Laptop Orchestra

Laptop Orchestra

CMU's Laptop Orchestra

Laptop orchestra: a collection of performers who play laptop computers as instruments.

Six universities — including Carnegie Mellon University — represented the United States and the United Kingdom in a first-of-its-kind performance on April 16, 2012.

The performance by this Federation of Laptop Orchestras (FLO) premiered as part of the Symposium on Laptop Ensembles and Orchestras (SLEO) held at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge.

FLO included live performances by laptop orchestras in Baton Rouge and at CMU, Stanford University, Texas A&M University, the University of Colorado, and Queen's University in Belfast, Northern Ireland, UK.

Using high quality audio and video links over the Internet to connect the six orchestras, from Baton Rouge, Roger Dannenberg, CMU associate research professor of computer science, music and art, conducted what the FLO players were playing — in real time.

Seventeen students played in the CMU laptop orchestra. Orchestras in each location were able to hear and respond to their counterparts' performances occurring simultaneously across thousands of miles.

Acoustic soloists at each location provided contrast to the electronic sounds generated by the laptops, which were played through external speaker systems for the live audiences.

Laptop computers, smartphones and tablets provide computer music researchers an opportunity to explore new ways of generating and manipulating musical sounds. This makes possible the use of a variety of input devices — from the QWERTY keyboard to the accelerometer of a smartphone — that can respond to different types of finger, hand and body movements.

"We've found it's a great way for students to become involved in electronic music," Dannenberg said. A number of orchestras and ensembles of laptop players have been organized, primarily at universities. The SLEO international symposium reflects the growing interest.

"Individual laptop players previously have collaborated over the Internet and groups of two or three orchestras or ensembles have attempted similar performances, but linking as many orchestras simultaneously as FLO is unprecedented," Dannenberg said.

This six-orchestra performance was made possible by student-developed software as part of Dannenberg's Computer Music Systems and Information Processing course in CMU's School of Computer Science.

"Coordinating an orchestra of laptops and trying to perform music over the Internet is a huge challenge — and doing both is insane," said Dannenberg.

"But everything came together and the performance was a great success," he continued. "The music had depth beyond any expectation, and the software written by my students worked perfectly to make the whole thing possible."


Related Links: School of Computer Science | School of Music | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article