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Botetourt students sample a 'laptop orchestra'

Botetourt students sample a 'laptop orchestra'

The Va. Tech group showed middle schoolers that making sound is limited only by the imagination.

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Ico Bukvic’s instrument is made from a laptop, a Wii remote control and an Ikea salad bowl.

The sounds it makes are limited only by imagination.

“It seems kind of crazy, but it comes from that idea that every technology we’ve ever used, we’ve made sound with it,” Bukvic told a student who asked the Virginia Tech professor where he got the idea. “When you have a pot and pan you sometimes bang on it, and hey, that sounds like a drum, right? So why not do it? It was kind of curiosity more than anything else.”

Sixth-grade students at Read Mountain Middle School got a taste of Bukvic’s instrument on Friday, when his Linux Laptop Orchestra, or L2Ork for short (pronounced “Lork” with a silent “2”), came to Botetourt County. As the students filed in the auditorium, a half-circle of musicians, all undergraduates at Tech, stood behind their instruments connected by yards of electrical cords.

One of those musicians, junior Jocelyn Roman, said she knows how weird it all must have looked to students at first. She herself got involved with the group only by accident, when the violist signed up for what she thought was a traditional orchestra class.

“It was the oddest thing,” Roman said.

Quickly though, Roman said she became hooked on the instruments. Now, she’s even composing her own music.

“It’s a great feeling, and I love being a part of it,” she said. Roman said she finds the music relaxing.

Bukvic said the group’s performances are designed to be seen as well as heard, which is why the group began choreographing its movements with tai chi.

When the group plays, each musician directs his or her own instruments through slow-moving motions with their arms. Each musician holds a Wii remote and nunchuk, which control a special program on the laptop that creates the actual sounds. Each laptop is connected to its own speaker, fashioned by hand out of an Ikea salad bowl.

The individual speakers allow listeners to make distinctions between each musician’s sound, similar to the way a violin’s sound would be distinct from a cello’s sound in a traditional orchestra. If all the laptops played out of one speaker, that kind of distinction wouldn’t be possible, Bukvic told students.

Friday, the group performed two pieces for students before letting a select group practice on the instruments themselves, creating a din of musical sounds. The result was “very chaotic, but controlled,” said Jake Koffman, one of the sixth-graders who got to test-drive the instruments with help from L2Ork performers.

Koffman said he plays trumpet and guitar, but laptop orchestra was a totally different experience.

“In guitar, you keep your hands on the string, and trumpet, you keep your hands on the valve,” Koffman explained. “This, you’re just moving everywhere. You don’t sit still.”

Math teacher Stephanie Hufton, who met Bukvic at a Makers camp for teachers over the summer and invited his group to perform Friday, said she hoped L2Ork’s performance would inspire students. The school has its own Makerspace, which is a creative space where students can make hands-on projects.

“My hope is they can use this and think about tinkering around more,” she said.

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