Unlimited music making: Bang! Festival

The Laptop Orchestra is one of the most unique music groups on campus. 

With their theme of creating music in new ways, performers could be a dancer performing a routine to trigger different sensors that create sounds or a trombonist starting a video through playing their instrument. 

The Laptop Orchestra's concert, which will take place on April 14 at Barnett Hall, will showcase the work of students from Music 403. The course allows students with different backgrounds — let it be in engineering, dance or programming — to work together as a group and use their skills to explore creating music. 

“You never know what to expect from the students,” said Brian Topp, a composer programmer for the orchestra. “With technology, some of the stuff is so accessible and easy to use. Once you start dealing with programming, it’s almost unlimited what you can do with technology.”

This year, the Laptop Orchestra has a big project using video tracks to see whether a dancer can control music with it. Another focus is on whether gyroscopic sensors can control musical parameters. 

The Laptop Orchestra is part of Bang! Festival. The festival is a one-day affair with free entry and happens in three presentations. The first part is performances from Music 320, a course on electronic music. The second are students presenting on their capstone projects, which are independent studies on personally chosen research topics. Students will showcase what they have researched and built. The final presentation is the Laptop Orchestra. 

The Laptop Orchestra consists of 22 students who worked in groups. This year, there are composers, programmers, trained musicians and performer artists. In the past, there also have been teams from engineering who created technology for the class to use. Their works will be showcased in a series of performances.

“One of the things that happens when you start dealing with programming is that everything is a form of information. They’re just numbers and data,” said Topp. “Once you get it into computer language, there’s very little difference between, 'I’m turning a knob on this computer,' to the actual the sound of an instrument coming on or an actual video. A lot of the project is about what can we explore and control.”

“It’s a great experience for being able to collaborate, put things together quickly and possibilities. If you’re a programmer, it's about, ‘How do I think visually or musically,’ and if you’re a performer it’s, ‘How do I take the skills that I have and how do work with electronics and make music when there’s processing involved,’” continued Topp.

Bang! Festival is at the Barnett Music Hall on April 14. Entry is free.