If your body was an instrument, what would it sound like? This is one of the questions that David Heid ’13 attempts to answer with the Rochester Laptop Orchestra, an interactive exhibition that blends art and science. The event, featuring two performances on Thursday, September 18th and Saturday, September 20th, is one of many showcases at this year’s Rochester Fringe Festival.
Inspired by performances at Princeton and Stanford, Heid’s computer-based compositions explore the ways that the digital and electronic sciences can intersect with music. “This one’s different in the sense that it’s more interactive,” he said. Heid’s exhibition will allow the audience to be a part of the musical experience. The Laptop Orchestra promises to provide a multimodal, interactive experience that showcases the breadth of creativity and innovation that the University of Rochester has to offer.
Heid believes that the project well represents the focus of his studies of music education and electrical and computer engineering. A former dual degree student at Eastman and the River campus, he is now a second year masters student pursuing a degree in musical acoustics and signal processing. In many senses, the creation of the Laptop Orchestra is a fusion of Heid’s dual interests and various talents by showcasing the combination of music and engineering. “Music has never felt academic enough for me,” he admitted. “This is a nice way to blend it in a way that it can be.”
Instead of conventional instruments, the “orchestra” makes use of computers and motion sensing controllers used by undergraduates to generate sound. One piece involves a dancer from Ballet Performance Group creating sound through movement. Through a Wiimote and gesture recognition technology, dance moves are translated into music. A similar piece allows a dancer to generate pre-recorded sound bites from the Yellowjackets according to specific steps on electronically wired tap shoes. Another performance brings in the Plank Road North Elementary Drum Ensemble creating a composition of pre-recorded vocal percussion.
Heid’s event is just as interactive as it is collaborative, which differentiates it from the earlier digital orchestras. One segment of the performance allows an audience member to control the rhythm of the piece through the use of a hacked Bop-It. Another allows the audience to decide the progression of a musical landscape as produced by the campus Carillon Society.
One of the more personal pieces involves mapping viruses to music. Using data from translated genomes, Heid created compositions that function as musical representations of HIV and ebola, among other illnesses. Last spring, Heid was quarantined after the measles outbreak, which was an experience that put a strain on his academic momentum as a grad student. Instead of viewing it as a setback, he used the experience as an opportunity, working with an epidemiologist to create the virus-themed pieces.
While the Laptop Orchestra is in many ways the apex of Heid’s academic career, the show is not entirely about him; the project actually brought in the knowledge and talent of over 40 different students. “I know I’m not an expert in everything, and that’s why I brought these people in,” Heid said. “At Rochester, we do great things in every discipline. With the Laptop Orchestra, we can do those things together.”
Proceeds from ticket sales will go to RocMusic collaborative, which offers classical and instrumental music lessons to children in the downtown Rochester area. Getting a musical start in Pennsylvania through a similar program, he hopes that this early opportunity program can provide children with the same access to the arts.
All in all, Heid hopes that the performances will bring attention to the many possibilities that music has to offer in the modern world. “There’s not a lot in the industry that tries to blend stuff like this; I want to get people thinking.” With the Rochester Laptop Orchestra, he’s sure to do just that.
The Rochester Laptop Orchestra will have two shows on Thursday, September 18th at 6:00PM and Saturday, September 20th at 2:30PM at the TheatreROCS Stage at Xerox Auditorium.