PLOrk : Listen!

PLOrk In the Round!
Chancellor Green Library, Princeton University

p r o g r a m - n o t e s

For this concert, PLOrk will be performing for the first time 'in the round.' We'll also be performing for the first time above the audience, which will hopefully be quite wonderful. Please make yourself comfortable, and feel free to move about quietly.

"On this program, we are sharing a set of brand-new pieces (all PLOrk pieces are brand-new, but these are really brand-new, some completed in just the last few days, or even few hours), including a piece by Chris Tignor which processes the broadcasts of air-traffic controllers streaming off the internet, a piece by Pauline Oliveros and Zevin Polzin inspired by the work of the Princeton Engineering Anomalies Research lab, a piece by senior Chris Douthitt, a couple "video game" pieces, and others. These pieces are the result of work done this semester in MUS/COS 414, a performance class aimed at exploring the Possibilities of PLOrk.

1. a breeze brings...
Scott Smallwood

listen: mp3 | stream

This "prelude" came about as a result of several mornings of hacking in ChucK (a Princeton-developed computer music programming language developed by Ge Wang). As I listened to the wind chimes outside my door, I began to realize that they were influencing the intuitive process of my experimentations. Before long I had created some algorithmic instruments that sounded rather nice together. This piece grows slowly out of the acoustic soundscape of the space, and then slowly subsides back into it, like a very slow breeze.

2. Orbits (5)
Christopher Tignor

listen: mp3 | stream

Listening in on the conversations of people in distant locations is a transportational experience. Speech is its own music and the raw, functional language transmitted between air traffic controllers and pilots is its own fascinating vehicle, imagining these fuzzy dialogues guiding the orbits of their participants so far from this room we have pulled them into. During this work, we will attempt to forge our own orbit about musical materials beginning with these live remote dialogues but soon wandering into other landscapes derived from their abstraction. To these distant unknowing collaborators we respond with our own musical gestures, both in bowed and struck metal percussion and our live digital transformations of these acoustic materials. Through these we will largely reclaim this room but also touch on sharing it with these distant voices.

The software system used for this work is a peer-to-peer network of four sound transforming applications and one application running a gestural interface. This program allows me to use a Wacom tablet to draw detailed gestures about the four channel sound stage maintained by the other sound producing clients. Through the speed, direction, and location of each drawn gesture, I both instantaneously sample, localize and abstract the incoming sound in several ways, whether it be live air traffic controller chatter, metal percussion, or a mix of both. Through network communication with the other four machines, these sound gestures drift about the sound stage as drawn. The other four players share access to a visual representation of the sound stage, editing local regions of its space to apply certain key effects to sound samples that pass through. Thus, while I inject the original sonic material into the environment by drawing, these players (which also take turns as percussionists) collectively determine how the environment treats this material, radically altering the character of the sonic result. Additionally, a separate application connects to remote servers offering MP3 streams of air traffic controller chatter in varying global locations, mixing these voices together for input into our processes. Thus, while but only a few machines here participate in our system, our network quite literally extends to vast numbers more, offering us their own acoustically initiated services.

A peer-to-peer network is simply a software system where participating applications distribute responsibility, actively sharing information with one another in both directions sending and receiving. I've always found this a gratifying model for developing musical works and one certainly alien to my time as a young orchestral violinist. While even in such computer networks peers play different roles, the dynamics of exchange provided by this architecture allow results only really possible in this software and music-making paradigm. Orbits (5) was collectively reshaped and refined by tonight's performing ensemble, each of which contributed their own invaluable musical insights to the work at hand.

3. CliX
Ge Wang

listen: video | mp3 | stream

In this piece, human operators type to make sounds, while their machines synthesize, synchronize, and spatialize the audio. Every key on the computer keyboard (upper/lower-case letters, numbers, symbols) is mapped to a distinct pitch (using the key's ASCII representation) and when pressed, emits a clicking sound that is synchronized in time to a common pulse. A (human) conductor coordinates frequency range, texture, movement, and timing.

4. Piece for Plucked Strings and Bells (sort of)
Christopher Douthitt

listen: mp3 | stream

This is a piece for three PLOrk machines using an interface developed by Paul Lansky on Supercollider. The first version of this piece came together for two machines as part of an assignment Professor Steven Mackey's contemporary composition class, in which we were supposed to compose something that fit into a minimalist aesthetic. I have since expanded the number of parts involved and automated most of the events so the players are free to poke at notes on a MIDI keyboard. The piece progresses according to a loosely organized process, wherein notes are added in the plucked string parts to reinterpret the drone that is established at the beginning, and basic rhythmic ideas are juxtaposed against each other.

5. Mumble
Nathan Michel

listen: mp3 | stream

I started working on a piece for PLOrk last summer when the ensemble was still just a sparkle in Dan Trueman's eye. My first ideas involved moving brittle, colorful samples around the orchestra at very fast speeds. I imagined the sounds ricocheting from computer to computer. I in fact wrote such a piece and tried it out with the orchestra last fall. It didn't work very well. This wasn't the fault of the technology; it was a problem with good old-fashioned three-dimensional space: what worked well in one computer, coming from a single sound source, became sluggish when forced to move around fifteen spatially separated sound sources. I scrapped my first piece and began working on something that paid more consideration to physical space. The ultimate result was Mumble, a very quiet piece that travels slowly around the ensemble like a cloud.

6. Murphy Mixup: Murphy Intends
Pauline Oliveros and Zevin Polzin

listen: mp3 | stream

Dedicated to Brenda Dunne and Robert Jahn of PEAR (Princeton Engineering Anomalies Research laboratory)

Murphy is a great old analog random mechanical cascade device that occupies part of a wall in the PEAR lab at Princeton in the mechanical and aerospace engineering department. A conveyor belt carries 9000 small black balls to the top of the wall and dumps them. They fall randomized by pegs into 19 plastic columns with LED read outs at the bottom of each. The process creates a bell curve with the most balls in the middle columns and gradually fewer as they approach the end columns on both sides. The bell curve can be influenced by a person or persons intending to bias the curve and cause an anomaly. There is no apparent physical connection between the person and the machine - only intention (see photo).

Zevin Polzin has created a MAX version of Murphy. Murphy Mixup has nested Murphies (imagine the collecting bins at the bottom of one Murphy emptying into the top of another) carrying out a variety of tasks. "The 'Conductor' sends a signal to a Murphy which decides which member of the orchestra to trigger. Once ''inside" a member's computer, that trigger goes into a Murphy that chooses which sound to play. That sound goes into two Murphies, one that determines the Pitch of the sound, and another that determines the ADSR envelope. This final sound goes to a Murphy that determines from which speaker, if any, that sound plays."

The role of the members of PLork is simply to intend. The "player" of each laptop has created one of the 19 sounds that are available for output on every laptop. Once the conductor has sent a trigger the player's task is to intend for his/her sound to reach an output. If intention is strong enough then the Murphy bell curve might be biased toward that player. Each player has feedback about the number of hits for his/her sound.

The audience is invited to intend with the players. If you hear a sound that you like then you can intend for it to come back.

My thanks to Brenda Dunne who introduced me to Murphy.

7. PLOrk Chorale
Dan Trueman

listen: mp3 | stream

In The PLOrk Chorale, PLOrk brings a simple chord progression to life with a series of inhales, exhales and vocal noises (all processed by the laptops, via a headset mic) and a quiet low drone (controlled by a variety of sensors and input devices: accelerometers, graphics tablets, and pressure pads). These instruments were developed initially for PLahara, PLOrk's anti-concerto for Zakir Hussain, and this piece is something of a PLOrk etude, meant to help us figure out how best play them.

8. ChucK ChucK Rocket
Scott Smallwood and Ge Wang
(special thanks to Ananya Misra for additional programming)

listen: mp3 | stream

This game piece is a study that reflects our interest in creating games scenarios in which the sounds produced are part of an interactive sound composition. In this game, based on Chu Chu Rocket, mice are released onto a large grid. Each player has a piece of this grid, and is able to cause the running mice to change direction by placing arrows in their path, and they are also able to place objects in their path, which make sound when the mice run over them, synchronized with those of other players. Thus, a player can create a kind of instrument with their piece of the grid, trapping groups of mice into loops that contain sound objects of their choosing. They can also send mice to and receive mice from their neighbors through network portals, thus the mice are shared throughout the entire group.

9. The Future of Fun (1983)
Scott Smallwood

listen: mp3 | stream

When I was 13, I saved up quarters every chance I got so that I had enough to play games in the local arcade. In addition to enjoying the games, I loved the sound of the composite arcade environment. The video arcade soundscape of that era, 1983, is now lost to us. It was a unique soundscape, before samples were widely used, and all sound effects were of relatively low resolution. There is nothing quite like the sound of dozens of these vintage arcade machines in the same space, as they sing in a mixed chorus of 8-bit digital sounds: sound effects, melodic fragments and tunes, electronic leitmotivs, and cartoonish gun pops and laser beams. Using software programmed to emulate the hardware of those games, the Princeton Laptop Orchestra recreates this lost soundscape.

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