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The Princeton Laptop Orchestra (PLOrk) is a Princeton University ensemble of computer based meta-instruments. It is the first ensemble of its kind in the history of computer music, both in scale and in approach.



Musical instruments have long been on the cutting edge of technology, often spurring new research and development. In recent years, the computer music research community at Princeton University and elsewhere have been exploring ways in which the computer can be integrated into conventional music-making contexts (chamber ensembles, jam sessions, etc...) while also radically transforming those contexts. This has involved developing new speaker systems that have a more instrument-like presence, human-computer interfacing (HCI) designs that involve performers physically the way musical instruments do, and software to link the performers' bodies to sound. In the past, these ideas have been explored with small groups of people (2-3) whereas the Princeton Laptop Orchestra is the first to extend these ideas to larger groups (12-15) and using the “orchestra” (in a very general sense) as a model.

Each PLOrk “instrument” consists of a laptop, a multi-channel hemispherical speaker, and a variety of “control” devices (keyboards, graphics tablets, sensors, etc...). The members of this ensemble (including professors, students, and professional musicians) will act as performers, researchers, composers, and software developers. The challenges are many: what kinds of sounds can be created? How can the ensemble physically “control” these sounds? How are these sounds composed? There are also social questions with musical and technical ramifications: how to organize a dozen players in this context? With a conductor? Via a wireless network?

A number of composers from Princeton and elsewhere have been developing pieces for PLOrk that address these questions. PLOrk works closely with these composers on their pieces with the aim of developing them further and further exploring a new branch of computer music and new media musical composition and performance.


PLOrk was co-founded in 2005 by Professors Perry Cook and Dan Trueman, with graduate students Scott Smallwood and Ge Wang, and funding and support from many Princeton University departments, organizations, and industrial affiliations. Composers and performers from Princeton and elsewhere developed new pieces for the ensemble, including Paul Lansky (Professor of Music at Princeton), Brad Garton (Director of the Columbia Computer Music Center), Pauline Oliveros, PLOrk co-founders Dan Trueman and Perry Cook, Scott Smallwood, Ge Wang, and others. The new PLOrk gave its first performance on April 4th, 2006, in Richardson Auditorium, Princeton University. Grammy-winning tabla player Zakir Hussain, renowned accordionist Pauline Oliveros, and So Percussion also performed with the group. PLOrk has since performed at Dartmouth College, the Ear to the Earth festival (produced by the Electronic Music Foundation), ffmup and elsewhere. Several scholarly articles describing the motivations for establishing such an ensemble, the issues involved in composing for laptop orchestra, and pedagogical concerns, are currently in press. PLOrk was first presented academically at the 2006 International Computer Music Conference in New Orleans. The guest director of the PLOrk for 2007 was R. Luke DuBois.

Since the beginning, PLOrk has made extensive use of ChucK, a new music programming language created by Ge Wang and Perry Cook which allows the performers to develop new code both in preparation and in performance, and which serves as a primary teaching tool.


There are 15 PLOrk stations. Each station consists of a laptop with audio software; a rack containing an 8-channel audio amplifier, a power conditioner, and other electronic components; and a custom-made 6-channel hemispherical speaker. In April 2008, PLOrk began using a new hemispherical unit which combines the functionality of the old rack and speakers into one more portable device. The laptops are Apple 12" powerbooks, or more recently, 14" Macbooks. HCI devices include keyboard controllers, TriggerFinger interfaces, graphics tablets, Nintendo Wii remotes, and infrared, light, pressure, and tilt sensors. Additional gears include sitting mats and pillows, laptop lapdesk, and gears for transportation.

The PLOrk ensemble uses a variety of commercial and open-source software. Two audio programming languages, ChucK and Max/MSP are primarily used for pedagogy and performance.

Media Coverage and Relevant Writings

  • Why A Laptop Orchestra in Organised Sound, 2007
  • paper in the International Computer Music Conference Proceedings, 2006
  • news article in Princeton Weekly Bulletin
  • All Things Considered on NPR
  • [1] NPR Weekend America radio interview
  • [2] WPRB feature
  • [3] here and now radio feature
  • [4] (video) PLOrk on Fox Evening News
  • [5] (video) New Jersey Network feature
  • [6] Guardian UK article
  • [7] MIT technology review article
  • [8] Wired Magazine article
  • [9] New York Times article
  • [10] New Music Box article
  • [11] Philadelphia Enquirer review
  • [12] SPAN article
  • PLORK Introducing The Princeton Laptop Orchestra

See also

External links



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