A Hard Drive’s Night

At last month’s MMiX Festival, on the Oct. 9th night of concerts, a flock of laptops descended upon the main space at Theaterlab and “sang” some of the most enchanting machine music I’ve ever heard.

That’s probably an odd image but it does stick in my mind as a way to describe what it’s like to see Dan Trueman and his Mini-Laptop Orchestra perform. I hadn’t really heard a bunch of computers chirp, warble and drone in harmony before.

This group of 8 MacBook musicians was assembled by Dan Trueman, founding member of The Princeton Laptop Orchestra (PLOrk). They’re a subset of PLOrk who performed pieces specifically composed for the unique sound of the laptop orchestra. After all, they can’t really duplicate a real orchestra doing the William Tell Overture. They were joined by Eric Beach and Josh Quillen of So Percussion, and the sweet sounds of Dan’s Norwegian fiddle which resulted in a striking combination of futuristic computer sounds and vibrant acoustic instrumentation.

Below you can listen to the Mini-Laptop Orchestra’s whole set from the MMiX Festival, which featured the following compositions:

Blinky by Rebecca Fiebrink

Bells and Whistles by Michael Early

Beesch by Jascha Narveson and Boom Dinger by Sean Friar and Cameron Britt

Goodnight by Josh Quillen

Quick note on how the laptop orchestra makes music: the orchestra’s members manipulate audio using the computer’s own sensors that detect pressure, velocity and spatial position. Tilting the computer, striking the touch-pad or keys can bend or shape the tones or notes being produced. The musicians use multi-sided speakers which transmit audio in all directions to simulate the way a traditional instrument might emit sound. You can find out more about PLOrk and hear a lot more of their music on their web-page at http://plork.cs.princeton.edu/.

Jocelyn

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