Wednesday, April 01, 2009

The Stanford Laptop Orchestra

The personal computer has transformed the world of music.

Just as iTunes transformed the commercial music industry, new hardware and software tools have fundamentally changed the way in which university music departments teach the art of musical composition and performance.

The Stanford Laptop Orchestra (SLOrK ) is a bold experiment by Stanford researcher/programmer Ge Wang that combines the flexibility of Apple MacBook laptops, multi-channel speaker arrays made out of Ikea salad bowls, creative computer programming, and visionary imagination into an intriguing mix that makes for some pretty interesting sounds.

Paul Craft writes in the Stanford Daily:

The set-up is relatively simple. Members of the SLOrk operate black Apple Macbooks, which are connected via a series of cables to a spherical speaker system and control box for volume, among other things. Depending on the piece being played, the set up can include a joystick and other accessories.

The laptops themselves are, as the group’s title suggests, the heart of Wang’s vision. Ensemble members — the “musicians” — use a variety of different programs and configurations to create a variety of different sounds, ranging from a human-like voice to percussion to the ambient noises of a casino. SLOrK relies on a coding language that Professor Wang developed while at Princeton known simply as “CHUcK.” The language is made specifically for music and sound use, prototyping an instrument in a matter of minutes. “The computer itself is not an instrument. We have to craft it into one,” Wang said.

Read the rest of Craft's article here.

An interesting posting in the Pro section of the Apple site further details SLOrk's innovative joining of laptop and audio technology.

For video articles on SLOrk, and to hear the orchestra live in concert, click here and here.

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