Ever since laptops became ubiquitous on the club & concert scene as a live music source for artists, especially DJs, in recent years the question continually arises: are they actually creating live music up there on stage or merely checking their e-mails as a pre-programmed music mix plays?
In some cases the "artist" may be just checking his/her emails or updating their Facebook account, but most real artists are utilizing their laptops' numerous programs in creative musical ways.
And in increasingly common cases there are multiple laptop musicians in action at the same time. The Bay Area quartet Cat Five (featured on Independent Sounds: Amoeba Music Compilation Vol III), formed by Balanceman and Darkat almost a decade ago, is an example of a laptop group. With their preference being Apple computers, all four construct freeform live compositions.
And taking it to the next level is the Worldscape Laptop Orchestra (pictured left) -- a fifty person laptop musician collective who put on an orchestrated, fully rehearsed all laptop performance a couple of months ago at Britain's University of York, led by composer Dr Ambrose Field who acted as the performance's conductor (just like in a traditional full orchestra). The group's goal, he said, is to help pave the way in music for "larger all-digital ensembles."
The Worldscape Laptop Orchestra's 50 performers each worked exclusively with Apple laptops (their sponsor) as their instrument with custom software that was produced to enable wireless communication with each computer sharing audio and control data. The full range of software functionality used in the performance included video detection where hand movements of performers were decoded by the MacBooks.
Of course, there are many other laptop orchestras besides the Worldscape Laptop Orchestra. There is the Moscow Laptop Orchestra, and in the US the 15 member Princeton Laptop Orchestra overseen by Dan Trueman at New Jersey's Princeton University. See an interview and performance in the video below from a TV news story that ran two years ago. One main difference is that the Worldscape is all wireless. But the future possibilities for this style of digital orchestrated music are endless and exciting.