Worldscape Laptop Orchestra

The Musical Laptops of York

The concert hall is dark and hushed, as such venues tend to be. Then the orchestra begins to play. First there’s a whirring, then a beep, then a high-pitched squeak. The 50-piece Worldscape Laptop Orchestra has begun its performance at the University of York, in England.

By “piece” the orchestra means laptop computer. Fifty of them, made by Apple, have been gathered by the university’s music department to perform works composed by Ambrose Field, a senior lecturer in the department. They will be streamed live from the university’s Web site later this month, a local newspaper reports.

The laptops are not simulating pianos or guitars. They are generating tones, the likes of which often issue from nonmusical computers. Yet “we wanted to approach this very much from the standpoint of an orchestra,” says Mr. Field, “so people are working together and playing together and making sounds together.”

And if the spectacle of users tapping away at laptops doesn’t come up to the visual grandeur of a full orchestra, Mr. Field has added other visual stimulations: Large video screens in the concert hall show images of roads, people walking, and other scenes. For audience members who might wonder when the music has finally stopped, the screens provide a hint. At the end, in large letters, they say, “Game Over.” —Josh Fischman

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