The Stanford Laptop Orchestra – Twilight

This video captures a performance of Ge Wang’s Twilight by the Stanford Laptop Orchestra (SLOrk). The piece is inspired by the science-fiction short story Twilight, by John W. Campbell.

The Stanford Laptop Orchestra (SLOrk) is an ensemble that explores the use of computer technology in a traditional musical context. Their goal is to combine the sonic and compositional possibilities of the computer with the immediacy and energy of a live ensemble performance.

Twilight – Ge Wang

According to the composer, the piece “ruminates not of the dawn, ascension, nor triumph of the human race, but of one possible demise set seven million years in the future. This end is not one of annihilation through war, nor decimation from famine or disease, but a golden decrescendo of defeat brought on by the gradual, peaceful, but unstoppable usurping of technology and machines — and the loss of man’s curiosity and sense of wonder.”

From the original text:

“Twilight – the sun has set. The desert out beyond, in its mystic, changing colors. The great, metal city rising straight-walled to the human city above, broken by spires and towers and great trees with scented blossoms. The silvery-rose glow in the paradise of gardens above.”

i. The Dead City

“And all the great city-structure throbbing and humming to the steady gentle beat of perfect, deathless machines built more than three million years before – and never touched since that time by human hands. And they go on. The dead city. The men that have lived, and hoped, and built – and died to leave behind them those little men who can only wonder and look and long for a forgotten kind of companionship. They wander through the vast cities their ancestors built, knowing less of them than the machines themselves.”

ii. A Song of Longing

“And the songs. Those tell the story best, I think. Little, hopeless, wondering men amid vast unknowing, blind machines that started three million years before – and just never knew how to stop. They are dead – and can’t die and be still.” This is the first installment in the Twilight series for various and mixed media. The cycle explores the psychology, longing, beauty and sadness of a twilight of humanity ending not in a bang, but an irreversible powerdown, basked in the golden, lingering, dying glow of man’s dusk.

16 thoughts on “The Stanford Laptop Orchestra – Twilight

  1. Sounds like Tangerine Dream’s “Phaedra” (which is 40 years old this year) I like the performance aspect of this, though.

  2. Reading the text, I really wanted to not like this, but it is pretty accessible and very listenable.

    Me wrong. Me like.

  3. And the good folks at Stanford probably already know this, but SLORC was the acronym for the State Law and Order Restoration Council in Burma/Myanmar back in the really bad old days of the Junta. They have a long history of human rights abuses in that country.

    Coincidence? Irony? Irrelevant (ie me for bringing this up)?

  4. Do this at home alone in GarageBand and everyone will call it crap. Do it on stage at Stanford and you are some kind of genius.

    1. Your comment makes it sound like you’re upset about the reception of your bedroom studio masterpieces, rather than offering intelligent critique of this performance.

      Whether of not you like his music, We isn’t afraid to man up, organize an ensemble and present his music to the world. Quite effectively, I’d add.

      1. Nope. Sounds like I was making some intelligent and pointed social commentary about the importance of presentation, and the undeniable truth that people are far more impressed with an artists work if you tell them before hand that they will be.

        I could also make some comments about how you feel personally attacked when someone doesn’t like what you like. But I can see you are enjoying the show, so I’ll just leave you to it.

  5. It seems a significant part of the piece was “performance art” where the audience experiences an array of people controlling portable computers with stringed controllers thingies.

    I’m curious how would the sound and the audience’s experience have been altered if some or all of those sounds were made with some acoustic instruments (didgeridoos, cellos, etc.) I guess if they were all acoustic instruments, it would have been “nothing new”. Could all of that been run from a single laptop (with all those controllers transmitting via bluetooth?)? Again, the visual element of the network was probably quite deliberate.

    There is obviously lots of potential with Leap Motion & Reaktor and all kinds of ways ensembles like that could do TRUELY new things. We can’t expect that everyone with a budget, a venue and a bunch of people will create something mind-blowing every time. But that was at least tasteful and sonically interesting. But yea, think of it more as performance art and less music composition/production and your expectations will be better calibrated.

  6. Don’t buy the hype. “Laptop Orchestra”? There is nothing orchestral about this group. I genuinely believe that electronics and computers can be used for artistic expression. This, however, is pretentiousness overshadowing skill.

    1. In Your Humble Opinion, of course.

      I think it’s impressive that (at least)12 (?) people managed to get together to set this up and practice it, coordinate the lighting, etc. There’s a lot of work goes into a thing like this.

      I’d like to see more multi-person electronic music performances – especially when they feature interaction amongst the performers (which I believe this piece does).

      And I’d like to suggest that the current state of music technology makes a “one-man band” almost trivial. Getting a large group (>10) of people to cooperate on an experimental artistic vision is extremely difficult – I think SLOrk does it by making it a class, so you have to show up or you get an “F” 🙂

  7. Let the ragging commence. As for me, at first I was thinking Lux Aeterna and the inevitable comparisons with the old guard science fiction classical music, from Bernard Herrmann to 2001 to the TRONs. But there was even a some wispy ghostliness from Lou Reed and John Cale in there. I rather liked it. Then again, I can listen to Ravi Shankar for hours, and I know some people just can’t. Tastes are acquired.

  8. I read the short story when I was a kid. As source material goes, this is really good stuff. I’m not sure how much I’d like this as stand-alone audio, but as an audio-visual performance piece, I like it quite a bit. Heh, I’d love to see something like this done with some “NIN on tour”-level $$$s thrown at it.

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