‘Laptop Ensemble’ plays Macbooks like instruments
Published: Monday, November 19, 2012
Updated: Monday, November 19, 2012 21:11
The “Laptop Ensemble” held its last performance of the semester Sunday at the Gerald R. Daniel Recital Hall.
The ensemble of students performed seven original pieces using laptop computers, which are controlled by various interactive devices ranging from simple musical instrument digital interface (MIDI) controllers to a repurposed Xbox Kinect sensor device.
Each piece is fully planned out and composed beforehand, and then the software’s sequencers process the information in a way that makes it randomized. This way, no two performances are the same.
Each piece is unique. Some sound like a humming string quartet while others are a collage of voice samples.
“[The idea is] to make the laptop more like a traditional instrument,” graduate student Nathanael Tronerud said.
Each piece is a collaborative effort between the students.
“In some ways, it’s a lot like working in a band,” senior Therisse Martinez said. “We all listen to each other and give each other feedback.”
The experience gives music students a chance to experiment freely and think about music in a new way.
“[In traditional music,] you consider pitches and melodies, whereas here you’re more interested in creating sounds,” senior David Landen said.
Professor Martin Herman, director of the ensemble, even pushes his students to be innovative and take chances.
“Creatively, it’s very easy to get stuck in a rut,” Herman said. “Here, you can try something new.”
The ensemble is also a synthesis of many different fields.
Hardware has to be designed, such as special speakers called “six-channel hemispherical speaker” engineered by Princeton’s “Laptop Orchestra” to mimic the output one would hear form a traditional instrument.
Software is programmed for each composition, essentially creating a new instrument for each piece.
There is also a strong visual element to the performance. The pieces become art installations with projections. The students also become a part of the performance when they interact with each other and the technology. In the final piece of the evening, the performers use a Kinect sensor device and struck different locations around their body to produce different sounds.
“One thing [we’re] really interested in is the relationship between the piece and the performer,” Martinez said. “We don’t want to just go up there and push a button.”
After only a year together, the group is one of Cal State Long Beach’s most active music ensembles, performing about six concerts a semester. They recently performed at the University Art Theatre, as well as the Merge and Soundwalk festivals, which both showcase sound art installations. They plan on attending just as many performances in the spring semester, and the group seems full of enthusiasm for the future.