April 18, 2019 | 60° F

RIME, PLOrk tie music with technology in laptop orchestra show

Photo by Jordan Levy |

Music and technology have always been inseparable. In the 21st century, the relationship has become more intimate than ever, as computers are not just hosts for music, but instruments for performers as well.

One of the first and most prominent ensembles using laptops is the Princeton Laptop Orchestra, or PLOrk. Princeton has had a long relationship with music technology. Their music professors were some of the founding members of the Computer Music Center (CMC). The CMC is the oldest electronic music research center in the country, started by Columbia and Princeton professors in the early 1950s.

Drawing from a legacy tracing back decades, PLOrk was formed in 2005, and the group has performed in venues like Carnegie Hall and the American Academy of Sciences. Led by directors Jeff Snyder and Jason Treuting, PLOrk came to Mason Gross School of the Arts last night for a special performance with the Rutgers Interactive Music Ensemble, or RIME.

RIME is a new performing group at Mason Gross School of the Arts and last night was its very first public performance. Led by Professor Steven Kemper, who teaches Music Technology and Composition, the ensemble of Mason Gross students opened the concert. Kemper commented on his role at the school and with RIME. 

“One of the goals for me is to get students to become more familiar with using computer technologies in live performance situations. The other thing is to allow students whose mode of music making is by using the computer or other digital instruments a place where they can perform,” Kemper said.  

Throughout the event the music was highly experimental, seeming to be more about sonic exploration than the melody and harmony that you might expect at most concerts. Music was played from scores being electronically generated in real time, and there were multiple improvisatory works.

RIME performed a piece called “Singaporean Crosswalk” composed by Joo Won Park. The piece required the performers to walk around the performance space, laptop in hand. Their movements and locations subtly altered the tone and rhythm of the piece, giving everyone in the room a unique experience, depending on where they sat.  

PLOrk performed music from Snyder, who also composes and designs instruments, and works by Earle Brown. PLOrk was accompanied by musical robots made by Kemper for one of their pieces. They also performed works based on neurons firing and graphical notation, which differs from the regular musical notation system.

RIME and PLOrk also performed in tandem, playing an improvisation on white noise, inspired by famed electronic composer Pauline Oliveros. Alongside laptops, instruments like the violin, bass drum, bassoon and trombone were used to emulate white noise.

Marissa Hickman, a member of RIME, spoke about her long-held interest in music technology.

“I’ve been interested in music technology throughout college, I was first introduced to it when I came to Rutgers, and I’ve taken a bunch of classes for it. Then I decided to do a minor in music technology,” the Mason Gross School of the Arts senior said.

Hickman, a pianist, takes every opportunity to immerse herself in programs involving music technology, and RIME is a prime opportunity that she was eager to take. The difference between piano and laptop is vast, and Hickman detailed some of the unique problems that come with electronic performance. 

“A lot of things can go wrong, so you have to make sure everything is set up on time and set up correctly,” Hickman said.  

The concert was truly one of a kind, with music being stretched beyond the standard conventions, creating an intensely 21st-century experience. 

Jordan Levy

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