Section: Arts

The machines rise again with the Kenyon Laptop Orchestra

The machines rise again with the Kenyon Laptop Orchestra

There were no drum sets and pianos when five Advanced Computer Music students performed a concert last Sunday night in Brandi Recital Hall. Instead, there were laptops and synthesizers.

Over the course of this semester, Assistant Professor of Music Ross Feller’s Advanced Computer Music class has been working toward KLORC 3: The Machines Rise Again, the Kenyon Laptop Orchestra (KLORC)’s third concert.

The first laptop orchestra began at Princeton University in 2005 and consisted of 14 “meta-instruments” — laptops that were connected to speakers, various sensors and sound-generating programs. Now more than 100 colleges and universities have laptop orchestras.

The KLORC concert consisted of solo performances by each student, utilizing different pieces of musical technology, and one song composed by the entire class. The class focused on Max, a computer programing language that generates music with data and numbers. There are about 900 different sound-making “objects” in Max, so the possibilities for music are nearly endless.

“We are pushing technology in musical performance context and trying to be creative with the current state of our laptop technology,” Feller said.

Austin Hulse ’19 began the concert using only his laptop to generate instruments through Max and explore the range of sounds he could make. It was nearly impossible to discern any instruments from the sounds; instead, the song was an amalgamation of various tones. The sounds for the song came from one man sitting at his laptop,  so many audience members closed their eyes to fully take in the music.

Sam Garrett ’19 also used only a laptop for his song. With the touchpad, he was able to manipulate the ambient sounds of static, conversation and running water into music. What could have been chaotic and messy felt very composed and well thought out; one sound never overpowered another.

Instead of using a laptop as his main instrument, Gordon Loveland ’19 used a theremin — a device with an antenna that picks up electric fields to generate pitches — for his solo piece.

“It’s just cool,” he said. “I love a lot of sci-fi shows that have used theremins and I had never used one before.”

He began playing a few simple guitar chords and recording them on his laptop to generate a loop. Loveland then moved to the theremin, moving his hand closer to and farther from the antenna in an almost-dance with the machine, creating a melody to accompany the loop.

Like Loveland, Matt Reed ’18 used the guitar on-stage for his piece. His composition had a very modern, pop feel; laughter recordings created a background beat that set the whimsical tone for the song.

Weston Carpenter ’19 was the last to perform his solo. For his piece, Carpenter designed his own synthesizer similar to the theremin, but he used a mouse rather than his hand to control the sounds.

Feller then joined his students for the final song of the night: “Daft KLORC.”

“Well,” Feller said before the group began, “the good news is that we haven’t blown a circuit yet.”

The group played a funk tune that felt like a nerdy jam session that used Max and different electronic instruments. Throughout the song, Carpenter used a talk box, which takes sound from a synthesizer and pumps it through a speaker attached to a tube controlled by someone’s mouth.

The song ended with a smile from each of the performers and an enthusiastic round of applause from the audience.

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