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Wednesday, Nov. 26, 2014

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Princeton Laptop Orchestra


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Professors Dan Trueman and Perry Cook lead a project in which students create computer-based instruments that are integrated into conventional music-making contexts. Visit PLOrk's website.


Video Closed Captions

(music)

Dan Trueman
We started the Princeton Laptop Orchestra about three years ago as a way to explore new ways

Dan Trueman
of making music together with technology.

Dan Trueman
There are a few things that are particularly unique, I think, to the way we do this

Dan Trueman
with PLOrk, and one of them is simply that we've built speakers, omnidirectional speakers,

Dan Trueman
that attempt to mimic the way acoustic musical instruments radiate sound in rooms.

Perry Cook:
The fundamental tenant of PLOrk is that each player controls their little acre

Perry Cook:
of sound that's sitting next to them,

Perry Cook:
and in that way it's very instrumental like the traditional orchestra.

Perry Cook:
There's no notion that somebody's doing a gesture here

Perry Cook:
and the sound is coming out a hundred feet away.

Perry Cook:
That's good for them because they are responsible for monitoring that and there is

Perry Cook:
at least this idea of a local instrument.

Perry Cook:
There's a pillow with a person and a laptop and a speaker.

Dan Trueman
It really is as though the laptop, as a musical instrument, is there in the room with you

Dan Trueman
and it gets the acoustic qualities of the space that you're in and blends nicely

Dan Trueman
with all the other instruments that are in the room, whether they be other laptop instruments

Dan Trueman
or old-fashioned acoustic instruments,

Dan Trueman
and that's something we do a fair amount of as well,

Dan Trueman
including tonight we've got a concert featuring a well-known classical violinist.

(violin playing)

Perry Cook:
The PLOrk seminar itself was a freshman seminar three years ago, and so it actually started

Perry Cook:
with a core of people who didn't know what we were doing and neither did we,

Perry Cook:
and many of them are back now and they've been in the ensemble for three years now.

Perry Cook:
So there is a tradition of PLOrkestra performance now that's kind of formed.

Dan Trueman
The students come from all different departments on campus.

Dan Trueman
Some are in computer science, some are in music,

Dan Trueman
but many are in completely unrelated departments.

Dan Trueman
The only thing we require of our students who take these classes

Dan Trueman
is that they have some kind of musical background.

Dan Trueman
Some of them have jazz or popular music backgrounds,

Dan Trueman
some of them read music, some of them don't read music so well.

Dan Trueman
So, there's a diversity of musical backgrounds, but they all have some kind of musical background.

Dan Trueman
Some of them have a lot of technical experience but a lot of them don't.

Dan Trueman
And in fact, these classes are a way for them

Dan Trueman
to get programming skills, to get technical experiences.

(music)

Dan Trueman
The piece tonight has the whole ensemble using Wiimotes so, you know, they're made to play tennis

Dan Trueman
and baseball and stuff like that,

Dan Trueman
but you can just as well apply, use that data,

Dan Trueman
that control data from the Wiimotes to control sound.

(music)

Dan Trueman
Some of the other pieces actually use built-in sensors on the laptops themselves,

Dan Trueman
so the laptops have a sensor built in to protect the hard drive.

Dan Trueman
But it actually senses the tilt of the laptop and you can use that and have

Dan Trueman
that control sound directly as well.

Dan Trueman
So, a couple of the pieces tonight will be using that technology.

(music)

Perry Cook:
Every year, we're investigating new technology.

Perry Cook:
We just won a MacArthur grant.

Perry Cook:
That's for new equipment. We have lots of sensors, pressure sensors, tilt sensors,

Perry Cook:
and then I have a budget -- I have a different grant that I've just gotten

Perry Cook:
to buy biological sensors to look at actually heart rate and breathing

Perry Cook:
and muscle signals and brain signals.

Perry Cook:
A lot of PLOrk has been, in a way, a laboratory.

Perry Cook:
Most of our students don't know that things are impossible, and therefore they're not.

(music)

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