PLOrk : Listen!

PLOrk @=> Northwestern Spring Festival (Chicago Debut)
Pick-Staiger Hall, Northwestern University, Chicago

The Princeton Laptop Orchestra (PLOrk) presents an evening of music performed by members of the Spring 2008 PLOrk seminar and ensemble:

Andrew Schran | Adam Fox| Ben Wasserman | Brenda Jin | David Zaslavsky Glenn Snyders | Harrison Frye | John Fontein | Kathleen Sun | Kevin Chou
Kyle Super | Max Mamon | Michael Hammond | Raymond Weitekamp
Rebecca Fiebrink | Sam Leachman | Seth Cluett | Stephanie Chen
Stephanie Tzeng | Thomas Lieber | Yuhwon Lee

Directed by Dan Trueman and Perry Cook

1. In/Still
Curtis Bahn and Tomie Hahn

listen | watch

Connected, how do we continue?
Playful encounters of movement, sound, and gaze
instill a flow between us.

2. CliX
Ge Wang

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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.

3. Self-Organizing Grooves
Dan Trueman

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A PLOrk exercise in musical self organization. Each player has a program for composing and modifying rhythm and pitch cycles. The network synchronizes these cycles, like a collective heartbeat. The twist is that each player can “spy” on any other player: they can see what their neighbor’s cycles look like and steal them if they like. Alas, the stealing is usually imperfect – something always gets lost along the way – so, like the telephone game, the goods get transformed into something new in the process. And who knows who is spying on you, taking your damaged goods and making something else out of them. For this particular performance, we’ve chosen a strategy of self-organization that may yield total anarchy (and hopefully wonderfully beautiful anarchy) but has the chance to cohere into clear musical structures—tunes, grooves, and so on—structures that, like a pile of sand, may at any instant collapse. We don’t really know what’s going to happen but, together, we will find out. Apologies: there is not much too look at during this exercise, so you might want to close your eyes and come along for the ride. Self-Organizing Grooves is a collaborative composition by PLOrk, using an instrument built by Dan Trueman, who also pokes and prods the organism in performance; even anarchy can use a hand!

4. Etch-a-PLOrk
John Fontein

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What does a square sound like?  And how do its sonic qualities compare to that of a circle?  What about a line?  In this piece, you will be given the opportunity to find out, as notes transform into shapes and players transform into painters, literally drawing their music.  Manipulating an interface much like the traditional Etch-a-Sketch devices, each PLOrk member can create any object or shape imaginable and hear how such an object sounds.  The sound-field is further controlled by the built-in tilt sensors on the laptops, which control harmonic contour as well as timbre.  Further, shaking the laptops fast enough will clear the scribbles on the screen, allowing each “painter” to start with a brand new palette.  And although traditional metric cues are given by the conductor, most cues indicate the specific shape each player should draw.  Watch and enjoy as PLOrk etches away!

5. Sweep
Douglas Geers, Maja Cerar (violin) and Cameron Britt (percussion)

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Sweep is a concerto for solo violin with laptop orchestra and percussionist.  All members of the orchestra perform by waving remote controllers from the Nintendo Wii video game system, informally known as wiimotes.  Wiimotes contain sensors to track acceleration and directional orientation, and Sweep takes advantage of this, exploring the physical gestures of music performance.  In Sweep the motions made to play traditional instruments, the violin and percussion, combine with other motions, both choreographic and from daily life, and these motions are applied both to the acoustic instruments and the wiimotes.  An adapted version of Sweep will be one of nine sections of Geers’ opera in-progress, Calling, which he is creating with writer Wickham Boyle.

6. zero-point
Seth Cluett

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A zero-point is a place from which one might reconstruct something.  By beginning with a distribution of pitches from the harmonic series, a unity of sorts, players begin to glissando slowly between frequencies.  As the harmonic series begins to assemble itself, players choose frequencies to introduce imperceptibly.  The rich and delicate texture which develops is the result of an increasing focus of attention on behalf of the players, but also of the listener, who, over the course of the piece participates in much the same process.

7. Crystallis
Ge Wang

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This is a sonic rumination of crystal caves in the clouds, where the only sounds are those of the wind and the resonances of the crystals.It employs two simple custom instruments, the crystalis and wind-o-lin, both making use of the laptop keyboard (which controls pitch and resonance) and the trackpad (which the players "bow" in various patterns to generate sound).

8. Timber is a Timbre
Perry Cook

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This is the third in a series of PLOrk pieces based on the idea of a "computer-mediated drum circle." The first, "Non-Specific Gamelan Taiko Fusion Band" used the sounds of ships bells and djembes, with the PLOrksters controlling them using a graphical interface written in ChucK/Audicle by Ge Wang and I.  The second, "Take it for Granite," used the sounds of striking and splitting stone.  "Timber is a Timbre" goes one step sideways on the carbon chain, exploiting the sounds of wood.  The basic underlying pulse is provided via the PLOrk wireless network, but the players, conductor, and pseudo-fate via 16 random number generators actually determine the "groove."  Mixing live players with the human-controlled six-channel statistical-groove machines makes for a mix that is free to fall apart just like most drum circles do, but can be reined back in via the pulses over the network.

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