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Futuristic orchestra: Conduct 'screen musicians' through gesture

Is this what the symphony of the future will look like? The crowdsourced Computer Orchestra gathers "musicians" that can be collectively conducted through body movement.

Video screenshot by Leslie Katz/CNET

Ever been to a symphony and imagined standing in front of the orchestra waving your arms around in that mysterious way conductors do?

The Computer Orchestra lets you do that -- if you don't mind your musicians having a motherboard and a battery instead of a head and arms.

The crowdsourced project by three media and interaction design students from Ecal University of Art and Design in Lausanne, Switzerland, lets users create and conduct their own orchestra by choosing an array of digital music samples and then assigning them to computers situated in a specific formation.

The conductor arranges the separate "instruments" on a computer screen. Video screenshot by Leslie Katz/CNET

Michael Tilson Thomas wannabes can create their own sound snippets, vocal or otherwise, and upload them to the platform, and/or download music samples to integrate into their composition.

Once the music is "written" (put into the chosen sequence) using the Computer Orchestra program, the conductor can direct the orchestra with various body movements detected by a Kinect motion-sensing input device. The Kinect transmits the data to the corresponding computers via Wi-Fi.

The project's creators, Simon de Diesbach, Jonas Lacôte, and Laura Perrenoud, imagine a future in which music will change drastically and picture the Computer Orchestra as a kind of humanizing antidote to symphonies created and played entirely by algorithm.

In 2023, music was drastically shaken by technological advancement. Incredible symphonies, composed with powerful algorithms, emerged around the world and were listened to by millions of Internet users. But this excessive technological assistance, which eliminated collective expertise for the benefit of centralized expertise, pushed us to deny the very origins of music and the way it was executed: we no longer distinguished the constituent entities of a group, the whole being assembled without distinction by the same processor.

By offering a hybrid device, combining the archaic spatial arrangement of an orchestra with the concept of "screen musicians," Computer Orchestra is returning to the roots of music, without denying the technological context in which it was created.

One or more of the three must have musical training, or a good ear, as the soundscape in the video below sounds quite entrancing. Bonuses: the conductor doesn't have to wear a bow tie or worry about violin strings snapping.