At Princeton University's faculty of music, the students are as happy to tickle a Powerbook's plastics as a piano's ivories. They have their own wireless-networked orchestra: a 15-piece band that can play anything from electropop to avant garde on instruments specially designed to interface with their laptops. A virtual conductor keeps them on the beat. The Princeton Laptop Orchestra, or PLOrk as it is known, has caused something of a sensation in academic circles, and avant-garde musicians are queueing up to compose for them.
"It's much more than I bargained for," says Dan Trueman, who created the orchestra with fellow college professor Perry Cook. "I'm delighted and terrified by the level of interest."
For Trueman, the project began several years ago when he created his own electronic instrument, a combination of a violin and a theremin that reacted to his bowing movements across a spherical speaker. "It was quite a trip to play," he says. "The question was, what kind of music could we make if we had 15 or more of these kinds of instruments?"
So Cook and Trueman challenged Princeton students to create their own. A speaker and a laptop to process the sound are the only compulsory parts. The methods of play can vary wildly, from traditional piano keyboards to graphics tablets, and even motion sensors worn on the hands and feet, adding an element of dance to the performances.
The orchestra's sound is equally customised - it is theoretically possible, says Trueman, to play Beethoven or Mozart, but why bother when a traditional orchestra can do that already? Isn't it more rewarding, he suggests, to create a symphony from chirruping crickets, thunder and fruit machines?
· Listen to PLOrk at: plork.cs.princeton.edu/listen/debut/ via downloads or streaming.
From today's Guardian
Image credits - Plork. Image owners - if you do not want your picture used in this article please contact me and it will be removed. Report broken links, missing images and other errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk
For more weird sounds online take An Overgrown Path to Is classical music too fast?