*LOrk Digression #2 — Futurism, futuristic

A great deal of the theatricality of a laptop orchestra lies in the very fact that we are confronted with, well, a lot of laptops on stage. With one player behind each laptop, and often mimicking or resembling the configuration of a traditional orchestra on stage, the laptop orchestra of today plays directly with our historical notion of an orchestral concert. To some extent, the theater of a laptop orchestra performance is the fact that acoustic instruments (tradition) are replaced by machines with a quasi-futuristic appeal. The word “future” brings at least two resonances here, namely Futurism (as in Russolo's “The Art of Noises”) and futuristic (as in “Matrix” the movie). Differently from the grotesqueness of Russolo's intonarumori, however, the more streamlined1 laptops of today guide our sensibility into the world of software rather than hardware.2

1Along with the appealing visual simplicity (or boring homogeneity, depending of your taste) of several of laptops on stage, groups such as the Stanford Laptop Orchestra (SLOrk) have went a step farther and adorned their stage presence with decisively modern-looking Ikea tables and colorful cushions; not to mention that, incidentally, SLOrk's hemispherical speaker is made out of car speakers mounted inside an Ikea salad bowl. This kind of visual motifs adopted by SLOrk (and perhaps by other laptop orchestras) has an appeal to both science fiction culture (google-image “matrix twins” for an example of cool homogeneity) and modern home interior design (google-image “ikea futuristic kitchen” for the next step after rounded corners). For a very different visual approach for a laptop ensemble, search for “bending laptop orchestra” on YouTube.
2“It is true that software cannot exercise its powers of lightness except through the weight of hardware. But it is software that gives the orders, acting on the outside world and on machines that exist only as functions of software and evolve so that they can work out ever more complex programs. The second industrial revolution, unlike the first, does not present us with such crushing images as rolling mills and molten steel, but with “bits” in a flow of information traveling along circuits in the form of electronic impulses. The iron machines still exist, but they obey the orders of weighless bits.” [Calvino, Italo. Six Memos for the Next Millenium. Harvard University Press, 1988, p. 8. Lectures planned by the author before his death in 1985.]


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