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  • Dazzling music from MacBook and iPod Touch

    Posted on June 5th, 2009 Michele Sun No comments

    Last night I went to a very unique concert, Stanford Laptop Orchestra 2009 Spring Concert, and frankly even I knew it would be performed with laptop computers, but that did not prepare for what I was going to see that night. And it’s just purely amazing!

    The SLOrk is a computer-mediated ensemble that combines technology and music together, and unlike other computer-mediated performance I have been before, the SLOrk’s chamber music concert last night was definitely more theatrical and sophisticated than grass root. On the stage, I could count 18 Apple MacBooks glowing in the dim light, and there were Star Trek-ish multi-channel speakers, amplifiers, and joysticks sitting around. The performers, or human performers I should say, all sitting cross-legged and comfortably on round-shaped meditation pillows. Later I learned that those amplifiers and speakers were cut, sand and wired by these Stanford students.

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    They performed 8 pieces last night, and my favorite was The Slorkestra Song and Return to Non-specific Gamelan Taiko Fusion. The Slorkestra Song featured different laptop-instrument groups, and I heard music coming alive from all directions while players touching the touchpad (or trackpad in Apple’s term), tilting the laptop or shaking the iPod Touch. The sound of drums, percussions, sitars and other MacBook generated music all came and blended together in a rich polyphony.

    The Return to Non-specific Gamelan Taiko Fusion was a very non-western style percussion ensemble — machine synchronized percussion, with tuned bell timbres, drums and various percussive sounds. When I closed my eyes, I was swept by the music magically from a theater in Stanford to somewhere deep in mountains of Kyoto. I would not be surprised if spring water bursting out of walls.

    Another interesting piece was the SoundBounce; four performers shook the iPod Touch as the conductor instructed, while other performers titled or touched their MacBooks. I could almost visual the virtual sonic balls bouncing back and forth between the four players and got smashed by rackets or electric wires in the air. This was a very energetic piece of music.

    Due to respect, I did not tape or record any part of the concert, however here is a video clip from the SLOrk website showing SLOrk in action. Please also check out here and here to learn more about SLOrk.

    I must confess that I am more a Philadelphia Chamber Orchestra and KDFC 102.1 fan, and not a scientific person, nor do I understand the details of how many MHz the sounds mix or how a computer synchronizer works, however I must say the idea of balance and harmony human and computer, music and technology, are truly inspirational. Last night’s experience was just dazzling.

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