PLOrk : Listen! Watch!

PLOrk @=> Spring 2009 Concert
with special guests:
So Percussion
Riley Lee

Richardson Auditorium in Alexander Hall, Princeton University

The Princeton Laptop Orchestra (PLOrk) presents an evening of music performed by members of the Spring 2009 PLOrk seminar and ensemble:

Thomas Abend | Justin Alderis | Theo Beers | Alex Bourque | Cameron Britt | Mark Cerqueira | Kevin Chou | Adam Fox | Sean Friar | Julianne Grasso | Andrew Gross | Brittany Haas | Michael Hammond | Timothy Keeler | Steven Kim | Adrian Kwok | Kevin Laskey | Thomas Lieber | Sean Murphy | Jascha Narveson | Niklas Peters | Theodor Popov | Ross Silverman | Andrew Weintraub | Raymond Weitekamp | Alice Zhang

Directed by Dan Trueman and Perry Cook
Associate Director Scott Smallwood
Assistant Directors Michael Early and Rebecca Fiebrink

1. Autopoetics I
Ted Coffey

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The title, literally ‘self-making’, refers not over-strictly to the strict definition by Chilean biologists Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varela, as well as to an adapted use offered by German sociologist Niklas Luhmann. In the initial version of the piece, the ensemble worked together to form and perpetually reform a sole, shared sequence of sound events. Every member of PLOrk could create, modify, delete, or change the order of these events at any time, and determine how the sequence was traversed. Result: a gross, notably unsatisfying species of chaos. The next version proceeded from my [flawed] perception that the problem was too much activity on the part of the players. Thus players were invited [‘compelled’], during the course of the piece, to vote on a variety of things all of which limited their capacity to act. It turns out this is not an enjoyable application of democracy. The next version multiplied the number of available sequences to four and introduced simultaneous streams, that is, the possibility of sounding more than one sequence at a time, counterpoint. Allowing a little tweaking that’s, happily, where we are now. Among the more important of these tweaks: (1) groups of three players address themselves steadfastly [if I may participate in reclaiming that excellent word for humans] to a particular sequence for the duration of the piece; (2) about half of the ensemble is involved in another process all together—that of providing a dynamic textural ground. With more attentive design of constraints, with refinement of the environment or medium in which the autopoietic machine lives, that machine’s speech has assumed a more specific character. Still, the piece is an ‘open work’, and probably more devoted to its system—or poetics—than to its musical success. To hedge against that often annoying situation, some of its materials are somewhat lovely. And no doubt the process in general may afford some stellar moments—originating from choices made by the players. Where there are moments it doesn’t sound good and so isn’t good, the fault is definitely mine. It is a great and rare treat to work with PLOrk, a completely unique medium that forces completely unique considerations. Many, deeply sincere thanks to the players, directors and especially Dan for patient guidance and support.

2. Blinky
Rebecca Fiebrink

featuring Riley Lee, shakuhachi

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The musical: Air, light, sound, movement. Computer music can be beautiful (we hope).

The technical: The shakuhachi player creates sound with breath, setting the air column of the instrument in vibration. The laptop players create sound with light, which is captured by the computers’ built-in webcams and then analyzed by a pattern recognition algorithm.

3. Kindness
Tom Lieber

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When performers are given a simple instrument and can see what everyone else is playing, beautiful harmony is a piece of cake.

4. Ganzfeld in Orange and Black

featuring laptop instruments created by members of PLOrk

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Over the past two years, we have been re-enacting a famous parapsychological experiment known as the “Ganzfeld” experiment, which is designed to supposedly provide a scientifically verifiable way to test subjects for ESP. In order to induce a simple state of sensory deprivation, our test subjects are isolated in a dark room, resting on a mattress, listening to white noise on headphones placed over their ears and wearing halved ping-pong balls over their eyes, with a soft red light shining in their faces. At a set signal, they are asked to “open their minds” and try to receive a psychic signal that I attempt to send from my mind into their mind. I try to transmit a “musical idea” entirely with my mind and the test subject is asked to describe any sounds they “hear” in their minds, and to describe any objects or actions or events that they seem to see or hear. In Ganzfeld in Orange and Black, the results of these re-enactments are used as the raw material from which to create music collectively. Transcripts of the images and actions that emerged during the psychic transmissions are divided into three categories: sound making objects, timbral/textural ideas, and formal musical ideas. These lists were presented to the members of PLOrk, and each member was asked to construct a series of “sonic events” that would realize the images, sounds and ideas generated during the psychic experiments. Participants were encouraged to treat the lists as modular and re-combine and fuse various components: to map a timbral idea onto an object, or express a musical idea and a timbral idea simultaneously. For this performance, we will use a Ganzfeld session videotaped at St. John’s College, Oxford as a graphic score and “lead vocal”, and in concert with this pre-recorded participant I will conduct the members of PLOrk. The goal is to create a real-time form of musique concrete, a spontaneous assemblage out of their collective responses to the transcripts of psychic phenomena.

5. Bells and Whistles
Michael Early

featuring Riley Lee, shakuhachi

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The exciting thing about making music for PLOrk has been the lack of established tradition and the new possibilities that it allows; and the most terrifying thing about making music for PLOrk has been the lack of established tradition and the new possibilities that it allows ... I’m used to making music with instruments that have an established mechanical connection between the physicality of the instrument and the sound produced. With laptops, we can make this association almost anything we want – so the big challenge for me has been trying to find fun and interesting ways to engage the players with the sounds coming out of their laptop instruments – in the same way we take pleasure in striking a bell, or blowing a whistle. I would also like to thank Riley Lee for lending his prodigious musical sensitivity, skill, and discipline to complement the laptops’ bells and whistles.

6. Beepsh / 7. Boomdinger
Jascha Narveson (6.), N. Cameron Britt & Sean Friar (7.)

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Beepsh - This piece turns the entire orchestra into a giant step-sequencer, with melody and rhythm being sent around the group endlessly in two separate streams. If you’re a player in this piece, you spend most of your time waiting for the sequences to get back around to you, giving you a space to step back and think about how you’d like to compose your next melodic or rhythmic unit. This strategy seems to make good use of the laptop orchestra as a configuration, since it’s designed to allow for the inherently slow reaction times of the traditional keyboard+trackpad interface.

Boomdinger - “What began as a piano improvisation has been transformed into a multimedia experience.”

8. Ceramic Song
Jason Treuting

featuring laptop instruments created by Dan Trueman

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Ceramic Song was written as a jumping off point for a recording session So and Matmos had a couple of summers ago. The version you will hear tonight has morphed and grown from that seed with the addition of Dan Trueman and PLOrk. It is an exploration of ceramic sounds, both acoustic and electronic, and comes in 3 connected parts.

9. Inlayers
Michael Hammond

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Looping in music has a reputation as a relatively stagnant form of composition. Once a loop is created, it repeats itself ad nauseam. Inlayers uses looping software written as part of my senior thesis that aims to re-imagine the looper as a dynamic and interactive tool, a playground for performance and composition. The title comes from the artisans who meticulously craft pearl inlay patterns on string instruments, much as the members of PLOrk methodically assemble small loop fragments to create layers of sound. For more information on my thesis, visit:

10. Supreme Balloon

featuring laptop instruments created by Scott Smallwood

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Supreme Balloon began as an improvisation for arpeggiating synthesizers and electronic tabla, and quickly grew into an outsize homage to the classic era of late 70s/early 80s “space music” (Vangelis, Cluster, Tangerine Dream.). Our goal was to replicate the LP side length and gradually additive structure of this bygone era in electronic music.
Loosely speaking, such works are shaped like the psychoactive trips they were originally meant to accompany: music that comes on, peaks, and then slowly comes down. The goal is to explore synthetic texture and, in hearing only gradually dissolving and reforming versions of the “same” idea, to enter a hypnotic state. We are grateful for the opportunity to transform this work, which we have toured and played extensively as a duo, into an entirely different collective form for this concert. This new transformation was made possible thanks to the programming of Dan Trueman, Perry Cook and Scott Smallwood, and the larger PLOrk family. The video is by M. C. Schmidt.

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