The Boulder Laptop Orchestra, a.k.a. BLOrk, uses both instrumental and electronic music to create a new sound and experiment with electronic integration in acoustic music.
The group, which started in 2008, is currently made up of undergraduate students. This year, members are enrolled in an electronic music ensemble class, which explores the history of electronic music – a genre that’s been around since the ’30s and ’40s – and experiments with new ways of creating appealing sound.
BLOrk emphasizes research into electronic music. Although the class focuses on the history of the genre, the group also delves into finding new ways to do things, from new equipment to different practices.
“Electronic music isn’t new, but what’s new is that we’re doing with the equipment that we’re able to use,” said John Gunther, co-director and assistant professor of jazz studies.
“If you think of a saxophone and how the sound waves really come out from all directions, it doesn’t just come out of here; it comes out of here and here, in more of a hemispherical kind of shape, so [the Princeton Laptop Orchestra] came up with a speaker design that mimics the way that sound is emanated,” Gunther explained.
The Princeton Laptop Orchestra, which started in 2006, researched different kinds of speakers and their sounds. BLOrk bought some of PLOrk’s old gear when the group was in transition, and it proved to be guidance for CU’s own ensemble.
“If you can imagine, you go to a concert and maybe they have a speaker, you know like this,” Gunther said, pointing to a normal flat speaker. “One speaker here, one speaker there – you just have these two points of sound. Well, now, we might have eight of these [hemispherical speakers] spread across the stage. It’s like eight separate instruments now, the way you experience the sound.”
Although the group focuses on electronic music, BLOrk also emphasizes mixing traditional sounds with the electronically generated music.
“I’m mainly a saxophone player,” Gunther admits with a laugh. “So I’m coming at this as an improviser and as an instrumentalist. So I look to all of this stuff like, How can I integrate this with where I’m coming from as a jazz musician?”
Additionally, the electronic music ensemble class is open to anyone on campus, regardless of his or her major. Non-music majors audition to ensure the students understand what the class entails and add a different perspective to the ensemble. Some BLOrk members don’t even play instruments, instead focusing on the more electronically generated side.
The group offers students a way to express themselves musically through various genres and forms.
“My favorite part of being involved with BLOrk is the musical improvisation with other students and faculty. I rarely get to jam musically in a structured environment,” said Derek Poppe, a 23-year-old senior and member of BLOrk.
BLOrk has performed with other groups across the country and around the world through video feeds.
“I think the real-time concerts with remote institutions – internet jams – have been an important indicator of what the future of performance will be – exploration of alternate control devices, light and motion sensors, iPads and phones,” said John Drumheller, co-director of BLOrk and Instructor and Director of Music Technology.
Although the group incorporates traditional music production, some criticize the group for focusing too much on electronic music. However, members of the group don’t believe the criticism is warranted.
“Though some people classify electronic music as somehow different than other genres, the vast majority of contemporary music utilizes electronic production in some way. The truth is that sound is sound, and music is music, no matter how it’s created,” Poppe said.
Besides, the group’s focus on incorporating traditional music proves BLOrk is not trying to replace acoustic instruments with electronic music, but in fact utilize the sounds to create music that is innovative.
“Sometimes people freak out. ‘Oh, electronic music, you’re replacing instruments!’ And that’s really not what we’re trying to do. There’s nothing like hearing a string quartet, there’s nothing like hearing an orchestra,” Gunther said. “There’s nothing like it, no speakers can recreate that.”
Contact CU Independent Staff Writer Ainslee Mac Naughton at Ainslee.firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ainslee is a junior majoring in journalism. She spends most semesters taking sociology and anthropology and English classes, hoping to find another major to complement her journalism degree. She hopes to work on travel magazines and spend times in various parts of the world, although she'll never pass up a chance to go home to south Texas and eat barbecue. She thinks she's funny, even if nobody else does, and enjoys puppies, popcorn kernels and not doing the dishes.
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