Guitar Hero music games or a player piano roll.

He also included directed improvisation and split the orchestra into four groups at some points.

Small-scale tests of the concert software have been encouraging, Dannenberg said, but the concert itself will have been the final test.

"It's never been done before," he noted, "so this promises to be a great adventure."

The musicians used keystrokes to create the sounds. The keystroke signals, which require far less bandwidth than streaming audio, were shared across the entire orchestra, enabling each musician to simultaneously create the concert in their own laptops.

A second concert site open to the public was in Rashid Auditorium in CMU's Gates and Hillman centers in Pittsburgh. Performing at this site was Janelle Burdell, a professional drummer and percussionist who has performed with Grateful Dead's Mickey Hart, Herbie Hancock and the Shirelles.

The other performers were at sites scattered across the United States, Europe and beyond, including Malaysia and New Zealand.

For audience members at other sites, the CMU School of Music will hosted a webcast. The show began at 12:15 p.m. ET and lasted one hour.

Like many, Dannenberg has found CMU to be a welcoming environment for those interested in combining pursuits joining the arts and technology.

An accomplished trumpet player, Dannenberg honed his musical skills under the instruction of Anthony Pasquarelli at CMU while pursuing his doctorate in computer science. He performs regularly and composes pieces for traditional performers who interact with computers in real time.

For his next global laptop orchestra, he said he would like to create a piece of music that runs continuously with hundreds of people constantly joining in and leaving.

"I hope to do a much larger concert with thousands, but I've learned managing that many people and their schedules is as difficult as creating the technology and the music," Dannenberg said.


Related Links: School of Computer Science | Listen to the Webcast | About Roger Dannenberg