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Introducing L2Ork, World's First Linux Laptop Orchestra 86

Posted by timothy
from the might-prefer-all-cellos dept.
Agram writes "Take a netbook, Wiimotes, Nunchuks, and hemispherical speakers (which were once IKEA salad bowls), toss it up with some Ubuntu goodness and what you get is Virginia Tech's L2Ork, the world's first Linux-based laptop orchestra. With its affordable design and support from the Linux community, L2Ork hopes to bring laptop orchestras to K-12 education and beyond. So, regardless whether you wish to hear how L2Ork might sound or to learn how to build your own Linux-based *Ork infrastructure, perhaps this is a good opportunity to reopen the age-old debate: is Linux finally ready for some serious audio work?"
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Introducing L2Ork, World's First Linux Laptop Orchestra

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    Unfortunately companies that make good DACs, like MOTU, don't provide Linux drivers. It's no good to try and work on a Linux box if you're limited to the built in stereo 1/8" soundcard.

    So while it can work for small hemi-speakers, trying to drive a full surround setup is near impossible without good proper DACs.

    • by resfilter (960880)
      i don't know about that.

      if you look through the alsa's driver list, you will find many professional-grade multi-channel interfaces.

      the alsa project has brought support for some excellent professional interfaces - with a few exceptions, like motu (to me, motu have always been the tops for midi, but definitely not the best dacs out there)

      a couple of layla 3Gs work great under linux for me, unfortunately the production software i want just isn't there.
      • by PopeRatzo (965947) * on Thursday December 03, 2009 @06:07PM (#30317300) Homepage Journal

        The Layla 3G is a decent home studio interface, but as you say, there just isn't any software that runs natively in Linux that is remotely appropriate for professional work.

        I've tried to run Cockos' Reaper under Wine, but I find jack just too much of a hassle.

        However, Reaper has features that allow you to use a Linux machine to offload effects processing chores to via Ethernet and it works great. It makes my workflow much more efficient and allows me to do much more in real-time. And of course, a Linux box with a RAID array is an excellent sample server and rendering platform. Reaper is quickly becoming my favorite DAW software because of it's ability to leverage Linux machines in a professional studio environment. Someday, I hope to see a Linux port of Reaper.

        Linux may not yet be ready to act as a standalone music production system, but it definitely has a place in a professional music production facility. And of course, it's a great platform for experiments like the one described in this article.

  • I still can't figure out exactly what this does. I've even looked up SLOrk and PLOrk, and I don't have any idea what they do, either. Is it a sort of MIDI-esque endeavour? Some kind of networking for digital instruments? Something entirely different?

    • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 03, 2009 @04:51PM (#30315918)

      Here's a video of the "orchestra" performing:
      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vFt4MgN7JPQ

      Basically they just have a bunch of wiimotes hooked up to linux laptops running some sort of synthesizer controlled by waving the wiimote. It sounds really mindless and everyone just seems to wave their arms around in circles.

      • And I thought Wii Music stank ... this is actually worse.

        It was a relief to see it end. What are they trying to do - encourage a run on Excedrin?

        I'd hate to think how much more enhanced^Wworse it would have been if they had the MotionPlus.

      • Ok, if we want electronic musical instruments, wouldn't getting schools one or two Theremins [wikipedia.org] be a lot cheaper and more reliable?

        I'm sure lots of schools are already struggling to fund basic music programs, and get kids 'ordinary' instruments (although, I suppose it's quite possible these Laptop Virtual instruments may be cheaper than some analog instruments). Do we really need to be complicating things and making them more expensive, and for what benefit? If the goal is to educate kids about music, I don't

        • by steveha (103154)

          Ok, if we want electronic musical instruments, wouldn't getting schools one or two Theremins be a lot cheaper and more reliable?

          Not the same thing. A theramin is an analog synth instrument; these guys have rigged Wiimotes to control digital computers, and as a result they can operate digital synths, analog synths, sample playback, what have you.

          A theramin can only make a warbling tone. With skilled hands you can coax a performance out of one. But with the Wiimotes, these guys can make bells ring or whate

        • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

          by svtdragon (917476)
          Hey, as long as they're not trying to make laptops into drum sets, no harm done, right?

          Now, if they made something almost, but not quite, entirely unlike what they're doing now, then it might actually have some use for (e.g.) brass instruments. For example, a system wherein a trombone player--with the wiimote representing the position of the slide when playing a trombone, and some kind of a mouthpiece to blow/vibrate into, which could output a tone accordingly, then we might be onto something. Or with
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by PopeRatzo (965947) *

          Do we really need to be complicating things and making them more expensive, and for what benefit?

          I've designed and built the computer music lab at a prestigious university, and our experience is that technology is actually a big money saver for a music program.

          Plus, it's a boon for the students. If you're studying composition or arranging, do you think it's easier to go out and find an orchestra or chamber group to try out your work or fire up a computer with a (virtual) rack of samplers? There's no subst

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by skine (1524819)

        So I'm guessing the next goal is to bring it up to three chord changes per minute.

      • by steveha (103154)

        It sounds really mindless and everyone just seems to wave their arms around in circles.

        Well, I didn't need the video to focus so much on that one repetitive sound they were all making. But at the beginning of the video, one guy makes a lot of different sounds; he must be using buttons on the Wiimote to switch what the synth does.

        I don't think you should be so dismissive. I've heard "minimalist" music that was less musical than what these guys were doing, and I give them bonus points for making a portable

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Idiomatick (976696)
      Its a wierdo music group not an app?
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Trepidity (597)

      SLOrk is basically an attempt to do something like a traditional orchestra but for computer music. A bunch of people on laptops with various control devices attached, with various parts assigned. Here's [youtube.com] an ABC News segment on them.

      It's from the guy who developed ChucK [wikipedia.org], which I think they use, but I don't think the orchestra does livecoding [wikipedia.org], which is what ChucK is best known for.

  • by royallthefourth (1564389) <royallthefourth@gmail.com> on Thursday December 03, 2009 @04:48PM (#30315850)
    Windows has had a stranglehold on laptop orchestras for such a long time that it's really good to be reading about the world's first Linux Laptop Orchestra.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    I have a laptop orchestra that I play regularly too, but I sure as heck wouldn't do so in front of a K-12 classroom...

  • Based on the headline (and reading it a bit too fast) I was expecting some sort of cool Linux Zork tie-in. I think I'll go find a grue now... It's almost dark enough in my office for one.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by schon (31600)

      I was expecting some sort of cool Linux Zork tie-in.

      Funny, I was expecting Pam Dawber and Robin Williams.

      • by ben0207 (845105)

        I wuz 'specktin' it ta be ded shooty, wiv tunz uv gunz all over, and loadsa dat red paint.

  • When I tried (Score:2, Informative)

    by Threni (635302)

    doing audio work I got unstuck immediately. Really bad delays on my midi keyboard. I googled and was told I needed a low latency kernel or something. This was of course wrong. Linux needs a low latency kernel so that it can be taken seriously out of the box. Why would you want, by default, a high latency kernel? Also, I needed to stick together several apps, to turn midi input into something I could hear. I don't understand why. Why can't there be an app which takes midi input and plays sounds (from

    • Re: (Score:1, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Why would you want, by default, a high latency kernel?

      Because latency is reduced by interrupting other tasks in the mid

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Cheile (724052)
      A general rule of thumb is that latency and throughput are opposing interests. For the majority of users and uses occasional latency is a good tradeoff for higher overall throughput and performance. For realtime applications low latency is a good tradeoff for lower overall performance. Linux can be tuned in many ways for many different use cases and may not suit your needs right out of the box.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Hatta (162192)

      Ubuntu Studio 9.10 [ubuntustudio.org] comes with an official real time kernel.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by sowth (748135) *

      In some ways this is a good point. Distros intended to have desktop users should probably include options to use low latency kernels. I don't see how it would be too difficult to include a few kernels compiled for different uses.

      • High latency (100Hz), no preemption for server / intensive cpu jobs.
      • 300 Hz with Voluntary Kernel Preemption for gamer / media playing. I noticed videos were not jumpy at all with this setting. The default would sometimes cause mplayer to stall for a several frames, then play them
    • Why can't there be an app which takes midi input and plays sounds (from a sound font file, wav file, etc) when it gets them?

      Try lmms [sourceforge.net]? It's come a long way. There's a Windows port available too if you want to try it out. Works with the (very low end) midi controllers I have.
  • by mugnyte (203225) on Thursday December 03, 2009 @04:55PM (#30315992) Journal

      How are they choosing notes, keys and other aspects of music? This looks a lot like a very complicated version of the historical crank organ.

    • by Trepidity (597)

      Not sure how they're doing it, but it's basically an open problem how to control a hugely multi-dimensional space like computer music via controllers people can use. One approach is to choose 2-3 axes of variation and map them to something like a Wii-style controller, which seems to be what they're doing here (or something more exotic, like a theremin controller). Plenty of other ideas--- even an entire yearly conference [nime.org] on it.

      This [nime.org] (PDF) is a fairly widely cited paper that gives a brief overview. (There's a

      • by Patch86 (1465427)

        I don't really see what the problem is with "buttons".

        Pianos, organs, etc. overcame essentially this problem centuries ago with a combination of hand and foot buttons (keyboard and pedals). Wind instruments came to the same conclusion too- most wind instruments (eg., trumpet, flute, clarinet) essentially have a small number of buttons which are held in various combinations whilst blowing. And percussion instruments (such as drums) are easily emulateable with big, appropriately shaped buttons that you can ba

        • by sydb (176695)

          You're right, the human race should really stop trying new stuff out.

          • by Patch86 (1465427)

            They shouldn't. But equally, abandoning about 6 thousand years of lessons learned just because you can makes no sense.

            We have keyboards. They're swell. But in this age of high-technology, shouldn't we be able to take the "pressing buttons" approach and come up with something better? Does "trying out new stuff" have to involve waggling Wii Remotes around? I mean they're a nice toy and fun video game controller, but whoever thought they were the best tool for emulating musical instruments really needs to sit

  • by digsbo (1292334) on Thursday December 03, 2009 @04:58PM (#30316036)
    ...but no simpler.

    It's an interesting idea and may have beneficial applications for entertainment, music therapy or childhood education, but I don't see much potential for any real [read artistic] musical applications. Excepting, possibly, interactive performance art or something.

    The richness of a real symphony orchestra's sound is tied to the complexity and expertise of about a hundred different musicians at levels of superb mastery working together as individuals to recreate and interpret a composer's vision. I don't see how it would be possible to do anything different from the already tired new-agey synthesizer muzak with a tool like this. Of course I feel similarly about replacing the big band with an electric guitar.

    • In a cool or scary development, depending on how you want to look at it, computers can do an amazing job of replicating symphonies and other musical groups. Powerful CPUs, lots of RAM and big harddrives mean it is feasible to extensively sample instruments and then have a computer make music using it. Go have a look around EastWest's site and you can see all the various kinds of instruments and groups they've got sample sets for. For orchestra's it is their Symphonic Orchestra product (http://www.soundsonli

      • by digsbo (1292334)

        I'm not saying the computer's the problem. I'm saying that a Wii controller is not going to give the level of detailed I/O required to take advantage of the capabilities you describe.

        It's IO bound. A flute player can alter the tone quality produced by changing their oral orifice from oval to circular, in addition to breath speed, vibrato, airflow angle against the flute, and then the notes being played.

        And that's ONE instrument out of about a hundred. The video on their site showed about 6 people wavin

      • by Dripdry (1062282)

        To the Parent and GP:

        Why are we trying to make computers sound just like orchestras?

        That seems, to me, to be the whole "problem", and it's one that we're creating. By comparing the present with the past we're creating needless conflict.

        Computers can create some really complex, incredibly beautiful music. Machines can do things that no human orchestra is ever likely to be able to recreate.

        Human instruments (please leave off the skin flute jokes :) ) can also be beautiful, but have different sets of inputs.

        Un

        • Well that is precisely the reason for a sample set like this: To make a computer sound like a real instrument. There are many reasons to want to do this.

          One would be if you don't have access to a real orchestra. That would be the situation I'm in. I like to mess around with music, however I'm not a professional and I'm not rich. I can't go and have an orchestra play something for me if I want. However, I can afford to buy Virtual Instruments and make my computer sound an awful lot like a real orchestra (or

          • by digsbo (1292334)

            I'm not saying at all that computers can't or shouldn't be used in music. I'm saying that based on the input devices being used, and from what I can guess about the methodology used based on the video I watched, there's no way this system can be used to do things of comparable sophistication to what you'd get from a symphony orchestra.

            After all, they are calling this a Linux laptop orchestra.

            Of course computers are wonderful tools for composers who want to produce orchestral music but don't have the budge

            • Ya well, pretty much anything using a Wiimote is guaranteed to be a dumbass gimmick. After all, it isn't as though this sort of motion capture/control is new. Gyration makes a number of products that can track motion in the air, and far more accurately than the Wiimote. It has just brought it to mainstream attention and thus you get people like this with silly ideas playing with one.

    • by Patch86 (1465427)

      What you're basically saying (and I agree) is that the quality of an "orchestra" is directly related to the quality of the instruments.

      Classic instruments and nuanced and perfected over centuries of development- and this thing in TFA looks like just a silly Wiimusic-style toy.

      But I disagree that there can't be any such thing as a genuinely good synthetic instrument. There might not be yet (or there might be- I just don't know), but there's nothing fundamentally wrong about the concept. We can already make c

  • The scene is quite odd, but the result is hypnotic - and *way* more musical than most things infecting the Billboard these days! Where do we get the album? Will they tour?
  • Ill be there and i think the after party is at Connor's
  • by sheehaje (240093) on Thursday December 03, 2009 @05:21PM (#30316368)

    While I'm not into Laptop Orchestra's, I do use Ubuntu Studio now for MOST of my audio processing.

    Only 4 years ago, I couldn't make it work. I use a Presonus Firepod to record my band, and also have some other gadgets. The only thing I am really missing is something like Gearbox for my Line 6 PodXT, there just isn't a substitute yet for Linux. No worries though, I pretty much have my board setup the way I want, so rarely even use Gearbox anymore.

    Anyway, back to my point. I now use Linux as my DAW, as a sequencer, and increasing for my general computing needs. I love Jackd with Ardour and Patchage. It's gotten to the point where it's not just a suitable replacement for Cubase or Pro-Tools, but is my preferred setup. Now that my ATI drivers are finally working properly with the RT kernel in Ubuntu 9.10, I am finding the cube desktop actually useful instead of just eye candy. I can have my mixers, editors, patchage, etc. on separate workspaces and get to them easily.

    Just a month ago, I had a friend of mine come over to check out my setup. He is a drummer that also wanted to start home recordings. He bought a ART Tubefire 8, and was very disappointed with the crippled Cubase LE that came with the hardware. After seeing my setup, he went out, bought a $300 computer and a firewire card and asked me to get him setup. Knowing nothing about Linux, or Ubuntu, etc, he is now using the setup to great success.. If there was ever a killer app for Linux, this is it, at least for music professionals and hobbyists.

    The major drawback is hardware support still has a ways to go. But, right now there is the ability to get high end music recording equipment working very well right out of the box. I am a very satisfied "customer". And to think, 4 years ago I never thought it would get there.

    • by linuxpyro (680927)

      I've got an M Audio Delta 44 that works pretty well with Ubuntu Studio. I've used Ardour/Jackd for a few years now (first on Gentoo and now on Ubuntu Studio) and they work great.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by anechoic (129368)

      ditto -- I'm an Ardour user on Ubuntu and would never go back to OS X -- ever!
      http://createdigitalmusic.com/2009/08/04/linux-music-workflow-switching-from-mac-os-x-to-ubuntu-with-kim-cascone/

    • Do you have any document about how your set up is?

      Do you have any sources of information for somebody that would be trying to start producing music with Linux?

      Any tutorials you know about?

  • Hope they're not hoping to sell many tickets for performances just yet.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    I have a laptop orchestra. Any floutists wanna play?

    • I have a laptop orchestra. Any floutists wanna play?

      I don't know how much I'd advertise having a 3 inch pianist, if I were you...

  • Why do people always ask if the OS is ready for audio/video/futuristichyper3dmedia work? Of course the OS is: its job is to provide interfaces for hardware drivers and schedule processes to run, some of which might just be audio/video/you-get-it application programs. Ever since Windows, the original Mac OS, and a few others started bundling all of these apps into the OS distribution, people have confused operating systems with the toys they're shipped with. Of course, I'm old and cranky and mainframe bas
  • Too Steep a Curve (Score:3, Insightful)

    by b4upoo (166390) on Thursday December 03, 2009 @07:15PM (#30318316)

    So far Linux does have musical capabilities but not enough and not easy enough either.
                For example converting a treble clef trumpet part to a bass clef trombone part should be a no brainer and printing it out should be a breeze as well. Further converting a melody played through the system into a score should also be simple.
                Having to use different programs to print a score, convert a score and play a score will not attract many musicians.
                So far one of the very, very few excuses for running Windows is the production of music by musicians. Online DJs may fare better as they may alter music but do not usually create it.

  • Because it sure ain't no orchestra. That's be a collection of musical instruments. This is a collection of pseudo-random musical background sound generators. Music is replicable, hence "songs". This is self-similar. Any collection of sounds can be called music, but the brain decides if it sounds like 'real' music when a power curve representing the output of all notes/sounds fits a particular dimensionality; details are in Mandelbrot's first fractals picture book. If these can be tweaked to produce that, I'

  • I have moved to GNU/Linux two and a half months ago. I wanted to move before but as a musician I did not want to give up music and what I saw on GNU systems was very weak and simply did not allow me to do anything. I have to point out that I am not an orchestra man, I am an electronic musician. So I don't care for much recording (although I do for some), I care more for effects, synthesizers and sequencers. What can I say? Apart from a long learning curve (which is okay, actually, I don't mind learning so
    • Funnily enough, I've shown this discussion to my friend and he, having ready my post, said - Did you see the Bristol project? I said what? And he gave me a link: http://bristol.sourceforge.net/index.html [sourceforge.net] I've installed it now and now trying out. Great GUIs, beautiful sounds. I may have to take the above soft synth rants back.
    • I tend to think of this as being given a pre packaged cake mix with instructions as opposed to being given flour, milk, eggs, chocolate and having to figure out what to do with them. If you are already a cook then this isn't a problem if not you are probably going to want to get yourself a cookbook.

      With regards to ladspa effects the UI's are minimalistic rather than ugly. However they don't really clue you in to what you are supposed to be doing you either know or you don't know. I got around this by purcha
      • Yeah, I agree. It's just as a composer I am not too interested in sound synthesis, I am interested in using it =) I guess with time it will change.

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