Electric Cafe presents: Dramatic Sounds from Virginia Tech

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Jamaal Fisher | Staff Writer

On Monday, February 20th, the Black Box Theater was visited by none other than the Linux Laptop orchestra from Virginia Tech University. They are designed and produced exclusively by undergraduate researchers, and consist of up to fifteen tightly networked, yet independently operated, laptop computers running open source software. Despite there being up to fifteen networked laptop computers, there were, in total, ten members present at our very own Electric Café. The ten included: L2orkists Bryce Allen, Davide Ceritano, Cole Edwards, Jordan Hatchett, Ryan Herold, Brian Hess, George Mends, Richard Rothwell, and Victoria Salisbury, as well as director and founder, Dr. Ivica Ico Bukvic.

L2ork (pronounced: Lork) is the world’s first orchestra of its kind built on Linux, which is a Unix-like computer operating system. Unix was originally developed in 1969 by a group of AT&T employees. It was designed to be a portable, multi-tasking, multi-user program with a time-sharing configuration, somewhat similar to today’s cell phones and social networks.

Created in May of 2009 by Dr. Ivica Ico Bukvic, L2ork’s focus is on perfecting use of existing technologies within a context of a standardized ensemble. When done, it creates not only a stellar audio performance, but one that is matched with visual symmetry and movement in unison.

Rutgers-Camden Artistic Director Mark Zaki explains, “What arguably sets L2ork apart from a growing number of laptop orchestras is its focus on physical presence and performance practice, consistent exploration of coupling traditional instruments with contemporary technology, and tight integration of networked data streams that fundamentally alter the orchestra’s properties and consequently sound.”

What’s interesting about the performance is the use of Wii remotes, in addition to each member’s body, as musical instruments. The skeptical viewer of a live performance by L2ork would assume that it is nothing more than a Wii game, until they realize that a game of this standard and accuracy is nonexistent. It leads to a greater appreciation of the work that went in to the final production which was presented to us.

To relate to video gamers and the general public, outside of the members of L2ork, Dr. Bukvic describes the process of performing. He states, “It’s similar to Guitar Hero, but much more complex, whereas an entirely different sound or pitch can be created if we were to make a mistake.”

Artistic Director Mark Zaki adds that, “The standardized use of Wiimote controllers and their extensions establishes an embodied performance and visual indexing of each laptop performer’s sound influenced by traditional instrumental performance gestures to control synthesized digital sound as well as captured acoustic audio samples in composed and improvised contexts. The use of improvisational elements along with shared gestures and audio content allow the real-time interactive group production of a music that transcends the technologies involved, allowing a coherent exchange of ideas and emotions between networked individuals of different abilities and experiences.”

The exchange of ideas and emotions that he mentions, due to the physical aspect of L2ork, are excellent in relaying not just the message of a performance, but also the tone and overall theme. Each musical piece performed takes listeners to a fond place in their memory, which allows L2ork to provide the soundtrack. It’s fitting that the show took place in the Black Box, where we were able to enter into a room where the sounds took over.

Aside from presenting only music provided by this up-to-date technology, the audience in the Black Box Theater was able to witness astounding singing by L2ork’s soloist and narrator, Victoria Salisbury. Her voice, as fluid and swift as a Dolphin show at SeaWorld, gave listeners a worry-free moment of true peace. And, of course, the atmosphere provided by the soothing sounds of her fellow band mates did not disappoint. In addition to the singing, audience members were also awarded with spoken word by Jordan Hatchett. With aggressive pitch and convincing body language, he led us to believe that he was a member of a community in deep curiosity about the actions of one of his neighbors.

Often moving in a collective group while performing, similar to the Jabbawockeez, L2ork provides a sight for sore eyes. What’s ironic is that many of the members do not have a musical background. In fact, when asked, some of the members chose this route for extracurricular purposes only.
What is truly admirable about L2ork is its innovation with present technologies. The choreography not only imitates styles and movements of current instruments, but also movements similar to many popular forms of martial arts.

Zaki states, “Some of the compositions in the Laptop Orchestra’s unique repertoire seamlessly integrate solo acoustic instruments such as percussion, Shona Mbira, voice (both singing and spoken word), etc. In this regard the Laptop Orchestra is integrating the oldest with one of the newest (laptop computers), by cross-pollinating performance techniques, audio material, and the processes for real-time creation of music.”

Feel free to search “L2ork” on YouTube to somewhat gain an experience of their music, and to witness their many talents.

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