On Saturday December 13, the Center for New Music of the School of Music of the University of Iowa presented a concert of the Laptop Orchestra of the University of Iowa, which goes by the name LOUi. The orchestra performed at the Riverside Recital Hall.
According to the City Press-Citizen report, this is one among only about a dozen of these groups throughout the country, most of them associated to universities. I was very excited to attend a concert of such an unusual ensemble. In fact, after many years as a musician I had started to feel like I had never attended a concert before. What is a laptop orchestra anyway? What kind of sound you may hear? Does it require a real musician or an IT specialist? Do they use traditional scores? Those are some of many questions I had puzzling my mind, even after so many years attending concerts of all kinds of music. Thus, what one could expect from such an unusual ensemble?
The first half of the program presented the pieces Quirky-Quotidian by Andy Thierauf, Cocci II by Alexandros Spyrou, Eco-Location by Jonah Elrod, Laptop Quartet no. 1 by Jonathan Wilson, and …by Antietam`s waves by Taylor Gillhouse and Jason Palamara. The pieces Quirky-Quotidian, and Eco-Location called my attention by the use of “ordinary” sounds. The first was built on sounds of everyday objects like bottles and cardboard boxes, the second was created with sounds recorded in different locations of Iowa City, sounds like birds singing and a truck. The pieces Cocci II and Laptop Quartet no. 1 were examples an interesting and intricate use of sound manipulating. The last piece on the first half of the program was an interesting multimedia piece based on the Civil War. It was a very dramatic piece associating manipulated sounds and dancing.
The final half of the program presented the pieces Dresses by Joseph Norman and Paul Duffy, Quartet for LOUi by Justin Comer, and past every exit… by Jason Palamara. The pieces on the second half of the program brought more acoustic sounds and multimedia pieces, like the piece Dresses, which mixes a poem by Charles Bukowski, which was actually recited on stage, acoustic sounds, and computer manipulated sounds. The last two pieces on the program, Quartet for LOUi, and past every exit… also shows an interesting mix of acoustic sounds and sounds manipulated by computer.
My first impression when I got to the hall was that I had just got inside an IT center, the only thing resembling music at that moment was the piano on the back of the stage. As the Research Assistant Jason Palamara remarked, it was not difficult to imagine that the performers were going to read their emails during the performance. In fact, as explained by the Center for New Music director Dr. David Gompper there are much more about this orchestra than “just” laptops. It is a totally different approach to musical performance, starting with the composers performing their own works, going through an intricate process of live sound manipulation, streaming what is happening in real time on a screen, dancing, and actual acoustic instruments. What I could witness in the LOUi performance, was a concert of new music that redefines all concepts of live performance I could have so far. The LOUi is definitely pushing the boundaries of music performance practices further, and redefining the role of the composer in a concert hall.