No, Really, What is L2Ork?

This site is dedicated to the adventures of Virginia Tech Music Department Digital Interactive Sound & Intermedia Studio’s (DISIS) Linux Laptop Orchestra (L2Ork).

L2Ork (pronounced as lohrk) stands for Linux Laptop Orchestra, World’s first orchestra of its kind built on Linux. L2Ork was founded by Dr. Ivica Ico Bukvic in May 2009, as part of Virginia Tech Music Department’s Digital Interactive Sound & Intermedia Studio (DISIS).

At L2Ork we seek to explore new and exciting opportunities that arise from combining collaboration with centuries of tradition found in the Western orchestra, with affordable and versatile contemporary technology, in this case laptops. Since laptops, unlike traditional instruments can take on many different roles, we believe that there is no single ultimate way to implement a laptop orchestra and we see this as its greatest potential.

In its current form L2Ork relies mainly upon our own Pd-L2Ork free open-source real-time graphical programming environment for audio, video, and graphics processing. We use Nintendo Wiimotes and Nunchuk as well as various built-in laptop input devices (e.g. keyboard, trackpad, webcam) as hyperinstruments, and external soundcard (UA-1G) in conjunction with custom-built hemispherical speakers and subs for audio output. The ensemble infrastructure currently supports up to 18 fully networked performers.

Imagine an ensemble where action of one performer, in addition to generating
an aural event also alters properties of an instrument commanded by another
performer. This kind of connectedness among performers could be used to
produce a complex web of interdependencies, effectively rendering the entire
ensemble as one huge meta-instrument.

What is truly mind-boggling is that the same could be also achieved by having
two or more ensembles on the opposite corners of the World exchanging such data
as well as their cumulative aural output in real-time over Internet.

--An Excerpt from Ico's L2Ork Ramblings

Some of the angles we are keen on exploring include:

  • furthering creative reserach in computer music: a laptop orchestra is a natural extension of computer music. As laptops have reached unprecedented affordability, now more than ever we are empowered to explore opportunities that may arise from coupling a traditional orchestra with contemporary technologies.
  • level playing field: in the World of L2Ork (or any other *Ork for that matter) every performer, regardless of their professional background is equally competent as a L2Orkist. Therefore a laptop orchestra can serve as a bridge across different disciplines, potentially spawning new and exciting collaborations, or serving as a foundation for new cross-disciplinary research trajectories.
  • reconciling STEM and Arts: a laptop orchestra seamlessly encompasses Arts and Sciences. This allows us to utilize such an ensemble in a number of educational scenarios.
  • networked ensemble: all instrumentalists know exactly what everyone else is doing. Likewise, depending upon a piece and/or use scenario, composers can design instruments that share specific content (e.g. how loud they are playing or what pitch they are playing) and furthermore use such content exchange to fundamentally alter how a laptop orchestra functions. In L2Ork, everyone could be both a conductor and a performer, or perhaps a piece would call for no conductors at all.
  • physical presence: we seek to utilize various controllers, motes, sensors, and other technologies that will allow us to maximize potential of theatre and choreography that is also a critical component of classical performance.
  • beyond sound: laptop orchestras by their very nature are not purely aural. While we certainly need to acknowledge the fact that a traditional performance is multisensory in its nature (performer’s posture, facial expression, attire, spatial organization on stage, etc.), and more importantly that we will actively seek to couple L2Ork with traditional performing forces (e.g. orchestra and/or soloists), we also wish to push the multisensory nature of a laptop as far as our imagination will allow us. Thus, we look forward to producing works that concurrently explore poetry, dance, theatre, visual arts, and many other creative domains.
  • community engagement: we continue to engage various developer communities, including the Purr-Data (a.k.a. Pd-L2Ork 2.x) through and a growing network of partners.
Given the inherent multisensory nature of a laptop, one could envision
a performance where apart from the core laptop orchestra ensemble, several
l2orkists instead of making sound are interactively shaping 3D virtual
sculpture that is projected over the words of a famous poem. The same
words are concurrently being set to music by a soprano soloist whose virtuosic
runs are accompanied by L2Ork. Next to them is a group of dancers equipped
with motion sensors whose choreography is subtly shaping the cumulative
audio-visual output. And the list goes on and on as far as one's imagination
can muster...

--Another Excerpt from Ico's L2Ork Ramblings

But Why?

Indeed, this is a very good question, one that we spent a lot of time pondering. Obviously, one could simply answer with a rhetorical “why not?” But there are much more convincing arguments for us to waste our case on such a response.

Since the dawn of Civilization artists welcomed new technological advancements, particularly ones that had a potential to make their artistic language richer. Could Beethoven’s Sonatas ever attain such broad range and dynamics if he were to restrict himself to the dynamic limitations of a clavichord or a harpsichord? Granted, contemporary laptops are in many ways game-changers–unlike a traditional music instrument, they can take on many different shapes. Nonetheless, laptop’s unique potential offers new and exciting opportunities, ones that beg to be explored. Do we, the L2Orkists, really know what L2Ork may bring about? Not a chance. Yet, this sense of unknown is exactly what makes L2Ork so exciting. It is art, it is research, it is composition, it is performance, it is installation, it is research and education hub, and who knows what else. If we knew what all this meant, why bother in the first place?

So, while all this may not make you a believer, we hope it will spark curiosity and encourage you explore around this site and maybe even join us at one of our upcoming shows. Likewise we hope you will also consider engaging in L2Ork as a researcher or an educator seeking answers to questions that may be best addressed through L2Ork‘s uniquely collaborative infrastructure.

Ultimately, no matter the educational background of its constituents, L2Ork is designed to offer a level playing field, thus posing as a unique technological sandbox for interdisciplinary creativity.

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