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The stage is dark as the musicians wait for the director to give the signal to start. The music starts up slowly, increasing in intensity. But instead of seeing wind instruments, and strings, drums or a piano, the audience sees bright, shining MACs in the darkness and the glow of LCD screens illuminating the faces of the musicians.
Daniel Trueman (ISEF 1986) cofounded this innovative ensemble, The Princeton Laptop Orchestra (PLOrk), with Perry Cook in 2005. The orchestra, which recently won the 2010 MacArthur Foundation Digital Media and Learning Competition, creates a new kind of music using technology.
“We don’t endeavor to emulate what traditional instruments can do, because traditional instruments are really good at that,” Dan says. “We are more interested in finding new kinds of music that are really indigenous to computing. So the sounds sometimes are quite familiar but usually there is some aspect to it that is unfamiliar.”
The ensemble utilizes equipment such as sensors within laptops and Wii controllers to help the musicians create these sounds. The music it produces ranges from scary stories to percussion jam sessions. This latest grant from the MacArthur Foundation will help the group make the instruments more portable.
While Dan completed a project on the structure of muscle proteins in high school, which earned him a spot at ISEF, and he studied physics in college, he has also always been interested in music. “It might seem strange that I ended up as a composer and musician having focused on doing so much scientific stuff earlier, but I actually find it to be really quite relevant. All the work I did in science actually very much informs the work I do now in really positive ways,” He says, adding that it’s given him a sense of fearlessness as well. “A lot of musicians are scared of math, or scared of technology subjects,” he says, but, due to his background, he has not been afraid to dig into new areas and combine music with technology.
One of the beautiful things about science is its universality.