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This "Automatic Orchestra" Organism Plays Networked Music

Students from two different universities created an audio installation of networked machines and people.
Screencaps by the author

Algorithms have taken over our lives, so it’s only appropriate that music should be similarly automated. While the Automatic Orchestra isn’t the first algorithm-based music project, it’s certainly one of the more impressive efforts. Created as a collaboration between University of the Arts Bremen and Copenhagen Institute of Interaction Design students, Automatic Orchestra is an audio installation orchestrated by networked machines and people. Led by lecturers Dennis P. Paul and Jakob Bak, the circular algorithmic sound installation debuted at Resonate Festival 2015 in Belgrade, Serbia.


“A common set of rules distributed among a network of MIDI devices opens up a melodic space orchestrated by automatic logic and the artist’s vision,” the creators explain on the Automatic Orchestra website. “The perpetual interaction among the devices and the interpretation of encoded musical messages blurs the distinctiveness between structured composition and performative improvisation.”

To create Automatic Orchestra, the team of students built a setup of PROTOSEQ pods, each equipped with speakers. These pods are basically step sequencers and synthesizers in one, derived from the CFO BODYSEQ, which was designed around the Arduino-compatible Teensy 3.1 USB-based microcontroller PCB boards. The Teensy houses three jack connectors. The students used two of the jacks to create a circular network for 12 pods via MIDI, and connected the remaining jack to the speaker to amplify the generated sounds.

“All pods are wired together to form a circular network transmitting musical data… [t]herefore the data travels through each unit before it is passed on to its neighbor,” the team explains. “The synthesis of the audio parameters depends on the application running on each pod. A shared framework provides a synchronized basis for the exchange of encoded musical messages but each pod will interpret and alter the data based on its individual algorithmic rule set.”

The musical data is a framework that the team modified from CHEAP, FAT and OPEN (CFO), an open-source synthesizer. They left the audio synthesis part of the library as-is, but tweaked the MIDI protocol so that the 12 pods were better networked.


Automatic Orchestra from Julian on Vimeo.

The team of students behind Algorithmic Orchestra includes Angelisa Scalera, David BeermannHendrik HeuerIrena KukricJulian HespenheideThomas Hoheisel.

Click here to see more information about the project.


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