One hundred unlikely musicians worldwide gathered this past weekend to make beautiful music together—on their laptops.
CMU professor Roger Dannenberg was the “semiconductor” of the Global Network Orchestra, leading a concert on the campus of Connecticut College. A second concert was held at CMU and featured drummer and percussionist Janelle Burdell who has performed with Grateful Dead’s Mickey Hart, Herbie Hancock and Shirelles.
“The experience of 100 people from around the world, of all religions and beliefs, playing music together is a beautiful concept and something the world needs right now,” says Danneberg who is a musician and composer in addition to professor of computer science.
Two years ago Dannenberg initiated a performance of the Federation of Laptop Orchestras that brought 50 musicians together from six sites. “It went so well, we decided to make it bigger and better,” he says.
Using laptops as musical instruments—as well as smartphones and tablets—is a concept sweeping university campuses and is especially prevalent in computer science classrooms. The laptops work like synthesizers utilizing specialized keys and emitting a wide range of sounds.
The technical aspect of the concert linking computer musicians all over the world—including in places with limited connectivity—was a serious challenge. So Dannenberg and Tom Neuendorffer, a longtime collaborator and principal engineer at Carnegie Speech, developed a software system to facilitate the concert using a system similar to the Guitar Hero games.
The concert was highly scripted, similar to a four-part Bach Choral, with collective improvisation tossed in, he says.
“It’s electronic but a big, rich sound. It makes sense to me to use laptops, which are already interconnect with the internet, as a musical instrument.”
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