It was not so very long ago that people thought that semiconductors were
part-time orchestra leaders and microchips were very, very small snack foods.
--Geraldine A. Ferraro


In the Beginning…

Like the soapiest of the soap operas, L2Ork is a result of complex circumstances, some that reach all the way back to the late 1990s. One of the first milestones in our saga is the work of Dan Trueman and Perry Cook (Princeton University) on the spherical (and later hemispherical) speakers. Around the same time, DISIS and L2Ork founder and Director Ivica Ico Bukvic is exposed to the Linux craze by his friend Michael Barnhart. With his geeky tendencies, unavoidably Ico becomes a Linux enthusiast. In 1999, he uses Linux to produce his Masters Thesis composition for guitar and interactive computer and begins to spend countless hours digging ever deeper into the world of Linux. Blinded by his growing passion for libre software, it takes him a good couple years to realize that trying to convince unsuspecting passers by to switch to Linux is a bad idea, and perhaps more importantly that Linux is not for widespread consumption but rather for geeks such as himself.

In 2002, Ico’s first son is born, sobering him up from his seemingly relentless geek-streak. With his head cooled down, his brain slowly but steadily begins to develop an objective view of the Linux platform helping him get elected by the Linux Audio User & Developer community as the second director of the international Linuxaudio.org consortium (Linuxaudio.org was originally founded by Daniel James who also served as its first director–Daniel is currently heading 64Studio). Even though he stopped pursuing the pointless (if not plainly annoying) task of trying to convince others to use Linux, he remains to this day an active contributor to the Linux community.

Meanwhile, the Princeton geniuses push along with better and cooler speakers, supported by a yellow-pages-worth of publications, eventually settling on the hemispherical design. In the spirit of academic freedom, their accomplishments are shared with the World. In 2005, Princeton introduces World’s first Laptop Orchestra titled PLOrk (as in Princeton Laptop Orchestra). They go on to do many impressive things, including a performance at Carnegie Hall, and more recently the McArthur Award, allowing them to design and build the latest and arguably coolest iteration of the hemispherical speaker titled “Delorean.” Shortly thereafter, Ge Wang, a Princeton graduate student and a PLOrk member receives his hard-earned Ph.D. and lands a job at Stanford. In 2007 he founds SLOrk (or the Stanford Laptop Orchestra) which gets him series of cool features on TV, newspapers, Web, and even Steve Jobs’ famous fruit company.

So What’s the Big Deal?

In the fall 2008, Ico got an invite to give a Linux audio keynote at the 25th Tonmeistertagung conference in Leipzig, Germany. Growing increasingly tired of his half-bitten-off-fruit notebook’s poor battery life as well as its arguably less attractive beige box derivatives, Ico begins to seek solutions for his pending trip in the rapidly expanding netbook scene. A couple days later, he becomes a happy owner of the MSI Wind U100 netbook. Refusing to deal with the painful patching/installation of software on the Windows XP partition, at approximately 30,000ft over the Atlantic with over 4 hours of battery life in the mighty netbook he unleashes his geeky side and begins installing latest Ubuntu Linux via a slipstreamed USB key. Two days later, he gives a keynote using the netbook while his shiny fruity laptop remains in the hotel room to guard his precious toiletries.

So, what is the big deal? If you’ve ever had an opportunity to burn your precious personal time under the excuse that Linux is free, you may have grown accustomed to the notion that there is plenty of “tweaking” necessary for a Linux install to become truly “usable.” These days, more often than not, it is either the proprietary drivers or buggy desktop behavior that spoil the fun for a would-be average user. Yet, there he was, giving a keynote with confidence using a fresh install of Ubuntu Linux. In over 11 years of using Linux, Ico had never experienced this–a machine fully functional with no show-stopping bugs, tweaks or software install necessary for one to become immediately productive.

While I don't know much about the microchips (I generally prefer nachos),
those people just may have been right about the semiconductors.
--Anonymous L2Ork Enthusiast

Upon his return from lovely Leipzig, energized by the newfound Linux experience, amazing affordability of the netbook hardware, and by the successes of the *LOrk franchise, leveraging DISIS resources Ico sets out to pursue any reasonable means to start a Laptop Orchestra at Virginia Tech. However, this would be not just another *Ork. The way he saw it, this one would be the World’s first Linux Laptop Orchestra with its focus on efficiency and affordability and without sacrificing quality, while maintaining maximum compatibility with PLOrkers and SLOrkers (or is it PLOrkists and SLOrkists?).

The Birth of L2Ork

In the winter of 2009, having secured internal ISCE grant in collaboration with Dr. Tom Martin (ECE) and the first external sponsor Sweetwater, things started moving rather quickly. By May 2009, the project has secured $50,000 in internal and external sponsorships, including MSI Computer and Roland Corporation, spawning a wide network of partners across the campus and beyond. Armed with tons of support and documentation from its *Ork brethren, on May 26th 2009 DISIS officially began its summer research project with an aim to design, develop, and produce its own version of a hemispherical speaker and optimize supporting hardware and software for the fall 2009 introduction of the new Laptop Orchestra curriculum at Virginia Tech. Since its inception, the team has grown to also include Prof. Eric Standley (Art), and 7 undergraduate student researchers, some being sponsored through the NSF‘s REU program (via Virginia Tech’s Center for Human-Computer Interaction).

After much pondering we settled on the L2 logo depicting the double “L” in the Linux Laptop Orchestra. We decided to call ourselves L2Orkists (just like a piano performer would call themselves a pianist, or a percussion player a percussionist), which phonetically reminded us of the word “Locust.” Consequently, we chose the locust insignia as our branding identity (truth be told, Ico really wanted to use a penguin, but students would hear none of it), in part in hope that we will eventually help regional institutions (and beyond) start their own L2Ork ensembles, and hopefully seek to identify themselves (kind of like WWII bombers) using a distinguishable insignia (perhaps Ico will have a better luck of convincing them to settle on a penguin?).

Where Do We Go From Here?

Good question. Truth is, no one really knows what the next chapter will look like. What we can tell you, however, is that all of us involved in L2Ork are incredibly excited about the project and its seemingly inexhaustible potential and we certainly don’t see ourselves stopping any time soon…