The Princeton Laptop Orchestra is an electronic music ensemble, founded in 2005 at Princeton University and since inspiring a number of similar orchestras around the world. Each performer plays with a custom-designed hemispherical speaker along with a laptop or other custom-designed electronic instrument. The conductor and composer communicate with performers using wireless networking and video, augmenting their traditional roles.
I performed a number of pieces with PLOrk at the Taplin Auditorium in Princeton University and 92Y Tribeca, New York City in Spring 2011.
Along with the performance, the ensemble together studies techniques in electronic music production. Presented below are a number of projects designed as part of my coursework (COS/MUS 314 Computer & Electronic Music through Programming, Performance, Composition). These projects are developed using ChucK, MaxMSP, MIDI interfaces and OSC networking.
The first piece I have included here uses a virtual reality golf controller as the primary interface. The controller consists of a plastic base with two strings that can be pulled from it. The position of these strings can be measured in three axes. In its original intended use the two strings are connected to a glove which can then track the player's swing by using the x, y & z axis values of both strings. Getting rid of the glove leaves an incredibly accurate & economical input device that can be used to control sound.
The tensile force on your hand upon pulling the string is physically analogous to string instruments, and that intuitively translated to a volume control.
Using only one of the two strings provides room to swing your arm, and the x axis is hence used to control pitch. This draws on an extremely similar motion to control pitch on almost all horizontal string instruments, especially fret-less ones. Players of many instruments that allow such frictionless sliding over a large pitch range – slide guitars, the sagar veena – often praise the ability of such instruments to mimic the flexibility of the human voice. My electronic sound patch is therefore based on a human voice form. In practice, this provides for notes that sound well with extreme sustain, opening up the possibility to use this controller to create ambient drones, as are used to set keys in Indian Classical music and many late Beatles songs.
Additional features include vibrato on the y axis, programmable center frequency and pitch range, & variable phonemes to make up the base human voice form (which can be used as an alaap).
The second piece is an aid to allow musicians to record and playback loops live as they play over them. This uses a floor-pad from the game Dance Dance Revolution, which is designed to be used by players in motion and without needing to look down. The system allows players to record loops, start and stop loop playback, and to apply panning effects using their feet as they play an instrument.
The software is designed so musicians do not have to worry about time signatures. The first loop sets the time signature and any subsequent recordings are 'punched in' at correct beat in the bar.
This also works well for single-person acapella groups.
The third piece was an installation at Woolworth Center, home of the Princeton University Department of Music. This installation is an interplay of the senses – live video forms an infinite, interactive score; color affects timbre.
The installation consists of three screens displaying the three color channels of a live video stream: red, green and blue. Each screen is connected to a sound circuit of primary oscillators and an ADSR envelope. The red screen is connected to a square wave, green to sine wave, blue to triangular wave.
Blobs of color are read as notes on a score – their size translated to amplitude & sustain, vertical position to pitch, horizontal position to beat in the bar. Pitch range is discretely restricted to a pentatonic scale, in sympathy towards innocent audience.