DEGREE SHOWS ’09 Laptop Orchestra Pushes Audience’s Buttons With New 3D Sound Technology

Kedleston Road campus 504x257 DEGREE SHOWS ’09 Laptop Orchestra Pushes Audience’s Buttons With New 3D Sound Technology

Date posted: 4 June 2009

There will be keyboards, but no traditional wind or string instruments, when a ‘laptop orchestra’ gives its debut performance at the University of Derby.

Laptop orchestras, of which there are only a handful in the world, use laptop computers to play music but assemble before a live audience to jointly play a whole composition, as would a traditional orchestra.

Rather then have all the players just using ordinary laptops, the Derby Laptop Orchestra (or DLO) is developing a new range of digital musical instruments for its first ever performance, at 7.30pm on Friday 5 June, in Auditorium Three, at the University’s Markeaton Street site.

It will play original compositions for an invited audience. The event is part of the University’s 2009 Degree Shows, running from Thursday 4 June to Saturday 13 June.

The music could be made using Wii game remotes, engineered to produce sounds reflecting the player’s motions, or DJ turntables which control other digital musical instruments, rather than playing records.

Using its own experimental instruments, rather than simply laptops, will enable the DLO to produce an ambisonic, three-dimensional sound.

Ambisonics uses computers to ‘mix’ and channel sounds on different levels, at the same time. By using a bank of speakers the resulting music can be three-dimensional, seeming to come at an audience from all angles rather than just speakers in front of and behind them.

DLO was set up by the University’s Dr Peter Lennox with colleagues Chris Wilson (Music Technology lecturer) – who nominated ELO band co-founder Roy Wood for a University Honorary Doctorate in 2008 – and Michael Brown (Music and Media Technology), Dr Bruce Wiggins (Electronics and Sound) and Alex Gibbins (Multi-Media Technology).

The DLO group are being helped to develop their instruments by recent Derby graduate and research associate Tom Spenceley.

Peter said: “Even playing digital electronic sounds, musicians still want a physical instrument that they can play with some intuition and feeling.

“Computers haven’t really evolved like that, so we’re creating new three-dimensional instruments ourselves with which to make and control sounds. It’s about making the computer fit the player, not the other way around.”

Chris added: “It will be an actual performance, rather than us just turning up and pressing the Play button on our computers.

“While using cutting edge electronic music technology we still want to come as close as possible to giving the audience a performance, in the same way a conventional orchestra would. We won’t always know what will come out of it.

“We will use this research orchestra to collaborate with experimental musicians, composers and sound artists in the area, and we will eventually be taking DLO out on the road.”

The serious side to the laptop orchestra was that it allowed its members to experiment with different and improved ways of creating and producing sounds, added Chris.

Three-dimensional sound technologies developed by Bruce Wiggins have previously been used at annual festivals such as electronic music event Glade and at Glastonbury.

In 2007 a new and better system of surround sound recording developed by the University of Derby was used to help the Derby Cathedral Choir record music for release on a commercial CD.

The DLO performance is part of the University’s 2009 Degree Shows, celebrating the final year work done for courses such as music technology, crafts, fashion, textiles, fine art, photography, film, design, theatre, visual communications, architecture, creative expressive therapies and art therapy. Events run from Thursday 4 June to Saturday 13 June.

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